World War II writings inform; will you write of COVID-19 experiences to inform future citizens?

This content is being provided for free as a public service to our readers during the coronavirus outbreak. Please support local journalism by subscribing to the Daily Messenger: https://mpnnow.com/subscribenow.

Like many, I purchased a new book to read during the down times as part of this whole coronavirus stay-at-home, work-from-home thing.

In hindsight — pun intended — I wish I had stocked up more on toilet paper, but let’s turn the page on that minor pandemic problem.

Reading of Bristol Supervisor Bob Green’s tribute to the courage of first responders during this COVID-19 crisis, and using a famed quote of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to drive his point home, it strikes me as a heartfelt message and completely appropriate.

And a coincidence.

That book I picked up, “The Spendid and the Vile,” by Erik Larson, tells the story of Churchill, the British government and the people of England shortly before, during and after the bombing of the country by Nazi Germany.

As I read through a period of history, that, sadly, I know too little about, several things strike me, as it’s only natural to compare what happened to the people under attack during World War II and the attack on us and our way of life today. Yes, this is not an apples-to-apples comparison so, borrowing from my social-media savvy friends, don’t @ me.

First, most of the people referenced in the book kept detailed diaries. In one instance, the writer of a daily log feared its capture by the Nazis because of the highly detailed secrets it contained. It doesn’t take long to scroll through most any twitter feed or Facebook post to discover that most everyone is documenting what’s happening today — some of them quite accurately.

Throughout the duration of the air raids, Londoners feared the sound of the air raid siren, signaling the arrival of the Luftwaffe. Yet life went on as normal — or as normal as could be with the threat of death in the air.

Larson writes of an “ambient sense of threat” and how residents recognized the importance of leaving work or shopping for home before dark and knowing the location of the nearest bomb shelter.

Thousands of people died in the blitzkrieg, but Larson also writes of lavish nightlife at various city hotspots, parties raging even as bombs fall through the air and how some — including Churchill himself — would climb to a rooftop during a raid and watch.

Perhaps the subtitle of the book sums it up: “A saga of Churchill, Family and Defiance During the Blitz.”

As many head into the fourth week of Zoom business meetings at their home offices, online school classes and yes, recon missions for toilet paper, I’m not the only one who sees a lot of defiance in this age of coronavirus, whether it’s groups of foolhardy folks gathering in parks in violation of social distancing rules, pooh-poohing the advice of wearing face masks in public, or other examples of blatant disregard of what health officials are telling us.

Canandaigua police officers and Ontario County sheriff’s deputies had been earning rave reviews for handling such situations — explaining, as a teacher might, the need for keeping 6-foot social distances and asking them to disperse.

“They’re doing it in such polite ways,” said Denise Chaapel, manager of the downtown Canandaigua Business Improvement District and owner of Sweet Expressions on Main Street. “It’s fabulous.”

But, they shouldn’t have to be doing this.

In Canandaigua, playgrounds were already closed, and now all basketball, tennis, and pickleball courts are off-limits because people failed to follow social distancing rules.

With so many people sick and dying — for some, family and friends, and in many cases, they suffer alone — I’d like to see more recognition of the “ambient sense of threat,” just to be on the safe side.

Be a witness to history

Speaking of diaries ...

Because of this interesting historical time unfolding in real time, town and village of Victor Historian Babette Huber is noting that the COVID-19 crisis is reshaping everyone’s daily life and communities.

And she’s embarking on a project that records the history of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on New York's people and communities.

What is happening right now must not be forgotten, she notes, recognizing the need to document these experiences so that they can inform the response to future crises.

Huber wants to record your witness-to-history experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic:

1. What were your thoughts when the first COVID-19 cases were being diagnosed in China? Did you expect it to spread to the U.S.?

2. What were your thoughts when the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed in the United States?

3. What were your thoughts when the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed in New York state? In our county? In our town/village?

4. How has your behavior changed since the media first started reporting the spread of COVID-19? Did you continue your everyday activities? Did you start stockpiling groceries and toilet paper? Did you start washing your hands or using sanitizer more frequently? How have you practiced social distancing?

5. How have things changed for you and/or your family since the outbreak? Are you or people you know working from home? Do you have/know children who need to do schoolwork from home? How are you/they dealing with that?

6. Are you a business owner who has had to close or an employee who has been laid off? If your business/employer is still open, how have you had to adjust how you and/or your business operates? If you are still working, what precautions are being used?

7. How have your local government and community organizations responded to the crisis? What have you noticed has changed in your community since the outbreak? What has surprised you most?

8. What is the worst thing about this? Are there any “silver linings” in what has happened, such as spending more time with family, catching up on tasks around the house, reading, doing projects?

9. Pretend it is the year 2050 and another pandemic is looming — what would you tell someone who has just asked what it was like to live through the 2020 pandemic? How would you suggest they handle what is about to come? What did officials/community/you do (or not do) in 2020 that those in 2050 might consider doing differently?

10. Is there anything else you would like to add that hasn't already been discussed above?

Huber urges that you be creative in your responses. You may reply with written text answers or you may respond with poetry, artwork, video diaries or something else. She also wants to see photographs of what is happening around you, in your home, and in your community.

With your permission, Huber will preserve these responses in the Victor archives where they will be shared with researchers and the public now and in the future.

Send answers to: Bmhuber@town-victor-ny.us or by snail mail to Babette Huber, Town/Village of Victor Historian, 85 E. Main St., Victor, NY 14564.