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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

How I Spent the Hurricane

Or at least the first part of it. Rather than continue to drive myself crazy with constant weather updates, I decided to write this column on Sunday afternoon, rather than my usual Monday. As you know, it was a loooong week, filled with apprehension and anxiety. But already now I’m diverted, as the computer told me “apprehension” was misspelled, but didn’t offer any suggestions to correct it. I went to my tattered old red Word Book that is neither a dictionary nor thesaurus, but simply a list of correct spellings of words. You make your best guesstimate and run down the page until you spy the right one.

Well, I’ll be damned. I didn’t expect Microsoft to recognize “guesstimate,” but it did. On the other hand, it couldn’t translate my misspelling of “thesaurus.” They really should expand their vocabulary of possible mistakes. Suggestions like “there” for “thesaurus” just don’t cut it. And the robot further insulted me by asking if I still wanted American English.

Spelling never has been my forte. Hubby is great at it and won regional spelling bees as a child. In contrast, classroom spelling bees were the most terrifying experience of my school years. Well, doing math problems on the blackboard was as bad. Hubby was a math major, and I’m glad that the fact that I hated it didn’t deter him from dating me back in college. I sometimes wonder how I would do now that basic arithmetic is taught in a completely different way. I think I would be better at it, as I really enjoy working with statistics and percentages and creating tables of data for analysis.

Congressional Quarterly Press, which published my work on women in politics, wanted lots of tables, mostly for a visual break from narratives. I discovered, though, that creating tables and charts caused me to notice patterns I would have missed otherwise. One example is that capital cities are much more likely to elect women as mayors than other cities. In fact, our Tallahassee holds the record, with six women having been mayors when I wrote this book in 2012. I didn’t know that until I created the table, and I’ve never seen any other political pundit comment on the phenomenon.

Continuing Stream of Diverting Consciousness

Big capital cities, however, don’t follow this pattern: Boston is a capital, but never has had a woman as mayor. I may continue with that analysis in another column, largely because the recent one about rearranging states attracted lots of comment. Doing research and writing also is an excellent way to distract your mind from the immediate, so let me encourage you to keep a diary during your next crisis. Writing It Down helps purge your mind of its circular frets, and it also will be useful as a source of historical information many years from now. One of the most valuable artifacts we have from 19th century Tampa, for instance, is the diary that Roby Hull McFarlan kept during the yellow fever epidemic in the fall and winter of 1887-1888.

I quoted part of this diary in my Real Women of Tampa and Hillsborough County, which you can buy at the gift shop of the History Center and/or other bookstores. I don’t get any profits: The Athena Society does, and it partially funds our Career Assistance Grants that go to single moms and other women attempting to move up the economic ladder, as well as our Young Women of Promise scholarships that go to some of the astonishingly smart girls in high school these days. That aside, it’s an interesting book about your town. Buy it for someone for Christmas, giving yourself plenty of time to read it first.

So more diverting rambling re that epidemic: It may have killed about ten percent of the population. We think there were about 300 deaths in a town that then had about 3,000 residents. The point is pollution. We don’t have yellow fever (or other devastating diseases that wiped out past populations) mostly because we have learned to clean up after ourselves. In Tampa in the 1880s, everyone used outdoor latrines that attracted mosquitoes, flies, and other vermin– and many didn’t bother even with outhouses, but expected the whole world to be their personal toilet. Other waste, including dead cows and horses, routinely was thrown into the same waterways from which people drank.

Huge crops of mosquitoes spread disease every summer and fall. Not surprisingly, people looked for others to blame, and this epidemic widely was “known” to have been caused by a Cuban cabin boy who went to Dr. John Wall for treatment after his ship docked in Tampa. He was the first death, but Dr. Wall stayed strong and helped many others through those difficult months. Volunteer visiting nurses Mary Cuscaden and Jenny Copeland did die, but other women created Tampa’s first hospital in a donated house near the current School Board building. We should have a plaque there.

Please remember these people, and also remember to stay safe from the mosquitoes that doubtless will plague us after Irma is gone. Support your public health departments and other government employees who specialize in health and safety. Government is here to help, and they are the definite good guys right now.

Electronic, Electric, and a Minor Miracle

I tried to send the above to LaGaceta about 4:00 on Sunday, but the Internet already was down. TECO did a better job, and with brief flutters, our electricity lasted several hours longer. Because Spectrum bundles the computers, TV, and telephone, our diversion options were limited -- but an electric, as opposed to electronic, solution was the old-fashioned DVD player. We took the cellophane off a two-hour DVD featuring Sherlock Holmes that I’d bought for Hubby, but we never had watched, and it was an enjoyable distraction. The Leading Lady features Irene Adler, the only woman Holmes ever (sort of) loved. She is an American opera diva, but this story is set in Vienna and Budapest. We have some family connections to those cities, and we also enjoyed the music and dancing of Die Fledermaus, the opera in which she was starring. (Had to get my German dictionary for that spelling, as the internet still is out on Tuesday evening. Word processing works, though, and I want to be ready to press the send button when Spectrum chimes in.) Anyway, “fledermaus” translates to “flying mouse,” which is a bat in English, and jewelry featuring bats is key to the complex tale. (By the way, I wonder why so many Dutch and German speakers chose forms of “maus” as a surname. Except for Mickey, I don’t know any Americans named “Mouse.”)

Like bats, we are very much night creatures and can’t fall asleep at the usual hour. I colored in my botanical coloring book by candlelight, but keeping candles close enough to see meant that it was hot-- and unnerving, as in the quiet and darkness, I could hear every tree limb that was even thinking about falling. We have lots of trees, especially centuries-old live oaks, and that was the reason our loving neighbors urged us to go with them to a Plant City warehouse that would be sheltering members of the church that they lead. We knew, though, that would involve lots of little children, as well as dogs, cats, and even a potbellied pig, so Hubby decided his heart would be less stressed by staying home. We are not in an evacuation zone, and in fact live on the second-highest point in Hillsborough County, where true evacuees crowded our local schools. It’s not a fashionable neighborhood, but it’s comforting in storms. Our hill means no danger of serious flooding, and we took precautions against wind by putting down bedding in our interior hallway. It’s still there, actually, as I’m prioritizing this column.

We never used the pallet on the floor, but it was hard to sleep in bed because of the lack of AC or even a fan. If I were a capitalist, I’d invest in creating battery-operated fans. So by the next night, Hubby had run extension cords through the house from the inverter on his van, and we had light in the family room. He keeps up with new things by reading Popular Mechanics and other such magazines, and he forethoughtfully bought some special light bulbs that consume less electricity than even the florescence bulbs we routinely use. That, plus two trouble lights hanging from ceiling fans, enabled me to read The Essential Calvin and Hobbes, which soon had me laughing out loud. (Turns out that although the essentials of word processing are working, I have to be connected to the internet to get suggestions for misspellings. The Word Book again for “florescence.”)

When I was ready for my regular nightcap and crossword puzzle, Hubby transferred the extension cords from the family room to the bedroom and hooked up a florescent light and a box fan. That got us through until TECO came through, and I’m so glad to be married to a smart guy! Granted, he had to ask me for help in locating this stuff, as organizing the things he buys is not his strong suit. But that led to the greatest miracle of all. In hunting around the garage, I spied a boom box that our daughter used twenty years ago – and the batteries in it still worked! They are Ultra-Alkaline by Walgreen’s. The manufacturer of this ancient boom box that brought in radio news from the outside world, as far as I can tell from its obscure logo, was Tozaj. I can’t even say what language that is, but unlike other brands that began in the 1990s, you probably can’t buy it anymore because it worked too well.

The Samsung cell phone also worked fine, so we were able to call our daughter in Washington, and she could inform friends and family via e-mail or Facebook. They were anxious: I had calls from a sister in Georgia and a brother in Arkansas while writing these first two paragraphs on Sunday. A couple of generations ago, out-of-state family wouldn’t even have known of the danger, and then we had an era of television that informed them, but no cell phones to reassure them. We’ve reached a better point, but it still remains to control weather dangers in the first place. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about a lightning researcher in Gainesville who had lost his funding from the Pentagon. Let’s reduce the money we spend on warriors, please, and give it to the scientists.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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