Some little bug is going to get me some day

The bomb? World war? They can't scare a man who has always feared the day his real enemies come for him — "with their little destructive teeth smiling"

ROBERT FONTAINE June 16 1962

Some little bug is going to get me some day

The bomb? World war? They can't scare a man who has always feared the day his real enemies come for him — "with their little destructive teeth smiling"

ROBERT FONTAINE June 16 1962

Some little bug is going to get me some day

The bomb? World war? They can't scare a man who has always feared the day his real enemies come for him — "with their little destructive teeth smiling"

ROBERT FONTAINE

WHEN I WAS YOUNG I was surrounded by germs. Today we live, as we all are constantly reminded, on the brink of disaster because man’s inventiveness has outrun his morality. We tremble and pray each night because of the bomb.

If we are nervous, distraught, tense and, as an obvious result, neurotic and unkind, it is because of this terror that surrounds us. It was different, some say, in the good old days.

I am not so sure. It was different for me. In fact it was worse. The bomb is visible and its power is known. In facing the germs of my Ottawa boyhood I was against the unknown, the intangible, the ineffable and the unseen.

I was constantly reminded of it, too. There were germs in the Ottawa water supply, my mother said, and so we drank spring water. There were germs carried by my playmates so 1 was advised to play with them at a fair distance. There were germs, very clearly, in games with the girls like Spin-the-Bottle and Post Office and I was urged to give up the dubious pleasure of these and like recreations.

Possibly it was a result of the great influenza epidemic, more likely it was just my mother’s nature, but she was the chief defender against germs, the centre of intelligence and the military adviser in this relentless warfare.

My father, a dreamy musician with his own notions about the universe, was a weak ally of my mother, but an ally nevertheless. My father had other things to fight, too. He was more afraid of lightning for

example, than germs. Germs were fearful but lightning was worse. He could smell thunderstorms coming down the Ottawa or the Gatineau river and he would listen intently for their arrival at which point he would turn pale and not speak until the storm had passed. Often he would hurry to the theatre to bury himself in the cellar or rehearse the week’s vaudeville show tó drown out the noisy thunder.

Since he was rapidly losing hisjftfur he was also afraid of becominez-Tiaki. Mv mother said it was germs.Wt my father scoffed. He washed hisr long hair, every day and brushed i't fifty times, and any germs that could stand that was an impossibility. My father’s theory was that the cold Canadian winters were responsible. The twenty-'below weather in Ottawa contracted his scalp and ejected the weaker hairs. As a result my father would wear his hat to go down in the cellar and fire the furnace on a cold morning and, when my mother insisted on opening his bedroom window “to clear out the germs.” he promptly put on his hat in bed. There was a compromise effected in which my father agreed to wear a gaudy nightcap my mother made for him. She was not going to sleep with anyone with a hat on: more, she suspected a hat worn all day was full of germs by night.

Germs, of course, lurked everywhere. To my childish mind they were smaller than the smallest ants and yet strong as horses. They had no respect for my accomplishments in Sunday school nor for my kindness to my parents. Prayer did not affect them. They just laughed. They were not necessarily on the side of Satan. I hey simply were indifferent, casual, capricious and arbitrary.

No one understood their motives. It was difficult to defend oneself because one never knew why or when an attack would come, not, alas, until their victory made one convinced of their presence.

"Why,” I asked my wine-drinking Uncle Louis, who was a sort of instant-philosopher when mixed with red wine, which was usually, “are there germs?”

“Why.” my uncle replied, his mind being somewhere far away, “are there wealthy and beautiful widows with unassailable virtue?”

This answer only confused me further. Wealthy and beautiful widows had been around long enough, to my way of think-

ing. to be quite germ-soaked and hence not much to be desired.

“Why are there germs in the world?”

I asked my father once. He put down his violin on which he was improvising a small tune while he glanced over at the mirror to see if much more hair had removed itself.

“Why are there bald heads and violin strings that break? Why is there bitter cold in Ottawa and not in Pasadena. California? Why is it men worry and larks do not? Why?”

1 went to my mother, naturally. Being the defender of the faith she would know.

1 asked her. She looked around nervously as if we were being watched. "Don't talk about it." she said with her slight Scottish burr. "The less said the better. They are everywhere and we must be careful."

Was it about this time the little ditty made its appearance, Some Little Bug is Going to Find You Some Day? ! am not sure. Perhaps it was much earlier. At any rate I got hold of it and it haunted me for years and still does.

Sometimes I tried to forget the enemy b> plunging myself into boyhood adventures. But, if I caught my neighbor’s daughter Sally in the garden in the hushed buzz of summer and started to kiss her 1 was reminded that the human mouth is a veritable breeding ground of germs, and 1 turned away. If I raced after the icewagon and slipped into my mouth a luscious shard of ice my mother was at the window screaming. "Throw that away! It's fall of germs'." 1 co Id not play follow-theleader in the ice-house yard because there were horses there who. obviously, were actually in league with germs.

If I played games with knives or wooden swords and obtained a slight wound it was dressed by my mother with such ample bandaging and poultices that I could hardly get my hand in my pocket. Germs were just waiting around for cuts and slivers. It gave them a place to go marching in. banners waving, little destructive teeth smiling.

In summer I was urged to keep out of the sun. The sun was weakening and promoted a lassitude that made invasion simpler. 1 could play baseball and tennis in the late afternoon but when sweat appeared 1 stopped because sweat opened the pores and where was a better place for germs to intrude but open pores? They were an actual invitation.

In winter the cold was the desperate character. I was bundled up in thickness after thickness of wool, plus rubbers over which overshoes or galoshes were pulled. It took me a half-hour in school every morning to unwind myself and de-mummify. I also w'as forced to take up three pegs in the cloakroom instead of the normal single one.

Meamvhile my mother was always dusting and cleaning and causing a gleam everywhere in the house and even on the peaches. Nothing escaped her; no corner where germs could lurk was left untouched. If germs were mysterious and all-pervading, my mother w'as an admirable one to lead the forces of cleanliness and light because she was absolutely unrelenting.

If one of us became ill. w'hich w-as very rarely indeed, the germs who had succeeded in knocking us down knew they had been in a fight. It was no easy victory. And we must have been fairly sturdy because my mother rarely called a doctor, reasoning that their very occupation caused them to run all over town with a wild assortment of germs clinging to their mustaches and black bags. My mother used poultices, vinegar, fasting, prayer and hot mince pie in winter and homemade ice cream in summer. They worked very well.

1 grew up a quite healthy specimen physically but I never lost my fear of germs. Or not. at least, until very recent years. 1 was never one to wash my hands a thousand times or to gargle with antiseptics twelve times a day. I felt that what would come would come and that some little bug would, indeed, get me some day. 1 did not fight it as strongly as my motherhad. I simply waited nervously unprepared.

I'm sure 1 would be much more gregarious, much more outward-going, much more friendly and warm-hearted had it not been for my early training. I am not. today. really grouchy or unfriendly or coldhearted. In my heart, when I have time to observe it. I am really warm and loving and would like to embrace everyone in a spirit of fellowship and agape. But there are always those confounded germs to think of.

May 1 remind you, too. that 1 had no sooner got older and less fearful about

germs when viruses appeared! Viruses are ten times more mysterious and invisible than germs. Some of them pass through a porcelain filter. Oh. I know there are a few microscopes in the world that can magnify perhaps millions of times and show us the head of a pin with a tail on it which is a virus. Reduce it. though, a million times and what have you got to defend yourself with.’

1 won't go on. The point is clear. The w'orld of politics, economics and military might means nothing to me. The bomb is just another nuisance. I have more important things to worry about; invisible, mysterious and all-pervading things. As for living on the brink of disaster, haven't I been doing that for forty years? ★