Grandma's Chair


This post was originally published on the MHA@GW blog. It was part of a series celebrating National Immunization Awareness Month, featuring many writers supporting and advocating vaccines for all children. To read the other engaging submissions, visit the MHA@GW blog. 

I remember the chair covered in a pale mustard yellow. The fabric was worn so badly that the raised paisley pattern was nearly vanished from the edges of the arm cushions. Where my grandmother sat endured a permanent concave mark.

In that big, old chair I would sit on my her lap. Together, we would read all sorts of stories and tall tales, but what she liked to read most was the local paper. She would carefully read aloud each report, from front page to want ads. Between each article, she would add her two-cent editorial of the news.

"That just can't be," she would say of the day's legislation. "Truman would never have let that pass."

"Can you believe what they get away with these days?" sneering at a woman in a one-piece swimsuit from Sears.

Over time, her reading lessons were less about the news and more about grandma. Her comments revealed her own values and share bits of our family history. She shared traditions and common sense that only increased in value as I aged. Her words perpetually gained new meaning as I could apply them as a child, and in new ways as a young adult.

As I imagine sitting with her today, in that mustard paisley chair, I wonder what she would think of today's headlines. Specifically, what would she think of Americans becoming ill with vaccine-preventable diseases?

I think my grandma might say, "My neighbor died of measles. We were so scared when your mother got the rash. I thought they were going to die, too. I thought everyone got a shot to protect themselves these days."

She might get tears in her eyes, saying, "My brother still limps after being attacked by polio. When we could get that vaccine, I remember dragging your mother to the school, waiting in the line with our neighbors, and thanking the heavens that our kids have been saved. Why would people not want to protect their babies from that horrible disease?"

Unfortunately, I can only fabricate what she might have offered based on what I know of the history of her life. I no longer have the privilege of hearing these experiences first hand; to learn her fears, and the choices she made. And I'm not the only one.

Everyone in our generation, now raising children of our own, is losing access to these historically important stories of death and suffering from disease. The stories of lives that were taken away too early by now-preventable illnesses are hidden away in our own family trees. The re-telling of the desperate pleas for a miracle are becoming silent. 

We are now witnessing the consequences of this fading oral history.

Today's news does not hold stories about the miracle of vaccines. The narrative has changed from stories of vaccine success into waves of warning. The opportunity to protect our children from disease is being incorrectly framed as oppressive and dangerous. What's worse is that our moral duty to protect the children of our community is being deflected by our existence in suburbs of high fences and name-less neighbors.

Meanwhile, the success of public health initiatives is being compromised. Outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease are increasing. More kids are getting sick.

Today we each have an opportunity to change this trend. We live in a time our grandparents could only imagine - that with one click we can touch our families, friends, and entire community. We can let others know a way to stay protected and safe from tragedy.

We can share our stories of healthy and thriving children protected by vaccinations.

We can work together to continue a swell of pro-vaccine dialog on the communication channels we use everyday. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram - these communication channels matter, just like the local newspaper that my grandma read to me. These channels carry influence and trust based on the connections we each have created. Our words carry weight in these social places we live. 

There can be immense power in a simple post, image, tweet, or snap that may land in the hands of a person making the choice to vaccinate. Your effort could be the very thing that helps another child get the protection they deserve.

Working together, our efforts and our voices will not be lost. They will be amplified as they are carried forward into the future, in a place where our grandchildren will be able to learn from us.