M. L. E. Brown
‘Community transmission’ is a term the entire world will be much more familiar with after the Covid-19 pandemic. In medical parlance, the term refers to the apparent absence of epidemiological link within a community beyond its confirmed cases. It might also be applied in a holistic sense, when the reach of mass catastrophe seeps into cultural and emotional memory.
My parents were older than those of my schoolmates. Born in 1913 and 1918 respectively, they were middle-aged by the time I was born in 1966. Theirs was the generation of New Zealand infants who started life scarred by the immediate effects of World War One. My mother was a wonderful sick-nurse. I remember an occasion when my elderly aunt and uncle caught a serious ‘flu. I recall myself in my mid-teens, hovering in the kitchen of their villa while my mother swept upstairs bearing reheated lunches she had pre-cooked at our place; and then downstairs again with linen and towels to be flung in my aunt’s ancient washing machine.
I wasn’t allowed upstairs. “Don’t eat that!” my mother snapped as I picked up a malt biscuit left over from my uncle’s barely-touched tray. She, who could never abide waste of any sort, scraped all the untouched food onto a tin plate and marched it out to the compost. She gave me some rubber gloves and told me to do the dishes and scrub the bench thoroughly with hot water and Vim. Afterwards, I mopped the kitchen and laundry floors with even hotter water and Janola while she returned upstairs to help the afflicted pair from their chairs back to the master bed she had already re-made with clean linen.