I’ve taken mom’s route

I once worked with a woman who was extremely germaphobic. She wore throwaway gloves most of the time, and practically bathed in hand sanitizer when the gloves were off. If she had to use a bathroom, she’d head home. She never touched food she hadn’t brought from home.

We speak by phone now. She’s funny about the lockdown, the virus, in sort of in a told-you-so way.

I recall neighbor kids’ homes from my childhood where the front rooms were off limits to kids, and all the furniture was covered in plastic. I spoke with people more recently who talked about how disgustingly dirty everything in Europe, Mexico and even Canada was compared to what they knew.


It’s Mother’s Day, and I’m thinking of my mom’s oft-repeated dictum that a little bit of dirt never hurt anyone. How important it was to build one’s immune system. She would keep a sponge for years, washing it in her dishwasher until it crumbled. Or hold on to a jar of mayonnaise for what seemed like decades.

My mother was a child of the Depression, and never lost the thrifty lessons she learned then. Those folks lamenting the foods and habits of everyone but Americans were raised in 1960s suburbia.

I’ve been wondering where we all head from here, after the Pause lifts. We know about masks on trains and airplanes, and probably at concerts and ball games, too. What about bars and restaurants? Has hand sanitizer become the new norm everywhere? Will we lead the world in obsessive cleanliness? How far can we go in our avoidance of germs?

We come on junctions wittingly and unwittingly. It’s only after we’ve taken a direction that we know where it goes, or doesn’t.

There’s many roads ahead, and most of them are dirty. But they’re inevitably good for our immunity in some way, as my mom argued, even if it’s simply to help us in our struggle against our fear of germs.

Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.

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