The not so modern beginings of the modern age.

The first two decades of the twentieth century marked the beginning of the modern era. Many of the things we think of as distinctly modern, including cars, xrays and blood transfusion, came into wide use at some point during these two decades. Though it was a hundred years ago, many of us had, or were privileged to know, grandparents and great-grandparents who vividly remembered those days. These close family members provide us with a strong link to that era that often lulls us into believing that it wasn't that long ago. After all, Grandpa didn't tell stories about the Regency but he had quite a few about the 1918 influenza epidemic.

We wouldn't be where we are today without the innovations of that generation. However, it is interesting to see how some of the old habits stubbornly refused to be left behind as we entered the modern age. For example, the belief in miasma as an agent of infection was alive and well during the 1918 influenza plague. Folk remedies such as asefetida bags were often hung around children's necks to ward off the bad air. My mother remembers her grandmother regularly employing these bags during her early childhood in the late 1940s. Out of curiosity, my sister is trying to locate a sample of asefetida. It seems the repugnant herb, like the miasma theory, has retired from public life, though it does enjoy some popularity in the spice drawer.

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