Remember the Alamo? When it comes to history, the man in the White House seems to have limited recall—or a grand sense of irony. To stage one of his last presidential appearances near the site of that great American trouncing at the hands of the Mexican army—well, what can I say? But if it’s a promise of revenge--Remember the Alamo! Second time’s a charm!—it’s both a past and a future I don’t want to dwell on. As photo ops go, the message of this one may have been too subtle or too complicated for our turbulent times.
Meanwhile, the vaccination waltz is playing out more like a rugby game. My brother and sister, both doctors, describe secret passwords leading to semi-clandestine gatherings for healthcare workers in sports arenas in California and Texas. My brother announced he waited in line for three hours and finally got vaccinated on first base. Over and over I’ve heard the words, “You have to be in the right place at the right time.” Wow. Really? Our ideas about an orderly progression of all things Pfizer and Moderna—scrap that script.
There are tales of relative youngsters side-stepping the system by figuring out where the anti-vaxxers live and showing up there. Plenty of vaccine in Lake Havasu City, I heard last week. See London Bridge while you’re at it. And then came surprising news. Apparently, my grandfather was the grandson of a little-known chemist named Charles Erhart who, with his cousin Charles Pfizer, emigrated from Germany in 1849 and started a chemical company in Brooklyn, New York. Soon enough they were producing pharmaceuticals to treat parasites, and painkillers and antiseptics for the casualties of the Civil War. In 1891, when my great-great-grandfather died, Pfizer, playing by the rules, bought out his cousin’s share of the business for half its value. For the grand sum of $119,350, paid to the Erhart heirs, Charles Pfizer became the head of the company that would then go on to create Viagra and the COVID-19 vaccine.
Was this our family Alamo? Were we trounced by the fickle fortunes of the pharmaceutical duo, the cousins who tossed a coin and called heads you win, tails you lose, but death will do the deciding? Great-great-grandfather, it turns out, was on the confectionary side of things. He made things sweet, palatable. It was he who made the medicine go down. That’s worth a lot more than money to me, to know I carry the genetic matter of a man who softened the blow. Who eased the pain. Who made the bitter pill easier to swallow. We could use him around here these days, passing off medicine as candy—not to prey on a national gullibility, but to deliver to us what we are hesitant to accept and so badly need: a curative, a kind word, a country.
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