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Author Archives:Brian DeFelice


A Century Later – Norwood’s Experience in the 1918 Flu Epidemic

influenza-and-inequality-book-coverThe Black Death (or Bubonic or Great Plague) was a four-year epidemic that affected 30-60% of the European population. It was critical to the history of the Middle Ages that we studied.  The Great Plague is believed to have begun in Central Asia in the early 1330s where it was carried by rats on ships across and throughout the Mediterranean and Europe. It is believed to have killed up to 200 million people across Europe from 1347-1351 and it may have taken 200 years before the world’s population recovered from the loss of life from the epidemic.

Many of us remember studying the Middle Ages and its Black Death in school. What we might not have learned was that there were many plagues throughout history.

The Bubonic Plague reappeared several times again in Europe, but not with the same devastating power. Pulitzer Prize author Geraldine Brooks wrote a startling and heartbreaking account of towns in England suffering from a 1600s plague and its shattering impacts on families, government, and society. The 2001 historical novel, Year of Wonders, is currently in film production.

In 1918, at the end of The Great War (or WWI) the Spanish Flu, or the Pandemic of 1918-1919, affected one-fifth of the entire world’s population. It killed more people than those who had died in the Great War. Somewhere around 20 million to 40 million people died in twelve months.

I don’t remember studying or hearing much about the Spanish Flu in America. Many of my aunts and uncles were alive in 1918 – and certainly my grandparents – and I heard no stories from them during their lifetimes. However, 28% of Americans were affected by the Spanish Flu and more than 675,000 died. The epidemic affected Americans between 20 and 40 years of old the most severely –  more than 10 times the soldiers set to return to America from Europe died of the flu than who had died in the war.

Liz Reed, Adult Services Librarian here at our library in Norwood was recently awarded a Massachusetts Humanities Discussion grant to present Norwood’s experience with the pandemic of 1918.  A Century Later: Norwood’s Experience in the Great Flu Epidemic of 1918 is a series of 8 events planned throughout the month of October. Several Town of Norwood departments have partnered with the Morrill Memorial Library – the Norwood Public Health Department, the Norwood Highland Cemetery, and the Norwood Senior Center. Also collaborating is the Norwood Historical Society.

Two of the events will focus on books. One was written by Norwood historian and retired professor, Patricia Fanning. Patti Fanning’s book, Influenza and Inequality, began as an academic study of the Town of Norwood’s response to the 1918 epidemic was published in 1910 by the University of Massachusetts. The Historical Journal of Massachusetts writes that “Historians once thought that the pandemic struck down its victims irrespective of class or ethnicity. [Patricia] Fanning dispels this error, demonstrating that immigrants and the poor died in Norwood in disproportionate numbers.”

The other book being discussed during the series, Pale Horse, Pale Rider is a novella by Katherine Anne Porter published in 1939.  Porter’s novella depicts the tragedy and suffering in a story of Miranda, a newspaper woman in Denver, Colorado who is tended while sick and delirious from the influenza epidemic of 1918. Adam, a soldier who is also stricken with the flu dies while Miranda is recovering.

The series will begin with a discussion of Porter’s novella at the Day House in Norwood on Tuesday, October 2. Dr. Cashman Kerr Prince, library trustee and member of the Historical Society, will lead the event beginning at 6:30 pm.

On October 10 at 6:30 pm, Dr. Al DeMaria will present A History of Firsts: Public Health in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Dr. DeMaria is Medical Director of the Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences and State Epidemiologist in the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. He is also President of the Massachusetts Infectious Diseases Society. He will lead us on a fascinating journey through the history of public health and disease in Massachusetts.

On Saturday, October 13 between 9 and 11 am, a flu vaccine clinic will be held at the Norwood Senior center. It is open to all residents 14 years or older and the Public Health Department requests that everyone who requests a vaccine bring their health insurance information.

On Monday, October 15 at 6:30 pm at the library, noted historian and author Anthony Sammarco will present Boston 1918: The Spanish Flu. He will lead participants on an exploration of Boston during World War I, the disease that decimated the world, and Boston’s response to the flu epidemic.

On Monday, October 22 at 6:30 pm at the library, author Patti Fanning and library director Charlotte Canelli will lead a discussion of Influenza and Inequality. Ms. Fanning will discuss Norwood’s tragic response to the pandemic that resulted in deaths that occurred in the pockets of Norwood where both the poor and immigrants lived in conditions that both spread the flu and did little to help its victims.

On Saturday, October 27 at 3:00 pm, Patti Fanning will lead a walking tour of Highland Cemetery, the resting place of many Norwood flu epidemic victims. The walk literally illustrates history as the steps of the grieving families and overwhelmed town officials will be retraced. There will be simultaneous flu vaccine clinic on the cemetery grounds courtesy of the Norwood Public Health Department. (Rain date is Sunday, October 28.)

This month-long series will end with the last program on October 29 at 6:30 pm at the library. Influenza 1918, a short documentary film produced by WGBH Boston will be shown. A discussion will follow, tying together personal stories with the historical events.

Registration for these events is available by calling or visiting the library or emailing Books for both discussion groups will be available upon registration.

Once the program has ended, book clubs may request the Book Club Kit of Patti Fanning’s book, Influenza and Inequality from the Minuteman Library catalog.  Please call the library for more information. We hope you will join us for this very historical, very relevant, very important series!

Charlotte Canelli is the Director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the September 13, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Shoutbomb: receive alerts, renew books, and more via text message


Shoutbomb is an SMS service that sends circulation notices as text messages. That means you can get a text message when it is time to pick up a hold or when items are coming due. You can also reply to the text message to renew items using simple commands.

Want to sign up? Here’s how:


  • Text the word “signup” to 833-201-1813
  • When prompted, enter in your library card number with no spaces

If you have received text messages from the library in the past but have never signed up for this service, you will need to follow the signup steps listed above.

Want to explore more of the things Shoutbomb can do? Here is a list of commands to try and settings that you can adjust:

By default, all notice types are active at sign-up.

Message Settings- Toggle notices on and off by texting the keyword/name of the notice type

NOTICES– View your current message settings (check which types of messages you are subscribed to)
HOLDS– Hold pick-up notification
RENEW– 2-day courtesy notice
OVERDUE– Overdue items notice
FEES– Alert when patron has hit the $10 fine limit

Keyword commands-

MYBOOKS– Get a list of all your current checkouts and holds
ALL– Renew all eligible overdue and courtesy
IOWEU– Check your current library fine balance
SWITCHPHONE– Update your phone number or provider
HELP– Get information about Shoutbomb commands
RESEND– Resend last message
TEST– Send a test message to check your connection
QUIT– Unsubscribe from Shoutbomb and stop receiving notices

Replying to Notices-

OA– Renew all overdue items
OL– Renew overdue items by list- follow the prompts to renew individual items from list
HL– Get a list of holds ready for pickup
RW– Check which items are not eligible for renewal and why

More than little green men and faeries

I am a very eclectic reader. There is hardly a genre that won’t grace my to-read pile. For that reason, I really enjoy the Reader’s Bingo competition that the library holds periodically (OK, so everyone else thinks that it is a game, but I can make anything into a blood sport).

Reader’s Bingo requires participants to fill in a bingo sheet with books titles they have read during the game period that fit the description of one of the squares. For example, if the square reads, “A coming of age story,” I might fill in “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho or “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles. My coworker, Liz, plans the squares so that they will challenge readers to explore genres that take them out of their comfort zones. My secret is that I have no literary comfort zone. I like it all. This makes filling bingo sheets a breeze.

Because of my preferences, when I first started doing readers’ advisory, I was surprised to find that people have visceral reactions to certain genres. When I ask patrons what they like to read, if I so much as mention science fiction or fantasy, most patrons look at me like I have suggested reading the phonebook while walking on hot coals.

I don’t want patrons to miss out on some of the best fiction on our shelves simply because they think that sci-fi is just little green men and that fantasy always has faeries flitting around a forest. There is so much more to these genres. Sci-fi and fantasy aficionados, skip to the end- I am about to suggest books you have already read.

If you are willing to dip your toe into the sci-fi pool, there is no better place to start than with Frank Herbert’s “Dune.” It is the quintessential beginner’s science fiction. It is classic sci-fi in that it takes place in another world and there are advanced technologies that are central to the plot, but it is also a very human story about a boy navigating his way into adulthood amidst extreme hardship, resource scarcity, and more than a few people intending to do him harm. Already read “Dune”? Try “Red Rising” by Pierce Brown.

If worlds unlike our own are not your thing, Margaret Atwood might be a good author to try. “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood is a wonderful alternative to space and technology themed science fiction. This book describes a highly patriarchal society where women are no longer allowed to read or access education and are only valued for their ability to produce children. The story follows one woman as she navigates this new world and how she resists. Considered required reading in high school and college courses around the world, this book is a true page turner.

As for fantasy, I just have to recommend “The Rook” by Daniel O’Malley. This book is fantasy-lite and perfect for people who claim to hate fantasy. This novel is set in modern-day London and is about a young woman who unwittingly finds herself in the body of an operative for a secret government department in charge of all things magical, supernatural, or just plain odd. While there is suspense and action, the writing style is light and funny.

I would certainly not do the genre justice if I did not mention Neil Gaiman. He has a fantasy book for nearly every age and taste. If you think you would enjoy a classic fantasy with lighter themes, then “Stardust” is a good pick. If you are prepared for a darker and stranger selection, “American Gods” is a must-read. I have never finished a Gaiman book without wishing there were more pages to read.

If you want to have any shot at winning Reader’s Bingo this summer, you’ll eventually have to pick up a science fiction or fantasy book. Why not read something you’ll actually enjoy? While you can try one of the titles listed above, our reference librarians are happy to tailor a list to your tastes.

Allison Palmgren is the technology librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts.  Read Allison’s column in the April 13th issue of the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

2021 Viola Sastavickas Scholarship

The Sastavickas Scholarship Committee is accepting applications for the $1000 scholarship to be awarded in June 2021. Applications for the Viola Sastavickas Scholarship will be accepted through May 10th 2021. The recipient of the scholarship shall be a current or former paid employee or an unpaid volunteer of the Library.

The educational purpose may be for undergraduate or graduate school, a formal course of study, or an enrichment opportunity (continuing education). Interested employees or volunteers should submit a letter of application (found at the bottom of the page), a brief essay describing educational goals and how the funds will be used, and one letter of recommendation. Decisions will be based on the quality of the request, financial need, and the individual’s contribution to the library.

A recommendation will be made by a three-person Selection Committee made up of the Chairperson of the Library’s Board of Trustees, the Director of the Library, and the President of the Library’s Staff Association. This recommendation will be brought to the Board of Trustees for their approval.

Note: Deadline for applications to be received at the Director’s Office is May 10th 2021. Decisions will be made and recipient notified by June 30, 2021. Funds will be distributed in August, 2021.

2021 Scholarship Application


When life gives you lemons…if only I could have lemonade

I love food so much. I love the social aspect of gathering around a meal or heading out to try new restaurants. Preparing meals for others is one way that I express affection. Food is fuel, but it is so much more to me. As such, I was pretty glum when I learned that I would need to restrict my diet for health reasons. All my favorites are quite literally off the table- no tomatoes, no chocolate, no caffeine, no tea, no coffee, no alcohol, nothing spicy, and nothing acidic. Upon hearing this, I briefly, but seriously, considered dealing with supremely unpleasant symptoms just to continue eating tomatoes and all those acidic fruits I love so much.

Once I came to my senses, I started examining what this diet really looked like. Sure, I couldn’t have preservatives or most ingredients I couldn’t pronounce, but should I really be eating those things anyway? Probably not. I could still have garlic, herbs, cheese, most veggies, and almost any starch or grain, so I thought, “OK, you can work with this.”

What it came down to is that I needed to begin making everything from scratch. I was already a bread baker, so I’m not afraid of homemade baked goods, but my family will tell you, I would rather bake than cook. Not being able to rely on packaged foods, like boxed pasta or packaged tortillas was severely hindering my ability to put together a flavorful and satisfying meal. The first week was rough and there were more misses than hits (it turns out, there is a certain trick to making tortillas that my Canadian ancestors somehow did not pass down through the generations). Each morning, I would come into work whining about the disaster that was the previous night’s dinner.

Feeling defeated and more than a little hungry, I couldn’t even bring myself to adapt recipes that I used to love. Luckily, my coworkers stepped in to help find things I could eat and cookbooks that were filled with recipes largely free of problem ingredients. There are three books in particular that helped me rediscover my love of cooking and eating.

By far, the most helpful was “Scratch” by Maria Rodale. This book is filled with simple recipes, using ingredients without the mystery additives that I can’t eat. The name says it all; everything is made from scratch. I brought the book home and just decided to make whatever was on the page I opened up to, which is how we ended up eating a brunch classic, quiche, for dinner. It was heavenly. With very few adaptations and using only ingredients that were already in my pantry, I pulled together the first good meal I had eaten in many days.

My adventures with my new bestie, Maria (ok, she doesn’t know we’re besties…yet), didn’t stop there and I am still making delicious meals using her straightforward recipes. I even bought the book for my own collection, which as a committed borrower of books, is a true rarity.

The next book that helped guide me through the dietary minefield that is now my life was “Mastering Pasta: The Art and Practice of Handmade Pasta, Gnocchi, and Risotto” by Marc Vetri. Because most pastas are fortified (yet another thing I’m not supposed to consume in large quantities), I had begun making my own pasta. Jamie Oliver’s YouTube channel got me started and after an ill-fated experiment with the Kitchenaid mixer pasta attachment that left my mixer smoking and my kitchen spattered with dough the consistency of hardened cement, I bought a hand crank pasta maker. Since then, I have been pasta obsessed. “Mastering Pasta” if full of pasta and sauce recipes that don’t necessarily involve tomatoes- a huge plus for acid-free me!

The last book that I can credit with helping me to cope with the loss of some of my favorite foods and activities was “In Memory of Bread,” by Paul Graham. This memoir details how the author learned to deal with a severe wheat allergy that he developed later in life. Mercifully, I can eat wheat, but his story felt painfully familiar. One line perfectly summarized how I was feeling: “It was as if a sinkhole had opened beneath an important part of my life and irretrievably consumed it. I had been an avid home cook and amateur beer brewer; these were leisure activities that helped me define my place in the world, the things that I enjoyed the most with my wife and close friends.”

While it may sound dramatic, because it is just food after all, I felt like this book validated my feelings of grief and the loss of a part of my identity. It was heartening to read how the author was able to find new ways to fill his plate and his life, but still acknowledge the feelings of unfairness and sadness the loss of favorite pastimes and foods can cause.

While I will always miss tomatoes and hope that I will eventually be able to incorporate foods back into my diet, I am beginning to enjoy finding and adapting recipes. I may not be able to have my beloved marinara sauce, but I’ve found that things like brown butter sauce over heart shaped homemade sweet potato ravioli (the heart shapes definitely make it taste better) have begun to fill the void in my stomach and in my heart.

Allison Palmgren is the Technology Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read Alli’s article in the November 24th issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.


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