We were standing in line at a local convenience store, waiting to pay for our pizza.

My friend noticed a young man who had been waiting longer than us, but who was standing a bit off to the side. He politely offered the stranger an opportunity to go before us.

The young man seemed to be in a surly mood. He curtly said no, so we went ahead and paid for our food.

When we got outside, we realized why his reception to us was so frosty. We had been wearing masks, while he was driving a vehicle that had the following message written across the back window: “It is un-American to wear masks. What would your forefathers do?”

My response would be too long to fit on a back window, so I guess I will just write it here.

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If, by my forefathers, you are talking about the leaders from the 18th and 19th centuries, they probably wouldn’t wear masks either.

This was not because they didn’t care about their fellow man. It wasn’t because Abe Lincoln was worried it might mat his beard or George Washington feared it would cover up his new teeth.

More likely, it was because we didn’t yet know much about microbiology. Because they lived in a time when “surgeons” would go from performing autopsies to delivering babies without washing their hands, then blame the resultant “childbed” fever on bad air or an imbalance in the woman’s “humours.”

Because they lived in a time when proponents of germ theory were often ridiculed, when some hospitals had such high death rates that they insisted burial costs be paid upfront, and most were unfamiliar with the modern principles of epidemiology.

Because they didn’t live in 2020, so therefore had less knowledge of infection than your average sixth grader does today. And, as early as 1918, when people had a better idea of how the Spanish flu was spread, many more people wore masks when in a crowd.

I also take issue with this either/or thinking, which just serves to divide us further. Since when is it un-American to care about others? When did we start believing that either you are a true patriot OR a godless subversive because you believe in science?

Don’t we wear seat belts to protect ourselves and others, even though we may go for years without getting in an accident? Don’t people who smoke now do so outside, even though it can take years for the effects of cigarette smoking to harm others? COVID-19 is highly contagious and studies show, again and again, that mask-wearing – along with other sanitation protocols — can significantly reduce your chances of transmitting the virus.

Yes, it can be hot and uncomfortable. Yes, it fogs up your glasses, makes it hard to understand others and can make breathing difficult. Yes, I would so much rather not do it.

But I don’t want this virus that has taken 217,000 American lives so far — this “imaginary” virus which has infected several members of my own family — to keep spreading like wildfire. It’s not like I’m being asked to wear a hazmat suit or a beekeeper’s uniform every time I go outside. It’s a piece of fabric. So I wear a mask.

As for the idea you are either a good American or a mask-wearer, well, I’d like to run that one by my mother. My mother is a definite patriot. Her father served in World War I and her brothers served in World War II. She decorates her home with American flags on the Fourth of July and she is as conservative as they come.

But she’s also battled cancer in the last year, so she’s not taking any chances. She wears a mask and, when hunters stay at her inn during pheasant season, she politely asks them to wear masks, too. I’m sure they don’t love doing so, but they respect her and they are in her house, so they do it.

We are all sharing this house, people. We are all in this together, doing our best. Our enemy is not each other; it’s the virus. So let’s not forget that.

Listen to my mom. Wear a mask.

Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at tswiftsletten@gmail.com.