My neurologist father maintained that hand-washing was our family’s single greatest obligation to one another and to the world. “As you know, it’s the No. 1 way to prevent disease transmission,” Dr. Beauregard Lee Bercaw would say to my brother and me every single night before sitting down to dinner. “Your hands are clean, right?”
If we hemmed or hawed, we were banished to our bathroom to scrub as if we were surgeons, not children. Sometimes he’d stand behind us at the sink and provide a verbal inventory of ailments caused by poor sanitation and hygiene, throwing in the names of diseases he’d seen during his years spent practicing medicine in the tropics during the Vietnam War but found nowhere near our Florida home: “Meningitis … Hepatitis … Salmonella … Staphylococcus … Streptococcus … Giardiasis … Schistosomiasis … Cholera … Typhoid…”. His litanies would last for at least 30 seconds, so there was no need for either of us to mumble through “Happy Birthday” twice.