Pandemic Reflections #4


It just so happens that, white child that I was, I grew up knowing about Juneteenth. I didn’t know the whole story about it, but I knew that it was a special day for black people. My dad was raised in Texas, so he knew about it. Whenever he was home on June 19, he would comment about it. 

As an adult, I learned more about the day. This year, it’s quite the deal. Everyone is finding a way to celebrate it. Some want it to become a national holiday, and that might be a good idea. Because here’s the thing about Juneteenth: It’s all about the best and worst of America. It acknowledges the fact of slavery in the United States. It celebrates the fact that after years of very bloody warfare, the North vanquished the South, and slavery came to an end. 

The ugly side of Juneteenth is that Texan slave owners never bothered to tell their slaves that they had been set free in 1863. So until Union soldiers arrived in Texas in 1865 to spread the word, slaves didn’t know that they had been legally free for two years. It would be a bittersweet national holiday, and maybe that would fit the mood if both sides could acknowledge both sides of our history. We are a complicated country. 

I Need to Get Out

I’m taking limited risks. I’m staying within the phased reopening guidelines of our state. But I’m pretending that I’m not old. 

I live in a high-rise senior community with a view of buildings. I’m near a park, but it’s built on top of the freeway, so the noise is unnatural. All of the social activities of my senior community are cancelled forever. The coffee machine in the lounge has been unplugged, dining room and bistro closed, screening whenever we re-enter the building. A few people converse outdoors with masks and distance, but I’ve tried it and it doesn’t do much for me. 

Hence, my husband and I have taken to the road. We crossed the mountains and are staying for several days in a motel room at the confluence of the Chewuch and Methow rivers. Our room has a deck where we can watch the “action.”

The rivers are high and fast and noisy in June, swallows flit about scooping up insects, cotton is drifting about from all the cottonwoods on the edge of the rivers, silly men are attempting to wade in the fast moving water (but quickly climbing back out – they’re silly, but not stupid). 

Yesterday, I wore my mask and walked into a few stores that looked safely empty. I regretted not having a tissue with which to touch door handles. If I go out again, I will take one. All stores had signs about masks. Some offered free ones. Free hand sanitizer was available.

This morning, I spoke to a motel employee, explaining that we didn’t need cleaning service. I was told that under Covid-19 Phase 2 guidelines, no one gets cleaning service. No one enters our room until we leave, but if we need supplies they will be glad to deliver them. Awesome, we’re in agreement!

I’m Really Lonely

I’m so glad I have a husband still. Many people I live with do not, so they are toughing it out alone. Not all of them are miserable, but no one likes this. For me, even with a spouse, I’m finding that I really, really miss the conversations and programs that used to be daily occurrences at our senior community. People who have children, the majority by far, at least have people who check in with them. But spouses and children are not the same as the robust discussions with peers that were once had in our lounges and meetings. They’re not the same as continuing to learn new and amazing things, in rooms with other living, breathing people. 

Lots of people are participating in online meetings to replace the in-person programs. I’ve tried this. I will continue to connect with a few people this way, but it is just not the same. In some ways, I feel even more lonely after one of these events. I even tried a meeting with four people spaced far apart in a big room. We wore masks and used microphones. Ugh. I can’t “hear” people who are wearing masks. We were constantly repeating what we said. Again, I left aching for the type of interaction we used to have.

It’s Not Ending

I live in a country that cannot get its act together to provide masks and protective garb for health care workers, still. It’s not the crisis it was a few months ago, but health care workers are still reusing masks that are supposed to be disposable. We’re just not up to managing this pandemic.

Will we have the miracle vaccine by the end of the year? Here’s the thing about vaccines: Imagine that one moves quickly through trials and is declared effective and safe. How does it then move from lab to the world? More than six billion people will need it. Forget the world, let’s just talk about the US. More than 300 million people will need it. Who gets it first? Damn well better be old people in Seattle. I’m willing to let health care providers go first, then let old people in nursing homes get it before old people in retirement communities, but I refuse to be past third in line. In any event, even with really good luck on the vaccine, it will be a long while until anything gets back to normal. 

Daily Problems

Right now, I need more lip balm. In the old days, I would use that as an excuse to get some exercise by walking to a store that sells lip balm. Do I resort to ordering lip balm online? Can Instacart do lip balm? Well, I won’t be getting it today.

In the old days, if I were bored, I would follow Petula Clark’s advice and go “Downtown.” Just window shopping would cheer me up. Now, due to rowdy protesters early on, downtown is boarded up. Ugly. Another cure for the doldrums would be to go to the library and browse magazines or the counter with lots of copies of hot new books. Closed. 

Because, Germs! Covid-19 germs everywhere! People = germs. Magazines = germs! Books = germs! Shops = germs! Stay home! Stay away! 

Going out for fish and chips, a pleasant outing in the old days, is no longer advised for old people. Going out for anything is no longer advised for old people. There’s only one solution that I can see. I refuse to be old. I will behave as if I’m just an ordinary, responsible, middle-aged person. But I will not be old. I just can’t do it. 

We’re All Trying to Figure This Out

Today, we drove to Twisp. I walked to the Cinnamon Twisp bakery, an old favorite. People were at the counter, ordering, so I waited outside. Two people came up and started to go inside. I said there wasn’t room, that I was “in line.” So they waited outside. Then two more people arrived and started to go in. I repeated that I was “in line.” They waited outside. 

Eventually, people inside moved off with their goodies, so I entered and looked over the selection. All the other people who had waited outside came in also, so now there was a crowd at the counter (all wearing masks). People had missed the whole point of me waiting outside. I ordered and moved away to wait for my sandwich. Other people came in, so an employee had to come out to ask people to please spread out. “Oh, sure!” the clueless people said.

People are not trying to mess this up. But none of us has any relevant experience. It’s all new. We’re used to being friendly, to jostling around. People here are compliant about masks (because all the shops are stern about it), but the distancing is unnatural. I try to be around people as little as possible, but I might even have to give up on bakeries. That would be truly tragic. 

2 thoughts on “Pandemic Reflections #4

  1. I am happy you were able to take to the road. Road trips are fun. Some of my happiest memories have been road trips here in the states and in East Asia even with kids asking if we were there yet.
    I don’t mind being old. It’s better than being dead as long as I know who I am and can take care of myself. Of course, if I didn’t know who I was I guess it wouldn’t matter.
    I know what’s important to me and I pretty much ignore what is beyond my help. As a way of helping, I donate money rather than getting involved. I have a good excuse. I’m 87 years old. I would just slow everybody else down so I stay out of their way.
    I guess I am lucky to be a lazy sort of person. I have books, books, books to read. I get completely lost when I’m reading as I enter the lives of the characters. Sometimes, I even talk to them — “you are making a mistake my girl. He’s not for you.” I enjoy movies, I stream NetFlix, Hulu, Amazon, BritBox.
    Yeah, there are always people who mess things up, bless their hearts. We Texans overlook lots of stuff by just saying “Bless their little old hearts.”
    You are one of the most intelligent, caring, gutsy persons I know. I am grateful for your friendship. Bless Your Heart! Lou

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