Corona Chronicles XXVI
Not All That Bad?
I don’t know about you, but having been vaccinated, I am claiming victory and releasing myself from bondage. No superpowers have emerged from the vaccination – doesn’t it seem like you should feel something palpable after the long build-up of expectations? And, really, staying home most of the time hasn’t been so bad. But Sharon and I will now forge ahead with visiting our son and family in Georgia, and I will go to Hannaford heedless as to who is or isn’t wearing a mask or how close our encounters are.
Similar optimism seems common, perhaps all too common, now that vaccinations are underway, spring has arrived, and people are just tired of being cooped up. Objectively, we are still in the midst of a public health crisis of frightening proportions, but the mood has definitely changed.
Just about a year ago, our lives were put on hold by the outbreak of a new and deadly disease that quickly spread around the world. We were advised that until no one quite knew what (a cure, vaccine, natural attrition?), it would be unwise to engage in most social relations. Safety lay only in isolation. Schools closed, work places closed, people stopped traveling, eating in restaurants, visiting friends. It was going to be a long wait.
A sign of the new, brighter mood is a change in the kinds of Covid-related comments people are making about seniors on online forums. Think back a year. It was quickly apparent that Covid 19 was hitting seniors especially hard, nursing home deaths being the poster child. (This distinguishes Covid 19 from most plagues of the past, which affected younger people more severely.) Some people, actually many, said at the time that the most obvious solution, given younger people’s relative immunity, would be simply to achieve “herd immunity” by allowing the infection to run its course, accepting high senior mortality as unavoidable collateral damage. This would be least disruptive to the economy and to the majority of people’s lives. (In ethics this is the principle of the greatest good for the greatest number.)
Fortunately for us seniors, this course was not followed. Efforts were made instead to contain the disease through social distancing, masking, enhanced cleaning, and the restriction of human interaction. When vaccines finally arrived, there was some debate about who was to be given priority, but that too was basically decided in seniors’ favor by making advanced age the primary criteria for vaccination along with unavoidable occupational exposure. (In ethics this is the principle that one’s first obligation is to the good of the individual.)
Now, with that debate behind us and the tide apparently turning in overcoming the disease, a new debate has arisen. For whom was the pandemic most stressful? Young, working people who were more likely to lose jobs, have children suddenly at home, give up active social lives, be restricted in their opportunities for matchmaking, and have their own education disrupted. Has the pandemic been harder on them or on the seniors who, though more susceptible to Covid, were generally more financially secure, accustomed to social isolation, without children to care for, and didn’t have to work?
The conclusion of the article eliciting these thoughts doesn’t really matter – that seniors continued to report generally better moods than working age people. It was the comments, which piled on exclamations about how much easier the retired generation has it in general. There was also an assumption that seniors are more or less across the board affluent and carefree. I am guessing that most Senior College members have gotten through the pandemic relatively unscathed. However, aren’t there millions of seniors who struggle financially, live in multi-generational family situations, are burdened with any number of infirmities of old age, or are residents of senior facilities where Covid was rampant?
Comparing one person’s happiness or suffering with another’s is not often a profitable thing to do. Each person’s experience is their own, with multi-faceted contexts that are in large part unknowable. It is better to honor each person’s joy or suffering for what it is to them. I do want, however, to raise the question, and it is really a question, of how serious a threat we felt we faced and, if it was dire, whether people should be so quick to say that seniors have really had it pretty easy.
At the beginning, it was widely recognized that seniors faced a far greater threat of serious illness and death. We were told by some to just accept it, buckle up, and sacrifice ourselves so the younger generation could move on. But wouldn’t living in the face of such a threat be a significant cause of distress? Shouldn’t we seniors be given some credit for facing a life-threatening situation with the equanimity we apparently have?
Approximately 425,000 Americans over fifty-five have perished due to Covid. According to recent statistics, people of all ages are infected with Covid 19 at roughly the same rate. However, someone age seventy is about forty times more likely to be hospitalized and well over a thousand times more likely to die. For those over eighty, the figures become dramatically worse.
The feeling never left me that being even momentarily careless or simply unlucky, catching Covid 19 would likely have very serious consequences. Fortunately, my luck held out even when I was careless. How living with that ever-present fear, even if in the background, compares with the greater practical complications faced by working age people, I can’t say. Enough, perhaps, that what we seniors face was not insignificant, even if not everyone can recognize it.
The open ground has invited
frost to dive deep
I walk to the tiny garden
of spring bulbs
Their green fingers reach out
The snow drops want to bloom
When they do
they will bloom my heart
On This Day in History
General Ulysses S. Grant chose Major General Joshua Chamberlain, hero of Gettysburg, to accept the surrender of General Robert E. Lee’s army at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.
Joshua Chamberlain was there as a witness and played a huge part in the victory with many soldiers from Maine. He was also to become a Governor of Maine.
A Cup of Tea
Myriads of thoughts come to me
When I’m brewing fresh hot tea
Using bags or from loose leaves
With sweet honey from the bees.
I think of things that make me happy
Or of the times when I was naughty
I wonder how the world will be
When I, myself, reach age eighty.
I often think of our history
Whenever I see cans of Twining’s tea
How we fought for our liberty
Leaves dumped into the sea
With spite and great frivolity
Our ancestors proudly decreed
“No more taxes! We want to be free!”
Brave rebels causing the British to flee.
While just a girl at my grandmother’s knee
I learned all the facts from A to Z
How to properly partake of tea
As she patiently instructed me
Seriously, I heeded her plea,
“Be polite and mannerly.
Hold your cup delicately.
Point straight up the pinky.”
A civilized afternoon pleasantry
Asked “Some tea? We say, “Mais oui!”
For me, pure brewed is the key
I like a tea that is citrusy,
No cream or sugar, please for me.
Served with biscuits and soft brie,
Sweet scones with jam, some savory.
What a perfect tea party we all agree!
There are many reasons why I drink tea
Sometimes it’s to calm my anxiety
When I’m chilled, it makes me feel toasty
It settles the burning, when food was spicy
The iced version cools when it’s ninety degrees
More so, when enjoyed in the shade of a tree.
Just one cup won’t do, I’ll drink two or three.
But in just a short while, I’ll rush off to pee.
Up the Country
From the time I was nine years old I was packed off every summer to stay with my grandparents. As the eldest of three children and the only girl my mother looked forward to my annual visit knowing that my absence would simplify her life with her younger sons. I, of course, loved the attention and adoration from both sets of grandparents. I would arrive in Richmond via train with a large suitcase to be met by my grandparents, Bebe and Pippy. As their first grandchild, the child of their only child, I was accorded every advantage they could offer plus their unconditional love.
Later in the summer we would visit my great-grandmother and great aunts and uncles, all living together in a white frame house on the hill overlooking the James River. It was to this spot that my great-grandfather brought his bride Ella in 1887 and where she gave birth to and raised five children, Lillian, Roy, Nellie, Asbury, and Eloise, always called Sweetie. My maternal grandmother was the only one of the five who married and left the family place for the city 125 miles down the river.
As a child I loved going “up the country” as my grandmother, Bebe, described the summer pilgrimage to her homeplace. Heading west from the fall line the trees grew taller, greener, and denser. The road wound through fields of high July corn like a part through a heavy head of coarse, thick hair. The earth grew a deeper and darker brick red with each mile through the Piedmont. Soon the roadway began the slow ascent up into the mountains. We had to swallow frequently as our ears began popping from the increasingly higher altitude.
In mid-afternoon we arrived at our destination. The languor of the July day had settled upon the tiny hamlet on the banks of the historic river. No soul was stirring, or a breeze wafting, the only sound was the gentle squeaking of a glider spring on a nearby porch. The air was hot, and the humidity hung heavily in the afternoon sun. Even the poplar trees were exhausted from the sweltering heat letting their branches droop.
My aunts and uncles greeted us with welcoming hugs and glasses of cool water from the spring located down the hill from the house. The grownups sat on the roomy front porch and I asked if I could go down to the spring. As long as I took an empty bucket to fill was the reply.
Keeping a supply of spring water was essential for the spigot water was nonpotable and was only used after boiling. The spring had provided all the necessary day-to-day water for years and would continue to do for the next 50 years.
I kicked off my sandals, and ran across the sunny side yard, through the big leaf hydrangea bushes bursting with buds, to the path that led to the spring. Descending into the green glade it was suddenly dark and cool with a heady, wet smell. I loved this chore and even today I can recall my bare feet on the cool, dark earth, tamped down by the hundreds of other feet that had fetched water from the spring. The path was steep and the further I went the cooler and damper it became. I arrived at the large stone springbox and set my bucket on the top of the structure. I straddled the spigot where the refreshing, clear water spurted from the box. I carefully placed the enameled bucket in position and watched as the rushing water spilled into the container and as soon as it was at the top I grabbed the handle and turned to go back up the hill. But first I let the water run over my bare toes experiencing the delight of the cool water. The ascent was difficult with my damp feet slipping on the earthen path. As I emerged from the spring path, through the hydrangea bushes, the unblinking sun was bearing down on me and I ran hurriedly to make my delivery to the kitchen.
“Well, you didn’t spill much, Miss Ella”, my Aunt Eloise aka Sweetie said as I put the heavy pail on the table. I was told to go lie down for a while to cool off but I would be needed shortly to set the table for supper. Of course I fell sound asleep and was startled when my grandmother called to me to come set the table.
I loved setting the large round table in the dining room.The heavy damask cloth on the table was first covered with placemats then salt and pepper shakers, the large cut glass sugar bowl and creamer, and a cruet filled with vinegar were placed in the middle. Silverware was the flower encrusted Stieff rose pattern quite popular with Victorian era brides.
As the family gathered around the table my Aunt brought in serving dishes filled with fried chicken, creamed yellow squash, string beans cooked with potatoes, sliced tomatoes, onions, and always homemade biscuits or yeast rolls. This was a standard main meal for summertime eating with the vegetables all grown by Uncle Asbury in his large garden. The highlight of the summer was the arrival of fresh corn, long slender ears of pale white kernels that still makes my mouth water nearly 70 years later.
After helping to clear the dishes and being shooed out of the kitchen by Bebe and my aunts I retreated to the front porch. There in the dark sat great-uncles Asbury, Roy and my grandfather, Pippy, gently rocking while enjoying after dinner smokes.
It was velvety dark in the mountains. The light of the stars and the flash of fireflies punctuated the air. The night was heavy with the lush smell of the mountains mixed with the sulphurous, acrid, odor of the paper mill. The mill, located below the house on the river, was lit with yellow lights. In my imagination the mill looked like a large river boat lit from bow to stern anchored on the river.
“Sit down, Sis,” said my grandfather “It’s nice and cool out here. We are going to take the dogs for a walk in a while. Your grandmother will be out here in a few minutes and I expect she, Nell and Sweetie will need to set a spell and cool off some.”
As my uncles and grandfather took the final drag of their smokes they rose up and called the dogs that had been sitting in the side yard. “C’mon boys let’s go for a little round before bed,” said my grandfather. The three men and two dogs walked slowly down the front walk and down the steps to the gravel driveway. I waved good-by for I knew they would be a while, stopping to chat with others out for a cool stroll or the men up at Burke’s garage hanging out on a summer’s night.
The mountain mist was rolling in and I was getting tired. It had been a long day and I was ready for bed. Adventures awaited me and I had to be up early.
I slept in my great-grandmother’s large bedroom in an old metal bed under a window. I could lie in bed and look right out the window to the river below and of course the paper mill. I fell asleep imagining the paper mill was a giant ship on the ocean that was carrying me away to numerous adventures. I remember awakening later in the night as my grandmother slipped into bed. “Go back to sleep, it is late and we have a busy day tomorrow,” she said. I snuggled down in the bed and quickly fell back into a much needed sleep in preparation for any new adventures awaiting.
Where in Belfast?
Photos by Audrey M. Deveney
In February we had this quiz to test your powers of observation. Here are the answers.
Thoughts for the Day
Each day is an invitation to see the world in a new way, to watch it bloom before our eyes like a flower in time-lapse photography, to feel the curvature of the earth in our bodies, and to become aware that we live on the edge of a spinning ball where anything can happen.
~MARV AND NANCY HILES
At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities.
I have decided to stick to love… Hate is too great a burden to bear.
~REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
Courtesy of Gratefulness.org