Census Bureau Table
Census Bureau Table

And the Pandemic rages on.   No one honestly believes it will end any time soon and based on observed behavior, an astonishing number of people don’t care.  I’ve spent countless hours ruminating on their reasoning with no clear conclusion.  Some folks profess disbelief in the reality of the disease.  I can’t help but wonder whether such self-delusion is a form of mental illness in which their minds are shielded from reality as a means of protection.   Some seem to feel invincible or have convinced themselves that they won’t get it or that they will only have a mild case. 

I am beyond astonishment at the number of people who refuse to wear a mask to protect either themselves or others.  My morning walks are peppered with bikers, strollers and runners.  I carry a mask in my pocket and put it on each time I approach another person on the path.  To date, despite an ongoing requirement to don a mask when unable to maintain distance, I remain nearly alone in my compliance.  Other senior citizens who, if for no other reason than age stand in high risk are the least likely to even attempt to avoid close contact.   I regularly see an 80-something year old wearing a hat to protect his head, sunglasses to protect his eyes and two canes to help him walk.  He seems to have no interest in protecting his lungs though.

My mind is blown and frankly I find it depressing.  The dire predictions of exponential spread are coming to fruition on the nightly news.  As of last week, more than 4 million people in this country have caught the bug.  Over the weekend we added a quarter of a million more.  Deaths are approaching 150,000 people.  All the people in Dayton, Ohio don’t reach that number.   But people continue to gather for parties, weddings and entertainment.  This morning on Facebook someone posted a “weekly reminder” that our country had been shut down and people thrown out of work for a disease from which 99.96% of people recover.  Two other people shared her post.  I countered her with facts from the Ohio Coronavirus Dashboard:  In reality, 3.9% of the Ohioans who tested positive have died; this translates to 3,400 people not the 34 imagined by this post. 

Well, now you know why my Pandemic Diary has been empty lately.  As soon as I start thinking about it my mind is overtaken by a single thought:  what in God’s name are these people thinking?  It’s a puzzle without a solution.  The closest I can come is cognitive dissonance.  I read an interesting article postulating that the desire to explain away contradictory thoughts has brought forth this willful ignorance.

Meanwhile, other people have used their unexpected free time to come to the realization that Black Lives Matter.   Apparently the Civil Rights movement just didn’t sink in before but now that it has, people have taken to the streets in protest of injustice.  I can’t help but feel this is a good thing even if it is a terrible time to gather in protest.  At least many of them seem to be wearing masks!

Changing the subject – slightly anyway, the Census Bureau elected to do a Covid-19 survey and I was selected as participant.  I had my doubts at first, but my research convinced me it was real.  I found it listed right on the Census Bureau website with a code to confirm the validity of the text.   For a period of a month I responded to their weekly questions:  Was I working?  If not, why not?  Did anyone in my household get laid off?  Did I have insurance?  Enough to eat?  Could I find the things I wanted in the store?  Could I find healthy food?  Could I pay for it?  Could I pay my rent or mortgage?  Was I suffering from depression?  Anxiety?  I almost felt guilty being so completely fine.  I have everything I need and while I may be a bit down I’m not clinically depressed by any stretch of the imagination. 

Many people have lost jobs, insurance, food and their mental health.  For a brief period my daughter thought her job had been permanently riffed.  She had a reprieve, but as everyone knows, it may not last.  Things are very, very bad.  Even the President finally admits that even worse is yet to come.   Hang in there!

1957 Necchi Supernova Sewing Machine
1957 Necchi Supernova Sewing Machine

I’ve had a very good excuse not to attempt pandemic mask making:  my sewing machine was packed for moving.  The machine is a 1957 Necchi Supernova, surely one of the heaviest ever made, although I don’t remember it feeling quite so leaden when I was younger.  I’ve moved that machine multiple times, but the last time was 1990.  It is quite easy to take it out of the sewing cabinet:  just tilt the head back and remove two little screws.  I’d done it by myself many times.  This time, I lifted it into my arms before realizing I no longer possessed the strength to lay it gently on the floor.

The machine and I staggered into a nearby chair until help arrived while I marveled at my youthful state of fitness.  My husband eventually came to the rescue and we wrapped the head carefully and put in my trunk for transport to the new house.  

Two weeks post-move we decided to reassemble it.  Years and years of using those two little screws evaporated from my aging brain as we blithely put it together without them.  And voila, the whole thing crashed through the dust cover at the bottom of the cabinet, ripping screws asunder before we caught it just before it hit the floor.   After an hour of failed attempts the light dawned:  the screws!  Where are the two little screws?

The underside of the sewing machine
The Belly of the Beast

“You can’t be serious that this entire thing is held in place with two screws,” my husband frowned.  I don’t blame him for doubting me after what I’d just put him through.  And so the hunt for the screws ensued.  After a week of looking through variously labeled boxes at random moments of the day (and once in the middle of the night), while mumbling about a war being lost for want of a nail, I gave up. 

“I think I must have put them in my pocket and lost them in the wash or something.”  Without those two little screws the machine was worthless.  It lacked a based to sit upon.  No one seemed to be offering 1957 Necchi screws online, but someone was offering an entire machine for more than it cost new.  I also found an interesting blog about vintage sewing machines.

Another week went by.  We continued to open boxes while staff working in the White House tested positive for Covid-19.  The idea that our nation’s leaders – the ones who walk around without masks – might have been exposed to the virus was no surprise to me.  I was much more shocked to open a box and find the foot pedal for the sewing machine and a baggie containing those two little expletive deleted screws.  I was pleased that I had done something careful and sensible with them, even if I didn’t remember doing it.

We dove into action.  My husband pulled on gloves to protect his hands, I pulled two screwdrivers, an assortment of woodscrews and the baggie and we settled down to business.  We managed to put the dust catcher back on with relative ease.  But getting the head in place was elusive.  The base must fit exactly on two pegs that swivel down at the slightest touch.  After multiple attempts we finally had it in place and turned the screws to tighten them only to discover that only one side had been fixed in place.  The very vulgar words I felt compelled to utter did not improve the ache in my back. 

We rested.  We had lunch.  “Do you want to try again?” my husband asked.

“Not yet.”  I popped a Tylenol and procrastinated for a while.  Our youngest daughter dropped off a Mother’s Day gift including chocolate.  I put on my mask and stared longingly at her face, my arms itching to hug her close. 

Another bout with the sewing machine suddenly seemed a good distraction.  We got it in place once more and my husband wiggled it carefully while I worried it would pop back off.  Something ka-chunked down.  “That was something,” he said. The screws went in.  I tightened them.  Slowly, slowly we lowered the head into the cabinet.  Nothing fell.  Nothing ripped.  We moved it back up.  Still good.  Victory!  We triumphed over a machine.  The virus is next.

Note From My Granddaughter

Dear Jet,
Thank you so much for sending the beautiful card! I love it so much! Papa and I have been working every day trying to unpack our things in the new house. The movers piled up boxes in the garage. The boxes were over our heads. I felt I would never get done. Little by little we are working on it.

Toys in the Closet

Today we finished opening all the things that go in your room. The toys are all in the closet. The books are on the shelves. There is a little rug, a table, a bed and a lamp. I wish you could come over and sleep in it! I feel very, very sad about not being able to get close to you. Maybe you can call me on Monday and I can read more Little House on the Prairie to you. If it is warm and sunny maybe we can come over to see you outside on the porch for a little bit.

Our dog doesn’t like the new house very much. Last night she did not want to go to bed. I had to stay up late with her until she calmed down. She threw herself around in her bed and cried.

We heard that there will be a new house built next to us. Right now a huge, gi-nor-mus truck with a basket lift is sitting next to our house. The painters used it on our house. They started painting but had to stop for rain. When the paint is done, we can get grass. Then maybe poor Marcy will like it better.

You are the love of my heart too, Jet. I love you more than words can say. My heart hurts from missing you so very, very much. I hope the need to stay apart will end as soon as can be.

Love, hugs and kisses,

Grandma

Empty house with dog
The Empty House

In the spring of 2019 my husband said, “We really should do this before we get too old to move.” We apparently missed the mark:  every part of my body is loudly protesting a solid month of abuse.  We downsized (but not enough), cleaned and spruced up our home.  When it sold in one day we went into emergency mode to pack and ready the new house. 

“We have too much stuff,” my husband said.  Perhaps, but we didn’t have the time to do anything about it.  We had planned to donate, but Covid-19 put a stop to that.  So many people were staying at home cleaning in isolation that trips to the dump were discouraged.  Everything, including the trash would have come with us to be dealt with at the end of the pandemic.

Despite our best efforts, we didn’t finish in time.  On moving day, our house was emptied of everything but the kitchen and master bath.   By midnight only the dishes were packed. 

The next day we took our aching bodies and our discombobulated dog back home.  It may not have looked like home, but we couldn’t help calling it that anyway.  The dog wandered around like a lost sheep.  She still had food and water, but no bed, no comfy chair to sit in and her people were making her nervous by cleaning like fiends.

The Last Load
The Last Load

To leave the house in less than pristine condition was unthinkable.  So, we packed the rest of the cupboards, cleaned the bathrooms, shined all the wood and tile floors, dusted shelves, wiped out cupboards, and ran the self-cleaning oven.  At lunch time the pandemic line at Wendy’s was an hour long.  We ate our cold hamburger and old-looking fries on the foot-wide stone hearth while the dog stared at us.  Then, back to work.  My husband climbed into the attic for the last time and brought down the unused boxes we had saved for packing.  He flattened them and vacuumed the rugs.   The dog expressed her displeasure on the carpet: one more thing to clean. My body gave out at 6pm.  The remainder would have to wait. 

Welcome New Owners
Welcome New Owners

After cleaning the refrigerator and packing both cars with the final load today, the dog and I said goodbye to the yard.  She declined to leave her mark.  The sun beamed brightly and spring flowers waved goodbye in the breeze. The rabbits offered a parting gift, leaving the heads on a few tulips.  Back in the house, the dog began to shake.  I picked her up and we walked around for a last goodbye.  I took my key off the ring and put it in the closet with a welcome letter and manuals we prepared for the new owners.  The rooms were empty, but I could still see the memories:  birthday cakes in the dining room; Christmas trees and piano lessons in the living room; cozy nights in the family room with Friday pizza and a movie; the grandkids playing on the porch. 

The rush of memories opened like a floodgate.  “Do you remember the day we stood on the front walk to take a Christmas photo with the kids in Santa hats?” I asked my husband as the tears began to flow.

“I do,” he said as his voice cracked.  We held each other on the front porch.  “Lots of good memories,” he said.  One of the tulips rested its head on the ground in sympathy with our feelings.

“I’d better get going with the frozen food,” I said.  I took a wet mop to the remainder of the kitchen floor, backing out the garage door.  “Will you lock it?”  I asked.

“Yes, I’ll sweep out the garage and be right along,” he said. 

The dog and I got in the car and headed out.  She gave a deep sigh and flopped on the seat with her chin on the console.  “Everything will be okay.  We’re going home now,” I told her.

Tulip on the Ground
Tulip On the Ground
Negative image of Family Room

My eyes have been exceptionally moist lately.  In truth, I’ve been a bit weepy. Even when my eyes are not leaking, I can be pushed into it easily.  Our house is full of boxes, the walls are bare and we are down to only 4 days before we move.  It’s emotionally hard to leave a place with so many memories, but it is physically hard too.  My husband and I ache in places we’d forgotten we have.

We hired a separate mover for our treadmill.  He failed to arrive at the appointed time.  I called.   An outstandingly nice and regretful dispatcher informed me that they were no longer going into houses due to the pandemic and he was so, so very sorry that he forgot to tell me.  This did not come as a surprise, but my tears did.  Luckily, my voice only shook a little and he couldn’t see them, because the next thing I knew I was on the verge of a real sob-fest because he Promised with a capital P to find someone to help us.  And he did.

More watery eyes resulted with an email from our daughter saying that she and her husband were ready, willing and able to manage our moving day to minimize our risk of exposure.  We are invited to go sit in the car and take occasional walks while they direct the movers on both ends of the process.  Knowing me as well as she does, she assured me that I could keep tabs on everything via cell phone. 

News from my husband’s family in Michigan dried my eyes and sent us both into a kind of shock:  two members of his family who live in care facilities have been diagnosed with the virus.  They are lovely, lovely people who deserve better.  News from our other daughter was heartbreaking in a different way:  our granddaughter’s guinea pig died unexpectedly.  She went to bed tonight worrying about his behavior and wondering if she did something wrong.  She will wake up in the morning to find him gone.   I want to be there for her.  Expressing condolences by phone is simply not the same.

On the bright side:  the closing on our house has been scheduled, the movers have confirmed their attendance on Monday and our little dog doesn’t look as funny with her DIY haircut as I had feared.

Kroger Pickup Blurb

I never enjoyed going to the grocery in normal times but I feel absolutely head-over-heels ecstatic about it when the alternative is ordering groceries online during a Pandemic.  My daughter – the one with three kids — regularly orders online and seems relatively pleased with the process.  I am finding it extremely difficult to adjust.

After carefully making our pickup list, we discovered that orders must be submitted no more than 3 days in advance.  Lo and behold, no pickup times are available at any time during the next three days.  An order cannot be placed.  After several minutes of wondering what could be done, it occurs to me that delivery might still be an option.  I resubmit the list for delivery and:  Voila!  A few spots remain on the third day out, but the cost of delivery is $12.95 plus an undisclosed automatic tip. 

As we begin to place the order, I suddenly realize that we must indicate whether or not we will accept substitutions.  Back to the list we go.  I exercise all the flexibility I can muster to avoid refusing a substitute, but there are some things I’d rather do without if I can’t get my favorite brand such as Dannon yogurt.  I don’t want Kroger yogurt.  It isn’t the same.  I don’t want any other type of toothpaste either, but somehow I fail to mark “no substitutions” on that one. 

Strangely I am unable to order high demand items on line.  If I want toilet paper, paper towels, or any sort of disinfectant I have to go into the store and try to grab it myself.  This makes me grumble about Kroger:  how dare they claim to be so protective of their clients and then force them to go into the store for an essential item?  It turns out to be irrelevant anyway as the only place to get such goods is apparently on the black market.

Since our Kroger Plus card is registered under my husband’s name and phone number his pants pocket is soon dinging with texts from our shopper.  I wonder if she is using her own phone or one belonging to Kroger with a generic first name. 

Apparently the store is nearly empty so she has to ask us if we will take different sizes and flavors of so many items my head is spinning.  If we want to eat, we’d better take what she gives us.  So we end up with Pepperidge Farm swirled rye bread, expensive long-cooking noodles in a fancy bag, precooked rice in a microwaveable tray, chicken thighs with skin on them and whitening toothpaste.  It tastes awful, by the way, but at least my teeth look clean. 

The first time we ordered we accepted delivery in our garage and the shopper tried to help bring it in the house.  This felt a bit too close for comfort, so for the second visit I appropriated some of the many available boxes we are using for packing; wrote “GROCERIES” on the flaps and put them on the front porch.  The shopper placed the delivery in the boxes and didn’t even ring the bell. 

Initially I tried to disinfect and/or wash everything we had received.  It was exhausting!  The second time, we let our daughter get the fresh food for us so that the boxes contained only dry goods.  We dragged the boxes in the front door and let them sit in the living room for 3 days while I congratulated myself for thinking of it.

After the first delivery we got an email asking us if we wanted to adjust our final amount to include a bigger tip.  That’s when I found out the shoppers automatically received only 5%.  After increasing the tip, our groceries were the most expensive we had ever purchased. The Kroger FAQ page now says that the pickup order fee has been waived for the duration of the pandemic – or at least the stay-at-home requirement.

Thanks to substitutions, I discovered that I could rip the skin off chicken thighs with my bare hands; that whitening toothpaste doesn’t really make your teeth whiter; that expensive noodles and Pic Sweet mixed vegetables are delicious. 

I’m going to try for Pickup next time because Kroger has increased bookings to 7 days in advance.  I have a feeling this will make for some real adventures in eating!

It Isn’t March Anymore

Normally, two weeks pass pretty quickly for me, but the time since March 22nd when our governor asked us to stay at home has not.  My husband and I have been carefully avoiding people for almost a month and I truly am losing my grip on time, date and day of the week.  If I had to take an Alzheimer’s test now, I’d flunk.  Our daughters feel it too.  “When are you moving?” the oldest texted, “What day is it? Octember?”

“Octember?”

“Today is frimember second of octember.  It’s a thwensday,” responded the youngest.

“Is there a list or is it random?” I asked.

“That sounds right,” said the oldest. 

I’m in a science fiction book:  living in a pandemic and untethered in time.  At least we have a sense of humor about it.  Mostly.

Our last outing together was on March 9th when we took our nephew out for his birthday.  The early information on the virus was so alarming that we cut back our interactions dramatically.   The more dire the news, the greater our withdrawal until now we order our groceries delivered, we stand six feet away from other people and wear masks.  I feel inordinately upset about the Post Office’s failure to validate our new address.  It makes me angry in a way that I don’t normally feel angry and it affects my tone of voice.

“Are you upset with me?” my husband asks carefully.

 “Oh my gosh no, NO!  Are you feeling fussy with me?”  He was not, but he feels exactly the same way about Medicare’s failure to give him a Medicare number and it’s wearing on him too.

“Let’s make a pact:  from this moment on we will have absolute faith in each other. Good?“

“Good.”

So, we may not know when we are, or how our world is going to work, but we know where we are and whom we love.  Good?  Good.

One winter, when I was in grade school, a terrible snowstorm closed the schools, stores and the roads.  We couldn’t go anywhere.  Ordinarily, my sisters and I would have reveled in the opportunity to skip school, but I was crushed:  my grandparents had called to say that they couldn’t come because the roads were simply too bad.  My birthday was ruined.  In my whole life, I’d never spent that day without them.  Obviously, I never got over it, because 56 years later I’m still whining about it.

I bring this up because I’ve been thinking about whether my granddaughter Julie will celebrate her next birthday without friends and extended family (and worst of all without me!) and I’m realizing that birthdays are just the tip of the iceberg.  Everything has changed for my grandchildren.  It’s as if they have become as isolated as the Ingalls children from Little House on the Prairie — a book I’ve been reading to Julie over the phone. 

When the Ingalls moved from their little house in the big woods they left their family behind for the open and very empty prairie.  They said goodbye to aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins.  The little family unit was self-sufficient and for a while they were completely alone. Ma insisted that her girls continue their schoolwork but Mary, Laura and Carrie had no classmates and only each other as playmates.  Scary things like damaging hail, fire, wildcats and locusts could descend on the family at any time.  The parents worked and worried everyday to ensure their survival.  Yet, Laura’s books are full of happy memories.  She faced even harsher circumstances in her later life with dignity and grace — perhaps due in part to her early experiences.  Her story gives me hope that even if adults believe that these times are causing hardship and changing lives, the children may see things differently.  I looked out my window this afternoon to see the next-door neighbors entertaining their six year old with chalk, dinosaur suits and plenty of parental attention.  She seemed to enjoy it as much as I did!

As the Ingalls family headed west, they fit all their belongings in one covered wagon.  I’d need an entire fleet of wagons to carry the stuff I’ve accumulated in the last 40-odd years.  Now I’m running out of places to put packed boxes.  I’d forgotten how much more space books take when removed from the shelves and placed in boxes on the floor.  I’ve packed all the easy stuff and now must wander about finding appropriate items to fill spaces.  I have to wonder if I might need a doo-hickey or a thing-a-ma-bog before moving.  You might think I should be able to get by without almost anything for 16 days, but I hesitate and waste time thinking about each item. 

Thanks to the pandemic I’ve already learned to live without the brands I like.  I’ve been known to fuss about being forced to buy the Kroger brand of crushed tomatoes when I really wanted the Hunt’s.  Just before the great toilet paper shortage I spent a significant amount of time reading reviews to find a stronger version.  Now I feel incredibly grateful to have any kind of toilet paper no matter how pathetically thin.  I don’t think Laura ever mentioned how her family attended to such things, but I have a feeling they didn’t have rolls of toilet paper stuffed in the wagon.  I noticed an article on Facebook entitled, “What Did People Use Before Toilet Paper?”  As various images began to run through my imagination, I decided not to open it to find out.

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Glancing Backwards

By Lisa P. Rickey, an archivist in the Miami Valley

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