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By Marilyn Pellini
It hit full force in mid-March of 2020 — COVID-19 that is. With its arrival went so many of life’s pleasures. Normally, I would greet a family member with a kiss or hug, especially if I had not seen them in a while. As the virus put a vice-like grip on the whole of mankind, close encounters evaporated. We had to stay at least six feet away from the other person and wear a mask if they did not live in our immediate household.
Most people who were used to going to the office or their place of business now worked from home — that is if they still had a job at all. The shutdowns were excessive and painful. So many folks were either out of work temporally or fully, if their company went out of business forever. Others were totally overworked, such as those delivering goods to supermarkets, our large discount stores, and home delivery men for Amazon and UPS. Our packages were surely of a different nature too, many more concerned with masks, hand sanitizers, and cleaning products.
Facebook and Zoom became our constant companions for both work-related purposes and to keep in touch with friends and family near and far. These electronics worked but could not possibly take the place of human contact. Whenever I was participating in a Zoom call, I felt I had to be dressed attractively and have a pleasing background. Unfortunately, my craggy, wrinkled face and slight double chin I could do nothing much about!
Before the virus, most days I would try to go out to run errands, attend a meeting, or even meet a friend for lunch. That had all stopped, and so did dressing up attractively. I often stayed in my PJ’s all day, as did so many others. The lockdown had gone on for just so terribly long that for my own sanity sometimes I had to put on something a bit decent, even if it was just to go to the supermarket or to take a ride in the fresh air. If I ran into someone I should have known, I might not even recognize them with that huge mask covering their face. Some people would give it a quick tug down and back up or just tell you who they were. Fortunately, no one took this as a slight or were offended. We were all in this “first-time” dilemma together.
Our health care workers were called upon for extra shifts and were falling prey to the disease themselves. They had to live particularly isolated lives. My daughter and her husband, who are both doctors, have a tiny apartment above their garage. They would leave a change of clothes there, so when returning from the hospital they would shower, dress in everything fresh, and go straight to the washer to launder their scrubs.
My new and constant companion was now the telephone. I tried to make a few calls a day just to stay in touch. There is something comforting about hearing an actual voice rather than contacting someone by email or texting. It is easy to know their state of mind by the tone of their voice. Although I sometimes called because I needed some cheering up, I was often the one trying to make someone feel a bit lighter. Since my husband is gone, I must admit to a bit of talking to myself, and looking heavenward asking if I can be given the strength to stand the loneliness and force myself to accomplish something. There are closets to clean and drawers too. When was the last time I actually waxed my wood furniture? That could be a good project. When one is down or depressed, however, that is not what you are looking to do. Being amused by nonsense on TV is more like it. I would make one excuse after another for not tackling a project, the major one being, “I can do that tomorrow.” We knew this pandemic would have a long duration, so why become even more stressed by pushing oneself to accomplish those long-put-off chores? It was hard enough just to prepare something to eat that would not add those dreaded calories and pounds.
People were still able to shop thanks to the Internet, but many were frightened to actually go into a store unless it was totally necessary. Buying food for the family was a constant, but there were so many new rules and regulations at supermarkets. It used to be a joy to browse the aisles and shelves of the market, as there always seemed to be a number of products you had never seen or tried before. One needed an exact and precise list to check off aisle by aisle, so you could get in and out in record time. There were staples you could not even get anymore. Cleaning products were at a premium, as people stuck at home decided cleaning closets, basements, and garages wasn’t such a bad idea. It certainly accomplished something and kept us away from our screens and living room couch.
Even if you were brave enough to go into a TJ Maxx, Kohl’s, etc. and spent a little time browsing, you could not try anything on. The dressing rooms were completely closed. I really needed some blue jeans. The ones I bought last year had some of that stretch material in them. With constant dryer heat, they were a baggy mess. I took home eleven pairs and was only able to keep two that really fit. I had to pay for a bag at the checkout as there was no way I could carry out eleven pairs of jeans in my arms. (My town is now bag-free, not even paper ones allowed.) Just getting the jeans into my house wasn’t easy either, and I found trying them on in front of my full-length mirror not nearly as satisfying as the vision you get of yourself in the store. The joy of buying new clothes was gone, and I only did it in a pinch or when Christmas reared its head. I treated myself to a new wallet I saw online. When it arrived it looked nothing like the one pictured. I toyed with the idea of returning it but did not want to go through that hassle. So, I’m stuck with a wallet I don’t love. Unfortunately, an expensive wallet I don’t love. Oh well!
My family always celebrates Christmas together, which is truly so much fun. I drive three hours to my son’s home and bring the Christmas Eve dinner with me. Either I make a baked stuffed fish, or we have a special variety of pasta. Since I could not go to their home this year because my daughter-in-law is an OB/GYN and sometimes has to deliver a baby to a COVID patient, I was home alone. I ordered a takeout meal of sole francaise and it was really delicious, but sitting alone to eat on such a festive occasion was tough.
For Christmas Day my kids ordered me a lovely dinner from a French restaurant, since I was going to stay at home. Their thoughtfulness did add great joy and anticipation, but sitting down to a place setting of china and crystal to eat alone instead of gathering with family did not measure up at all to past celebrations.
I vowed we would somehow get together to exchange Christmas gifts during the holiday season, however, so I devised a plan that actually worked. I met my son and family partway between our homes. We parked in the lot of a restaurant and got takeout. Connected by our phones on Bluetooth, we were able to eat and have a lively conversation. Then we exchanged gifts between cars and held one up at a time, reading the tag aloud and then pulling back the wrapping. There were the usual gasps of pleasure as we turned a dreary day into one of sunshine and good cheer.
Things for the year 2020 were certainly different and not of the same exuberant quality of old, but with a little ingenuity we have been able to keep connected with loved ones. In the long run, all that really matters is family, friends, and certainly good health!
Marilyn Pellini has recently published a grief book entitled Dear Al, A Widow’s Struggles and Remembrances. It has been selling quite well. Her other credits as a writer include a recent article in Brick Magazine entitled “Memories in My Button Jar,” pieces in Westchester Parent Magazine, Bay State Parent Magazine, On The Water, Balanced Rock, and others which she would be happy to provide copies of upon request. In May of 2018, she took the first place prize in the N.Y. State Federation of Women’s Clubs writing contest.