Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash
By Marilyn Pellini
While the Second World War raged, I was too young to know its horror or importance. Though I didn’t understand the enormity of the dropping of the atomic bomb, I remember the sense of relief everyone felt, believing that this was the weapon to end all wars forever. I also remember one small thing having an impact on my life at that time. My third grade teacher told us that whenever we heard an airplane overhead, we should look up at it and say, “God, have them come back safe.” Even as a grown adult, you could still find me looking up at commercial jetliners repeating the mantra I had been taught years before. I’m sure it was still nice to wish a plane full of people a happy landing.
I vividly remember the day that terrible war ended. I lived in Providence, RI at the time, a rather large city. We were let out of school early, and on my walk home I had to pass a toy warehouse. There were people standing on the loading docks, far above the crowd, throwing out New Year’s Eve noisemakers and hats. People were dancing, crying, screaming and hugging in the streets, with car horns insistently blaring. The tableau looked jubilant, but at the same time very scary to a kid in the third grade, watching adults who acted as if they had gone mad.
The Korean War became our new reality shortly after the last tragic conflict. I was in high school at the time, and a group of friends and I walked together down a long hill to our public buses to return home. We passed the large Catholic cathedral in my city. All of us, whatever religion, stopped in for five minutes to reflect and pray for those serving in this conflict. Next along our route, before splitting to go to our buses heading for different areas of town, was the donut shop. Who could resist a vanilla coke and a donut fresh from the fryer?
I started high school in 1951, and graduated from college in 1959. Living in just about the best of times gave my life a calm, serene, happy component. I married, had two adorable children, bought my first house, and moved with my husband to a small town just right for raising kids. I became ensconced in this town on every level. I was the PTA president, worked the school budget vote, joined the women’s club, and headed just about every group in town because I felt the hand of God had sent me here, and I must give back to repay His great kindness.
My children grew up, moved away, started families of their own, and then the best of all things in the world occurred: grandchildren came into our lives. One morning on his way to work, my son called me to ask if I had the TV on. Now that was an odd question, as I had a personal rule and house rule — no TV before 6pm, unless something extraordinary was happening. “Mom,” he said, “you need to turn on the set,” and he proceeded to tell me that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center, and they did not believe it to be accidental. The first words out of my mouth were, “Life as we knew it will never be the same.” My son was especially upset, as he had given his wife an engagement ring on a carriage ride through Central Park, followed by dinner at the top of the World Trade Center. After that terrible day, people adjusted, compensated, and, yes, groused about the changes that took place in our everyday lives. Air travel became a chore rather than a pleasure. We had to take our shoes off in airports and go through scanning machines. Couldn’t even take a bottle of water in your purse to sip while waiting for your flight. But, we worked with it, got used to it, and threw away a number of pairs of socks that had wiped up airport floors.
There have been many other catastrophes since my youth. Terrible hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires that consumed entire towns. We live through workplace violence and horrendous school shootings often now. But I’m truly wondering if the coronavirus will make all of these combined pale in comparison.
For myself, I’m old and my demise is not too far off in the future. I don’t particularly relish that idea, but I’ve had a wonderful life here — full of good, fruitful happenings, wonderful family, and a comfortable lifestyle. Personally, I’d like to go on forever, but I know that’s not possible. I’ve already lost my mate, and loneliness has now been my constant companion. I came to Florida this winter as I usually do, alone. There are friends where I stay and also in my area of Florida, and I’m very happy to get away from the cold up north, although each and every day I do long for my husband.
Then it hit, this deadly virus that’s now consuming the world. Parents worry for their children, and runs on food and disinfectants have driven us all insane. How could this happen, what do we do from here, why did this happen? Each of us has our own theories. Those in our population who are religious are wondering why God is so angry with mankind. Have we lost our sympathy, empathy, and the offering of a helping hand to our fellow man? Have we put our emphasis on the wrong portions of life — money, appearance, politics?
Right now, everyone’s concern is how we’ll get through this and how many of us will lose our lives. I wish someone had the answers. I’m stranded here in Florida, not wanting to stay, but not wanting to go either.
My brother and his wife, who are both elderly, have been instructed by their young neighbors not to leave the house because of their age. They put a grocery list out under the front doormat, and a few hours later the note is magically replaced with bags of groceries.
I’m just hoping that all young people understand the enormity of this horrible plague and how serious it is for older people. Right now, in Florida, I’m seeing kids who are out of school or college congregating. They are not, most assuredly, six feet apart.
Remember that we are at war against a deadly germ. Please conserve whatever you can — food, water, gas, electricity, and even your own energy. Stop making so much waste and throwing away things that are totally reusable. In warm climates, plant a garden — a victory garden, like those of World War II. We are doing battle to save as many lives as possible, just as we were in actual war time.
We need to take more responsibility for ourselves and our fellow man before it’s too late. There are many out there, old and alone, who need help. Reach out, but at the same time stay home as much as possible until the world gets a handle on this pandemic. Just as in wars and catastrophes of the past, this will teach us to always be prepared for the worst, pray for the best, and to reach out with help and comfort wherever and whenever we can.
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.