A Visit in the Time of COVID-19!

 

Back in early June, Sweet B said we’d have to give the proposal that I park a camper in her driveway “a little more thought.” And so she did – and her parents did – and yesterday afternoon about 4:30, an enormous RV pulled into our driveway!

Despite many weary miles of mountain driving, her dad emerged looking cheerful. The Sweet Bride (smiling broadly at the ending of all those miles) appeared with Sweet Brother – happy to be out of his car seat and bestowing single-dimpled grins on his unfamiliar (and ecstatic) grandparents! And finally, Sweet B, having momentarily retired to change clothes in her curtained bed over the camper cab, came down the steps and into my arms! Hugs – actual hugs!

In a phone consult earlier in the day, we’d discussed our protocol for masks and distancing. The camper has everything, bathroom, kitchen, water supply, and lots of food storage. Stopping only for gas and nursing breaks and spending every night in campgrounds with campfires and s’mores – they’ve truly been bubbled. And we live in a bubble. So now we’ve merged – just like that.

Sweet Brother was not enthusiastic about the journey, but Sweet B, by all reports, uttered not a word of complaint – she listened to stories on her “radio,” watched the mountains and valleys of the American West pass by her picture window, and slept well every night. On one memorable stop, after a little hike upstream, she floated down an Oregon creek with her dad. And now they’re actually here. It seems a total miracle to me, I am so grateful to them for making this journey.

I finished the painting I’ve been working on with crossed fingers since the plan was hatched, being sure that something would prevent this trip. But no – they made it, and we have a couple of weeks to savor summer together!

And it’s time for the August blog break. Thank you for reading, I wish August pleasures for all of you in our masked and turbulent times.

Life in the Time of COVID-19

Maybe I could turn into my mother. I always marveled at her good cheer as she coped with the vicissitudes of life, especially as she aged. A lifelong social worker by proclivity and training, she never seemed to grow discouraged with her clients or her situation.

She adapted to my father’s questionable schemes – lighting out for British Columbia with two little girls to build and live in a log cabin out in the woods, then a move to pre-statehood Alaska. She loved Alaska, but happily ended up in Washington, and toward the end of her life, when I called her each day while cooking dinner, she’d tell me about her day. Little things cheered her – 15 minutes of sun on a Washington winter day sufficed. Except when she’d watched too much CNN. Then I would lecture her about succumbing to the anxiety created by news she could do nothing about.

That sort of news inundates us now: the horrifying rise in COVID-19 cases, the shameful attempts to discredit Dr. Fauci, the idiotic fighting about masks, the looming threat of another shutdown, the dismantling of 50-year old environmental regulations, the corruption and incompetence in the allotment of our money meant to help the victims of the pandemic, the Rose Garden turned into an arena of political theatre and lies, the absolute disgust born of watching Trump hawk a supporter’s food products from the Oval Office, Federal agents in riot gear (unwanted by local authorities) patrolling Portland streets and harassing peaceful protesters, the threatened evictions of people who’ve lost their jobs, small businesses closing forever, the death of John Lewis, Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s fragility. The ubiquitous virus itself.

You can’t counter any of that with happy talk, and it isn’t good-cheer-no-matter what I’m searching for (as I fight the CNN part of my mom). I think I want to not let the everyday things that are part of a small safe life go unremarked.

Sometimes it’s as simple as order: the kitchen counters cleared and wiped that greet me in the morning, a stack of completed masks ready for mailing, their colorful ties dangling off the ironing board, the bags and boxes of possessions from the bluff dispersed, the linen closet organized, so, instead of chaos, the folds of patterns and faded colors greet me when I open the door, the refrigerator clear and ready for the privilege of weekly provisioning, and, before it’s time to wear them again, a stack of winter sweaters finally washed and put away.

Sometimes it is pure joy: when a FaceTime call rings, I picture the sweet face that will fill the screen. And I try to note fleeting summer pleasures: bare feet, eating breakfast and lunch outdoors at a wobbly table under an umbrella next to St. Francis, fresh raspberries, corn, tomatoes, flowers to paint.

And, as I write, it’s rain – a good thing – warm rain at midsummer – just when we need it.

 

St. Francis Leaves the Bluff

When we moved to Bainbridge two years ago, we wanted to make sure the move was right, so we didn’t sell our house, but leased it. Planning to visit often, we kept access to the guesthouse, the Buffalo. But the universe conspired to prevent visits, and time has come to put the property on the market. (I recognize this as a tale of privilege. Several times that’s stopped me from writing, but the blog began on the bluff, and now that part of the story ends.)

Only 900 square feet, the Buffalo is still a complete house with the utensils, bedding, linens, art, photos, books, and furniture of a house. And, because of a big closet, extraneous things got stored over the years – all our photo negatives packaged in labelled shoeboxes, beloved aged backpacking tent, sleeping bags, extra kid equipment. An empty file cabinet became the repository of my mother’s things when she died, her purse, her files and photos, and little stacks of expired passports and driver’s licenses.

In her book of essays, titled “Everywhere I Look,” Helen Garner quotes a clergyman’s wife on changing houses, “Every time you move you have to work through your whole life.”

Because we never really lived there, the Buffalo’s emotional weight blindsided me. In the first few of many trips to clear out, I thought it would be just sort, give away or toss, pack. But things speak of their provenance to a person packing up, voicing memories and original hopes.

A lot of the things I hoped for came to be. We built the bigger house and a garden and moved there, our sons came willingly to visit, and one married there in a beautiful ceremony. Eventually the Buffalo sheltered their growing families, and always it made it a pleasure to have guests.

In the drawing below, done early in the garden’s life, it’s orderly. But this spring, nature occupied every available space. Thuggish plants crowd and engulf plants once cosseted. Buttercups invade the beds, water suckers ruin the shape of the enormous Sambucus, the paths are clotted and choked by grass. I used to fantasize it was “contained abundance” – no longer.

My friend the wordsmith (who has been the most amazing help and support, making a sometimes hard thing cheerful) says it looks like the garden of an abandoned English estate. Kinda. The realtor will have it cleaned up for listing, and I’m hoping for a new gardener to love it.

The wordsmith’s husband muscled our statue of St. Francis (it stood for years in the center of the foursquare garden) into my car. I remember the first time Lady Baby spotted him and stood nearby, seemingly shocked he was taller than she. He looks contented now, in his tiny pretend Tuscan courtyard, surrounded by rosemary and welcoming hummingbirds who visit a nearby fountain.

 

“Hamilton” Redeems July Fourth in the Time of COVID-19

Probably I should drop the “…in the time of” business, because it’s all COVID time – our reality in perpetuity. Only the degree of infection changes – and it roars again now.

And didn’t the celebration of the nation’s birthday seem like a party that wasn’t, like an ill-behaved child’s birthday party cancelled, or maybe this is also apt, the child got sick? At least that was my Fourth of July. Only the president seemed to spend it in his alternate universe where a lethal virus and heartfelt protests don’t coexist, where he is threatened by all of us wearing masks and wanting fairness and health – frenzied hoards in his selfish, petty mind.

Gloomy weather and gloomy spirits on Saturday – until the evening, when we joined Disney, and, with millions of Americans watched the unparalleled, “Hamilton,” on television. What a gift from the creator, Lin Manuel Miranda. Oh, I know he’s already made a fortune, but watching all those performers – the dancing, the singing, the stage, the lighting, the humanity of the show – that should earn buckets of money.

And anyway, Miranda has now given it to us (for $6.95) – to watch and absorb how inexhaustibly creative it is – so clever, so witty and wise. And beautiful, and joyful, and tragic. It rewards multiple viewings (on top of all our listening to the soundtrack).

When I saw “Hamilton” two years ago (a lifetime ago), I kept thinking of the line, “immigrants get the job done!” (Even more true now in the time of essential workers.) This time I saw the inequities built into the whole American endeavor from the beginning. And registered, as the new Americans begin to create a nation (mocked by the glorious King George), the partisan fighting, the negotiating, the compromises.

On television it’s more personal, but it lacks the electricity of real people making this happen in front of a live audience (remember those times, sitting close to strangers!). But filmed during a performance in the early days on Broadway – now we get closeups of faces, beautiful Phillipa Soo as Eliza, singing her heart out in joy and grief, Miranda himself as Hamilton, expressive face alight. I would never have imagined it could be so luminously transferred to the screen – preserving the magic for all to see.

Firecrackers boomed across our island as we watched, and I finally felt slightly celebratory – for the creativity of Americans, for Black Lives Matter protesters (along with pain that this is still necessary on this 244th birthday). And maybe a glimmer of hope that we won’t “give up our shot!”