Pandemic Gray

By Sarah [Sally] Quinn Johnston
June 1, 2020

As the shelter-in-place orders came down in mid-March, I did not find it a great sacrifice.  I had projects aplenty, my cupboards and freezer were well stocked, and I had a good supply of toilet paper.  As time passed, my eldest daughter insisted on doing the grocery shopping for me weekly and we would visit from 8 feet apart in my breezeway as she wiped everything down with Chlorox. She was concerned about my age and my heart condition.             

image of covid virus

Socially I had a friend walking with me at noon everyday around the neighborhood.  The exercise of 1.7 miles was helpful and our talks from opposite sides of Fairview Avenue kept us up to date, sharing news and laughing.  Every afternoon I had an online bridge game with 3 friends and soon I had many zoom church gatherings and a weekly family session pulling in California and North Carolina relatives. I loved seeing the smiling faces; everyone was well, working or studying from home, and no one had financial suffering. My days were full, even more so when the lawn and flowers needed tending in spring.

My current daily life reminded me of growing up on the farm.  I cooked from scratch, walked amid sprouting  green trees, breathed in crisp air, prayed daily, and sewed…masks, school bags and little dresses for Africa awaiting the day our missions’ projects could get going again. As traffic was more scant, I listened to all the birds singing to me. A cardinal or Baltimore oriole I noted as a good omen.

Living alone, I missed family.  We had two small outdoor circles around my fire pit with just 5 of us to talk, note our adjustments, and make s’mores.  The hardest thing was staying 6 feet apart and not hugging. My son in law said he thought the times were made for introverts like him. He and his wife were working from home and his daughter was in her bedroom finishing her college courses online. He contentedly walked his dogs. When he could play golf in May, he was complete.

Two of my grandchildren plus one girlfriend were graduating from college.  How would we celebrate?  We gathered Saturday of Memorial Day weekend with 3 graduates and seven more of us and the dog in the back yard to have a mock graduation observance. They appreciated the simple joys and take-out pizza.  We discussed their feelings and prospects for jobs in these unusual times.    I had YouTube speakers –Oprah, Jon Stewart, Steven Spielberg, and Malala—give a few words of wisdom.  I gave them mock diplomas with sayings to sustain them and cards with small checks. My grandson said his college was planning a ceremony in October and he would go.  His girlfriend would be teaching high school math by then and she felt no need for going back.  My granddaughter didn’t need a formal graduation either; her mother had planned to come from Dominican Republic and, since that couldn’t happen, Chanel was done with rituals, too, as she searched for a job.  Our gathering, planned for two hours, lasted four, after cake and more s’mores. It was not grand, but it was could mark the end of four years of devoted studies.

Maybe ten years from now, my daily life will be much like these days in 2020: I shall drive less, get supplies via the drive through window of the drug store, teleconference with my doctor, and do more bridge playing and socializing online.

The difficulties seem minimal.  I do not consider these requirements [masks, distancing, staying home] mandated by our governor much of a sacrifice compared to what earlier generations had to forego during wartime and the Spanish flu. When the 1918 pandemic came to western Pennsylvania, my grandmother had one three-year old child, my mother, and was pregnant with her second.  Her younger sister Margaret with infant son and four year old stepson contracted the flu.  It killed them quickly.  The three were buried in the same casket.  Grandma lived a day’s buggy ride away. Isolation protected her. Grandma often told me, “If you have your health, you have everything!”

Now in this continuing pandemic, I can surely offer up peaceful days alone to protect friends and neighbors from its greedy grasp.  We must keep breathing…behind our masks.