Hope you will take a few moments to listen to this wintry season tale, my first halting effort at audio recording one of my short stories. This one derives from my first job as an occupational therapist at the Manhattan VA Hospital in New York. One of the outpatients I treated there came in one day with a photograph of himself standing with arms outstretched as a perch for a row of birds. As anyone who’s lived in New York knows, one of the great wonders of the city is it’s many eccentric residents. He was certainly one of them, and in this story I tried to imagine what his life must be like. It’s included in my story collection, Last Rites.
At dawn on New Year’s Day a year ago, the phone rang to tell us that my wife Chris’ 99-year old grandmother Angelina had died just before midnight at the nursing home in Poughkeepsie, NY, where she had lived for a year with encroaching dementia, most of that year in isolation, unable to understand why her daughter and granddaughter, on the other side of the window, could not cross over for a hug. (Chris had lost her other grandmother Connie, age 101, in the first week of covid, before testing was a thing. She developed a respiratory illness of some sort and was gone in three days.) We still have not had a funeral for Grandma Connie, but the other side of the family was insistent about figuring out how to hold a funeral mass for Grandma Angelina. As her executor, Chris somehow made it happen in the first week of the new year. We drove up with the boys after work one night, masked up in a nearly empty hotel (this was pre-vaccine, you will remember) in New Rochelle, and the next day laid our dear grandmother to rest, after a socially distanced mass in the quaint Catholic church she had attended her whole life. At the gravesite, we dared brief hugs, and departed for home, after stopping for pizza (you can’t go to the old Italian neighborhoods of New York without getting pizza) and cannoli (same).
Waiting for the pizza, I noticed that President Trump was giving a speech on the tv. He seemed angrier than usual, pumping his fist. The staff rooted him on. As we navigated the maze of streets that lead to the George Washington Bridge and the Jersey Turnpike, powdered sugar from the cannoli speckling my suit front, news of trouble in DC began to interrupt radio music. By the time we got to the Delaware Memorial Bridge every station was talking about some kind of violent demonstration at the Capitol. Son Stephen, working Twitter in the backseat, said tear gas, people breaching the doors, lawmakers evacuating. I switched channels constantly. Piecing together a narrative from all the snippets as we drove was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle forming in real time. We curved around DC on the beltway, then with darkness falling, on I-95 South, noted a long line of Virginia State Police cars, lights on and sirens blaring, racing towards the city. It seemed that every vehicle around us, heading away from the U.S. Capital, was a jacked up pickup truck, some with American flags waving from the bed. The troopers were late to the party, the Insurrectionists headed home.
I say all this, writing at dawn on New Year’s Day 2022, in memory of a year that, frankly, started awfully. And having lived through the first nearly two years of the covid era, do any of us expect a whole lot different from the months to come? We’re all so tired, adapting as we can to pandemic management rules that seem to change daily, to political leaders who at best operate in a reactive mode, at worst aim to kill us all, and to everyday lives that are pinched on all sides. I do want to be cheerful, optimistic, grateful for all we have and can look forward to. I’m well aware that as a recently retired professor and natural introvert, working on a pair of books and masking up only for groceries and my weekly Meals on Wheels run, that I’m very fortunate to be out of the line of fire, with a wife who comes home from the hospital every day, takes off her mask, and cheerfully rocks out to Jazzercise on the tv, a dog who loves to walk with me in the woods, and sons who are quite resourcefully finding their way in the minefields of college and what comes after. Friends to zoom with, to chat with on the porch, my bicycle, my books. So stop bitchin’, right? Okay, will do. Let’s get on with it, see what this new year may bring. Let’s help each other when we can, practice that smile of the eyes above the mask we’ve been learning, maybe wake up to the fact that we’re all in this together, and hope, because hope is free after all, that this too shall pass.
Whew, boy, postscript after stroll in the woods with pup and my perennially glass half full (at least) wife Chris, where some of the stuff I’d written while she slept off our New Year’s Eve bottle of bubbles this morning sort of came up, and to which she replied, not necessarily in this order: (1) vaccines, (2) a President who cares about more than himself, (3) one son graduating college and the other about to, (4) my no longer having to grade stacks of exams, (5) we haven’t yet caught covid, (6) loving memorials for Grandma and a pair of close friends, (7) a 25th Anniversary trip to California where we saw family, hiked nearly every day for ten days (including in Yosemite), and no one got sick, (8) writing writing writing, (9) fun volunteering at FeedMore, Folk Fest, vaccine tents…., (10) getting tutored in woodworking by our friend Ken and building a table for Chris’ plants, a Little Free Library box, and a Walley World plaque for our friend Jeanne’s beach house, (11) collecting and publishing a dearly departed friend’s book of poems, and (12) did I mention we haven’t gotten sick yet? I stand corrected, grateful, and marginally less cranky. As Chris said, if 2022 can bring anything like that kind of good fortune and fun, then bring it on, eh? Wishing you the same!
Dawns on me that the day may soon come when central Virginia will see a winter without snow, and then another, and then before long snowy days will have become just a memory for us to bore our grandkids with. I’m going to make a hot chocolate, pull a chair up to the window, and, with our pup Buddy at my side, attend.
Sharing, too, a couple snowy day poems, the first by me, the second by Sarah Knorr, who loved snowy days so much. If you’ve written one, please comment back with it – let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!