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!
One thought on “2022? Whew….”
Being together with our whole core family at Sarah’s “do” was our first gathering in nearly 2 years. Aaron & Sasha were on various planes pretty much all night before dressing up for the service. Chandra drove across 2 states after Cully & Cooper finished school Friday. So most were utterly exhausted for our small time together in Richmond.
Bill & I had missed our fall visit to WV after I had MOHS work done on my face, but we flew to TX for Thanksgiving with Sasha — first time there in >2 years. Then we all gathered in DC earlier this week so our 14 & 10 year old grands could experience the Nation’s Capitol for the first time (in their memory) and our children could feel like they were back near their hometown (NoVA).
Among the gifts this season, inside a beautiful antique Art Deco compact, we gave Cully something to “grow into” — a pair of feathered earrings from Sarah’s stash. In a delightful accident of timing, she had her ears pierced for an early Christmas present from her parents — so it won’t be long before she can wear them.
DC turned out to be COVID-19 “central” last week and museums were closing like rats deserting sinking ships. We did wait in a ridiculously long line for more than an hour to get into the Air & Space Museum, but much of it was closed off. [*Aside: When we returned to VA from Ecuador where Aaron was born & Bolivia where Sasha was born, he thought we were taking him to see the “Aaron Space Museum”.*] We stayed in The Wharf district — the “shiny new thing” in DC — the waterfront in SW has been brilliantly developed and it was a wonderful base for our time there. We avoided I-95, taking Amtrak. In spite of all the airline cancellations, Sasha’s flights coming & going were flying and on time. The WV family drove back & forth. Now, we’re hoping we all got away “clean” — bringing home no virus.
Upon our return we connected with our 99 year old friend whose “new” teeth don’t work and he hasn’t been able to chew, so this tall man, recently widowed, only weighs 127 lbs. I’ve been pureeing meals for him, so he’s been able to get something more than a milkshake to eat. He hadn’t thought about that option, so he will try to work with our dining service here to have them puree meals for him.
And we found out that the man of a couple who dined in our home on Christmas Eve, stroked while we were away. Medevaced to Norfolk — the clot dissolved before they got in surgically — but he’s almost completely unresponsive on day 3. Awful time for his wife and his brother who are with him daily. We had accepted an invitation to visit them this spring at their other home on Pawley’s Island — no hint that there’d be a health crisis before all hell broke loose. It was difficult to be at a party last night — just not in that kind of mood, but we did our best.
It was wonderful to read your evocative piece — thank for sharing. Hope things will continue to improve — for our families and for the world. There is certainly room for improvement! With appreciation and affection