By Kim Winslow
It’s a month later and once again my husband has purchased Strawberry Pop-tarts. This time the crisis is the CoronaVirus. We were in the grocery store searching for meat and toilet paper. The shelves were picked over and there was no toilet paper to be found, but on an endcap were boxes of Strawberry Pop-tarts. There is no expectation of power outages and food should remain available during this crisis, but the box beckoned my husband like a lighthouse in a storm, like a fire on a winter’s night, like water in the desert...you get the point.
It is impossible to know how badly this virus will hit our country. Schools in our state were called off for at least several weeks beginning today. I suspect that the actual cases far exceed the known cases because of the shortage of tests. My daughter had symptoms of the virus, but was refused testing because she didn’t meet the stringent requirements necessary to warrant a test. Seems to me that fever, cough, and shortness of breath should have warranted a test. She is in her twenties and recovered.
My mom called me today coughing. She is homebound and hooked to an oxygen machine. “Are you sick?” I screamed into the phone. She responded, “No, I am okay, just thought I would freak you out.” My father, who also has COPD and just experienced a stroke, did the same thing to the receptionist at an eye doctor appointment that I took him to last week. The receptionist’s reaction was even more pronounced than mine. It took me a few minutes to convince her that my father was just kidding. She kept pointing to a large sign encouraging any sick patients to get the hell out of the building as soon as possible. My mother also said, “You know we were quarantined before quarantining was even cool.” Since the stroke took away my father’s ability to drive and my mother was already confined to home, I guess she is correct. My parents have a somewhat morbid sense of humor; since they are in the highest risk group, they at least have the right to deal with their fear in sometimes inappropriate ways.
The purpose of the second part of this blog was to address the portfolio. I wrote in the last blog that I found... A lovely, soft-worn, vintage folder full of my mother’s handwritten poems and writings. It is true that I found a portfolio of my mother’s handwritten poems, but for the sake of accuracy, the portfolio is faux leather or just vinyl, rather than soft-worn, it is just worn. I guess in my excitement to find something of value in that drawer, I glorified the portfolio in my memory.
There is a yellowed cardboard sheet in the middle that indicates the portfolio is actually a Data Planner with the 1984,1985, and 1986 calendars printed. On the back of this cardboard sheet is useful information, at least for that time when you could not just ask Alexa or Echo. For instance, there is a grid with the multiplication table, which should have been committed to memory in that time and this, and various conversion tables. I did just learn from the Useful Information page that 2 barrels equals 1 hogshead and that 8 quarts is a peck, facts that are bound to be useful at some time in my life. For example, I may need a hogshead of whiskey to get through a long quarantine because a peck just won’t do.
My sister said that part one of my Family Archeology: Strawberry Pop-tarts and Portfolio’s blog was a little too sharp and edgy. Perhaps I needed to soften it by lowering the sarcasm. I refused to change part one, but I promised to do so when I wrote part two. I am well into part two, and so far I find it difficult to switch gears and deal with the emotional impact of the writings that I uncovered or the fact that we are in a world-wide pandemic.
It was 1985. Coca-Cola Company introduced New Coke, the Live Aid We Are the World concerts raised over 50 million for famine relief in Ethiopia, The Color Purple was released, Michael Jordan was named NBA’s rookie of the year, and Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev led the USA and Russia. It was also the year my mother began writing her life in poems, hundreds of them spilling from her Bic pens onto ordinary notebook paper. Not a chronologically organized memoir, but more like a jumble of cursive snapshots capturing her past and present.
She didn’t just keep the writings that revealed her best profile, but bravely pictured in words the parts of herself that most people deny. There are parts of me that I don’t want anyone to see, not in photos or words. When I organized all of my physical photographs, I put them into photo boxes and divided them by categories. One of my categories is Photos of me. The only ones you can use when I die! I am an avowed photo-phobic person. My mother is braver. She wrote:
Today hateful words came out of my mouth
This couldn’t be the same lips that
Kissed a babe
Smiled at a stranger
Gave comfort to someone in need
It saddens me to know I can hurt so much with words
And she wrote…
No tears tonight
Tired of wiping cheeks dry
There is no end to your self-pity
Loathing has reached an all-time high
Speak to me of only good times.
Time is not a healer of hurt,
It’s just a saying that people utter when all else fails.
Hurt stays and holds to your heart, it cuts the soul,
And leaves a scar.
Oh God, let me forgive.
...It has been a week since I began writing this blog. So much has changed. New normals have been realized. All of the state’s schools are now closed; restaurants are only doing take-out; public religious services have stopped, gatherings have been banned; and there is a curfew in my town. We regularly use words such as social distancing and flattening the curve, phrases we never uttered only a month ago. How much will this Covid-19 virus change our culture? Will common greetings such as handshakes and hugs be a thing of the past, like stationary phones and telegrams?
Among the poems was a paper reminding my mom of an appointment with a specialized clinic in Atlanta, Georgia. The appointment was set for September 11, 1985. When my mom was first diagnosed with Lupus, it was presented to her by the doctor as a death sentence. Lupus made her allergic to the sun. With the sun as her mortal enemy, days turned into her nights. From that time onward, her life shrank. She closed herself into her home, then her bedroom, and now just her bed. She often wrote about her experiences of pain and loneliness, and how other people often did not know how to respond. Sometimes her visitors just fell back on meaningless words like “You look good today,” the title of this next poem:
You Look Good Today
Be quiet for a moment
Listen to not what I say
Hear the loneliness and hurting
I think not, “You look good today.”
Be still for a moment
Look into my eyes and face
My eyes are tired and my face shows pain
I think not, “You look good today.”
Just hug for a moment
Touching helps get through the day
Did you notice my body wasting away?
I think not, “You look good today.”
And she wrote about dealing with a disease in which not only your body fights itself (autoimmune), but also the treatments are damaging.
My body has this strange ailment
It’s an abomination, an albatross to me
Takes a lot of medication
The doctors say it requires all of these
There is a pink one to help the problem
A blue one to join forces with the pink,
Four or five white ones to wipe out the problems caused
By the blue and pink ones,
Pills for every part of the body,
Some even for parts of the body that have been removed.
Frankly, my body is a war zone
Ailment and pills are doing battle
It is a toss-up of which one is the stronger.
It's 35 years later: a new decade, a new century, a new millennium...a new pandemic. Sometimes I forget about it, like today when I walked through the neighborhood. It is March in South Carolina which means everything is in riotous bloom. White dogwoods stand out under newly chartreuse-leaved hardwoods, coral and pink azaleas are fighting for attention, and wisteria is climbing over trees and bushes making itself known with large grape-like clusters of purple flowers and a sweet smell impossible to ignore. The loblolly pines, refusing to be ignored, cast a haze of yellow pollen over everything in its path. Even the camellias, a winter flower, refuse to end their season, their deep red flowers contrasting with the spring colors.
Over the weekend, our neighbors, through the lake website, suggested that we all meet in our boats on the lake at 5:00 p.m. This allowed us to socialize while still maintaining distance. The neighbors without boats sat in their yards or on their docks and spoke with the moving vessels. I should say that our lake looks more like a river. It is not very wide but is about a mile long. The lake is not big enough for motorized boats, so our ragtag flotilla was made up of canoes, fishing boats, paddle boats, kayaks, and pontoons. We are very fortunate to be able to isolate in this space, but it has not always been this way.
In 2015 the little creek that feeds our little lake was hit with double digit rainfall in 24 hours. Our dam failed. It made world-wide news. This little lake community of only 65 homes was forced to figure out a way to replace the dam without any federal or state assistance. Until we replaced the dam, the state refused to repair the road which was washed away with the dam, leaving a huge gaping hole. It took a little over two long years to get our dam, our road, and our lake back. Now having our water reassures us that we can pull through disasters if we stick together, even while maintaining our distance.
When I began writing this blog there were very few confirmed cases of Covid-19 in SC, now my county and the neighboring county each have 3 times more confirmed cases than any other counties in the state. Nationwide, there are 35,121 cases and 458 deaths. These numbers are expected to increase.
In 1985, my mother already lived with the specter of death, she was only 43 years old at the time that she wrote the following poems that I found in the portfolio:
Standing in a field of white
Tasting snowflakes on your tongue.
Warm chocolate pudding on a cold night…
It will taste like ice cream at a birthday party
Death will have a taste.
It will come not as a wind that bends the trees…
Touching the ground,
But sitting on a Southern veranda
With wind chimes making soft music.
“I will embrace you with gentleness.
Be not sad…
Listen to the lovely music of the soft wind chimes.
This is a difficult time world-wide. Most of us will have more time in our homes than we want. If you are fortunate enough to stay well, write about your life, your kids, and your ancestors. Share with them the small details that future generations will want to know. Also, use this sheltered time to organize closets and drawers, just resist the urge to dump the whole drawer in the trash bag. Afterall, you may have your own Strawberry Pop-tarts and portfolios to discover.
Two days ago, while walking in the neighborhood, I saw a friend with her elementary-aged son. My husband and I have known her for a very long time because we all grew up in the same small town and now we live only a short distance away from each other. She told me that she buried her husband yesterday after a three year battle with cancer. She said the funeral was very odd because only a few people were invited and they all had to sit 6 feet apart, she also said, “ Well, it was good the funeral was yesterday because it would have been banned if it had been one day later.”
I wrote the last portion of this blog on Monday. It is now Thursday morning (3/26/2020). The Covid-19 figures have changed. There are now 68,802 cases in the U.S. and 1037 deaths. Both the rate of new cases and the deaths have doubled.
(All poems in this blog were written by Nancy Crocker O’Dell)