Nov 08 2020

Hour of Decision

Published by under Coronavirus Journal

This will be short. I just wanted to note here for posterity, with great relief, the election of Joe and Kamala. 

Never has the blaring of horns cheered me so. Yesterday, over on the avenue a few houses down, waves of passing cars—big American ones with deep, loud voices and wee imports with mosquito-pitched ones—celebrated Biden’s victory. Even today there’s still the occasional joyful noise of human whoop and holler. 

It was a long five days of anxious waiting for the election to be called, made more miserable by the realization that, whatever the outcome, there are still over 70 million people who support Trump. Some are angry and armed and “standing by.”

Since yesterday morning’s verdict, I’ve been going about my business (mostly pacing) and then suddenly stopping and remembering: Biden won! It’s taking a while for that to sink in—and to realize we’re slated to have our first woman VP, who happens of course to be the first woman of color in such high office. It’s thrilling to contemplate. But boy are they inheriting a country in tatters.

It’s also exciting to have a president from my hometown. If you come in to the train station on French Street downtown—as Biden did every day for years—and head up through the financial district, you’ll see a sign that says, “Wilmington: A Place To Be Somebody.” At least it used to be there a couple years ago. Needless to say, as one who got as far from Delaware as she could, the slogan amused me. 

Actually, northern Delaware (where Joe lives) is quite a lovely place, with gently rolling green fields and forested hills. You’ll even see the occasional Belted Galloway. I won’t talk about how I used to go back there at least three times a year, pre-pandemic, to visit Small, who is gearing up for winter there. “The sun set at about 4:56 tonight,” she told me yesterday. “Could you be a little more precise?” I pressed.

Anyway, Joe: I believe he has a good heart and integrity. I do worry about his history of putting his foot in his mouth, but he’s been remarkably solid lately. The enthusiasm and warmth of his and Kamala’s speeches in Wilmington last night were balms to my soul, especially in light of what we’ve been subjected to the last four years.

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Nov 02 2020

Moment of Truth

Published by under Coronavirus Journal,Writing

Polling will begin in some places in just over twelve hours. Like millions of Americans, I’m terrified. For one thing, Trump is determined to declare an election winner by end of day tomorrow, before all the results are counted. If I got my wish it would be for a landslide for Biden, but even if he does win big—which is a hard thing to have faith in after 2016—I imagine there will be uprisings from pro-Trump militias across the country and, I fear, more bloodshed. And if Trump finagles a win… well, I just can’t think about it. I’ve gotten so I can barely read the news headlines these days. It’s all too scary.

Dad, 1964

My friend Adi and I exchange pairs of socks on what we’ve dubbed “Soxing Day,” a holiday we made up which falls quarterly on  the solstices and equinoxes. Here are the autumnal equinox sox I received, showing an apt message for our administration:

Photo by Elana

Today I accidentally put them on wrong, so that—if I’d had my feet stuck in the air where passersby could have seen them—it would, of course, have read, “OFF FUCK,” which lacks a certain je ne sais quoi

I have no money to spare, yet I’ve gone on a mask-buying binge. For the past six months I’ve been living in the ones my friend Marianna made me. Now, no longer in denial that masks will be around for a while, I decided to cast my net for some additional ones. It’s very hard to find any that fit. I must have especially thin and floppy ears, since these things routinely slingshot off my face when they slip. Here is some of what I’ve ordered. They’re all pricey. The ones on the lower-left haven’t arrived yet, but of the other three, the only ones that work are the boring ones on the lower-right.

Why am I telling you all this boring stuff about masks? Because they’re the most exciting thing in my life on this, the seventh day of my latest 14-day quarantine as I prepare for another visit to my Chico family. Man, is it hard to be locked up with myself all the time.

I just finished the 21st (!) installment of TJ’s and my story that’s set in The Knobs district of Greenbrier County, West Virginia. The plot is now so thick you couldn’t stir it with a wooden spoon. Today’s chapter begins with a visit to Granny Driggers, an invention of TJ’s whose character I fleshed out just a little:

Though the mists were heavy in the predawn, it was already hot. Bessie wiped sweat from her brow with the back of one hand as she deftly maneuvered the truck through the dim light over steep ruts and washes and around limestone outcroppings. As she approached the turnoff to Granny Driggers’ place, Bessie slipped the vehicle into neutral, shut off her headlights, and drifted, slowing to a crawl to crane her neck for a better view of the cabin…

[As she approached the window] she heard Granny Driggers’ quavering voice. Bessie knew Granny was well up in her nineties. Everyone in these hollers respected Granny D, since she’d been the midwife at most of their births for the last seventy years. But they also feared her. Some said she dabbled in voodoo and witchcraft. She did have an herb for every ailment and a cure for every woe, even of the heart. You sure didn’t want to be on her bad side.

It’s been fun to let our imaginations run wild for the past 13,799 words. I’m surprised we’re still at it. (We started exactly four weeks ago.) Our story’s got lawmen and moonshiners, forest rangers and ginseng hunters, a couple dogs and of course a murderer or two. We’ve still got a ton of loose ends to wrap up and subplots to resolve.

Okay, I’m going to go pace around the house now: my only exercise. I’m too nervous about tomorrow to sit still.

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Oct 26 2020

The Cold War

Published by under Coronavirus Journal,Family

Good news on my paint-speckled car. One of the men working on my neighbor’s house spent two full hours trying to scrub off the constellations of teeny dots. It’s not quite like before, but plenty good enough for me. Phew.

During the presidential debate last week, there were times when Trump made me laugh out loud, derisively:

  • “I am the least racist person in this room. I can’t even see the audience because it is so dark, but I don’t care who is in the audience.”
  • “Nobody’s done more for the African-American community than Donald Trump.”
  • “I know more about wind than you do.” [He can say that again!]

Eight days till the election. I’ve checked and my ballot has been processed.

I don’t want to think about the present any more. Let’s talk about the old days. As I’ve told you, about six months ago Small spent a fortune to digitize all sixty of our family scrapbooks that span from 1946 (when she and my father were courting) to 2017. I admit to thinking she shouldn’t have blown the big bucks on such a project, but I find that I refer to them quite frequently. Like today, when I perused a randomly selected folder—1961 to 1962—just looking for something to show you. I found this:

See my dots? I had a serious case of the measles and a 105° fever (note the glazed eyes) that led to hallucinations of things that shouldn’t have been in the room with me. Ma always said that, of her three kids, I always got the sickest, with mumps and chicken pox and mononucleosis and whoknowswhatall. I’m clutching Tigery, brought to me by Uncle Phil. Tigery became my favorite animal until our mutt Davey disemboweled him sometime after I recovered. Still, for years after that I kept his empty fabric shell of a body. You can’t go throwing out a friend just because his stuffing’s been ripped out.

You’ll also notice another elongated tiger on my pillow. Look: I still have it! (I still sleep in that same bed, too.) The animal is lacking certain important features, but it’s still kicking.

I also found a picture from my seventh birthday. My godmother Nancy always gave me the best presents, and on this occasion she outdid herself. I was wild with excitement.

For two days I played with my accordion all day and into the evening. On the third day I was sitting on my street corner when a tough neighbor kid came up and persisted in asking to borrow it. I was too polite and shy to keep saying “no.” So of course he broke it and I still haven’t forgiven him. Someone, probably Ember or Jesse, recently asked me what was my favorite toy I ever had. It was this, hands down.

A picture of note from a few months later shows the installation of the fallout shelter in our backyard. I don’t remember much about that era except that there was a threat from some guy named “Khrushchev” in Russia who was going to drop poisonous nuclear gases on us or something. So Dad had a big hole dug in our backyard and a giant metal tube laid underground, in theory a safe place for his family to retreat in the event of attack.

The Cold War was serious business to Dad, but to us kids it was a blast. That cylinder was buried soon after this photo was taken. Inside were six metal-and-canvas bunks suspended by chains. It was like having our own submarine. You climbed a few steps down a metal ladder to get to the main chamber. Inside, there was a hand-cranked fan that sucked in potentially toxic air from outside through a series of decontaminating filters. And of course when lanterns were off, the darkness was total, and suffocating.

Neighborhood kids would ask about our “bomb shelter.” That term, a misnomer, always irked my father, I guess because the place was never intended to provide safety from a bomb, but just nuclear fallout.

The fallout shelter was strictly off-limits for us kids. But one time when I was a preteen, a bunch of years after it was installed, my parents let me have a slumber party down there with five other girls. After dinner, we all descended into the basement and entered the rectangular metal corridor that led to the shelter. Shortly after we’d all picked our bunks, we heard a strange tapping coming from underneath the plywood floorboards, and other eerie noises.

Soon, we found the cause. My mother’s friend, Missy, had been hiding down there on the cold metal under the floor for about half an hour. Waiting for the right moment. Just for a laugh.

The adults left us alone then, and somehow we all eventually fell asleep in that dank tomb. Lamps off, there was no way to tell whether it were midnight or 9:00 a.m. When someone flipped on a flashlight to check the clock in the middle of the night, you could see the cold, steel walls dripping with condensation.

Speaking of the Cold War, a decade ago in graduate school, a young Russian woman in my cohort asked me if my having grown up under those nuclear threats had led me to dislike Russians. I told her I had nothing but happy memories of the political crisis. Ah, youth.

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