Reflecting Pool

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Looking Back on the Pandemic*

By Maude McGovern, April 2021

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a global pandemic.  Almost exactly a year later, I sat in my car on Pratt and Whitney’s unused airstrip at Rentschler Field as someone pumped a syringe full of Pfizer vaccine into my arm.  We always knew that the pandemic would end sometime.  Now for me, that feels more like a reality every day.  

Some reflections on the strangest year of my life.  (Not the worst or the most dramatic, just the strangest.)  First off, what I experienced could be labeled “Pandemic Lite.”  Being healthy, retired, married, and comfortably well-off, I was about as well equipped as one could be for what we’ve gone through.  It helped living in a place where, after initial confusion and hesitancy, masks became de rigueur.  That lessened the chances of infection as well as my anxiety.  Thank you, Governor Lamont!

At first, there were so many fears from major to trivial.  Who of the people I know would get sick?  Who would lose a job?  Who might not make it through the year?  Was I going up the grocery store aisle in the right direction?  

I planned what to do if my husband or I got sick, fretting over details such as which bedroom would best serve as the invalid’s room.  I borrowed a sewing machine, brushed up on my long-dormant sewing skills, read everything I could find on the best fabric and design for masks, and set to work.  (Sewing is like riding a bike—it comes back to you.)  I will never cease to be amazed that in the 21st century in the richest country on earth, medical staff at Hartford Hospital were grateful to get homemade masks from people like me.  I was glad to help and even gladder to return the sewing machine.

And like others, I settled into a new normal.  I learned to appreciate Zoom, especially on cold winter nights when I could simply plop myself down in my nice warm office and watch a presentation.  (Can you imagine how hard the pandemic would have been in the pre-Internet era?  Or before we had cell phones to… well, do just about everything from texting friends to calling the restaurant to say we were sitting outside waiting for our take-out order to sharing Facebook posts about sourdough bread?)  After decades of talking about seriously doing some genealogy research, I’m finally doing it.  I met a lot of neighbors especially on long summer evenings as we all strolled around.

I’ve been especially fortunate to live close to my family—we walked together a lot, shared several precious summer afternoons on the beach at Gay City State Park, swam at Globe Hollow pool.  I invited some family and friends in tiny groups to Dinners on the Deck in the summer.  When the winter holidays arrived, we met briefly in my roomy carport to swap Thanksgiving side dishes and later to exchange Christmas gifts.  I can now add “carport event planner” to my resume. 

For thirty years, I had short hair, which was easier to keep looking “corporate” during my years in the finance industry.  Growing it out was always a shaggy proposition, so I kept it short.  Until now.  Last spring during lockdown almost everyone’s hair was looking a bit unkempt—I fit right in.  Salons and barbershops opened safely, but by then I was on a roll.  I passed shaggy, bought some hair pins and elastics, and am now firmly into “long” territory.  The summer heat’s coming.  I will…?

More than a year into the pandemic, my luck has held.  I’ve heard of a couple of acquaintances who had mild cases.  No one I know has suffered economically.  Of course, everyone has struggled with social distancing, remote schooling, the whole freakish scariness of it all.  I’m very grateful for so much starting with the amazing power of scientists to create effective vaccines so quickly.  And I’m very aware of the huge losses of so many people and that there is much in our society that should be, must be changed.

In an essay last year, I likened the beginning of the pandemic and lockdown to a swiftly dropping curtain.  The ending is different.  The curtain is jerking up a little at a time, slowly, erratically.  Recently I’ve been hearing vaccinated people talk about getting together with friends.  Inside.  Without masks.  Some are starting to make travel plans.  Yet after a year-plus of being so careful, for some of us things like that feel strange, wrong—even if we know they aren’t.  We’ll get used to the new (old) ways, of course.  And the curtain will go up all the way eventually.  As for what’s behind it, what changes we’ll see…?  Well, we’ll see.  

*****

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* This essay was recently highlighted in the April 15th issue of the One Manchester CT newsletter.

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Traditions
by Marsha Howland, December, 2020

You were alone.
It was Thanksgiving,
and the virus kept you
from your family.
Your quiet dinner was
simple –
no turkey,
no cranberry,
nothing in the spirit
of the holiday. Just
some leftover soup.
Because you were
alone.

You will be alone
again. Christmas
is coming as the
virus continues
to explode.
You will be away
from your family
again.

But –

On Christmas Eve
and Christmas Day,
this is what you
have to do:

Prepare a good meal,
and use the good china.

*****

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Thanksgiving?
Of Course

By Marsha Howland
November 18, 2020

For the second time in my life, I’ll be alone on Thanksgiving Day.

The first time was because of snow. Not a terrible storm, but more than enough snow to make a long drive on 84 and the Mass Pike too much of a risk.

I wasn’t prepared to have Thanksgiving dinner at my home. There was no turkey to roast, no potatoes to mash, no stuffing to stuff. None of the other side dishes that I love. I have no memory of what I had for the big dinner that day, but I’m sure it wasn’t traditional.

This year, I’ll miss my annual Thanksgiving visit with my brother Ron, sister-in-law Ellen and their family, including my ever-delightful grandniece, four-year-old Audrey, because of Covid-19. It’s very sad and very disappointing. But I know that in being alone, I’m not alone. Many people are changing their plans to help avoid spreading the virus.

This time, I am prepared. I know what I’ll order from Highland Park Market (smallish portions of turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes and so on), and I’ll have a light breakfast. (I will not, however, stuff myself at dinner.)

I’ll watch a movie – which I haven’t yet chosen – and, most important, FaceTime or Zoom with my family after dinner. It’s not the same as being there, but it’s something.

(I also have a chance to visit with everyone on the Saturday or Sunday after the holiday. It depends on how we’re all doing and what’s going on in the world around us. So it’s just a chance, but I’m self-quarantining just in case.)

So, will traditional dishes from my favorite grocery store, a movie and a virtual visit with my family, make it a real Thanksgiving?

Of course.

The point of Thanksgiving is giving thanks – richly, deeply and joyfully. Being grateful. And I am.

I have a wonderful, loving family, which includes my other brother, Rick, and sister-in-law Linda; five nephews, two nieces, four grandnephews and two grandnieces. I treasure my very caring friends, including my best friend Elaine, who I’ve known for 57 years. I’m in a writing group (which meets now via Zoom) with creative, giving people. And I love the community at UUS:E, where loving connection, support for others, and living the Seven Principles bring us together.

In terms of material things, I have the resources to live in a lovely home; feed myself, my two cats and the birds at the feeder off the deck; own electronics that keep me in touch with the world; tend to the ten-year-old car, and so much more.

I won’t be with my family on Thanksgiving Day.

But I will give thanks for everything I have.

I am grateful.

And I am blessed.

*****

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Logo design by Sharon Gresk; photo by Susan Barlow

Gathering
by Coryn Clark, October 16, 2020

I am watching the chipmunk watching me
as I shell beans on the back step,
me sitting in the shortest path to her den,
an unwelcome obstacle,
(and does she know it was me
who tried to evict her this summer by filling her tunnel?)
the chipmunk’s cheeks so full she can barely
squeeze into the crack between the patio stones
after dashing a desperate detour
in the second I look away,
shimmying her hips through the crevice,
a she, naturally,
because females stretch their bodies impossibly
to carry food and grow babies.
I am cracking open crisp purple husks and pinging
the black beans, shiny as obsidian,
into a stainless steel bowl,
my harvest, stocking up for winter
and saving some for next spring’s planting,
a closing and an opening
as I look ahead to the coming year,
and the chipmunk, also, storing seeds
beneath the patio, so assured she will live
to birth more pups in the spring.
In this strangest of years, for a moment,
we can share this earthly cycle
of gathering, storing, blessing, hoping.

*****

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Logo design by Sharon Gresk; photo by Susan Barlow

Protest

by Coryn Clark, August 17, 2020

 

Face the heat of anger and anguish,

Those flames are not yours to extinguish.

Smoke of denial that smothers

Issues from fear, Sisters and Brothers.

Youth, raise your fists and voices,

With every step justice rejoices.

Fires that burn in the streets

Light the truth of past deceits.

Elders say, Remember,

Our story’s an undying ember.

*****

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                                                                           Logo design by Sharon Gresk; photo by Susan Barlow

Not-So-Random Pandemic Thoughts

by Marsha Howland, August 4th, 2020

 

One

I have a grandniece who will turn four years old later this month.

Actually, I have two grandnieces and four grandnephews. I never see three of these children, and rarely (perhaps once a year) see two others.

So, Audrey is my lifeline to her generation. She is smart, creative, funny (she makes up her own jokes), compassionate, energetic and quite beautiful. I generally see her several times a year.

But not this year. Not with Covid-19 a palpable and frightening threat. The last time I saw Audrey – with her parents, uncle and grandparents – was at Christmas. One FaceTime call doesn’t count, partly because it was a call and mostly because she was terribly busy with some toys in the next room. (I did have a great talk with her mom.)

I miss Audrey very much. I’ve been an aunt for 49 years, and a great aunt for close to 7. I love these roles, and I think I’m good at living them. Being cut off is very sad and very frustrating.

I can only imagine what it must be like to be a grandparent in the same situation.

 

Two

I’ve lived alone all my adult life, and I do this fairly well. I like my own company (and that of my cats, currently numbering two) and love certain activities that are best done without distraction – especially writing poetry. It seems reasonable that the heightened solitude would be something I could handle pretty well. True. But not true.

Being in quarantine mode was fine, at first. Groceries and other necessities were delivered to my front porch. Phone calls with friends and family kept me in touch pretty well. Virtual Sunday services were good at keeping strong my connections with the UUS:E family. Daily FaceTime calls with my partner were very  important.

After a while, those things, plus going out to the mailbox or for a brief walk without seeing anyone, weren’t enough. Like many people, I became stir crazy. I thought, for example, maybe I could put on my mask and pick something up at my local pharmacy, where we all know each other and chat on a regular basis. But no, it seemed best to continue having my items delivered. I rejected running other errands, too; I decided that I simply couldn’t risk it. I’m over 65 and have “an underlying medical condition,” so I start with two strikes against me. I’m not going to risk striking out.

In the midst of all this, my partner and I ended our relationship after very nearly two years. It’s difficult and sad. But lots of people have lots of “normal” (and in my case, unhappy) things going on during this difficult and often sad time of Covid-19. The pandemic makes hard things harder, sad things sadder. Even good things, happy things – graduations, weddings, milestone birthdays, being born days – create challenges to celebrations.

I remind myself of the people who are sick with the virus, who die of the virus. I think of them being alone, of their families and friends not being able to visit them. And then I remember that, all in all, I’m doing OK. If I continue to be very careful, I’ll get through this OK.

And if I’m very strict about quarantining myself for the next two or three weeks, I might just be able to visit Audrey. From six feet away.

*****

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The Pandemic Arrives in Manchester

By Maude McGovern

The weirdest thing was how fast and completely everything changed.  It wasn’t overnight the way 9/11 was, but, unlike 9/11, it affected everyone’s daily life.  Shutdown came like a tropical night descending—fast, steadily, inexorably.  A curtain pulled down separating “before all this” and “now.”

My appointment book and journal tell the story.  I’m retired but always have a lot of activities posted for the next few months—meetings, classes, concerts and plays, family get-togethers.  And for fifty years, I’ve kept a diary.

February:  I don’t pay much attention to the sporadic news of the novel coronavirus.  SARS and MERS and various flus have come and gone without significantly impacting my world.  On Sunday, March 1, Reverend Josh briefly mentions the possibility of cancelling in-person services, which sounds strange and unlikely.  People hug and shake hands, but we practice (awkwardly) elbow bumping. That Tuesday, I briefly join a meeting via something called Zoom—very handy this new tech.

March 4, a friend in Maryland asks me if I’m stockpiling groceries.  Uh, no.  (Such an alarmist!)  Around then I ask a couple of neighbors if they’ve been affected at all by this new disease.  Yes, one couldn’t visit a friend in a nursing home.  The other decided to cancel a trip to Florida.  A day later, I get my first cancellation—a senior citizen trip to NYC.  I cross it off my calendar.

On Sunday, March 8, I participate in a volunteer event.  I shake hands with a number of people I meet.  At home, I wonder to myself, “What were we all thinking?”  Monday and Tuesday evenings, I have meetings—the novel coronavirus comes up in conversation.  It’s definitely on people’s radar now. Tuesday, I go to bed feeling “a bit antsy” according to my journal.  On Wednesday, WHO declares Covid-19 a global pandemic.  The garden club cancels that night’s meeting.  I comment in my journal, “This is new for us—we’ve read about the 1918 flu and saw those horrible pictures from the Ebola outbreak.  But this is new territory.”

Thursday, March 12, I take a long-planned trip with a few family members to a local art museum.  The employees at the front desk greet us enthusiastically.  The four of us may be the biggest crowd they’ve had all day.  The galleries are almost completely empty.  Lovely for seeing the artwork.  Also, creepy and ominous.  One guard irately assures me that this is all the media’s doing.  I don’t get into a discussion.

The next day, I join the throngs stockpiling groceries at Stop & Shop.  Looking back, I’m not exactly sure what that was all about.  Perhaps no one, not even the authorities, really knew – except it made sense for everyone to be prepared in case… of what, we didn’t know.  Maybe in case you had to self-quarantine for 14 days.  What was clear was that the library would be closing in a few days for an indefinite period.  I stockpile books, especially my “drug of choice,” cozy mysteries.

Sunday, March 15, UUS:E holds its first-ever virtual service via Zoom.  Lockdown begins.  My appointment book is empty.  My journal fills up with fears, observations, speculations.

*****

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It’ll Only Hurt a Bit: 65 years after Jonas Salk, the world awaits another vaccine

by Malcom Barlow

Today’s universal fear of COVID-19, and the steps we have been taking to deal with it, reminded me of the fear of polio we all felt prior to 1955.

 I was born in 1943 in Manchester, one of 6 children of Francis and Osee Barlow.  Our parents talked with each other about this polio thing, particularly in the warm summer days.  It struck hardest at children. How it picked which children seemed a mystery.  But summers were tense.  Our parents warned us not to go swimming in local pools like Globe Hollow.  Polio cases seemed to happen most in the hot, late days of summer.  We know now that it was transmitted between children by touch and by water – water such as in a warm swimming hole.

 As soon as the vaccine was available, all of us were vaccinated.  There was a sharp prick, and then we were rushed on through the lines of children.

When a vaccine is found for COVID-19, there will be another sharp prick on my arm, about where the Salk vaccine entered me.  I will remember the first vaccine prick, what it represented to my parents – such relief.  And I will not feel the pain.

****

Note: This piece first appeared in the Manchester Public Schools e-newsletter with the following Editor’s Notes:

Fear of the Coronavirus is, for Malcolm Barlow and many of his generation, rooted in memories of the polio epidemic, which afflicted children through the first half of the 20th Century, only ending in 1955 when Jonas Salk developed a vaccine.

Each summer before that, though, the highly infectious virus would arrive and no one was sure how it was transmitted or what caused it. 

The worst year was 1952, when there were more than 57,000 cases in the United States resulting in more than 3,000 deaths. Those who survived often ended up with some form of paralysis, forcing them to use crutches, wheelchairs or to be put into an iron lung, a large tank respirator that would pull air in and out of the lungs, allowing them to breathe.

However, once drug manufacturers made the vaccine available more than 400 million doses were distributed between 1955 and 1962. Cases dropped dramatically and although polio still exists it is extremely rare today.

*****

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Trash Day

By Coryn Clark, 27 May 2020

 

I try to get out before the garbage trucks arrive,

my pockets bulging with single-use plastic bags once banned

and now considered cleaner than my own reusable bags

sitting idly on the back seat of my car.

I carry bamboo tongs to pluck bits of trash

from empty sidewalks where painters’ tape marks

every six feet for the queue to pizza take-out,

past sandwich boards for curbside pick-up #1, #2, #3

at the dog grooming salon,

past the new ice cream shop,

closed by the pandemic before it opened –

essential businesses, all.

I target the debris of despair:

nips, needles, beer cans, gloves, masks, dryer sheets…

and shiny stuff that will not rot:

plastic bottles, metal caps, cellophane, foil…

but not the cigarettes –

I’ll not get past the bus stop if I pick up all the butts.

I hope when we wake from this coma

and when children are let outside to play

they won’t see how we trashed the world;

they won’t know that in our despair we didn’t care about tomorrow.

I walk home under a bright blue sky after filling all my bags,

leaving many other bits of trash for another day,

except one:

a small square tequila bottle perfect

for a few sprigs of lily of the valley,

yesterday’s trash,

today’s treasure.

*****

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And On

by Michelle Spadaccini, May 23, 2020

 

Another mangle of sheets

as sleep again eludes me

rolling in an ocean of blankets.

The nightly routine I know well,

long for and yet dread.

Endless streams of dreams

my mind sifting through the day’s anxieties

familiar yet strange

grasping for peace unattainable.

 

Resigned to failure again

reaching deep for resolve out of reach

I embark bleary eyed on another day

in a string of days bound together seamlessly

challenging my sanity.

 

A husband’s devotion to routine

a source of amusement

grateful for the normalcy it brings.

Fleeting touches,

lips brushing.

 

The soft pad pad of feet from the hall,

son searching for a favorite muffin,

emptiness disappoints,

a leaning embrace.

 

I smile inwardly at the familiar scene

awaiting the daily deluge of emotion.

Waves of feeling breaking over me

threatening engulfment

as I struggle to find the words to soothe,

ease his mind

seemingly more fragile daily.

 

The to-do list beckons

interest long ago dulled

projects linger.

Each achievement feels a colossal accomplishment

yet no longer provides satisfaction.

 

The usual knock on the door

the mumbled response

a nuzzle of hair

a son’s mind enveloped in a strong hold impenetrable.

 

Friends voices break the monotony

read or heard,

I am grateful for either.

A skirmish threatens the peace of the home.

Space and time appease wounded egos.

The day’s events drone on,

hours crawl.

 

Fatigue threatens any daily efficiency

evening news refrain numbs the mind.

Night looms.

A sigh of resignation.

 

And on it goes…

 

*****

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