Apr 052020

In the small town where I grew up, many people had access to multiple generations, aunts and uncles, grandparents, second cousins once removed.  My maternal grandparents lived six miles away on a farm, but were away a few winter months, as snowbirds in Florida.  It certainly wasn’t Walton’s Mountain, at least for us, but there was family around.

My family has become nomads. My 89-year-old father lives in a retirement home 200 miles away, while our only child, our 30-year-old son, lives in the Washington D.C. metro area 1,100 miles away.  My brother (who is a widower) lives two miles from my Dad, but his son and son’s wife live two hours away from him in Chicago.

I call my Dad every day.  He is frustrated on a variety of levels.  The facility won’t let him visit his girlfriend, age 85, and she can’t visit him. They break the rules almost every day. My father is an extreme extrovert, and withers up without other people, especially his girlfriend. Dad is also worried about his car, a boat of a Buick from the last century. He parks it in a carport that he can see from his apartment window. 

However, the only unlocked door to the massive facility is the front door, and residents can come and go but are interrogated upon return.  Then, the Powers That Be take a temperature.

Dad just had to check on his car earlier this week and walked his Frankenstein walk (refuses to use his cane) out the B wing, up the main hall, out the front door, around the B wing to the back where his car miraculously started.  He came back around, growled as they took his temperature, and returned to his apartment.  He called me immediately because he was so proud of what he had done.

Did I mention my Dad can’t see out of one eye at all, and my brother and I are doing everything in our power to get him to stop driving?

Dad told me what he had done and was not at all pleased when I said, “I hoped you were going to tell me that the car had been stolen.”

He was not amused.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my husband of 35 years, and I are doing fine.  We met in 1977 and were first friends, and later entered this long and happy relationship.  As friends, we used to live on the “college schedule.”  Our college routine involved taking as many night classes as possible, sleeping in until at least 10 a.m., drinking a lot of cheap beer (Wisconsin Club, five dollars a case).  His apartment never ran out of toilet paper, because one of his roommates regularly stole it from the nearby college Student Center.  I won’t name names, but you know who you are.

A few things have changed.  We purchase our toilet paper now.  We don’t drink, and if we did, it wouldn’t be cheap beer.  My husband is an insulin-dependent diabetic, and never takes a drink.  I have one occasionally, but it’s no fun to drink alone, so I save it for special occasions like Christmas Eve or Thursdays or National Potato Day (a nod to fans of Otis Campbell from “The Andy Griffith Show.”)

My husband’s retirement date is May 31, but he’s been working online since spring break.  His employer, a local university, moved everything online.  I guess at some point he’ll go back and clean out his office in these strange times.

So we’ve been staying up until about 2 a.m. either watching old movies or listening to audiobooks.  We have plenty of food now, though the first few weeks were like getting food from the former state store in Soviet Russia, the GUM store, where customers stood in line to get whatever they had.  No bread?  No toilet paper.  No milk?  Sure, we’ll take frozen okra.

In addition to my husband being diabetic, I have chronic lung disease, so both of us need to stay in our hidey-hole.  We’ve both been out a couple of times, masked and gloved to the gills.  I picked up a Walmart order and didn’t open a window.  The clerk put the order in my trunk.  I have a sedan, so I felt safe doing that. The husband had to go to the University Clinic to pick up meds.  They opened the door and handed him a bag.  Easy-peasy.

We’ve had one little blip, that for many of our friends and neighbors was a huge blip.  Two F-2 tornados whipped through Henderson, Kentucky, across the Ohio River, and then into several neighborhoods in Newburgh on the evening of March 28.  Mother Nature can be a bitch, and this time she tagged for the third time, a dear friend who is going through chemo and has been fighting cancer for more than two years.  This same friend has also been involved in several other Newburgh tornados.  Thankfully, people have contributed money for her repairs, and she immediately had a crew of construction folks cleaning up her area and tarping her roof.

The storm hit a number of Newburgh neighborhoods, including Ridgewood, the neighborhood immediately across from us, about half a mile away.  My husband was watching TV and said, “It’s time to go to the basement.”  I did turn my computer off and then went quickly to the basement.  We heard nothing.  Then the power went off.  We each had a tiny flashlight with us.

The power didn’t come back on for thirty hours.  Since I am on oxygen, that was a little bit scary.  I was able to call my provider, Deaconess DME, and they had a big 12-hour emergency tank out to me first thing Saturday morning.  (I don’t wear it all the time, plus I had a charged portable tank for the daytime. But I must have it on for sleep, dangerous to go without it.)  Our power came back on early Sunday morning.

Both of our phones went dead sometime Saturday, and the husband found a full charger somewhere in the basement.  Lesson learned here: always keep a charger or two plugged in.   

Those were thirty very long hours.  We were so lucky that our house did not get hit (although I will say, we’ve lived here 25 years, and every tree that could have fallen in a storm has already fallen, or we’ve taken it down after storm damage.)  We feel exceedingly lucky.  Our dentist had part of a tree blown through their second-floor bedroom window.

We were worried about my oxygen, the stability of the husband’s insulin in the refrigerator, and whether our basement would flood since the pump wasn’t working. We have a history there.  Knock on wood.

It is incredible what sitting in the dark for thirty hours can do for one’s perspective.  We are almost giddy to have power back, even if we cannot go anywhere  Thank heaven for small favors.

And technology can make us like the Walton’s.  In a few minutes, we will celebrate our son’s thirtieth birthday with a Zoom party with family. Not as I would have planned, but fantastically better than sitting in a dark room, playing board games with flashlights.

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