MEMBERS REFLECT ON THE PANDEMIC
We are living through the most deadly pandemic of our lifetimes. Some of us have lost loved ones, some have lost jobs, and all of us have had to make adjustments. Our organization has moved our Goldfinch launch online, rescheduled our conference from autumn to spring, and many of our critique groups are now meeting online. The changes to our daily existence have brought some moments of hilarity between the moments of inconvenience and despair. Women Who Write invites you to share your experiences of these times in a project we're calling Viral Words. Please take a few moments to reflect on the past 3+ months, since most of our nation went on lockdown, and share your experiences, strength and hope in a piece of prose or poetry for us to share on our website. Entries may contain up to 1,000 words. If possible, please include either your headshot or some other image that may relate to your piece, in an email to Submit@WomenWhoWrite.org. Works will be screened to make sure they do not violate our Standing Rules (found here). You may ask that your original works be posted anonymously.
OUT OF RETIREMENT: RECLAIMING OLD SKILLS
FOR A NEW ERA
By Carole Garibaldi Rogers, July 28, 2020
It was early in the days of the pandemic. According to news reports, the C.D.C. did not recommend masks for anyone other than essential health care workers. Then on Tuesday morning, March 31, the New York Times devoted an entire page to a pattern and instructions for making a mask. I glanced at the page but did not stop. I was riveted by the shockingly sad New York City hospital news. Later in the day, I returned to the page and tore it out. “Just in case,” I told myself. I did not contemplate using it.
But the world was changing fast. On Thursday I went online to try to buy masks. I ordered some, but the earliest delivery was four weeks away. By Friday night I was studying the pattern. “I can do this,” I encouraged myself. The summer between eighth grade and high school I had won a dressmaking contest at a local Singer Sewing Machine store. I still had the prize, a set of three sewing shears that came in a zippered green faux-leather case. The gold lettering on the cover read: First Place Junior Division. Actually I had only two-thirds of the prize. Somewhere over the years one pair of scissors, the middle size, had gone missing.
More than 60 years later, I was using the other two pair to cut out fabric for masks to protect Leo and me during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020.
Carole Garibaldi Rogers
Memories surfaced. I had used these shears over the years to make skirts with the tweed and plaid fabric that my mother bought for me at New Hampshire wool outlets. More often I made drapes and curtains and valances. I sewed for two New York City apartments, mine, a generic white studio, and then the lovely one-bedroom with fireplace and leaded windows that Leo and I shared.
After we moved to New Jersey and our sons came along, I used an orange and yellow patterned chintz for tie-backs in a breakfast nook and a muted paisley for the dining room in our first home. I sewed in shades of cream and off-white to make drapes for a huge picture window, the one that framed the view of the Verrazano Bridge and the World Trade Center—when there was a World Trade Center.
As I cut with my 60-year-old shears, I could not help reflecting on the tragedies our generation has lived through. But the fabric I was using had pleasant associations, too. I had bought the blue and white cotton last year while shopping with good friends intending to make napkins for the lake house.
Before I could start sewing on the masks, we had to carry the sewing machine up from its basement storage place. We placed it on top of the old cast-iron Singer sewing machine base, which had been with us since the 1970s. While it had traveled with us, I had not used it for sewing for many years. It sat now in our bedroom displaying photos and small gifts.
I hunted up my thread basket and tool box. And on Saturday I began to sew. Within minutes, I was verging on disaster. It was no problem to thread the needle, but the bobbin thread wouldn’t feed properly. I couldn’t get the fabric to slide forward or backward. It kept jamming. I cut away knot after knot. I took some deep breaths. I tossed a few spools of blue thread on the floor. I took a trip downstairs for a cup of the fresh coffee my husband had kindly made for me.
Slowly I made adjustments, summoning up memories and trying different settings. I had chosen to do ties that would fasten around our heads as I had no elastic to go over our ears and neither did any online sources. My friends and my granddaughter, who had elastic, were sewing masks for hospital workers. I was on my own with the pattern I had. It took me two hours to do eight ties for two masks. In another hour I had stitched around the masks and I was done for the day. My neck cramped and my eyes burned. Was this really worth it? Were mask really important? That Saturday was April 4, still very early in our chaotic national response to the coronavirus.
Sunday was much better. I had figured out my errors so I finished the pleating and the top stitching in a flash. The masks were done. A week later we received in the mail two masks that our granddaughter, Ella, had slipped out of the pile she was making for health care workers in New Haven. The ordered paper masks never arrived. But we each had a supply of two masks in time for the governor’s order that masks would be mandatory in supermarkets.
It is hard to fathom how we live now. The pandemic has been with us for more than four months. Current guidelines in New Jersey and most, but not all, states say we must wear masks in public places when we cannot be at least six feet from someone else.
Stylish masks are everywhere. You can buy them from Etsy or at Target or CVS and at highway rest stops. You can wear standard blue disposables or handcrafted style statements. You can wear a mask with your favorite sports team’s logo or one with your university’s seal. My handmade New York Times design with the ties is in the drawer now with the small pile of masks I have bought. I have bright red slices of watermelon when I feel summery and a black and white geometric when I want stylish. Easy daisies for everyday. Leo has bought boxes and boxes of disposable blues that pinch correctly at the nose. We are well supplied.
In the fall and winter I plan to indulge myself and buy new ones in seasonal colors and fabrics. How long we will be wearing masks is unknown. But I do know that for as long as they are necessary my husband and I will wear them. And we will be able to choose from a wide variety of masks that someone else has made. I will not need to pick up my old shears and tap into forgotten skills. I’m relieved. And I confess, a little disappointed. In times like these, it felt good to come out of retirement and set to work on a useful project.
AS DOMINOES FALL
By Patrice Bavos, June 28, 2020
It’s a month and a day since Greta’s passing. I am so thankful she is not here to have her already limited life altered by wearing masks, visitations, and the sinking feeling of despair.
In her room, I sit on her majestic yellow chair that so often she held court in. From this chair is my favorite view of my home - Mrs. Erber’s gardens. A mere penny toss from the window, these odalisque shaped botanical wonders will soon be filled with rhubarb, purple irises, peonies, and a host of heirloom flowers. The honey suckle framing the little red shed, is a reminder of Mrs. Erber’s handiwork. For nearly thirty years, this delightful view, settles me with deep gratitude.
A rainy dance of Spring has daffodils bobbing up and down, forsythia in their fullest regalia and the colorized world of newly green is wet, moving, and shiny. Rain is pouring heavily onto a pile of bricks that accompany the soft melody playing from the tv.
As the dominoes continue to fall in this new world, I am reminded, once again, the temporariness of everything.
The first three weeks of distance learning for my 17 year-old son was surprisingly fun. He set up “school” from the dining room table, a central point where I could oversee him. Already familiar with his academia and special classes, it was enlightening to be a part of his lesson plans. The kinks to “signing in” worked out after a week and thus began a routine of school work, activities of daily living, and singing songs for a Spring Concert he would not be a part of. I was determined to keep things upbeat, even though my heart was aching for my child with special needs.
I worried about him not seeing his “friends,” friends that high-five him in the hallways, sit at his lunch table and embrace him at drama club. He had been preparing for three roles in the upcoming play, Matilda – singing, dancing, and a minor speaking role. Enrolling him in a regional school with an enriching special needs department furthered him along with his confidence and assimilation.
He is my hero.
For weeks, I added to my grocery list anything that came to mind. My first time out, I ventured to an Aldi’s 45 miles away to a county that had the fewest number of Covid-19 cases and deaths. Luckily, there was no waiting line as I watched from my car while putting on my mask and gloves. I lined my cart with a sheet, cleverly thinking that it would lessen my chances of contracting with the microscopic threat currently pervading our frayed, collective psyches.
Toilet paper was not on my list. The mad race to buy toilet paper, disinfectants, and the like seemed greedily overactive to me. I did not like what I was sensing, but not dismissing the sweeping changes our society, our humanity was going through. I visualized if things got so bad, I would cut my sheets to wipe my ass.
My cart was filled to the brim, something I had never done. Luckily, a month earlier, I applied for SNAP food benefits when Greta passed away. She was my client of six years and for the past 17 months had lived with me.
Slowly scouring the shelves as I cross off my list, I notice an elderly lady eyeing up the shelf ahead of me. She has no cart, no list, just a handful of items. I wondered about her life. Is she all alone? Is she living on Social Security? Does she have a family? I looked at my cart with its abundance of frozen greens, chicken, gluten free snacks, and items for my son’s Easter Basket. It drove home the point, how much do we really need?
So much for the sheet, my clever idea crapped out. I forgot, Aldi’s transfers your items to another cart.
Entering my home through the side yard, I spend several hours wiping down my purchases. It was exhausting.
After having spent Easter socially distanced in my side yard with my son, neighbor and dear friend, I wondered how this was going to play out? Is this the new norm, not being able to hug those you love?
Going into an 8th week of distance learning and socializing, my son screamed, “I WANT THIS CORONA VIRUS TO STOP!”
I couldn’t agree more.
THE WORKING LIFE OF A SAN FRANCISCO BOY
BETSY BURR, who wrote this essay, lives in a Senior Independent living community of 1900 people, where the virus has been taken very seriously since the pandemic began. She is currently quarantined and unable to leave her apartment, owing to a recent hospital stay. Her community, because of its strict rules, is totally free of the virus.
Springtime, 2020--In these restrictive days, my thoughts turn to freedom and to possibilities, as they were in other times. My mind jumps around, looking for tales to tell, and settles on the San Francisco of the early twentieth century, when my father was oh-so-young.
Francis Blanchard was born in the year of the great earthquake and fire of 1906, into a comfortable, two-income family. He was the son of a professional couple—his father, a high school classics teacher with a Harvard Ph.D., his mother, a concert singer and teacher of voice who later taught at Mills College, across the Bay.
His childhood differed vastly from, say, that of his only grandchild, a girl born in 1968, who led a far more sheltered existence. What strikes me most of all was the independence he was given, from an early age.
His first responsibility outside the home came at the age of six, as an usher at the First Unitarian Church of San Francisco. Every Sunday he donned his Little Lord Fauntleroy suit—black velvet, with a huge satin bow and high white collar—and guided parishioners to their accustomed pew. He was unpaid, but the required level of decorum prepared him for his first paid after-school-and-summer job, the following year, age 7: opening the bronze-and-glass door to a prominent downtown jewelry store for the well-dressed clientele.
This job was performed so satisfactorily that he was soon allowed to work inside the store, assisting clerks as they waited on the customers, bringing out the glittering merchandise, showing it off and, later, taking purchases to be wrapped. Again, the store was happy with his work, so that by the age of almost-eight, in
the fall of 1914, he was promoted to being a sales clerk, again working summers and after school every day. In that role, he met the needs of clients from start to finish, charming them into a relationship, clinching the sale, writing it up with punctilious mathematical accuracy, and seeing the customers to the door, parcels in hand. He held that job, happily, for two years.
He took time off, though, for the summer of 1915, when, at age eight-and-a half, his parents bought him a season ticket to the glorious Panama-Pacific International Exhibition. This World’s Fair covered more than 600 acres and was held in the Presidio. He eagerly went alone every day, armed with twenty-five cents: twenty cents for the trolley cars, to and fro, and a nickel for a hot dog. The Exposition was a revelation for him, with its display of scientific and engineering marvels from around the world. It drew him to his later career as a civil engineer.
He landed his next job by dressing up smartly and walking downtown, in the early fall of 1916. He was spotted by a woman who was the secretary to the president of the San Francisco Telephone and Telegraph Company, who recognized that a nine-year-old boy so well outfitted must be looking for work. She told him she was seeking a boy who could run errands for the phone company’s president, all over the city, because the previous messenger, a grown man, had gone off to fight in the Great War in Europe. My father’s preparation for that job was to memorize the street map of San Francisco. Francis held this job until 1919. He crisscrossed the city by trolley, cable car, and on foot. In 1917-18, he was carefully decked out in a protective mask, indoors and out, because of the “Spanish flu” then rampant in the city. His boss, the secretary, only wore her mask when outdoors. Sadly, she caught the flu and died.
When the former messenger returned from the front, he was given his old job back, and my father was free to begin spending summers with his sister, newly married to a park ranger in Yosemite. At twelve, he was blissfully free to explore the valley and the high country, occasionally helping his sister and brother-in-law in tending to the needs of park visitors.
As a mother, I marvel at the trust his family and employers placed in him, a child, to navigate successfully the busy city and then the wilds of Yosemite. He always remembered his early years with great appreciation for the worlds that opened before him, as a working boy.
~Betsy Blanchard Burr
Betsy Blanchard Burr
memories of earth
April 11, 2020
Earth Day is in the air—
In one deep breath,
affirming words emerge:
I remember earth.
the smell of spring soil,
or the new-cut lawn—
treading on softened ground—
these annual revelations
once called me.
No longer hunkered down,
I opened to freshness and
Cut off now, I dream
of loamy sprouts, of liberating green
fulfilled by flowers—
but, this year, unseen.
I am what they were once—
a bulb, a seed, hoping to grow,
nurtured in darkness,
waiting to be freed.
Biding my time, I know
my memory’s my nurse.
I’m still sequestered,
but I remember earth.