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Thursday, April 9, 2020

How Long Will It Last?

How long will what last? The pandemic, the staying at home, the anxiety, fear, worry, anger? The arrival of sudden, piercing stabs of fear in the middle of a sleepless night? 

Household food supplies???

Long before the stay-at-home order came to Arizona (where we remain until confident of a safe return to northern Michigan), even before the nationwide toilet paper panic and frenzy, wise and forward-thinking authorities recommended that every household have a minimum of two weeks of food and necessities on hand, in case quarantine became necessary. So I shopped then and found everything we needed and felt we were well supplied. I even bought a two-pack of giant-size containers of antiseptic wipes, wondering if we could ever possibly need that many. Was I overreacting? Flour, yeast, canned tomatoes, pasta, canned milk, onions, soap, yada-yada-yada — all the things you’d need if you couldn’t get out of the house for two weeks. 

But hand sanitizer? I never buy that stuff, just soap. So when I returned to the store for hand sanitizer a week or two later, while other shoppers were panicking over shelves stripped bare of toilet paper and paper towels [actually, no one looked panicked at the Safeway in Willcox: that was literary hyperbole], I was stunned at the sight of an empty aisle where hand sanitizer and other such products used to be. On my next and I hope last trip, there was still none to be had. We are told to keep in the car and use it constantly, but the Artist and I are using those antiseptic wipes I thought I might not need. Not the kind made for hands, but the harsher cleaners intended for household use. Now even those are nowhere to be found for sale! How long will what we have left last?

I chickened out of going to the grocery store again last Friday, as planned, and made a new plan for Tuesday, when the dairy and egg supply would be restocked. And yes, on Tuesday the store had eggs, and I bought another container of yogurt so I’ll have starter to get back to making my own with raw milk from the feed store, but once again there was no hand sanitizer, no antiseptic wipes, and no yeast. I almost wept. I'd been so nervous about going at all, and then these empty, gaping shelves! I think of certain friends in Northport who have for years found it amusing to refer to our grocery store there, especially in winter when the summer people with their big bucks are not in residence, as "Moscow Market." Ha! Eat your words, guys! We always had everything we needed, didn't we?

Catching wild yeast from their air, on the other hand, is something I think I can manage, so before we run out of yeast, I will finally attempt to make sourdough starter. Old dog, new trick. I have read up on it and feel confident. 

But aren't these strange times when a trip to the grocery store or laundromat feels dangerous? How long will these feelings last?

We went to a different laundromat this week, a less frequented washateria with cheaper washers than our usual but busier, more crowded place (hence our avoidance) — sadly, also with dryers that have an insatiable appetite for quarters. But never mind! All I wanted to do was wash the clothes and get back to the cabin and hang them on our new clothesline. Finding almost all the machines in use when we arrived — very unusual! — and four people inside, we made ourselves comfortable in the car with books and cold water and snacks, in a quiet, shady spot, with a nice breeze filtering through the new leaves of a velvet ash tree, waiting for the coast to clear, as it eventually did. So it all worked out.

Still, we were relieved to be home again, even though a single clothesline and limited supply of clothespins meant that I spent the remainder of the day hanging up as many items at once as possible and whenever a few were dry, pulling those dry items off the line to make way for more. It really did take all afternoon, too, despite sun and a stiff breeze, and the last towels were still on the line when meatballs for dinner went into 
the oven.

Funny how one's perceptions change with changed circumstances. Familiar sights evoke new thoughts. These days when I’m out walking and see dried cow dung, I think, fuel. When we’re driving, wild rhubarb along the roadside says to me, food. Prickly pear still poses a question: how does one harvest and prepare that to eat? So far, however, we have not retreated that far back into the past.

I’m not exactly living the life of my grandmother’s, she who had to pump water to heat on the stove to do her laundry outdoors in washtubs. (One of those washtubs was my first “swimming pool” when I was a toddler.) She also milked her own cow and slaughtered her own chickens, and my grandfather had an enormous vegetable garden, huge raspberry patch, and their entire backyard was given over to growing fruit.

My mother on her parents' country "farmette"
My parents' first home in South Dakota
My mother, with indoor plumbing, had a wringer washer in the basement and lines both in the backyard (for summer) and in the basement (for winter). When my sisters and I were young, we had three apple trees, one pear tree, and a raspberry patch (that last, thanks to our grandfather who brought the canes from Ohio for us). My mother baked her own bread, put up homemade jam, and made her own perfect piecrust from scratch, so these days I’m kind of living my mother’s life — without the little children, but it’s still amazing how cooking and baking and cleaning have expanded to fill the days, now that we are staying at home.

And I ask myself, how long will these new habits last? As long as the pandemic or longer? When these times are “over,” and we can return to something resembling “normal life,” will we continue to bake our own bread and hang our laundry out in the sun?

Well, I routinely hang laundry on the line back in Michigan, though I do not bake bread in the busy months when I'm running a business fulltime and doing my share of keeping grass mowed around our old farmhouse and barns. Anyway, truthfully, I wonder more about other changes in our lives these days, too, the way we are considering and treating one another, not only within our households but in our communities and across the country and beyond. 

How long will we continue communicating with loved ones on our present, new, more frequent basis and, in addition, find time to reconnect with friends forgotten or neglected for years? How long will we keep up the habit of thanking family members, friends, and strangers for each kindness, large and small? How long will we remember to give thanks, each and every day, for each and every day we’re alive?


Dawn said...

I have hope that the good things we have learned from this, the connecting with people, the thankfulness, the slower pace, those we can keep. The anxiety, fear, hoarding...I hope those all end.

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, I can agree with everything you say. I would add greed and disregard for the earth we depend on to the things I hope will end.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying this myself after logging out....