These Times We’re Living In
There are no roads that do not bend
And the days like flowers bloom and fade
And they do not come again
We’ve only got these times we’re living in
On a cold day in March 2020, my youngest daughter Lelia and I were in Kalona, Iowa, at the store we call the Amish Dent and Bent, home of an uncurated inventory of last chance grocery items. As we foraged through the aisles, filling our cart with Yehuda Gluten-Free Matzo Squares and other such random finds, my phone started dinging with texts. “We’re closing,” wrote my middle daughter, a librarian at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore.
“School’s closing!” wrote my husband, whose retirement job is being an English Language Learner paraeducator at one of our local high schools.
“Everything’s closing,” I told Lelia in what felt to me like a whisper. She gave me the eye, “Shh, you’re scaring the customers.”
I quietly collected my thoughts. Lelia had been warning me since January about a virus that threatened to spread globally. “Have you ordered masks?” she would ask every day. She was in Milan then, in Italy which was about to become the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic. A week or so later from London, she continued pressuring me, “Order masks!”
I live in Iowa City, Iowa, home not only of the Hawkeyes, but also of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, one of the nation’s largest teaching hospitals. After several more exhortations from Leila, I started asking everyone I knew if they were getting ready, if they had bought masks. No one knew what I was talking about then, so I dawdled a bit. Soon we began to hear about Covid-19. Now in an Amish store with dim lights powered by who knows what, where horse-drawn buggies clomped by outside and shoppers in bonnets checked out heavily discounted products, I knew that “it” was here.
The next morning, with a Leuchtturm 1917 notebook and a well-sharpened Blackwing #602 pencil, I began my Covid log. Inspired by the excerpts I had read from Britain’s Mass Observation Project diaries, I dated, reported, and wrote about anything and everything: the first obituary mentioning the pandemic (March 19, 2020), a front porch delivery of shawl yarn by a masked knitting friend from the Home Ec Workshop (September 20, 2020), the drive through a blizzard to Walgreens for our first vaccine (March 5, 2021).
I knit a lot during our isolation: baby sweaters, toddler spiral socks, hats, cowls, and many many ballband washcloths. For a while, two of my three daughters were sheltering with us. In the evenings after dinner, we would gather and watch something on TV. They chose shows we might have never watched: Schitt’s Creek, Younger, Drop Dead Diva. My oldest daughter left after six months, but my youngest stayed on, and we continued our viewing tradition, which was also my knitting time.
On the day the New York Times ended their Covid-inspired Sunday Home section, I officially declared my Covid log reporting over, though, in truth, I keep at it. My Covid log is where I store my unease, my observations, and where I continue to wonder, “Who will I be when this is over?” In January at a virtual event, I heard someone declare, “The pandemic will not be lost on me.” Exactly.
Another lifetime ago, after writing A Knitter’s Home Companion, I drove from Iowa City, Iowa, to Rhinebeck, New York, to sign my books at the famous Sheep & Wool Festival. For my birthday earlier that year my friend Monica Leo of Eulenspiegel Puppets gave me a doll she made; I named her Monica Michelle and took her to display on my signing table alongside my books and other small items of interest. Remembering how cool mornings in the Hudson Valley can be, I knit her a Rhinebeck Sweater and a pair of warm slippers based on a baby bootie pattern I loved.
I am writing this in August with the Delta variant hovering close, threatening us all. Throughout the hot summer here, Monica Michelle, who sits on a table near my knitting chair, keeps her Rhinebeck sweater on, ready to travel again. The other day it occurred to me she needs a hat—a soft watch cap with a big fluffy pompom on top, of course.
Who will I be when we finally, totally emerge? I am not sure of that yet, but I will be knitting—and keeping track of these times we’re living in.
Be well. Stay safe.