Back in 1970-71 in Miss Sharon Miller’s third-grade classroom at Valley Grove School, we budding writers were asked to hone our skills by completing a weekly journal of sorts that Miss Miller dubbed “Things to Remember.” Being indoctrinated in the practice of always seeking the “takeaways” during my formative years taught me to look for the memories — even the smallest snippets of the good (and the bad) that I don’t want to forget.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed life as we know it in “every way, shape, form and fashion.” None of us who have lived through this unimaginable period are likely to forget these months in quarantine. There are a number of things in particular that I will always remember from recent weeks.
First and foremost, I will remember the lives that have been claimed by this relentless virus. I will remember those who died alone, unable to feel the comforting touch of a loved one’s hand. The old, the young, the healthy; each and every one a senseless loss. I will remember the courage of the frontline medical personnel who risked their own health and that of their families in order to care for ours. I will remember nurses who facilitated FaceTime calls so that grieving families could share final goodbyes with those they hold dear. I will remember that our country, the greatest in the world despite our issues, could not readily provide these soldiers with the weapons of PPE that they desperately needed to protect themselves and others.
I will remember all the “essential” workers who keep our country moving each and every day. I will remember to thank them more frequently for doing the mundane but life-sustaining jobs like stocking our grocery store shelves, filling our prescriptions, delivering our mail and packages, trucking our freight cross-country. I will remember to fight for respect and fair wages for these folks whenever I can, now that we all know just where we’d be without their often underpaid dedication.
I will always remember the new vocabulary this pandemic has taught us — “social distancing,” “flattening the curve,” “contact tracing.” These are phrases I’d never heard nor dreamed I might ever need to speak.
I will remember driving away from my dad’s apartment at Warwood’s Home for Men in tears because I am unable to kiss his cheek when I drop off his medication and groceries. I will remember my adult kids offering to pick up things for “the elderly.” Wait — are they talking about ME?! Why, the world truly has gone mad!
I will remember that in the beginning, a stay-at-home order sounded almost enjoyable; an extended snowday of sorts. I’m a homebody by nature, so I was looking forward to embracing this lull in the rush of daily life. And in many ways, I have done just that. This pause has been a gift — a gift of time that has allowed us to slow down and breathe deeply even through our fear and anxiety. Time that has allowed me to revisit some long-forgotten pastimes — practicing the piano, canning relish, making homemade bread and jam. And that Amish friendship bread starter that’s going around town right now? You can probably thank me for the reappearance of that yummy “chain letter” of fermented goodness.
I will also remember sleeping later than usual now that going to the office means going downstairs to the dining room in yoga pants. (AKA my fancy “daytime pajamas.”) I will remember awakening to our hungry cats’ purrs instead of the buzz of my alarm. I will remember leisurely sipping a second cup of coffee as I read my email instead of rushing to my car to head downtown.
I will remember how much I missed my favorite people and places. Kim at Glamour Nails. Rhonda at Lisa’s Hair-Um. Doug, Sumner, Mike and Elisha at the Bridge Tavern. All of my friends at the West Virginia Snakes Club. My Orrick family. Regardless of what the governor says, these folks are absolutely essential to my life!
Speaking of Gov. Justice, we will all remember his now infamous “audio glitch” and all the fun memes it spawned. Did he or didn’t he say it? Either way, let’s all remember to follow the #$%ing guidelines as we move forward!
I’ll remember the thrill of my first “contactless” takeout order at Undo’s in Elm Grove. Not to mention the first time I was able to find some ever-elusive toilet paper at Save-a-Lot when it was out of stock most other places. Another exciting treasure hunt I will remember undertaking is the search for bread flour. Unable to find it on local grocery and chain store shelves, I was like a kid on Christmas morning when I discovered that Good Mansion Wines carries it.
Long after a vaccine is found and the COVID-19 pandemic has become a chapter in the history books, I will remember how quickly businesses, teachers, parents and employees stopped on a dime and reversed course, changing the way we work, the way we do business, the way we educate our children. I will remember my friends and coworkers dropping off “porch presents” to lift each others’ spirits as one long week blended into the next. I’ll remember socially distant deck parties where my kids would appear in our yard long enough for me to see that they were alive and well.
Another thing I’ll remember is how schools became food service providers for their students. How curbside pickup became the norm. How neighbors got to know each other better across backyard fences. How people helped each other in various ways, like the family who installed a mini-food bank on their sidewalk across from Warwood Commons.
I’ll remember days on end when the only time I left my house was to assist my husband with animal control calls. Many of those calls involved delivering pet food to newly unemployed folks who otherwise would have to surrender their pets to the shelter as they were now forced to choose between feeding their animals or feeding their kids. I’ll remember how strangers came together for the greater good in creative new ways, such as the Adopt a Senior social media movement and the Home of the Brave yard sign campaign.
I will also remember hunting for teddy bears and Easter eggs displayed in windows, seeing numerous sidewalk chalk art displays, enjoying cocktail hour most any time of day or night, attending virtual meetings/parties/church services, noticing creative signs on storefronts letting customers know they are missed.
I will remember to be grateful for health, for food on the table, for employment in uncertain times. I will remember to never again take anything for granted. I will remember to prioritize my life in a meaningful way from now on, hugging my family tight every chance I get. I will be eating the comfort food, drinking the wine, making that apology, having lunch with that friend. I’ll be taking more time to do what matters most to me.
This pandemic offers each of us the opportunity to improve ourselves in some way and to consider the perspectives of others when we’d normally think only of our own. Stay calm, stay kind, stay strong. And every day, let’s strive to remember that we are all adrift in the same storm, rowing our boats slowly but hopefully toward the shores of the “new normal.”
• A lifelong Wheeling resident, Ellen Brafford McCroskey is a proud graduate of Wheeling Park High School and the former Wheeling Jesuit College. By day, she works for an international law firm; by night, (and often on her lunch breaks and weekends) she enjoys moonlighting as a part-time writer. Please note that the views expressed in her writing are solely her own and do not necessarily reflect those of anyone else, including her full-time employer. Through her writing, Ellen aims to enlighten others on causes close to her heart, particularly addiction, recovery and equal rights. She and her husband Doug reside in Warwood with their clowder of rescued cats, each of whom is a direct consequence of his job as the Ohio County Dog Warden. Their family includes four adult children, their spouses and several grandkids.