It was great to hear from Linda Carr Griffin, who said that she worked a lot when
she was in college. As a paid position, she edited two college yearbooks and
worked on the campus weekly newspaper and as a layout editor where she
accepted columns from the now-famous fellow-alumnus, Stephen King. Linda
was an English major and taught English at the high school level in Glenolden,
Pennsylvania while her first husband, Douglas M. Griffin, attended veterinary
school at the University of Pennsylvania. Linda resides, once again, in Maine.
It was also great to learn that Stephen M. August of Bath has been appointed to
serve as treasurer of the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust (KELT). The Kennebec
Estuary Land Trust is a membership-supported organization that serves to
protect the land, water, and wildlife of the Kennebec estuary. It maintains 12
preserves, which are enjoyed by the public.
A portion of the short story, “Unprecedented Times,” which I wrote last spring,
appeared in the summer edition of the MAINE Alumni Magazine. I was asked to
share it in its entirety.
~Unprecedented Times~ We are waking up each day, doing our chores as usual.
Our miniature horse, Esso, and our three Rhode Island red hens look forward to
their breakfast. They greet us with glee. It’s good to breathe deeply and enjoy the
fresh air. These are the everyday things that go on as normal here in Aroostook
But, turn on the radio — COVID-19. This is an epidemic that didn’t just creep into
our lives. It swept like a plague of locusts from one side of the globe to the other.
No one saw it coming this rapidly. Fifteen minutes of the COVID-19 update is all I
can stand. This nasty virus is here in northern Maine; someone has been
hospitalized at the local hospital, a confirmed case. I command Alexa to turn off
the radio. It’s off.
I look out the front window and see a school bus pass the house. I pause and
realize that there are no students aboard the bus, just a sign in the side window
that says, “We Love You!” and their lunches, of course; their lunches are
onboard. The bus stops at our next-door neighbor’s mailbox. A young woman
steps off the bus and deposits what must be a lunch onto the mailbox for the
student who lives there.
I think about my plan for the day. I need to buy groceries and pick up a
prescription at Walmart. I have heard that it’s best to shop early in the day, so I
get ready with my shopping list in hand. I place my pandemic kit that I have
assembled on the passenger seat of the car. It contains a face mask, a bottle of
rubbing alcohol, fresh wipes, and an empty bottle of hand sanitizer. When I arrive
at Walmart, the parking lot is nearly vacant. I sigh with relief as I place my mask
onto my face, making sure that my glasses set just outside the edge of the mask,
so they don’t fog up so readily. I no sooner get into the store when a woman
passes me, keeping a six-foot distance and sighing at the sight of me in my mask
and muttering, “Oh, my God!” I must have been a scary reminder of the
epidemic. I feel sorry for her and for myself and for everyone right now. I find the
grocery items that are on my list. I head over to the pharmacy where my
prescription is ready. A plastic shield has been installed at the counter since my
last visit. I insert my credit card into the machine without touching anything but
the credit card. The transaction is complete and I am able to pay for all the items
at that one place. The pharmacy assistant, the one who looks like Tom Hanks, is
smiling behind his mask. I can tell he’s smiling because his eyes have smile-lines
next to them. “We are all in this together,” I think to myself. When I get out to my
car, I take my mask off and wash my hands with some of the rubbing alcohol.
“Why do I feel as if I am suddenly a surgeon coming from the operating room?
This is a job I never signed up for!”
Then I think of my son-in-law, who is a nurse. They take his temperature before
he enters his place of work. My daughter made a mask for him. She used some
Mickey Mouse fabric that was left over from one of her former sewing projects.
They have a six-year-old daughter who has been home-schooled and doing
distance learning with her first-grade class for several months now. She likes to
connect with me on Zoom. I never know when she is going to call. It’s always a
pleasant surprise. One day recently we had a virtual tea party. She drank a cup
of hot chocolate prepared by her mother, my daughter. I drank a cup of green tea
and we talked about what our names would be if our names were spelled
backwards. She figured hers out right away, “Nylada” and mine “Ytteb.” Now we
have a secret tea society going on.
I am grateful for the electronic devices we have in our lives that help keep us
connected with our friends and loved ones. We are not only able to connect with
our family members, but we can connect with some of the other social groups
such as our church, knitting groups, and my rug hooking group, as well as a book
discussion group. I’m noticing that a few people have joined these groups who
live in Canada, South Carolina, and Vermont who did not attend the meetings
back before the sickness, so perhaps we are becoming more inclusive as a
This morning I awoke early and got to thinking about my childhood. I grew up in a
suburb of Boston during the ’50s and ’60s. When I was five years old, my parents
sent me to a day camp. When my buddy from camp came down with polio, they
closed the camp. Not long after this, I became very ill with a high temperature. I
recall my father carrying me in his arms to our car, where he placed me lying
down in the back seat. He drove me to the Newton-Wellesley Hospital, where
after I was admitted, I was taken by wheelchair to a private room. Through the
window, I could see an iron lung with a patient lying inside it. Scary is all I can
say! I was soon to learn that I was in isolation. Few people entered my room because
they had to dress in special hospital gowns and wear masks, of course.
My mother came to visit me every day. I was extremely lonely. She told me they
thought I might have polio. As it turned out, the lab tests revealed that I did not
have polio. After a week, I was released from the hospital and I was incredibly
happy and relieved to be back home. But, the members of my family did not go
anywhere that summer; not to the beach, not to friends’ houses to play, not to the
theater, and no one came to visit us. Many people throughout the world were
coming down with polio. Relief eventually came with the polio vaccine. I
remember lining up at school where we each were given a sugar cube that
contained the vaccine. Later I learned that the oral polio vaccine (OPV) produces
antibodies in the blood to three types of poliovirus. And, unlike the COVID-19
virus, polio affected mostly children.
After people received the vaccine, life returned to normal, or did it? I have come
to realize that no one year is ever the same as the next year. Some things go on
much as they always did but many things changed. With COVID-19 we have
been learning to stay well by practicing social distancing, the importance of good
hygiene, of science, of staying connected to one another, and of supporting one
another. We are reminded by our Constitution to promote the general welfare for
the common good.
Today I see that the potato farmers in Aroostook County have been hard-hit. It’s
time to plant their potato crops and many farmers have so many potatoes in their
sheds from last year’s crop that much of the crop will probably be wasted. I see
that many farmers are supplying potatoes to food banks and I hope that they
succeed in distributing their potatoes to those in need, for as we all know, there
are many in need.
My husband just came into the kitchen and placed three eggs on the counter.
This is a first for our three hens; all three of them have never produced an egg on
the same day. Hopefully, this is a sign that things are looking up, that a COVID-
19 vaccine will be developed soon.
Stay well, my friends and stay in touch!