I live next door to my cousin, Erin, and her lovely family in Minneapolis. Last fall, I moved into the apartment where her mom, my beloved Auntie Pattycakes, lived, until her death almost exactly a year ago, just a few short months after her only sister, my own beloved mom, took leave of this earth. Little did I expect, when I moved, just how essential being close to family would come to be.
Every now and then, I’ll get a text from Erin, something to the effect of, “hey, we’re having tortellini soup tonight, want me to bring some over?” to which I’ll reply, “hey, yes, please!” because one less night of cooking for one is, well, one less night cooking for one, which is a welcomed reprieve when you’ve been cooking for one not only while quarantined, but for a good nine years now, which gets to be a drag when you have no one to blame when the cauliflower goes to mush or for the mess in the kitchen, so maybe you opt for cereal or popcorn more that you care to admit.
Erin’ll alert me via text when she’s dropped the goods off in my entryway; lately, when I open the door, I’m met with the comforting aroma of disinfectant before I smell the soup, because those conscientious neighbors of mine take the shelter at home protocols seriously, which is more than we can say about a certain arrogant, willfully ignorant VP who visited the Mayo today.
So, last night was one of those nights. Erin’s text comes in: “Hey, we’re making ribs on the grill tonight, want some?” My answer is the same as always” “yes please!” thinking she’ll wander over with a carefully sanitized container at some point. Then I get a phone call from her daughter, Elise, who tells me in that endearingly nonsensical way that only a 9-year-old can execute, something about tables and ten feet and food and such, and from our convo, I come to the conclusion that they’re setting up a ten foot buffet-style table and I’m to bring my own tupperware to pack my own food. Cool, I thought, works for me.
Bandana across my face and tupperware in hand, I wander up the drive and turn the corner to their backyard, scanning the setting for the buffet. Instead, I see a small card table set up, draped in black, topped with a candle and plate of ribs. I’m confused—surely they’re not expecting company?
“Hey Jen!” the whole family—Erin, Kurt and their two kids, Quinn and Elise—already seated, joyfully greets me from their table, a good ten feet away, “Your table is ready, complete with your very own tub of Clorox wipes!” I stand, dumfounded, taking in the scene, with probably the biggest, dumbest smile on my face and maybe a hint of a tear at the corner of one eye. I gratefully take my place at the table set for one. In spite of feeling like the only kid at the kid’s table on Thanksgiving, I couldn’t have felt more connected in such a disconnected time, here at my neighbor-cousin’s impromptu backyard gathering. And that is how we stay sane, safe, and connected—by being inventive, not dismissive.
And just wear the #$%# mask, okay? Whether or not you’re the VP of the US. Whether you’re in a hospital or any public place. Not just for yourself, or the love of God even, but for your fellow humans. xo