I’m experiencing this up close and personal with my dad. His age, coupled with the fact that he’s a social butterfly, has made this all very draining. In fact, while he’s keeping social distancing in mind and has been good to carry around his hand sanitizer, I wouldn’t exactly say he’s doing an excellent job not going anywhere.
My mom was the cook in the family, so with her not here to whip up homemade meals or have snacks on hand, my dad’s been out and about getting takeout, going through drive-thru windows or running into the Hot Spot for corn nuts. He sold his house about two weeks before COVID-19 hit the U.S. After the sale, his goal was to travel the country in his RV, beginning with a two-week stay at my sister’s house in D.C. With travel restrictions, the trip didn’t happen and the RV is not set up for long-term living, so he’s been staying at a motor lodge.
My dad’s a retired teacher and a current trainer with Young Transportation. He was a driver at Young’s for two decades before transitioning to a trainer. COVID-19 forced Young Transportation to close its doors temporarily. With no house, no traveling and no job, my dad’s been sitting around twiddling his thumbs.
By nature, he is not a thumb-twiddler. For instance, he made Easter baskets for all the other residents at the motor lodge and set them outside each door to surprise everyone on Easter morning. He also made surprise Easter eggs for my boys and my boyfriend’s three kids. In these eggs, were rare coins from all over the world. You should have seen the kids’ faces when they cracked open a plastic egg thinking they would find a Snickers bar but instead discovered a one-cent piece from Barbados. One of the eggs even had a 1959 $1 token from the old drive-in theater in Sylva.
Last week when I asked about his day, my dad said he went to the tag office. I told him I could have renewed his tag online, but he said he’s always gone to the tag office so he didn’t know there was another option. That same day he stopped at a roadside stand and purchased ramps and a bunch of other produce. He asked me if I could cook some ramps and potatoes for him because he hadn’t eaten ramps since he was a kid.
I told him to come over on a night when my boys were with their dad. Even though my boys are older and good to stay six feet from their grandfather, it feels safer when it’s just me. Before my dad arrived, I cleaned all the doorknobs, light switches and the downstairs bathroom with a Clorox mixture. He sat outside in my yard the entire time other than entering the house once to use the restroom.
It was a beautiful spring evening so while he relaxed, I looked through all the produce he’d purchased. In the box were fingerling potatoes, strawberry onions, ramps, cucumbers, tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries and pears. There were also jars of elderberry jam, pickled corns and beans and a third jar labeled “Smokey Mountain Death by Garlic Salsa.”
That night we ate barbeque chicken, sautéed ramps and potatoes and an old-fashioned Southern side salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and salt. He enjoyed a couple Coors Lights. Once dishes were in the sink, we made a campfire. He lit up a cigarette, an old habit he’s tried to kick my entire life.
There he was, my 75-year-old dad in his flannel shirt, one leg slung over the other knee, smoking a cigarette, looking relaxed after eating a meal reminiscent of all those my mom cooked for him during their 52 years of marriage. His old F-150 truck rested in my driveway, hubcaps glowing from the light of the fire.
The order says “stay home, stay safe,” but my dad can’t sit within those four suffocating walls indefinitely. My sister and I have been reprimanding him for getting out too much, but he says he’s only running “essential errands.” And I guess for his generation, those errands are essential.
He pays all his bills in person, deposits money at an actual bank and checks the same post office box he and my mom acquired in the early 1960s when they moved to Weaverville. He’s learned all the names of the folks in his motor lodge. I still haven’t met some of my neighbors and I’ve lived in my house for almost three years. After two visits to the roadside stand, he knows the entire family that runs the operation.
Quarantine is hard for boomers because they’re authentically human. They are not attached to Netflix, Google or YouTube. They enjoy sitting down to meals, holding genuine conversations and keeping in touch with family and friends. They are hand-shakers and huggers. They pull grandchildren onto bouncing knees and into bear hugs.
My dad is at risk. He’s older and has early stages of COPD. He knows this, but we also know there must be a balance between his emotional health and physical health. I feel he’s doing the best he can while trying to maintain a sense of happiness and connection with others.
Watching those in his age bracket try to navigate this new normal makes my heart both heavy and proud. It may be easy for young people to hibernate and live in our virtual worlds, but it’s almost impossible for older folks. During all of this uncertainty, while we must remember boomers are our most vulnerable population, let’s also remember they’re also our most inspiring.