Pancakes and Pandemics

The Times of New York has been running a series for a while now of obituaries of forgotten people, long since dead. The latest for some reason was particularly affecting, or interesting, or something, for me. It was of Nancy Green, who passed away in 1923 from injuries she received when a car ran into her as she stood on a Chicago sidewalk.

Ms. Green was the original spokesperson for the Aunt Jemima brand of pancake mix, a brand that Quaker Oats recently retired because of its racial symbolism. (A confession: when the company announced that they were doing this, I opened my cupboard door and there was Aunt Jemima’s benignly smiling face staring back at me. )

Robin and I retired our personal box of the pancake mix . It’s Krusteaz or Kodiak all the way from now on.

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Robin and I are in Denver visiting the Johnson family, doing the best we know how to see members of our family without passing along the plague to them and at the same time they are doing the same for us, since few people know if they have it or not. We’re staying at a motel nearby instead of at their home, following the same guidelines.

There’s little use testing ourselves, really, if we have no symptoms, because last week’s negative test can be rendered immediately moot by yesterday’s accidental and unintended contact. A few viral particles wafted my way by the flutter of a butterfly’s wing and I could be converted instanter into a modern version of Typhoid Mary.

So we all assume the dual roles of possible perpetrators and potential victims whenever we are in the same space, whether outdoor or indoor. It’s all so odd, yet becoming so familiar. I wonder, is there any possibility that I will ever look back on these days as anything but a prolonged bad dream?

Sunday afternoon, when we were all out in the back yard, chattering about nothing in particular, the two young children were sitting on the steps to the house, with their usual sparkling and engaging personalities inhibited by their masks (or perhaps by ours). They rarely spoke, and the look in their eyes was similar to that thousand-yard stare you read about on the faces of soldiers in wartime. For me personally, this ongoing pestilential interval is highly inconvenient and slightly threatening. But what is all this, for them? What learning opportunities are they missing that they might not get back? What joys?

Wait … I hear footsteps … where’s that damned mask … have I washed my hands … will the interloper respect my new six-foot personal space? So many questions.

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At one time in this ongoing process of aging, changes came at me one at a time. I look back at those days fondly. Today they come in mass charges, with trumpets blaring and wild-eyed slavering horses at the fore. It is impossible to catalog them once and for all because even the changes themselves are not static.

All I can say is that if one can step back and take a dispassionate look at what is going on, it’s a biologic maelstrom. Let’s see, Jon, let’s take the hair from your head and have it explode from your ear canals. And long after that smooth skin of youth has disappeared, let’s put a single monster zit in the center of a conglomeration of wrinkles and dewlaps. And oh yes, let’s have all of your endocrine systems fade and flare on alternate Tuesdays, providing endlessly amusing variations of bowel habits and temperature tolerances.

And so it goes. At such times it is crucial to keep in mind that the most important of the senses is not sight, hearing, taste, touch, or smell.

It is humor.

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