We walked by a jewelry store in Annapolis, Maryland and there was a sign in the window saying “Life is still happening. People are getting engaged, celebrating anniversaries and graduations.” I’m not sure exactly what the wording was but the point was, that even in the midst of COVID and shut-downs, life goes on and that we shouldn’t stop celebrating or marking joyful occasions because of it (preferably by buying a piece of jewelry from their store).
It made me think of events that have happened during COVID- happy and sad- and how they’ve changed how we mark these occasions. My neighbor Bernie had a medical emergency on the last day of a family cruise in December 2019. He was medevaced to a hospital, where he lingered for months before finally coming home, and dying at age 90. I felt terrible, of course, but there was no funeral to attend. I read his obituary in the paper and dropped off a card and cookies to his widow Maggie; I couldn’t help but think what an awful time it was to die under these circumstances.
We can’t gather together for comfort, give hugs, or drop off dishes to eat together while sharing stories of loved ones. The coming together to celebrate or mourn, has changed drastically in the time of COVID. It’s not like I enjoy attending funerals (who does?), but I GET them more now. That ritual, that tradition of paying one’s respects to the deceased, seeing them one last time, saying a prayer in front of their casket, causes a finality in our brain that allows us to process the loss as real. Without it, it’s almost like a tree falling in the forest.
By the pool in the Keys yesterday, I was talking to a neighbor about COVID.
“I hate COVID.”she said.
“Join the club.”I said.
But we were talking about things we were supposed to do this year that got cancelled- she had her niece’s wedding (postponed, but eventually happened), we had a niece’s wedding in August (postponed till next year). We also had an Alaskan cruise (who knows when that will happen?), two graduations, four birthdays, Zeke’s 40th year class reunion, the list goes on and on.
“Everyone has some story,” said her husband.
Some story of something important that didn’t happen, was cancelled or postponed, due to COVID. Sadly, I don’t think we’ll ever get that back. Sometimes it feels like 2020 is the year that didn’t happen, a mirage we’ve imagined that will sink into the recesses of our unconscious.
It’s not like sitting in a hot, crowded auditorium for hours with a bunch of strangers, waiting for your child’s name to be called and walk across the stage to pick up their diploma, was something I was looking forward to, but it does mark an occasion. It’s a ritual that designates the importance of four years of hard work and study, signified by moving the tassel to the other side of the mortar board. And then, throwing the caps up into the air in celebration. Having a family dinner at home, even while forcing said graduate to dress up in a black graduation cap and gown, is simply NOT the same. I miss the Pomp and Circumstance, I even miss the song. Who knew?
It’s a perfect example of how you never know the things you’ll miss until they’re gone. Now, a lot of things we took for granted are gone. Retail stores we loved, restaurants we ate at, businesses we frequented, even the Saturday edition of the Miami Herald are finis.
When I flew for Air Florida, we’d been living with rumors of Bankruptcy and Going out of Business for a long time, it eventually just became like the white noise that buzzed in the background on my flights. It had gotten so bad, a friend and fellow flight attendant of mine, Lori, had come up with our own new slogan for Air Florida- “Who gives a f**k?” Then in July, I had a flight (can’t remember where), with a classmate from my training class (Cathy something) and, after that flight, I came home as usual. The next day, Air Florida declared bankruptcy and I never flew, as a flight attendant, again. The only thing I do remember about my flight is that I had breakfast at a Bob’s Big Boy. But, the point is, had I known it was going to be my LAST FLIGHT I would’ve savored every moment of it- the demanding passengers, the crying babies, even that smell of the airplane when you walked onto an empty plane. And had I known that the last time I saw my neighbor Bernie in December, was going to be the last time I would see him ever, I would’ve said something better than “Hey” in passing him on the street we shared, as he walked his little dog Lizzie. Regrets, I have a few.
So that’s why, last week I decided to mark some occasions and not let them slip away unnoticed in this incredibly strange year of 2020. Kate and Tug, my niece and her husband, decided to move back to Portland, Oregon after a year in Miami with their adorable baby Lou, and two dogs Kobe and Wagyu. They’d had a hard time adjusting to Miami, with Kate working at a fellowship at Jackson Hospital and Tug, working remotely from home for his employer in Boston. Then, COVID hit. Tug got offered a better job, with more money that will pay for him to go back to school and Kate got offered another Fellowship by her old boss at her old hospital in Portland. They put their house in the Gables on the market. It sold in one day, with five back-up offers and, that was that.
“Will you ask us over for dinner parties?” Kate asked me when they moved to Miami, last summer.
“Of course!” I said.
And we did have them over right after they moved. But, since COVID, I haven’t seen Kate, since she was being very cautious and worked at a hospital. I asked them over for a final dinner last Wednesday before they left for Portland. She suggested Surf and Turf- the same thing I’d served the last time- because she likes Turf and Tug likes Surf. Dinner was some Grilled Garlic Shrimp (Martha Stewart) with Grilled Hanger Steak (Zeke Guilford), Ina’s Make Ahead Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Brussel Sprouts (Ina). Appetizers were simple- sliced cucumbers, salami and Cheese Crackers (The Splendid Table) and dessert was homemade ice cream with biscotti (The Last Course). Dinner was precisely from 5 to 7, to fit in Lou’s schedule (who was a perfect baby, but started yawning towards the end) and then, just as suddenly as they came, Tug and Kate were gone.
Thursday marked the return to UM Football and Zeke and I went over to Justin’s Brickell apartment with A.J. and Justin’s family to watch the game and eat tacos. The appetizers were wiped out before I arrived. I brought fresh salsa and black beans (which no one seemed to eat), but the Lobster Tacos were excellent. I also brought my own Margarita, a version of one I’d had at at Agave, a Mexican restaurant in Delaware, which featured Ancho Chile Bitters. I was excited to see Wyatt’s room, where he’s been living the last six months since the Pandemic hit, and it was nice reconnecting with Justin’s family. We left at halftime. U.M. won.
Friday night we celebrated the last hurrah of Summer (Fall starts the 22nd!) by having Emma and her boyfriend Gui over for “Camp” with Wyatt. She misses Wyatt, since he no longer lives here and neither does Emma, who moved to her own apartment earlier this summer. Wyatt swam, we played Water Balloon Toss (which didn’t really work because the balloons seemed unbreakable) and then we ate a Summery Dinner of Grilled Cheeseburger Sliders, Corn off the cob, Baked Beans, Pasta Salad (Ina) and slices of chilled watermelon. Dessert was S’mores, with marshmallows toasted in the fireplace.
We then told Spooky (G-rated-stories) in the living room and played with some light-up rockets Emma had gotten for Wyatt outside, in the front yard. Emma and Guillermo left, exhausted. I’d mentioned to Wyatt that we might sleep in a tent outside for Camp, but luckily he forgot about that (it was SO hot!). I gave him a bath and put him to bed, in the delicious Air Conditioning.
Saturday, we had Martha and Luis over for Duck Breasts she’d ordered for D’ Artagnan. She also brought a bottle of champagne and I served Fresh Figs stuffed with a gorgonzola cheese and topped with crispy prosciutto for hors d’oevres. I served Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Asparagus (Joy of Cooking) with the Duck a l’orange (Martha Stewart), which Zeke scored, then seared in the cast iron skillet. I also made a Watercress and Arugula Salad with toasted almonds, dried cranberries and a honey lime vinaigrette, to add a bit of brightness and acidity to the meal. Dessert was homemade ice cream, this one a delicious Sweet Corn Ice Cream, with a Blackberry compote and a crunchy Rose Water Meringue (all The Last Course.)
I’m glad I celebrated all these events last week. It takes effort, but it’s worth it and I want to live with less regrets and more gusto. And the next time I go to a funeral, I will do so with gratitude that I’m able to properly say goodbye to a loved one, the next time I attend a graduation, I will stand up and clap the loudest and longest and, when I attend Lindsay’s wedding next summer in Massachusetts, I will have my dancing shoes on and dance like there’s no tomorrow, because there may not be.
Like Robin Williams (as John Keating) in Dead Poet’s Society said:
“We are food for worms, lads. Carpe Diem! Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”John Keating
In other words, give a f**k. Drag out the good china, polish the silver, clean the crystal, make special meals for people you love, celebrate the big things and the small things. Even in a time of COVID, this is possible.
Up Next: My favorite Grilled Shrimp Recipe.