One can safely say the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated coronavirus confinement have created a wealth of stories for billions of individuals around the world. Some will choose to remember these times while others will choose to forget.
My family is no different. In fact, the confinement comes as my wife and I stand at the threshold of our forty-sixth wedding anniversary. Lots of memories—good and bad, happy and sad—create an amazing mosaic that chronicles our lives so far.
Confinement arrived after our older daughter and her family moved in with us as they waited to move into their new house. Two weeks later, our jobs required us to work from home. Literally overnight, we found ourselves facing challenges we never anticipated, including what to do with two elementary school kids with no school to attend.
Kids and confinement present unexpected opportunities to create great memories for grandparents and grandchildren. I never met my maternal grandmother who died many years before my birth. She was Chinese, adopted by missionaries from Michigan. She met my grandfather, an illegal Chinese immigrant, had my mother, then divorced. I have only a few memories of him, of Fred. Mostly pictures with him in his apartment in Chicago, or with him outside the restaurant he owned. But I remember the smell of the stairway leading up to his apartment, and the aroma of ginger and garlic in his kitchen. He died when I was five.
I have a few more memories of my paternal grandmother, but not necessarily warm and fuzzy ones. I have no recollection of her touch, her hug, none of the fond and happy memories one would expect from a grandparent who died after I was married. She did not even come to the wedding, although she lived about an hour away. This lack of attention, I believe, was not for lack of affection, but because it just was not in her nature. At least not for my younger brother and me.
We are determined, my wife and I, to create as many good memories as possible for the two grandkids confined with us, the toddler who visits on video calls from Louisiana, and the one on the way. The summer road trips to the Alamo and Arkansas caves with the older ones will have to wait until next year, but until then, we’ll make due with all that confinement will allow. And, I try not to think about the fact that another anniversary means one less year to provide special memories of their Papa, to give them what I did not have.
The kids like musicals and the boy likes mysteries, particularly film noir movies with gritty narration from hard-boiled detectives. We introduced them to Singing in the Rain, where they learned “Good morning, good morning, to you” was a wake-up tradition passed on from us to their mother and then to them. They learned to play dominoes and Black Jack, donning masks as they lost their vacation money to each other. Everyone, including them, nixed my attempt to teach them how to smoke cigars and drink bourbon while we played.
This week we learned to make tamales, then declared they were the best tamales we ever ate. Well, at least the best homemade tamales we ate this week. But who’s counting, right?
When I think of the movies, the stories, the games, the clutter of Legos and artwork and school papers, I find myself pondering the inevitable. I see a scene where our grandchildren are watching their grandchildren play. And that is when I image one of our grandchildren telling his or her sibling or cousin, “I can’t remember how Papa smelled. Can you?”
By then, I will be just a picture in a frame (assuming they have pictures and frames then) or an image in a video, smiling, playing, hugging, laughing. But my touch, my kiss, and yes, my smell will be lost.
So now I am committed to creating memories, special moments that will outlive me in their hearts, recollections of their Papa they can pull up and share with each other and with their children and their grandchildren, especially on that day when they realize they have lost the last tangible essence of my existence. I hope that is the moment when they will stop and laugh and share their own special memories, happy times created in days like these.
Published on Prairie Press, May 16, 2020