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World Enough and Time: What did you do?

Bill Hagen
Loyal cat guarding my coffee cup

“What did you do during The Virus, Grandpa?”

Well, young ‘un, I was over 70 so I was advised to stay home. That part wasn’t hard, since I had been doing that more or less since I retired.

I didn’t have you all around, but my loyal cat stayed close, occasionally purring to let me know he was there for me.

Your daddy kept me up on your activities.

Day One, he sent a picture of you, Mr. Graham, on a tricycle wheeling through the living room—with a box on your head. Day Three, he reported that you were picking up rocks in the backyard and bringing them to Nora, so she could examine them with her magnifying glass. Day Five, your father brought out the old Nintendo games; your sister liked Mario and giggled when daddy failed again and again.

After days of rain, the sun shone on my back door again. Front door too. One tulip was blooming; yellow dandelions and chickweed flowered on the lawn. My spirits were lifted.

The sun showed the amount of work that needed doing too.

A windfall of sweet gum pods were ready to harvest; small piles of leaves clung to the borders and sides of the house; scraggly bushes littered the backyard; patches of grass and weeds were growing. (Would my lawn mower start?) Undoubtedly, the old fallout shelter would require pumping out.

Large windows front and back revealed all this and more. They also needed cleaning.

What did I do instead? Write, for one thing—more emails to friends, more texts to far flung family. Wondered if I should keep a journal, as the British public was urged to do during the dark days of World War II.

Reading? Watching? Looking back, I realize I was attracted to books and movies that showed humans struggling against bad conditions.

I found comfort in reading about Winston Churchill and others’ efforts to keep it together during the German bombings in the early part of World War II, when America was still hesitating to enter. Eric Larson’s “The Splendid and the Vile,” tells compelling story.

Then there was “Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War,” picturing scenes from that horrible time when we were at war with one another. The comments by Alexander Gardner, though always pro-Union, not only explained the photos, but indicated what a town or mansion had been like before combat had scarred the land. Then there were the stern faces, looking at the camera. How many survived to become our forefathers?

From the library, I had a copy of Eowyn Ivey’s “To the Bright Edge of the World,” a novel based on the adventures of a small military party assigned to document an unexplored area in Alaska in the 1880s. The author tells the story through an assemblage of journal entries, letters, and photos; the reader puts the pieces together to create this story of discovery.

I supposed I should have reread my copy of Albert Camus’ “The Plague,” but I didn’t. I particularly remember the priest who early preached that the sickness was punishment for the city’s sins. Later, when it is evident the Black Death was sweeping away the good and the innocent along with everyone else, he questioned his faith and, without resolving his doubts, pitched in to help the suffering, at risk to himself. It’s a strangely uplifting novel.

What television I did watch when I was weary of reading and finding brief chores to do (some outside)? I confess I turned to one of my favorite addictions—mystery, crime, and noir shows. The “Father Brown” series, a Spenser film, “The Valhalla Murders,” set in Iceland and my favorite, “Trapped,” showing the people of an Icelandic town dealing with several murders, in the midst of winter. The second season featured the same town in summer. One comes to rather like the people of this small town, flawed though they are.

I attended to the breaking news as much as I could. However, I found that too much broadcast news was unsettling. I felt I was being beaten senseless by huge waves of information. So I moved to reading the news in online and delivered newspapers, preferring the removal of print over being in “The Situation Room” all the time.

“Did you go out, Grandpa? Did you shop?”

I managed to play tennis a few times, but I always kept my opponent on the other side of the net.

I pretty much restricted myself to grocery shopping during the special “Elder Hour”—between 7 and 8 a.m.

Our president, at the time, wanted American business to return to normal by Easter. I listened to the health officials, and didn’t get my hopes up.

The Lieutenant Governor of Texas went further to urge seniors to get out to help restore the economy, even if meant sacrificing themselves. But I never put much stock in what a Texan might tell me to do.

“We’re glad you’re still here, Grandpa.”

So am I, young ‘un. So am I.

Bill Hagen is a retired OBU professor. He lives in Shawnee with his cat. Contact him at billha47@hotmail.com.