Editor’s Note: Brad and Sally Bagshaw are spending a year at Harvard, where the former Seattle City Councilmember is enjoying a leadership fellowship and Brad is enjoying being back in his home territory.
Our new friends, the Jaffees, were up from their Connecticut home to retrieve essentials and perishables, give away orchids (to us), and then head back home. They left Boston a week ago for spring break, planning to be back about now, but one by one all four of their adult children returned home as schools and workplaces shut down. So, the Jaffees are staying in Connecticut and this was to be only a maintenance visit.
“Could we get together for lunch?” they asked. We met in the sunshine in the park next to where we live across the river from Cambridge and the main Harvard campus. Meeting outdoors is safer in the times we’re in.
On the way down the elevator the woman on floor four took one step in and then backed out with a tortured look. “I’ll take the next elevator,” she said. A few days earlier, while our gym was still open, I coughed, appropriately and politely into a Kleenex. (I have a mild allergy to some pollen newly out.) The business school student on the treadmill next to me jumped off and without saying a word ran to the other end of the gym. It reminded me of high school days when at the Friday dances I would ask a girl to join me for one of the slow dances.
The Jaffees brought sandwiches, we brought fruit. We elbow-bumped, rather than shook hands or hugged. Helen used sandwich bags as surgical gloves to portion the sandwiches. The sun was out, the breeze gentle and warm enough for an early-spring picnic. We stayed six feet apart and felt safe. We will see them again when the virus is down and their kids head back into their worlds. Who knows when?
That evening, we trekked to the same park for cheese and wine with our new friend Erlan, a former Kazakhstan minister. Two round trips to the park that day for me. Not far for most, maybe a thousand steps total, but a full exercise day for my dystrophy-racked muscles. Good exercise, though, and necessary now that our building’s gym is shut down. Also necessary and good are the daily disability-yoga sessions that my Seattle friend Linda Robinson taught me to do. Another reminder of home.
Erlan lives in our apartment building with his wife, and now with his four kids too. Prep school for the two oldest has shut down as has Catholic day-school for the two youngest. Last month the young ones were happy but confused at their new school. “Why’s the man being tortured on that cross, Mama?” One by one the kids joined us in the park. The daughters, quiet and polite, the oldest son, bright, looking you straight in the eye as he’d been well-taught.
When he held out his hand, you had to shake it, despite the current odd protocol. The sun was going down. It was windy and cold, time to go. Erlan shook hands with me, hugged Sal. Like son, like father. We went along and washed up as soon as we got home.
These Boston days are filled with time sequestered in our apartment, procrastinating and writing my next novel for me, as usual. I’m not much affected by our near-quarantine, except Sally’s around all the time now. It’s a lot like when we sailed across the Pacific in a small boat, together all the time, wary of the storms.
Big challenges, though of a different sort. Always weighing prudence against paranoia. The same here in Boston, or for our many friends back in Seattle, as it was a thousand miles from land when the wind piped up and the waves tried to pitch us out of the cockpit.
You just have to hang on and enjoy the ride.
Brad Bagshaw, a retired lawyer, grew up in Massachusetts and is now a novelist.