Saturday, March 28, 2020



Nobody would have predicted it--that my daughter’s 61st birthday would turn us all into magicians. And manage, somehow, to create memories that will last forever.

How different it was last year, when eight family members flew to Tahiti to celebrate Tracy’s big milestone and for nearly three weeks cruised back to the states.  And how glad we are (we veteran cruisers), that this was a no-cruise year.

Still, a large party was planned for Tracy—until it turned out the whole state of California was under decree to hunker down.  “Shelter in place”  did not mean that the state, or even a tiny fraction thereof, was supposed to shelter in Tracy’s family room for food and games.

Instead, a large group of friends took individual videos of themselves dancing and cheering, sent them to a clever friend, who spliced the videos onto a single tape, and forwarded them to our daughter as a token of enduring friendship.

Which still left hours for an electric bike ride to the beach for Tracy and Paul and a friend over bike paths they described as so serene, so wild and rustic, they resemble a countryside that most non-bikers aren’t aware exists—at least not within a few miles of Newport Beach.

And still . . . what about dinner?  With that, the story gets complicated. Tracy invited Chris and Betty-Jo, Dane and Zhanina, and Rob and me over for a special chez Paul created  dinner. I asked my son if he and Betty-Jo were going.

“No,” Chris said sternly, “and you and Rob shouldn’t go either.” He was adamant. Thanks to his doctor colleagues and a lot of private medical communications, he knows better than any of us the dangers that lie in wait for people our ages. “Countries with more ventilators per capita than in the U.S. have to make choices about who to give them to—and you know which group never gets them. ”

With that, Rob and I decided to stay home.  But later Tracy called. “We can pull this off,” she said. “But it’s cold outside. Be sure and wear heavy jackets.” 

Later Dane called. “Don’t come through the house, Grandma,” he said. “Use the side gate and go straight to the patio. And oh . . . ” he paused, “it’s really cold out.” 

Another change of direction. Rob found his huge leather jacket and a leather top hat, and I wriggled into two layers of fleece, and we both drew on blue plastic gloves, and off we went to Paul and Tracy’s – and on through their gate. I envisioned the scenario. The two of us would eat inside and the four of them outside on the patio. To me, the “cold” warnings were about getting there.  

All wrong.

Once there, we were told to get comfortable on the patio. And never mind the lowest evening temperature we’ve seen in weeks and a nasty wind blowing off the nearest snow pack.

Tracy opened the closest dinette window.  “The food will be there in a minute,”  she offered. Then she took another look at me. “You look cold, Mom,” she said. “I’ll bring you a blanket.” Soon she was out the door, wearing gloves and an N95 mask. First she tossed me a furry white blanket, then from behind, jammed a cap down over my head. “I love Dad’s hat!” she said.  

Minutes later, she and Paul, both wearing masks, slid a seafood jumbo down the long wooden table, followed by plates of excellent steak, asparagus, and mashed potatoes. Meanwhile, the dinette windows remained open.  Soon the four of them—inside--sat down to eat.

The whole scenario was eerie. We were “with” them, yet we weren’t. We were at least 18 feet away. Through the open windows we could hear each other perfectly—while observing that they were all trying not to make it obvious that the same breeze which was chilling us wasn’t exactly kind to them. We all pretended otherwise. The dialogue flowed back and forth semi-normally, though I noticed we didn’t stay on one topic long. 

In spite of all those donated extra layers, I was not in a stay-here-long mood. Yes, the backyard was beautiful. And the setup was ingenious, kind of funny, probably safe.  But my thoughts lay in telling Chris how cleverly (and, how freezingly),  it all worked out.  I wanted to brag about Tracy and Paul’s ingenuity and their great food and how remarkably we kept the virus at bay.   

Pulling the blanket tighter, I told a few stories I suspect I’ve told before. From inside they rewarded me with laughter. Then Tracy read her birthday cards—especially poignant from Dane and Z.  Still, dessert couldn’t come fast enough . . . brownies and ice cream. As we all finished, Dane stood, and from inside he took pictures of the family. Happily, they included all of us—but Rob and I were distant spectres, almost ghosts lurking somewhere in the background, barely in view. Most remarkable of all was Rob’s hat.

By then, I couldn’t wait to get into our car’s seat heaters. And besides, I had to go to the bathroom. As it turned out, so did Rob. Clearly, after all that effort, we couldn’t enter the house, and the bushes were no option.

We thanked Paul, Tracy, Dane, and Z profusely—which they deserved. We sent them all fake hugs and hurried away.  It had been a birthday party like no other. 

THE NEXT DAY, WE noticed the new neighbors across the street were entertaining friends—all outside on the front lawn.  Among them were lots of paper cups, some small children, and some older folks. “I hope you’re staying six feet apart,” I called through the car window.

They laughed.  “These are our parents,” they said.  “So yes, we are.”

I PREDICT THAT NINE months from now there will be a lot of babies born to couples who are currently not working, who live together—and who see no reason to remain six feet apart.


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