This was the summer we were going to explore the Brabant Walloon Province of Belgium where the majority of my ancestors once lived. Our son and daughter-in-law proposed the trip and a second planning meeting was about to be held when COVID-19 erupted outside China.
As plans fell apart in February for a special Easter vacation with my husband’s family and I cancelled a flight to Wisconsin a few weeks later, we wondered how summer travel might be impacted. Italy’s struggle with the immensity of COVID-19 gave the Western world a dose of reality.
We are fortunate to have a second home close to the Wisconsin Belgian community where both my maternal and paternal ancestors settled. Spring through fall planning for visits of family, friends, and fellow writers is usually complete by now. Changes happen, but certain events are written in permanent marker on our calendars before Easter. Until this year. A rough schedule is on my desk with April and May crossed off. The calendar remains blank.
May and June would already be different because the release of 40 Thieves on Saipanowns that time. The regular events to launch a book won’t happen in a shelter in place nation. No launch parties. No bookstore signings. Joseph Tachovsky, my co-author, and I are offering signed bookplates to those who are interested and pre-order the book. We’ll be virtual guests at book club meetings if invited. We’ll be visible on social media and he will be interviewed remotely on radio and television stations. Our publisher is confident and so are we.
Kids and young people are missing irreplaceable milestones like graduations, proms, new jobs, gathering for weddings. The dates circled with permanent marker during normal times. We mourn our lost isolated in quiet homes or viewing small screens. We celebrate births with no idea of when we’ll hold the newborn or hug the parents. We cannot fly to be with those needing physical care. It is what we do so that more of us will be here when this fight is over.
Surviving war does not equate to a free ticket home.
COVID-19 is like a world war with every country fighting unique battles to beat a largely invisible enemy. When a vaccine is ready, how will wearied populations move forward? How will first responders and all on the front lines find their equilibrium? Where will we mourn our dead?
A good number of the 40 Thieves on Saipan WWII platoon survivors re-enlisted for the Korean conflict. They had seen too much, experienced too much, to return to the family dinner table. For the rest of their lives, many fought the bloody Pacific Theater battles of their youth. Between 1.4 and 1.5 million World War II vets fought in Korea. My father was one of those.
Some WWI and WWII vets disappeared after finding home side re-integration in the United States too difficult. My father-in-law was one of those. Without credit cards and mobile phones, pulling up roots in the 1950s was far easier. The women they left behind were granted the dignity of being known ‘war widows’ even if somewhere their legal spouse was alive.
Mental health issues have dogged veterans as long as men have waged war. Some WWII and Vietnam vets who had suffered as prisoners of war returned home able to rehabilitate. Others did the best they could. I worked with a well-functioning man who chose to remove his shoes and eat his lunch under his desk. He had spent months in a Russian prisoner camp and carried this vulnerability to the work world.
Hit with the double whammy of COVID-19 and economic tsunami, not all of us will have the tenacity to start over. Suicide rates in the United States have risen dramatically since the start of the millennium, particularly among white middle age men. Vietnam and Afghanistan vets are dying at their own hand daily.
The world will not be a friendlier place in 2021, so where will we find ourselves? In a New York Times op ed David Brooks writes about the US tide of “safetyism” that buffers children and young people from disappointment, from accidents of any size, from developing tenacity. He says that tenacity is not a feature of good character, but what people are trained to do. One of our first challenges will be to find tenacious leaders in families, communities, schools, corporations and government and ask them to help everyone to build the skill set. And to build supports for those who are struck with hesitancy or fear on the journey to our new world.
Surviving this virus war will be a different kind of battle. Stay home. Stay safe.
Plowed snow covers a neighbor’s stonewall. Deer follow each other’s tracks leaving pathways through the woods. Ermine patrol exterior of houses in search of mice. Squirrels catapult between bare tree branches.
Three days of bright sun makes a friend’s installation of solar panels look like a good investment. Melting ice sparkles down the rain chain. The back porch is clear of Friday’s slippery melt and freeze mess. XC skies, snowshoes and sleds drip dry in the garage. Snow polished dangerously on roadways two nights ago has been forgotten.
Weekend visitors have drifted through stores with clearance sales, cruised snow mobile trails closed much of an unpredictable winter, brought a much needed dinner crowd to restaurants and bars. Better to have people late in the season when businesses have been down too long.
Maybe there’s a tease of spring in the breeze. Maybe that’s a foolish dream with more windy days and possible snow predicted midweek. Still time to buy winter gear priced at fifty percent to wear during the duration. The biggest storms often come after chili dinners with friends followed by board games are not quite as fun, jigsaw puzzles fill too many evenings, and the good fireplace wood pile is low. It would be better if football hadn’t finished so early in the season. Catchers and batters camp feels disconnected from this reality. But everyone daydreams about t-shirts and sandals.
County baseball league guys hold their initial season meetings in bars as the high school kids earn their way to winter sports state competitions and those fortunate to have plans pack suitcases for a few weeks in places where palm trees offer shade at the side of a pool. With Easter early this year the little girls could be wearing winter jackets over pretty dresses and searching for eggs will definitely happen inside the house.
There’s still corn in the fields as seed catalogues fill mailboxes. It’s hard to leave the house without slipping feet into boots, jamming gloves in pockets of a warm coat and pulling on a hat. Survival habits for at least another month. The snow that is still to come will clog the driveway for a shorter misery factor. But winter has a way of staying relevant as long as it wants. Put on another pot of chili.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) meets in London this week. Members haven’t been in agreement on a number of important topics for many years. The discomfort of disagreement is elevated in the current world leaders gathering.
Most of my adult life the U.S. has been at war. Men and women in camel fatigues drive next to us on the way to work. They shop at Target, pick up lunch at fast food places. Their kids play in our neighborhood. Their parents look for support from those who understand because the U.S. doesn’t feel like a country fighting a real war. Most of us don’t worry about our kids because they are wearing the U.S. uniform in a foreign land, or fighting the daily battles of post-traumatic stress or physical pain when they are among us.
For two years I have been working with another writer on a book project about an amazing Marine platoon that came into existence in the Pacific Theater in 1944. 40 Thieves on Saipan rose from the letters, photos, papers and hours of interviews with survivors of that platoon. My father was on a Navy ship involved in the clean up of the battle of Saipan. Thirty-five to forty thousand men, women and children lost their lives during roughly three weeks of fighting.
How do you tell a mother that her son was decapitated in front of you asks one nineteen year old Marine in 40 Thieves? Who pulls the trigger to end a buddy’s agony as the enemy torments his bullet-ridden body with a machine gun? How can the smell of a battlefield be described?
Queen Anne’s Lace plants too late to blossom wave dried pods in meadows and along roads. More Goldenrod become dull amid remaining greenery. Creeping vine leaves are tinged with brown, exposing dead their host trees and stubs to the elements. An occasional Monarch butterfly flutters where hundreds gathered. Picked of most of its fruit, the last viable tree in the orchard offers rotting pears to squirrels and deer. Birds form back into flocks after months of carefree exploration
In a week the garden changed from generous colorful blossoms to petals dotted with brown specks, stalks of poppies, empty rose stems, leaves without flowers. Too tall decorative grasses or plants tower over shriveled annuals in pots around the porch. Acorns drop with abrupt, gently violent, sounds. Mushrooms claim their day of show.
Farmers markets offer piles of kale, squash, boxes of potatoes, onions and carrots. Remaining tomatoes have fewer days to be used atop store bought lettuce or spinach. Apples replace cherries, blueberries, raspberries. Pumpkins appear piled on wagons.
Summer left the land dragging with it a sense of promise and surplus. Fall took over acting all pragmatic, a combination of awesome color-splotched trees and clearing the earth of produce that can be preserved for the months when nothing will grow. When icy tree branches and drifted snow will be called nature’s beauty.
For the past five years I relied on individual health insurance plans with high deductibles. A minor, in-office surgical procedure cost about $2,300 including lab work. I paid all the cost out of my pocket. The annual physical was covered as preventative care except I asked a couple of questions and those were coded as diagnostic and resulted in billings that I paid. In 2017 it appeared that each question was worth about $130.
This year I am in a more generous healthcare insurance setting and was cautious about asking questions at the annual physical. The explanation of benefits arrived this afternoon with a cool $1,042 charge. Holy cow! I’m not responsible for paying that amount, but am blown away that just the physician component could be so costly. Lab fees haven’t been posted yet. We’re talking five minutes of rooming by a CNA and about twenty minutes of physician time in a regular clinic setting. No technology or specialty care.
When your doctor tells you what immunizations need updating and suggests you go to the drugstore or a drop in clinic because they charge about half of what the medical practice will bill, that’s uncomfortable.
Have leaders in the healthcare world lost connection to reality? What percent of annual after tax income should an individual, or family, be expected to commit to basic healthcare?
The integrated healthcare delivery systems that grew out of giant mergers and acquisitions of physician groups were supposed to provide improved quality with greater efficiency. I worked in that sector during the first decade of consolidation. The thousand dollar physical suggests the experiment didn’t work.
When the building’s cool interior is a haven, a group of seven-year-olds act like adorable bunnies and a fourteen-year-old belts out “It’s a Privilege to Pee”,it has to be Urinetownin a summer children’s theater program. All those satirized themes about the legal system, capitalism, social irresponsibility, corporate greed and politics are chiseled down by kids to jokes about a pay toilet, decorating with toilet paper and empty paper rolls painted with slogans about pee and keeping the earth healthy.
We can’t blame the situation on global warming alone. Populations are expanding dramatically which drives the demand for water. Regions in the United States have been fighting for years over access to water sources like the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River or the Colorado River watersheds. Manufacturers want unlimited and cheap water setting jobs today against conservation. Farmers don’t want their fertilizing and animal feeding processes limited. Other interests fight for irrigation to grow grass, flowers, home vegetable gardens. Water sports enthusiasts don’t want restrictions on swimming pools or boating.
There’s no easy answer to matching endless demand for a limited natural resource. There’s no competent governing body watching out for the future beyond their elected terms.
Officer Lockstock’s closing monologue predicts that access to remaining water without carefully thought out restrictions brought only doom to the town when the fragile river became diminished and polluted. I hope Mark Hollmann’s play has the storyline wrong.
Writers need readers. Simple enough. I’ve taken advantage of Facebook to boost postings and engage with new readers. I blog, both on my website and with other writers and bring links about those posts to Facebook. But I have become cautious about posting anything but easy thoughts on my website (firstname.lastname@example.org).
All who have reacted in a civil manner to postings or photos are greatly appreciated. The hatemongers and brutes on Facebook are another experience. Respectful disagreement appears to have disappeared into rambling, often vulgar, statements that not only disagree but also add opinions about the supposed personality of the writer. While blog responses can be prescreened, not so on Facebook.
I began my writing career as a journalist. People disagreed with editorial content and called or wrote letters. We also had a few cranky folks who would show up at the office. They weren’t fond of conversation, were more prone to raise their voice to tell you their thoughts, maybe with a few vulgarities, even pound on a desk. Sometimes we’d call a family member to help us out, a time or two we called the police. In general, people owned their opinions with names and addresses on letters or by talking face to face. We didn’t deal with people hiding behind threatening screen names. We never expected to be harmed, stalked, or killed.
It is a different time. While holding the right to free speech dearly, I am perplexed about how to deal with the verbally abusive responders. At this point I hide their comments. I hear from others that this is part of today’s communication and just not pay attention to what is ugly. Unfortunately I can’t forget.
What’s your experience and do you have any advice?
Under my desk a hardbound copy of Ken Follett’s Edge of Eternity acts as the perfect footrest. The first two volumes of The Century Trilogy were placed in the hands of other readers, but the Edge of Eternity replaced Bill Clinton’s My Life when a friend asked for that biography.
Jodi Picoult dominated one of the seven shelves of books in my office until some of her titles were rotated to guest rooms or the basement bookcase. Phillipa Gregory had been sent to my mother-in-law to be shared among her Indiana reading group.
Some authors are like Facebook friends who post about a puppy, a grandchild, a new writing project, a spectacular vacation then disappear for months. I trust a short list of these writers with my time and attention without a lot more expectations. When they have a new release I’ll invest in the real thing, a hardcover or paperback, not an e-book. If I’m disappointed I’ll give them another chance to regain their favorite reads position. And if one of them passes, I feel sad that their voice is gone.
At this time of the year when purging season is high I admit that books by these three have been shuffled into a bag for recycling at The Peninsula Bookman. Peter Sloma has customers who look for these popular names. It’s a fair trade. I get store credit to shop and my books go home with happy readers.
Except for Edge of Eternity, which is just the right height for when I’m sitting up straight and working on my own writing. It might be time for Fall of Giants to give up its shelf space, but not its nice hardbound friend under my feet.
What could be more fun than holiday gift or winter reading shopping at event featuring 30 local authors chosen by librarians and readers? Please come join us at the Local Author Fair 2017 on Saturday, November 18, noon to 4 p.m. at the Galaxie Library in Apple Valley, MN.
Laurie Hertzel, book journalist and editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, is the keynote speaker. The Loft Literary Center will conduct two free workshops.