by Bruce Checefsky
This is not the typical story I have penned about rising property taxes or real estate developers seeking variances for new apartment buildings. This is not about potholes or bicycle lanes, protests at City Hall, the Green Party or Democratic Party meetings. This is not a story about tax abatement policies. This is a story about my 89-year-old parents.
Walter and Evelyn live about 400 miles east of Cleveland along Interstate 80. To get to where they live, you have to drive past the Plaza Restaurant at the Emlenton Truck Plaza off Exit 42 of Interstate 80 in Venango County where you’ll find America’s Worst Apple Pie. The menu lists two choices; regular, with a plain crust; and Dutch, with cinnamon and brown sugar on top. The deep dish pie is thick with fresh apples and a flaky crust. I’ve tried them both but that’s another story.
With the COVID-19 pandemic in full force, Walter and Evelyn are amongst the most vulnerable age group according to every scientific and health expert in the world. The hell with what Trump thinks.
Living so many miles from them is difficult. I can’t easily drive to their house and wave at them. I can’t leave food for them. Luckily, my brother lives close enough to check in on them daily. Many families are in a similar situation.
Evelyn called a few days ago to check in. I told her that we were doing fine given the circumstances. She went with my father to the doctors the day before to have their blood tested. When I asked why, she reassured me that the tests were routine. Scheduled months ago. I shouldn’t worry, she insisted. Worry? I do nothing but worry about them. I asked her please to stay in the house.I made her promise that she wouldn’t go outside except for a medical emergency.
She explained that the blood tests were done at a medical facility near where they live.
“We were up early in the morning and the first one’s there,” she said, adding, “the blood extraction went quickly. We were in and out in a matter of a few minutes.”
She paused for a moment. I heard hesitation in her voice. I knew what was coming next.
“While we were out, we went to the grocery store,” she said. “We weren’t there long.”
She must have heard me gasp for air.
“No one was in the store,” she said. “The shelves were restocked. Everyone in the store was wearing masks even at the checkout counter.”
I held my breath and counted to ten but stopped at six.
“Okay,” I said. “As long as you were careful.”
“We did all the necessary precautions including staying at least six feet from anyone else and using the hand wipes provided by the store,” she said. “We washed our hands we got home,”
I asked if she found everything they needed.
“There wasn’t any bread. I went home and baked a few loaves. I put a loaf on the front porch for your brother. He came by in the afternoon to pick it up. He talked to your father from the yard but he didn’t come in the house.”
Her freshly baked bread flooded my memory. I considered taking the long drive just to get a loaf. It’s that good.
I asked about my father.
“He’s outside working on the lawn,” she said. “Trying to stay busy.”
A minute later, she handed him the phone.
“Everything okay?” he asked in a husky voice.
“We’re doing fine,” I said.
I asked him about the blood tests and when he might get the results. He reiterated what my mother had said a few minutes earlier. The tests were routine maintenance.
“All part of getting old,” he said. “Along with countless other tests, medical visits, and medications.”
We talked about the weather and politics, our usual topics. He was uneasy with the way the administrations was handling the COVID-19 virus. ‘Uneasy’ was mild compared to what he really said. Walter doesn’t hold back on his opinions; neither does Evelyn.
We ended our conversation by telling each other to stay busy and healthy, and that I loved him. He handed the phone back to my mother. What we talked about after that was the normal things mother and sons talk about from food and cooking to stories about our wacky neighbors and friends, an update on the expanding family tribe and their cohorts, and whether we needed anything.
“I worry about you,” she said. “You don’t have any family living nearby.”
I think about that often, too. The physical distance can be crushing at times.
“We’ll get together once this is all over,” Evelyn said before hanging up, “just us, the family. We’ll have a big celebration.” “Please stay in the house,” I told her with love.