from Grandma to Leif, to read when he is grown
When I remember this first day of September, it will be colored
by all that came before in this COVID summer. We had slogged through spring,
nurturing the early onset of uninformed optimism, planning for short term
inconvenience, buying a mask we thought we wouldn’t need, lamenting
the capitulation of our favorite eating establishments. The cancelled
concerts. Your great-grandmas locked away in their rooms. The endless
unembodied conversations on screens. Boredom.
Still, Grandpa cherished every Wednesday night
he didn’t have to direct the church choir. Instead,
he organized his burgeoning CD collection
and listened to recordings he forgot he had
while I busied myself in the kitchen. “We’ll eat our way
out of this pandemic,” I pronounced, hoisting
buckets of chocolate chip cookies
into the freezer. They didn’t stay frozen for long.
It was quiet. In the sky, on the highways,
down in the center of our once bustling town, silence
prevailed. We missed you.
There was your head, in cyberspace, but we felt the loss
of our usual wrestling and tickling extravaganzas, the cuddling
in bed over books you were learning to read, pancake breakfasts,
knock-knock jokes. Your unquenchable curiosity.
We lamented, but nature thrived.
Was it a coincidence that we saw more birds, more butterflies,
more insects than any other year in memory? It felt right somehow
to bow our heads, hunting for caterpillars. Then we looked up. The clouds
were outlandish, astonishing, processing silently,
audaciously, across the blue space above our heads. Summer exploded
and we could be together with you outside. We celebrated
your mom’s birthday at Afton State Park
where you flew the little plane we gave you, over
and over. Against health advice, we hugged you
and fell into fits of laughter. That was the night
the fires burned in Minneapolis and your Aunt Ingrid’s church
gathered in the destitute and fed them. George Floyd’s murder
slapped us hard, as it should. Suddenly, it seemed, everyone was out, shouting
in the streets, raising Black Lives Matter signs, helping
those who had lost homes and businesses. We tried to listen,
tried to learn. But not everyone did. In D.C., Trump sent his private army
against peaceful protestors in Lafayette Park, scaling to unprecedented levels
a deranged man’s concerted and unending attack on truth and right
through lies and violence. We cried. So many
will follow this man to our complete undoing.
Trump tweeted we shouldn’t wear masks, so if you wore a mask
you were a snowflake. The summer was melting us
and many, sans masks, crowded into their favorite places— parks and beaches,
ball games, bars and restaurants, political rallies, friends’ homes— carrying the virus
everywhere. Meanwhile, thousands suffered in ICUs, thousands died there, separated
from any human touch by walls and plastic and masks. Trump’s words
incited more violence and we started having nightmares
about the upcoming election.
Still we looked up. The clouds
continued their journey overhead in ceaseless vigil
just as the summer days marched onward. The days spent with you
we counted among the best in our long lives. Running through grass under the oaks
in Cherokee Park playing hide-n-seek. Blowing up balloons to toss in the air
for half the afternoon. Countless games— Yahtzee. Sorry. Checkers. Hours
contemplating the beauty of a reflecting prism. Cooling off in the St. Croix,
the Northfield pool, or your back yard. “This is the life!” Grandpa declared,
his long limbs sprawling over the edges of your kiddie pool.
People are losing jobs and facing eviction. Schools are closed
or regimented behind masks and plastic. Our democracy is teetering. I’m sorry
if I could have done more to give you a better world, my dear.
There’ll be no more swimming now until next June.
Soon you’ll go to school. Then we’ll have to forego the tickling for awhile.
And no overnights for quite some time.
But there will be more warm days and tomorrow we are coming to your house
to play! Maybe we’ll do a science experiment or swing the bat. Or maybe
we’ll just lie on the ground and watch the ants. The frogs
are still croaking their miraculous love song. Monarchs
are mysteriously gathering for their long journey south. Maybe
one of them came from the caterpillar you found and watched
as it spun a chrysalis and emerged, transformed. Its tiny body— morphing,
taking flight— brings me a flutter of hope. This, and the fact
that you are in the world.