THESE DAYS I think about my grandmothers. My paternal grandmother, Flossie Faye, mastered the fine art of peeling an apple, depositing the translucent spiral in a bowl for me to marvel at. My maternal grandmother, Josephine, a displaced immigrant twice in her life, mastered the same skill with potatoes. She scrubbed the delicate, paper-thin skins she peeled to make a soup.
Into their 70s, my grandmothers silently and stoically observed their World War I and World War II frugality, and I think now of how what we are living through will define us.
Cynics predict that we will become cavalier once scientists develop some control over the covid19 virus, but I know we will be changed by this experience. We may bear our fears silently and stoically like our grandmothers, but we will forever be haunted by the fragility of life.
I understand how my grandmothers protected precious resources to sustain their families.
Every time my grandmother Josephine made potato pancakes for us, I know she relived those days in Nazi Germany when she rummaged through farmers’ fields to find potatoes and beet roots the farmers had missed so that she could feed her family.
When TV dinners were the craze, my grandmother Flossie Faye spent entire days rolling homemade egg noodles, even though it was faster and cheaper to buy a package of noodles in the store.
When my daughter Ijanaya returned home from Africa on that last day flights could enter Trinidad, I thought about my grandmothers’ adversity. I ground pecans and made snowballs, Ijanaya’s favourite Christmas cookies rolled in powdered sugar. We didn’t get to spend last Christmas together, and I wanted to create a memory she could taste forever.
She wore a mask so I could not see her smile reflecting the relief she felt after travelling four days to reach home, but I could imagine it as she slipped into a room for self-quarantine. There were no hugs.
This is what I reflect on while she is in self-quarantine: caring for our families and one another is all we have right now. It has been painful to see how many people in Trinidad and indeed the world have not cared about protecting people – especially the fragile and the elderly who seem hardest hit by this virus. What does it take for us to learn how much our carelessness and callousness have hurt each other and hurt this planet?
I think of the poor people and the inmates in our prisons struggling to survive in this health crisis. Their agony is immeasurable and unimaginable. The material things we garnered that separated us from them mean nothing in the face of the threat of death that looms over all of us. We have a chance to right so many wrongs if we survive this invisible terrorist.
It took this covid19 virus for us to realise our heroes are the people we take for granted: our families who feed our bodies and souls; the healthcare workers who risk their lives against this monstrous virus; the people who keep our essential services like electricity and water running. Grocery store workers and those manning gas pumps – even the police, that we often show disdain for, emerge as heroes (for the most part) as they provide services for us.
I think about a recent morning when I ran outside to toss a bag of garbage over the gate. The sanitation worker scooped up the bag.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Ok,” he said.
We stood there watching each other for a long minute. He did not smile, and I could read the anxiety on his face. I wondered if he had a family struggling for food in Venezuela, and if he had any happy memories of his grandmother cooking a special meal for him.
I watched the truck drive off with him trailing behind it and thought, “Another hero.”