Yesterday our Premier outlined some ways the current lockdown will end. I didn’t hear him on the radio because I was reading a story to my grandsons in Ottawa. They sat with their father on the couch in their living room and I sat in a chair upstairs (near the router because our internet connection is so capricious) and I read them When I Was Young in the Mountains (by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Diane Goode).
All afternoon I’d worked in the garden. The beans needed planting out and before I did that, I had to transplant dozens of little kale seedlings around the supports. (I could just dig them under but I hate waste and this kale has evolved in my garden over a couple of decades to be exactly the right plant for my soil and our weather.) I knew the Premier would be announcing some easing of restrictions and I wondered how I’d feel about it. I’ve grown used to the solitude, which—to be honest—isn’t so different from the life we live here for the most part. I miss dinners with friends but do I want to clear the kitchen table, covered with papers and sewing stuff (we’ve been eating outside or else by the fire), and do I want to have to feel anxious about coughs, hugs? Do I? I’m not sure yet.
When I was reading to the little boys, I annotated the story just a little. Grandfather became Grandad (their name for John, because it was their father’s name for his grandfather) and Grandmother became Grandma. I could see them peering at the illustrations I placed in front of my phone’s camera. They liked the snake that Grandma threatens with a garden hoe and they liked the big galvanized tub ready for their baths. Your dad had his baths in our big tub when we were building our house, I told them. When you come next, you can have a bath it it to see what it’s like. I hope it will be this summer but at this point, who knows.
I don’t know if I want to go back. Back to the careless days of shopping in crowded stores, of concerts with close seating, of airports. I miss my children and their children but I’m not ready to leave home yet for anything other than the weekly grocery run. I loved reading the story to the boys. The grandparents in a house that looks a lot like our house, isolated on its hill with the windows lit in the dusk. The sound of frogs. Stars bright in the night sky. The grandfather sharpens pencils for the children on the porch of the house while the grandmother shells peas. (I have just mailed homemade paper dolls, trucks, and stegosauruses to my grandchildren, along with saved bean seed for their gardens.) The young girl who is the narrator of the story is of course the author, remembering. The last illustration shows her sitting on some wooden steps with an open book on her knees. It’s the story of her life with her grandparents in the safety of their home and it’s the story we are all thinking about as we look back to our own childhoods. Where is the tale of the virus that took the lives of the grandparents in the care-homes, the health care workers working long shifts to keep people alive, the dying victims without the comfort of their families? I don’t want to share this story with my grandchildren, not yet. When I was young in the mountains….I never wanted to go anywhere else in the world. This morning a frog was singing loudly in the garden as I walked around to see what needs to be done. There’s enough to keep me here for years.