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The view from the home front

Even in a time of pandemic, life goes on. Here are stories and a photo from a community sheltered in place.

Pilgrims’ progress

Pondering our uncomfortable new reality, I can’t help but think of 102 travelers who climbed aboard a vessel no longer than my driveway one September morning 400 years ago. They were crammed into a ship’s space similar to the cellar in my house, but theirs was moving, a heaving, bobbing container inappropriately named Mayflower that would be their domicile for the next 60-plus days.

Like us, they were forced to shelter in place, remaining within their walls until the journey’s end, whenever that might occur. The smells below would have been too much to ignore, but in those days, there was no choice. Being human then must have meant carrying a certain constant foulness. Going on deck taunted death. In fact, one traveler was swept overboard.

How different could any of them have been from ourselves, perhaps nervous like me during my gas station excursion where I couldn’t help feeling the devil waiting for me, his germs lurking everywhere.

I’ve heard friends say that in their family lockdowns they are challenged, searching for their own separate space within their homes, a husband in a new attic workspace, a wife in a guest room she’s converted to her office, where a door allows her to close out the others and return remotely to her work existence. We 21st-century travelers need our space, but the 17th-century Pilgrims would have had none. And when they had finally landed, they packed into a makeshift shelter where during the winter, half died from fever, the onset of illness probably not too different from the first symptoms of today’s plague.

Even with our recent taste of discomfort, it’s impossible to imagine what those people endured. And one might even wonder about how long their toilet paper lasted.

—Raymond Tatten, Sterling
Bromfield Class of ’66

Soup line

Chef Paul has given “soup line” a whole new meaning. Instead of impoverished men and women lined up for something hot to eat—maybe their only meal of the day—the lineup in the Bromfield driveway every other Thursday shows no evidence of pending starvation. It’s not that we Chef Paul devotees are not grateful for the food—nutritious soups, fresh-baked bread, and a selection of take-home meals. But mostly we’re there because we don’t want to cook, and these days, we don’t even want to go grocery shopping.

In the pre-COVID-19 days, the soup line formed just inside the school cafeteria door, and patrons chatted amiably with each other, and with Paul, who greeted every one of us like old friends. Now, with the school closed because of the virus, Paul sets up shop under a tent next to the driveway, cheerfully greeting his customers by name as we pull our cars up to the curb to receive our orders.

Several weeks ago it was pouring rain and Paul was barely recognizable in his rain gear, head covering, and face mask. The line of cars at 4:20 p.m. stretched all the way out to Mass. Ave., where other cars waited in the downpour with their turn signals on. The line moved quickly because Paul has the process down to a science: Paul greeting customers and checking off the order, one or two masked and gloved helpers passing food containers through the car windows or packing them safely in the trunk, and a masked “cashier” taking money and making change.

This past week, the weather was clear, if a bit cold and windy. The line was the same and so was Paul, masked and gloved but clearly recognizable in his usual chef’s attire. While he efficiently moved things along with high good humor, his helpers loaded the soups, bread, macaroni and cheese, and chocolate chip cookies into the cars. Among the helpers this week was School Superintendent Linda Dwight, properly masked, gloved, and obviously well-trained, who was no slouch on the delivery team herself.

We really are all in this together.

—Connie Larrabee
Under Pin Hill Road

Mary Morse (far right), a teacher at Oak Meadow Montessori School in Littleton, visits the Maglothin family on Old Littleton Road. Morse, whose students live in several different towns, has been planning bike routes to cycle and see all her students from a safe distance. On April 15 she biked nearly 40 miles roundtrip from her home in Westford to a student’s home in Boxborough and then to Harvard. Alistair Maglothin displays a sign made for his teacher in Morse code that reads, “I miss you.”  (Courtesy photo)

Zooming with a Celtic

On the evening of April 14, Enes Kanter had a Zoom meeting with students from the Harvard Public Schools. A center for the Boston Celtics, Kanter was born in Switzerland, grew up in Turkey, and has been playing in the NBA since 2011. In the meeting, he answered many questions from students who were eager to talk to him about his life in Turkey and how he has adjusted to living in the U.S.

He answered all kinds of questions from “What do you do for fun?” (read and learn to cook) to “Who have been your favorite teammates?” (Russell Westbrook and Tacko Fall). One of the funniest moments during the meeting was when he recalled learning from his teammates about a quick breakfast option he had never eaten in Turkey—cereal with milk. One day his teammates walked into the locker room and burst out laughing when they found him eating what he thought was cereal but was actually a big bowl of Cheez-Its in milk.

The Zoom meeting lasted about an hour, and Kanter was very kind throughout the entire session. He answered all the questions respectfully and thoroughly. Everyone really enjoyed having the chance to talk to a professional basketball player.

—Ben McWaters
Editor’s note: Ben is a fifth-grader at Hildreth Elementary School and a regular contributor to the school’s newspaper.

Random thoughts in a pandemic 

Humphrey Bogart didn’t make nearly enough movies.

Life without baseball is essentially meaningless.

It’s good to see that Gov. Charlie Baker finally got a grown-up haircut.

Marty Walsh, not so much; he’s still rockin’ the boys’ regular.

So, who orders takeout from a bar? Just wondering.

It’s been a long time since I listened to “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” all the way through. Without sniffing glue, I mean.

I guess I’m not going to read Proust after all. Maybe next time. 

Did you know “The Match Game” is on approximately 26 times a day?

Well, now I know how to play an A-flat minor 9-sharp-11 chord. Look out, world.

—Jon Seiff
Mass. Ave.

In praise of a room of one’s own

It’s a tiny shoebox of a room. I can almost touch all four walls from the narrow guest bed. This has long been a source of shame: We host our guests in the meager privacy of a glorified closet.

Of course, that was before the days of social distancing, when guests were still allowed, and other people didn’t fill me with churning anxiety about contagion. “Asymptomatic carrier?” I wonder, and narrow my eyes behind my mask.

To flatten the curve, Americans have transferred our lives to the privacy of our homes. Almost overnight, the demands on our living rooms have changed. Beneath my own roof we require mental, physical, and auditory space to host four concurrent school schedules and careers, not to mention the dozens of workshops and workouts that have migrated to Zoom. I am grateful we can try to do it all, and yet sometime on day two the limits became painfully clear: I cannot host video conferences from the hubbub of the dining room table. That inadequate guest space suddenly revealed its appeal: four walls AND a door? What bounty!

I gathered my monitors and absconded behind what I now appreciated as the guest room’s gorgeously thick, sound-dampening door. Like a pioneer, I staked my claim, wedged in a desk, and rechristened the room Mom’s Study. Isn’t that description delicious? Study: a tiny mouthful of a word, yet the lips, tongue, and teeth all get a turn articulating its cozy, comforting heft.

I spent that first weekend decorating, pilfering art from other rooms. On the built-in bookshelf I displayed a basket of yarn alongside semi-aspirational books about knitting. On my desk, I set up a creamer and sugar bowl, as if I might pause mid-Zoom to attend a very small tea party. A desktop lamp offers a warm, incandescent glow—perfect lighting for appearing professional instead of harried. On the windowsill, a small vase of flowers soothes my screen-fried eyes.

Still not much bigger than a cubicle, my study has become a sanctuary, a place of peace and calm. Every morning I look forward to closing the door on my loud, beloved family and taking my seat at the desk, where I can follow through the window the recent blooming of the magnolia tree, a process I normally miss because I am at work. The pandemic, which has sent all of us scurrying inside, has also opened up space we normally would not take up. Today the tree is a riot of pink-fingered petals. They cluster together almost indecently, as if they have never heard of social distancing. The flowers stretch and grasp for the sun like hands, whole hopeful congregations gathered together on every optimistic branch.

—Lucinda Bowen
Littleton County Road

Editor's Note: How are you coping with these unprecedented times?  The Press wants to know. We’ll take care of the news; but we need your help to tell the human side of this crisis. Send us a photo with a caption or an anecdote about how you are getting through your days. What is bringing you comfort? What insights have you gained? What have been your greatest challenges and how have you overcome them? Your photos and stories, antidotes to isolation, will help bring us closer together in this time of social distancing. Send to with subject “stories” and include your name and address.

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