. . . But you remain a timeless smileBritish Singer/songwriter Sandy Denny (1947-1978)
Who’d just begun life’s tangled ways.
That uplifted chin, the beginning of a smile on your face as you recognized your goal was achieved. You held my flip flops, one in each hand, and your triumph was complete. I took this picture a couple of years ago in the upstairs of our house. What a happy child you were two years ago, Lincoln dear!
In many ways you still are a happy child at nearly 3 and a half years, but things are definitely not the same as they were when you were a baby and toddler. Nearly a year ago, in March 2020, we were told that a dangerous coronavirus was attacking the world, and we should take precautions to stay safe. What changed in our lives a year ago? For most of his career, your grandfather Kurt has traveled extensively for his work, and Kurt has not traveled in nearly a year. We have not eaten in a restaurant, watched a film in a movie theater, gone to church, or visited friends indoors. At Thanksgiving and Christmas we did not gather with our extended family. We have not visited our beloved nephew Zach in Portland, nor did we fly to New York to visit as we had intended to last spring.
You will never know her, Lincoln, but Kurt’s mother Dolores died in the summer of 2020, and he made the difficult decision not to travel to her nursing home to be with her. She was unconscious, and as far as we knew she did not have the virus, but we decided it was too dangerous for Kurt to say his final goodbye to the woman who gave him life. Yes, I know. That is a heavy burden for a person to carry. Poor Kurt. Neither was it safe for his family to hold a service to mark her passing, but we celebrated her life with an obituary in the local paper with a photo showing how lovely she was when she was a young woman. Times are different now, my dear boy. We have not lived through a time like this before. It has been over a hundred years since the last pandemic, the influenza outbreak at the end of the First World War, shattered lives and livelihoods. Perhaps a few very old people are still alive who were babies in 1918, but they would not recall the horror of so many deaths. They would have grown up in its aftermath. Like you.
I will share a story I heard from one of my cousins who now lives in Utah, but our shared family once lived in Virginia. Daddy’s mother’s family, the Montgomerys, lived on their 35-acre farm in Carroll County, Virginia. John and Cordelia Montgomery lost their beloved 11-year-old daughter to what many people called the Spanish flu. The dreaded disease did not really start in Spain, but it was a terrible flu, sure enough, and poor little Luva Vera died from it. She made a fearsome sound just before she died, which was called the death rattle. When her mother Cordelia heard it, she screamed in grief and pain. Can you imagine that, dear boy? I cannot think on it for long because I cannot allow my mind to dwell on losing a beloved child in this way.
Luvie (for that’s what they called her) had a best friend and playmate who lived next door. This small boy of around the same age also fell ill with the disease. Just after Luvie died, one of the little boy’s parents knocked on my great-grandparents’ door and asked to borrow their ironing board to lay out their son who had just died.
At that time, not so very long ago, poor people laid out their dead, especially the children, on an ironing board because if the bodies were straight and rigid, the corpses were easier to place in a coffin. In addition to their own four daughters, my poor great-grandmother Cordelia and her husband John, were raising their eldest son’s daughter, and lost all five of them in infancy or childhood except two: my grandmother Darcus and her younger sister Eutaw Regina. My grandmother did not last very long, as she died at the age of 31 just four months after she gave birth to my Daddy. Times were hard then, Little Man.
And times have been hard for so many people in our country and world over the past year. A friend of mine who I sang with in our high school alumni chorus–a guitar player such as Kurt and a genuinely nice man–died of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus that has spread around the world and still kills so many. As far as I know, my friend Herb died alone in an intensive care unit after fighting this horrible disease that attacks the respiratory system (and so many other parts of the body) for over a month. He was a sweetheart of a man who nearly always had a gentle smile for everyone. He possessed a lovely tenor voice and, although he worked long hours, was always quick to help his friends and family however he could. He is dearly missed.
In March a year ago, I wrote a letter on my blog to your then 14-month-old sister Penny. Now I write to you, sweet boy, about what your life is like now as the Covid pandemic goes on. We have a vaccine now, but as I write this blogpost, only 12 percent of Tennesseans have received one dose of the two-dose vaccine. You, of course, are oblivious to why your parents and grandparents, and occasionally you, are wearing masks. This way of living is all you remember. And when you are a bit older, you will probably not remember this year either. But you used to attend Montessori pre-school, sweetheart, and you were very happy there with all the children from age 2 to 13 or 14 years, or so. Your Daddy has asthma and it would not have been safe for you to continue to go to school.
Before you attended pre-school, as in the first photo above, I used to keep you two days a week in our home while your Mama worked. Now that you are 3 years old, we take you to the park or to the University of Tennessee track for a playdate or play with you at your house once or twice a week.
At the park the last two weeks, you have reacted in fear to people leading their dogs on leashes. I wonder if you are simply afraid of dogs or have you picked up on our fear that strangers, with or without masks, will come near us. Your vocabulary and mastery of English is not yet advanced enough for us to be sure whether it is the dogs and their owners, or just the dogs that you fear.
I will tell you, Little Man (which is what I called you when you were smaller), that I am fearful these days too. We do not eat in restaurants or go to church or visit friends indoors. Your family is what is called “in our bubble” which means Kurt and I and your parents have decided that we will see each other (and, of course, you and Penny) indoors without masks. Why? Because we believe it is important enough that we see you and love you and be with you as much as possible even during this time of disease and uncertainty.
And, sweet boy, let me tell you how your laughter rang out in the car last week as Kurt and I played with the toy remote car keys we got you and your sister Penny. We were being silly, and you, sitting in your carseat in the back seat, laughed again and again. It was quite wonderful to hear. There is nothing like the sound of you laughing. Adults may pretend they are amused, but you do not do that, my love.
When we got to the park, you began playing with the tiny rocks on the footpath and feeding them to your T-Rex dinosaur. Over and over again you made patterns in the rocks with your fingers, working diligently, intent on your task. I fed your stegosaurus pieces of wood because his jaw would not open to hold rocks.
After awhile you and Kurt ran off with the soccer ball toward the stationary train behind the fence at the far end of the park. I looked at the two of you, the sky, and the river that runs alongside the park, my dear sweetheart, and I thought there was no more wonderful sight or feeling in the world than seeing you and Kurt playing in the distance.
You have visited upon us such great joy, Little Man, and I hope this divided young country and tired old world can make a sure enough path for all the bright possibilities your adolescence and adulthood can hold. I love you, Lincoln. And may you be forever blessed with laughter, creativity, fulfilling work, delightful friends, devoted family, and the warmest of memories of your childhood spent running with the wind by the banks of the Tennessee River.
~ Anna – 2-28-2021