Can I come home this year?

by Ralph Ashburn

It’s been a long, lonely, cold winter so I am really looking forward to coming home for the summer. But I’m not sure if traveling to Maine will be as bad as last year. As an old guy I spend time at my different kids’ homes, but love to spend summers at the camp. Last year I never knew what the law of the day was concerning Covid. Sometimes the state required a 14-day quarantine. Sometimes I had to be tested within a few hours of crossing the big bridge. There were even times that if I traveled into Maine, I could not get out because neighboring states had more entry rules.

Despite all last year’s rules, I was fortunate to spend time at the camp, but with not many people around I had all the black flies to myself. The rules said that I needed to pack in enough food for 14 days of quarantine and not go to a restaurant unless it was a drive-through. I remember one day an old friend of mine over on the coast called me to say she knew of a restaurant with inside seating and did I want to join her for lunch.

My conversations with myself had started to get dull and repetitive, so an offer of a lunch date with an old friend was the best news I’d heard in a long while. This would spring me from lockdown isolation. I was thrilled; a real live person, face to face. My friend told me that there would be conditions, which I ignored as they were listed.

Jo Ann is an old public health nurse who began by saying that she has paid attention to every Covid-19 press conference by the governor and CDC director. First, we would remain six feet apart with masks on at all times. There would be no hugging, no touching and absolutely no kissing. “Fine, fine, fine,” I agreed, as long as talking was still on the table.

Jo wanted to meet at a popular diner on the coast. It was not my favorite, but I’ll agree to anything to talk to a live person. We arrived at the same time and Jo yelled from her car, “Leave an empty space between the cars.” I got out of my car to the command, “Don’t come any closer; and follow six feet behind me and keep your mask on until we get our food.”

This is a small diner with booths the size of card tables. It was neat when we were kids because you could play kneezies with your date, but not now with a nervous public health nurse. Jo said that we would sit diagonally and not face each other when we talked. Fine, but two old people wearing masks have to keep saying, “What did you say? I can’t read your lips.”

The food came and Jo suggested that we remove our masks but face away from each other. I didn’t care as I was talking with a real live person and enjoying every word. In fact, I was so carried away that with such a small table, I began drinking Jo’s drink from her straw. When I realized what I was doing, I had to tell her. “Jo, excuse me, but I drank from your glass by mistake.” With bulging eyes, she stood up and shouted, “I’m dead. All you people from Massachusetts are infected with Covid. God help me.”

I didn’t know if I should apologize to her or tell the rest of the diner that I’d been successfully tested and quarantined, or maybe just run out to my car and leave. Then Jo said, “Wait a minute, I didn’t drink from my glass after you so I will not die and don’t worry you will not catch anything from me.” What a relief. But the rest of the diner customers now assumed that I was the infected enemy from Massachusetts. Jo noticed the hostility beginning in the other diners so she stood and announced, “Don’t worry folks, false alarm. I am a professional nurse and he is not infected.” Calmness did not return to this angry crowd so I told Jo that we had to leave and we quickly exited to our cars.

Jo yelled from her car, “That was fun. Call me the next time you visit. We’ll have lunch.” Sure, I thought as I sped back to camp, removed my number plates and hid the car behind the wood pile. I self-quarantined out of fear. Hopefully, this year will be different. I have shots, a Covid passport, enough masks to cover my head and so many tests that my nose feels like a roto-router demonstration site. The only thing I will not do is call Jo Ann to ask her out for lunch as I cannot trust myself to not drinking her drink or trying to escape from those angry people at the diner. I’m safer staying at the camp and putting up with the black flies.


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