Adjusting to 2020: the COVID-19 year
With the start of the third decade of the 21st century came the rising realization that something was seriously wrong in China with a new virus that seemed to have no cure and spread rapidly. As the spring of 2020 rapidly dissolved into summer weather (at last), we almost forget that the news event of the new decade started with the central Chinese city of Wuhan, and then seemed to spread to cruise boats.
Andrea and I normally attend a round of Chinese functions at the time of the Chinese lunar new year. With Chinese restaurants and Chinese people unfairly avoided or shunned, and often worse, we resolved to show our support to the Chinese-Canadian community, and attend the functions to which we were invited in January and February of each year. And we did, without harm or effect. A few large Chinese social functions scheduled for February were cancelled: at least one of them normally serving upwards of 1,000 people. Back then in mid-winter, one wondered whether our Chinese-Canadian community was being overly cautious. With the perspective of a few months of hindsight, one can see they were being careful, responsible and prudent.
The shut-down begins
Just before the general shut-down, life was pretty busy. The first weekend of March began with a family funeral, at which Andrea and I did our best to minimize our contact and maximize what would, within days, become known as ‘social distancing.’ The following day, the Ontario Liberal Party Leadership Convention began at the International Centre in Mississauga. I picked up one of my Riding Association colleagues on the Friday. Our riding delegates registered, cast what would turn out to be our only ballot, and did a minimum of socializing with friends at the event with the virus in the back of our mind. We skipped all the receptions, and went home early on the Friday. We were not being anti-social at the time, but just careful. We went the next morning for the speeches and the vote counting of the first and only ballot. By this time, people were talking about COVID-19, but nobody knew anybody who had it, and the the phenomenon of the asymptomatic ‘super-spreader’ was then unknown. They announced that the Candidate we supported, Steven Del Duca, had won on the first ballot. My group bade a polite and expedient adieu to an event I would have otherwise enjoyed for a few more hours.
In the weeks that unwound, we are not aware that anybody at either the family funeral or the OLP Leadership Convention tested positive for the virus. They were close to the last large events of their type that happened before the world shut down in the following week.
For me, the shutdown happened after Wednesday hockey. As I was getting dressed to play goal, a few of the guys rolled into the dressing room talking about the ongoing Prospectors and Developers Convention in Toronto, and how a few people had tested positive. I asked if any of them had encountered anyone who was there. No, they said, they’d just heard it from others.
“Good,” I thought to myself, “I don’t need to run out of here and I’ll play this game.”
On the ice in goal, it occurred to me that a hockey rink was a pretty strong environment for any exhalation-borne disease to propagate. I was glad to be in goal, away from the players’ benches. After the game, one of the guys asked me if I’d be available for a game with his group that Saturday night.
“Well, two things,” I said to him. “Yes, I have nothing on Saturday night, which makes me available, but we’d better talk tomorrow or Friday, because I am not sure if we’ll be playing.”
Sure enough, when we spoke the following day, he told me that the City of Mississauga had called and cancelled all his ice time for the balance of the year. I said I was on one hand disappointed because I was in peak condition for hockey, and on the other hand, I was a bit relieved. The previous day, the stay-home period was mandated across Canada, and the country-wide shutdown began.
The family’s signature cats
Though not from COVID-19, we suffered our losses in the family. Our younger cat, Bebe, had developed a very aggressive form of cancer in early March, and she met her merciful end on March 23, 2020 with her human Mummy and Daddy at her side. She had always been a healthy little cat, and we were not prepared for her very quick passing. At least Andrea and I could be together and at home during the mourning period that follows the loss of a loved member of the family, whether they talk on two legs or four.
The house was, and remains, emptier without our little Bebe cat on patrol, checking her territory, cuddling with Andrea on and off all day, and talking to us at key points. Particularly when I was elected, people often remembered our two cats who adorned every Christmas card: Obi-Wan (Sep 1999 – Jul 2015) and Bebe (Apr 2005 – Mar 2020). Now they are both gone, though alive in spirit and memory. Merlin, who adopted me at Pet Valu in Meadowvale in late February of 2016, remained healthy.
The following week, Andrea’s older brother passed away, also suddenly, from heart problems in Guyana. The funeral had to happen quickly and without the family members from Canada and the USA. We participated by video.
The days that re-occur daily
Pandemic life settled into the stay-home pattern: shopping once every eight or ten days; no more in-person visitors; and the days sort of folded into one another such that one of Andrea’s relatives observed on their family WhatsApp chat group, “During this time, what difference does it make if Sunday should fall on Monday?” We started a blog page on Andrea’s family web site to record what was happening from week to week. We tracked what we had for dinner on each day, because the event of dinner seemed to mark the transition from the work day to personal time. We watched old movies on TV, learned how to use Zoom, called our friends and discovered we were all living more or less the same day each day, and took it one day at a time.
And it was cold! Well into May, I had not put away my winter jacket, gloves, hat and scarf. Merlin would go outside and wander about, and I would sit in the gazebo to keep him company and get a bit of morning air – cold morning air. My own theory was that Mother Nature was doing her part to help Canadians maintain social distancing by making it uncomfortable and inconvenient to be outside together. In May, when new COVID-19 cases in major Canadian cities began to rise again, it turned out that my theory held water: as soon as it was warm and sunny enough for people to congregate too close together, they did just that, largely without masks or other protection. We just stayed home.
The garden provides a ray of sunshine
From the plants that had moved indoors in the fall, and survived the winter, plus what we had in storage, much of the annual summer garden got started in April and May, when the weather permitted. It took a few careful visits to the Longo’s garden centre near where we live and to our favourite nursery (all suitably masked) to get the balance of the flowers and garden soil to finish the job. This year the garden was a bit more sparse and economical, but it was there, and in fact turned out gloriously successful.
As May drew to a close, and the first wave of summer heat descended, I gravitated to my summertime outdoor office again in the gazebo, where I had studied for my Canadian Securities Course in 2019. I bring out a portable table, set up the computer, and arrange a cordless phone, my cell, and all my books and notes. The Wi-Fi from the house can be a little spotty in that corner of the garden, so I bought an inexpensive Wi-Fi booster which worked perfectly. In 2020, the songs of the resident families of Robins were more evident due to the still-unearthly quiet in the neighbourhood. Merlin and I had not been able to get to the neighbourhood park for our walk as often during the pandemic lockdown. We seldom encounter anyone at the park, but because the park was either too cold or too wet to make the 600-metre stroll enjoyable for me or for 17-year-old Merlin, who remains a healthy, active and handsome cat, we stayed home more.
Andrea didn’t want to run the risk of grocery shopping, so we found a great substitute. Longo’s has high-speed Wi-Fi for its shoppers. After I have run down the list, I go over to the fresh meat and fish counters, plug my Bluetooth headset in, use the video function of WhatsApp, and let Andrea virtually shop with me for a few minutes. It has worked out perfectly.
At the stores, we never yielded to the compulsion to hoard at any stage. Sure enough, paper products were soon back in abundance in 2020, and also on sale. The same for such items as chicken and dried pasta. Our local Longo’s became a progressively weirder place to visit, as the shoppers increasingly were masked (as was I after the first two trips). On Twitter, I observed that if I had showed up at the grocery store pre-COVID-19 attired in the mask I now wore, I would likely have encountered a skeptical police officer by the time I got down the second aisle. Now, I am just another masked face pushing a shopping cart.
Flour and yeast were products that we had purchased a few weeks before the run on the stores began. Our yeast supply through held up through the spring. Flour supplies were sporadic for a while as the whole world seemed to start baking. Yeast vanished for nearly three months. At one point, Longo’s offered a 20 kg bag of unbleached flour for $18.79. One such purchase solved our flour supply for the entire year. It’s about equal to eight of the normal bags we buy. A friend of mine found yeast at their summer place near Niagara, and bought me some. The next day (as it always happens), we saw yeast also at Longo’s: in 450 gram packages, again nearly eight times what was in a single bottle we generally bought. Now we are good to bake anything we want for the rest of the year.
The summer of 2020 brought with it a chance to know our back yard and our garden as never before. The mid-summer highlight was certainly the baby bunny who grew up in the back yard and ended up taking pieces of carrot from our fingers whenever the bunny saw us. One day I was studying in the gazebo when I felt the gentlest touch on my left leg. It was our bunny, who had come to see if the people had any carrots for him. See some videos of the bunny taking carrots from our hands on YouTube.
And so life continued in the surreal world of 2020. We continued to be careful and to stay apart from the family, friends and other people we’d normally have over for dinner and visit. That part hasn’t changed from the year of the Spanish Flu a century ago. At that time, some 500 million people were infected, and that corona virus killed more people than the recently-completed Great War of 1914 to 1918.