Isolation: Day 3

Digging through my (long-neglected) filing cabinet the other day, I came across an old paper from my freshman year of college. It was a homemade certificate, evidently awarded to me by my dorm-mates. The honor? Apparently, I was “the ‘if you need it, she’s got it’ girl.”

I don’t remember receiving the certificate, but I wasn’t surprised to read it. Yes, if there’s something College Julie would be recognized for, it would be the ability to search through her stuff to find things for people. Later, my college friends dubbed me “Mama Julie.” I think I must have had the mom purse packed with every possible necessity a good ten years before my first child was born.

That clean-line-loving, paint-everything-white, purge-it-all minimalist who’s so popular these days? I am not her.

There’s something in me that finds comfort in having stuff around. I like the warmth and coziness that comes from being surrounded by a few too many things. I’m not talking about expensive things or fancy things; I’m talking about that afghan from my grandmother’s house. I’m talking about those solid wood chairs that nobody else wanted, that bowl engraved for my great-grandparents’ anniversary, those mason jars that are sure to come in handy someday.

I hate to throw away anything that could be useful. I like to be able to dig into my drawers and find colored pencils and birthday cards and old, empty journals tucked away for moments like this.

I used to say that I had a bit of the Great Depression in me. I have always had the bogeyman of scarcity in the back of my mind. It is in my nature to squirrel away stuff and information in preparation for a leaner time.

I thought of that line today – “a bit of the Great Depression” – as I listened to my favorite newsy podcasts. They said that the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic could be so severe that the unemployment rate reaches twenty percent. That’s Great Depression-level unemployment there.

The thought jived with my anxiety about finding milk for my kids and watching grocery store shelves emptying, quickly and repeatedly. It fit with my worry over my husband’s job. It brought up my usually-unacknowledged concern about whether we made the right decision to rely on a single income.

In all likelihood, my family will be fine. We are more secure than most. But watching the swift decline our country (and the world) has suffered in recent weeks, I am increasingly nervous about what we’re beginning.

And I’m thinking that maybe we could all do with a bit more of the “Great Depression” mindset. I’ve been thinking harder about what my family consumes and what we waste. We’ve been so wasteful, especially when it comes to food. This week I’ve been paying closer attention, looking for efficiencies, strategizing on how to be a better steward of our resources.

Today I made a big, hearty Guinness beef stew. I served it over mashed potatoes and I baked a soda bread to go with it. The work felt right and good. There’s something about feeding people – about providing for that most basic need. It’s tangible. It’s essential. It’s universal.

Assuming this thing goes on for a while (and it sure looks like it will be going on for a while), I’ve got a lot to think about. I suppose a global emergency has a way of refocusing your priorities, doesn’t it?

(On a more mundane level, today I’ll report that the kids and I all watched Mass together, the big boys did some homework, the girls napped while the boys played outside, and I accomplished some laundry/dishes/cooking. Oh, and my kitchen looks far worse tonight than when I woke up this morning. C’est la vie!)