They say this pandemic is unprecedented and so it is.
But there is also a vague familiarity about it. Some memory deep in my brain is awakened by all this talk of cocooning and isolation and fear of contamination.
It is the day of my first holy communion.
A day when I should have been feted, admired and treated like a princess.
So why instead am I lying on the floor of our family car in my finery, hidden under an old picnic blanket?
Well there is a simple explanation.
My mother is in hospital being treated for tuberculosis of her lungs, a much feared and highly contagious disease of that time and she is in isolation (along with five other women suffering from the same plight).
There was huge social stigma attached to the disease back then.
Families were ostracized if word got out that a member had been infected with it. (I see this mimicked today! Some of my nursing colleagues are being asked to leave their rental apartments for fear they will bring the Corona virus home).
To the day of his death, my father would never drink from a cup with a crack in it as the bacteria was thought to linger in such places. I don’t blame him, he had lost his own mother to tuberculosis at just 16 years or age.
My mother has been in the sanatorium for two months now and wouldn’t be released until the following autumn.
Meanwhile her six children would not be allowed to see her.
Except for me!
Feeling sorry for me on my special day my Dad has decided to break the rules.
I am smuggled passed the security guard who is sitting dozing in his small hut at the Hospital gates.
When we reach the wards which all opening out onto verandas, I stand at the large glass doors.
My mother is sitting up in bed waving at me. she looks so rosy cheeked and healthy. I wish with all my heart I could go in and have her fold her arms around me, but at seven years of age I understand the rules.
We have to be content with waving.
The women do a whip around each contributing sixpence, which is then handed out through a window to me.
I have never had so much money.
It only distracts slightly from the heaviness in my heart.
I am missing my grandchildren terribly, especially the youngest.
I am missing the feeling of her warm little hand holding mine as we wander at a slow pace around the garden.
Slow, not because she is unsure on her feet, but because we have to check every new bloom, every bud within reach, every scampering insect disturbed by our curiosity as we methodically lift and examine each stick and stone that crosses our path.
Each object is a wonder to her and worthy of examination. And her whispered ‘wow’ makes me realize how privileged I am to see things through the eyes of a child.
But now due to cocooning and social distancing I have not seen her for three weeks.
At last I can bear our separation no longer and decide I will come up and wave at her through the hedge.
I should have thought it through.
When she sees me she calls out ‘NANA’ in delight. At 20 months she can already run and comes at a fast trot across the lawn, her sturdy legs encased in her favorite yellow wellies.
But of course I can’t hug her and swing her up in the air as I used to do. I cant even risk touching that little hand, not even for an instant.
At the two meter point, my daughter lifts her up to wave but she squirms and puts out her arms to me.
Realizing this meeting was a mistake we try to distract her.
‘Look! There’s your rake!’
Her attention is caught by the colorful toy gardening tool lying abandoned on the ground from my last visit when we had been clearing a patch of briers under the beech tree with the aim of hanging a swing there.
We hadn’t got far because in doing so we began to reveal large swathes of violets which had to be smelled and admired.
She turns her interest momentarily towards the abandoned rake and I slip away in tears.
But back to my story. As those of you who have been following it will know, after buying a little Eriba caravan in the Netherlands at the end of February, I am unable to drive back over to pick it up as planned due to the corona pandemic which, is at this stage, sweeping across Europe. But thats not all! I have been sent home from work suspected of being positive for covid 19 myself. All seems very bleak in the saga of Baba the Eriba.
March 29th 2020
I’m sitting up in bed, nose running like a tap, surrounded by one thousand tissues when the text come through.
“Your Covid test will take place Monday 30th March. Please attend the center at 09.10”
At this stage I don’t care if I have the virus. The possible loss of my caravan is all I can think of.
The test is uncomfortable. I grip the arms of the plastic chair and gag. (Gagging is a sign that they have hit the right spot)
‘Head back’ The nurse is so gowned, masked and goggled that her voice comes to me in a muffle.
Again I grip as she pushes the swab up my nose and into my brain.
‘Sanitize your hands on the way out’ she muffles.
I go home and get back into bed and am about to fall asleep when My phone ‘bings’.
It’s a text from the caravan salesman.
I scroll down his message eagerly.
A friend of his owns a haulage company and will be delivering farm machinery to Ireland. He is willing to add the caravan to the load. Am I interested?.
I’m wide awake now. I blow my nose enthusiastically and forgetting to wash my hands tap away on my phone.
“Of course! that would be WONDERFUL when?”
“I let you know”
I check my phone constantly for the next two days between bouts of sneezing and coughing.
The thought strikes me that if I was negative going in for my test I could be positive coming out.
Hadn’t I grasped the arms of the chair with my bare hands? Maybe the individual ahead of me grasping the same arms was positive.
Just as my mind begins to run awry (Of course the chairs were disinfected between each victim! weren’t they?) My phone ‘bings’ I grab it excitedly.
But its just from the HSE
“Result of your covid 19 test: virus not detected”
‘That’s what you think’!
I end up waiting three more days before I get the only text that is important to me.
“It’s arranged. The haulier will keep you informed.”
Is that it? So STARK! No happy face or thumbs up emoji’s. No extra explanations!
Instead of jumping up and down in delight, I become anxious.
I have fully paid for the caravan.
What if I’m being naive by putting it into the hands of some unknown haulier. I have visions of it sitting in a compound amidst farm machinery, door open and a bunch of truckers sitting in it having tea and very crumbly biscuits. Its cushions covered in tea stains.
I quell the urge to ring the haulier and see what progress he has made.
Either the pandemic is having a strange soporific effect on me or else I am just exhausted from all this nose wiping but whichever the reason, I decide to sit back and let fate take its course.
Sure enough two days later I am rewarded by this photo.
followed by this one!
And finally on Friday morning I received a text announcing that the caravan is aboard the ferry in Rotterdam and should arrive in Dublin docks on Monday morning.
From there it will be off loaded from the truck at a depot beside Dublin airport.
Poor little Baba! All alone at sea. I hope she is not frightened.
I rush out to my car to check that the licence plate I had bought weeks ago is still in the boot and that the adapter for the electrics is in the glove compartment.
The petrol tank was full, I have recently checked the tires and oil.
I am all prepared to travel the 20 km and pick up my caravan on the Monday afternoon.
Friday night 1900hrs
My phone is ringing. Its my Older daughter
“Mom are you watching the news? We’re in lock down! Quick there’s an announcement”
There is indeed!
The handsome Leo Varadkar is standing at a podium.
I have missed the first bit of his speech but catch the next part.
“Absolutely no nonessential travel allowed, except for groceries and collecting medication or to check on elderly relatives living alone. You will be allowed out of your house to exercise but only for a distance of 2 km and during that time you must continue to practice social distancing.
“But my caravan?” I ask the serious face of my Taoiseach on the screen “Will I be allowed to collect my caravan?”
“The Garda will be out on the roads” continues the eloquent voice” stopping cars and checking if your journey is essential. if it is not you will be turned back and sent home! Remember! Only essential travel will be permitted.”
I sink down defeated in my chair.
So near and yet so far.
(Coming up next…The final episode! What will be the fate of this little caravan after her long travel from the Netherlands).