Charles Erickson: Backyard windows offer diversion, reflection

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MANCHESTER — Thirty-two is not a round figure of the type that lends itself to anniversaries, but over the last six weeks I have thought often about the late winter and early spring of 1988.

I have had the time for reflection.

On March 16, my employer told staffers to take their laptops home and work remotely during the coronavirus pandemic. I moved in with my mom so she would not have to leave the house for groceries or otherwise congregate with people. She is 92.

I have not spent this much time with my mom, in the house in which I was raised, in decades.

My mom remains physically and mentally sharp. We have conducted about a hundred games of eight-ball in the basement and played many hands of cards. These are a diversion from news about the pandemic, but I am certain the pool and the cards would be welcome activities even without the escape they provide from the incrementing numbers of the dead and infected.

My work laptop sits on a desk in a spare bedroom of my mother's house. Windows in the room provide a view of the backyard.

In early 1988, when I was in my final few months as a high school student, I was not sad about the coming end of a 13-year, K-through-12 journey. To reduce the amount of time I spent on the campus, I changed my class schedule. Early study halls were shifted to later periods and I was dismissed from school every day at just before noon. The other students stayed until 2:15.

After driving home and eating lunch, I would head out back with my mom for cross-country skiing. I looked forward to those ski treks - even if silly pride prevented me from announcing it to my friends. My mom was 42 when I was born, which put her only a few years younger than the grandparents of most of my classmates. I was the last of her five children, after a nine-year gap, and we have always been close.

We could have skied at any time, of course, and we did for many years before and afterward. But these activities in the spring of 1988 felt like stolen moments, like being out of school for an appointment or a trip when the rest of the world was adhering to a schedule. My father was still at work, my compatriots were still in class and I was out back, skiing.

I have never forgotten those afternoons.

For the backyard ski track, I had taken a wheelbarrow, turned it upside down and made a course shaped like a warped triangle. The concave surface was often as slick as a bobsled run.

When the school bus was heard rumbling up the street, at about 2:40, it was a signal that it was time for us to come inside and for me to get back on schedule. I had a part-time job which required attendance every weekday afternoon.

The snow was gone by the end of April 1988, and my graduation followed two months later. With the irregular class scheduling of college, and the speed at which life seems to unfold after months are no longer demarcated by a grade number, this kind of bonus time with my mom seemed as if it would never happen again.

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Then, unexpectedly, it did.

An email sent late on a Monday afternoon ordered me henceforth to work from home. A few hours earlier, managers had told people to telecommute twice a week, and then come into the office the other three - but to stay at their desks and make all meetings teleconferences. It seemed silly at the time and now seems ridiculous, but many commonplace occurrences in the middle of March are now

commercial and occupational impossibilities.

I had worked from my house prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but this was normally one or two days a month. Doing five a days a week, from the mom's house, required a period of adjustment. For the first week, the days seemed long. They now unspool like those in the office, filled with phone calls, meetings, application testing and updates to documents.

Even in an upside down world, time has resumed its rapid gait.

The types of non-work activities which had marked my days in the office - food and coffee runs with acquaintances, lunchtime walks, stepping outside for air - ended on March 16. Instead of heading out to find a downtown place for lunch, I am in the basement playing pool. And instead of nighttime activities, such as trips to the gym or movies with friends, I am playing cards or watching TV with my mom.

There was known end to that school semester in which I spent extra time with my mom. June 25 was graduation day in 1988. The class of 2020 at my old high school won't return to classes before the school year ends next month. An electronic sign in front of the building flashes messages of safety to passersby. Instead of enjoying stolen moments, perhaps these seniors feel their last few months of high school were stolen.

Since I was sent out of the office, four dates have been announced for our return. March 31 was quickly superseded by April 16, and later by April 30 and then May 18. Few of my coworkers expect to be back in the office before some time after Memorial Day.

My mom has never been a sentimentalist. One night, as we played cards, I asked her if she remembered skiing out back after lunch during my last few months of high school. She said she recalled the backyard skiing, but not the detail about me being released early from school.

Media conferences from governmental officials all seem to share common attributes: slide shows, graphs, numbers, and various talking heads taking turns behind a microphone. Most of them are grim-faced.

The human and economic costs of this pandemic, expressed in those conferences as death counts and unemployment rates, are devastating. I am ready for the world to return to the jumbled state we formerly accepted as being normal. While it remains off its axis, I will play more pool and cards. I will take late-evening walks around the neighborhood and remember events and people I thought I had forgotten.

A woman named Donna, one of my frequent lunchtime companions, texted me recently to ask about my mother's health. Her relationship with her mother has been strained for 40 years, but she knows how well I get along with mine.

After learning that my mom was safe and sound, Donna wrote: "Enjoy every moment."


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