I have perfected the fly-by hug. When we finally made our way to the cities where our children live, I found I could not greet them with an awkward elbow flap of a hello. We have not seen in person either our children or grandchildren since last Thanksgiving, I could not deny myself hugs--even if they were quick and fleeting.
So I started with my youngest--a 12-year-old. We were standing on the outdoor patio and I told her, "We'll run toward each other, grab a hug with our faces turned away from each other and move on quickly. And so it was with each member of the family. I found it immensely satisfying in a way that's hard to put into words--just to hold, however fleetingly, each precious member of my family was a joy and a reminder of the necessary warmth of physical contact.
To arrive on that patio we had to get to an airport and board a plane. This felt surprisingly safe. The airport was sparsely populated. Almost all concessions were gated closed. The airport was a depressing ghost town (and a reminder of the hundreds of jobs lost in just this one place). That said, we felt safer for the lack of crowds.
We flew on Southwest which has promised to control the sale of tickets on each flight to keep middle seats empty. Twas a pleasure not to be crowded in, but it was eerie nonetheless. Southwest also demands passengers wear masks. One man, seated a row in front of me and across the aisle kept taking off his mask. What to do? It made me feel unsafe. I signaled the stewardess and let her handle it.
When we landed and made our way toward baggage claim we were greeted by the staff at a "health desk." We were asked where we came from. When we said Maryland, a list was checked. "You're Okay," said the health checker. "Welcome to New York State."
We stayed at a hotel and asked for a room in which no one had stayed the night before. No problem. The half of the lobby where we used to order breakfast in the morning or a drink in the evening was dimmed-light dark with chairs upended on the tables. A gloomy sight.
Our daughter-in-law was concerned about our spending time in her house. (Concerned for us, not for her family.) The grandkids had started back to school, attending in person classes two or three times a week. That means they were now more exposed to the virus than they had been--a risk for us. Our DIL had planned in advance and borrowed a heat lamp so we could safely eat together outdoors. But a sudden cold spell--40 degrees at night--made sitting outside too chilly, even with the heat lamp. We went inside. Everyone stayed masked except when actually eating. We sat well distanced from each other, plates on our laps rather than on the table.
Despite the masks (with their muffling of sound) and physical distancing we had a wonderful time talking, laughing at family stories and catching each other up on individual "adventures." At the same time I felt I was like a squirrel who needed to hoard these moments for a long winter of no visits.
Two days later we headed an hour east into Massachusetts for a 24-hour visit with our daughter and her family who drove west to meet us. We stayed at a small family-run inn in Great Barrington. Our rooms were the only ones in a small annex where we had a shared communal space. In the evening it was, once again, too chilly (and we were too tired) to try to eat outside. My daughter and I walked into town, picked up two pizzas and a big salad. We all sat in our communal space, dropped our masks to eat our pizza and otherwise stayed safe while we relaxed in each other's company.
We are fortunate that both our children live in states (New York and Massachusetts) that have been able to keep the Covid infection rate under control. Our state (Maryland) is improving--we are no longer banned in New York State. Traveling within states that have very low infection rates and are making Herculean efforts to keep it that way made us feel we were taking controlled--and worthwhile--risks in traveling to visit our children.
We dare not think ahead to the usual family gathering in Albany for Thanksgiving. Except to squirrel away the memories of this visit to revisit when the weather turns cold and travel more challenging.
painting: Pissarro, Charing Cross Bridge, London