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Family. That word conjures up images or thoughts. For some, they think of those they live with, others may think of parents or loved ones outside of their household, while some immediately focus on children and grandchildren. There are living family members, and those we’ve grieved. Whomever or whatever comes to mind, family has a lasting impact.
Our world has undergone an unthinkable health crisis with the COVID pandemic. Lockdown kept us in the safe confines of our homes with social distancing imposed, as fellow columnist, T. Marie Bertineau, shared in her column, isolation was not the hardest part, to which I agree. My retired parents are social and enjoy their daily outings. This apple fell far from that tree. I worried that they wouldn’t be able to sustain a lockdown as well as I could.
In the early days of the shelter-in-place, I remember thinking how grateful I was that my grandparents were no longer living to endure this crisis. They each battled enough in their lifetimes: wars, illnesses, poverty, and racism. Days rolled into weeks and weeks turned into month after month of uncertainty. Soon, I found myself longing for the wisdom of my grandparents.
My abuela would have undoubtedly helped us stretch our pantry items into delicious and comforting meals so we wouldn’t have to leave the safety of our home for groceries.
My abuelo, a WW II veteran, would have remained updated with what was being reported globally, nationally, and locally. He would have advised his seven children, nine grandchildren, and fifteen great-grandchildren on what he gathered from various sources of media and perceived to be the truth.
My paternal grandma was a single mother of eight, having outlived two of her children and a spouse, a grandmother to twenty-something, countless great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren, and now, great-great-great grandbabies. She would have reminded us that this too shall pass, but not without some lasting effects. She would have said that fear is always an option, but not to expect something beautiful to come from living in that state. Similarly, my grandma would have reaffirmed that no one is invincible, and ignorance never wins. The entire family would have had homemade sets of masks sent to them. Most of all, my grandparents would have expected our family to look out for one another and our neighbors.
I recall going into summer longing for some respite, but seeing hate and racism take center stage. As I stated earlier, these were the things my grandparents endured as Mexican Americans. In an instant, I saw the fear in my children’s eyes as local protests clogged city streets and freeways. Then, unexpectedly, we received word that my mother-in-law died. She was just here and then she wasn’t. My husband lost his mother, and my children lost a grandparent. I knew abuela would have pulled out her prayer candles and kept them flickering from morning until night.
Throughout the pandemic, I learned how easy it is to become mired down in doom and uncertainty. It is strange how these events can change everything that we thought we knew about ourselves and our family. This was not the time to run, but instead, be still and listen. My comfort with being distant was no longer acceptable. I could hear my grandparents telling me to connect.
My children and I have made it an evening ritual for the past year to video call my parents to see them, their dog, and so they can see their grandchildren. Our calls are so expected now that even their dog meanders around them in the evening anticipating the ring of the phone.
Placing a call to my parents on speaker as I drove or accomplished another daily task, was how our conversations previously occurred. They often worked when I phoned them, and it was easier for us to converse without stopping our daily grind. Now, we all sit and actually take the time to see one another, albeit through a screen. Initially, I thought the connection was for my children and my parents, but I make them laugh and I look forward to that each day. That heals my soul too.
I wholeheartedly feel the pandemic has some lessons in it for humanity. As an educator, I teach my students about social awareness by looking inward first, then using that self-awareness to bond with one another. As a strong family of classmates, we are then able to bless our greater community with our unconditional love and respect. I realized I gleaned that outlook from my grandparents and how they approached life, despite adversity.
It’s been decades since I hugged my grandma, and over a decade since I laughed with my abuelo. Next year, will mark ten years since my abuela left us. I would love a phone call with my grandparents again. The pandemic has reminded me that despite the years, I still remember their wisdom and what it felt like to be in their presence. I miss my grandparents tremendously and the days of being called their grandchild.
Anna Rodriguez is a wife, mother, and elementary teacher. She is completing her first contemporary novel set in California’s Central Valley. Family and friendships are important themes for Anna’s work because of the influences they have had on her life. When Anna is not writing or hanging out with her family, she can be found reading or searching for music to add to her eclectic playlist. She will complete her MFA in Creative Writing in the summer of 2021.
First a saloon, and now a rotation of new columns from writers across the ranch. Carrot Ranch is gathering in the literary community as the world pauses and hunkers down.
Every Monday, you can expect to have fun with Kid and Pal, creations of D. Avery, who will operate the Saddle Up Saloon where Ranchers and their characters can gather. D. will interview characters and their creators, prompt writers, and generally keep the wit and writing flowing.
Every Tuesday, you can expect a column and a “closed call” in rotation among a fine array of Ranchers, including H.R.R. Gorman, Anne Goodwin, Bill Engleson, Ann Edall-Robson, Susan Sleggs, Norah Colvin, Sherri Matthews and me, Charli Mills.
Columns will vary in topic and include a call to participate. For example, I’m going to ask if any of you have recipes to share today. You can respond in the comments. A “closed call” means we are not link-sharing, blog hopping or publishing submissions. We want to create weekly social engagement and give writers a chance to play in the Carrot Ranch sandbox. Have fun! Be social!
We will continue as normal with the 99-word story challenges on Thursdays to share links, blogs, and publish submissions to the collection. If you want to publish in the collection, remember to enter the submission form. If you want to respond to any Monday or Tuesday prompts, do so in the comments.
Ranch Recipes made use of easily transported food that could feed large gatherings. It was said that my great-grandmother, who was a ranch cook, had no concept of making a small meal. Her recipes include beef and paired well with pinto beans.
Shortages at the grocery store will challenge us to think beyond our standard fixings. A good shift in thinking is to practice substitutions. How can you make a familiar dish from different ingredients? How can you alter it to reduce preparation time? Great-grandma’s enchiladas are time-consuming to make. This recipe is an easy one that alters her original but maintains a similar flavor. It’s also similar to lasagne but doesn’t call for pasta, which might not be in stock.
1 lb extra lean ground beef
1 medium onion chopped
1/2 cup black olives
1 medium can Enchilada Sauce
12 corn tortillas
1/3 cup cheddar cheese shredded
Brown ground beef and onions together for about 10 to 12 minutes, drain. Spray a casserole or pan (8×12 inches). Place half of tortillas in bottom. Spoon half of beef mixture on top and sprinkle with half the olives. Then layer the last tortillas, beef mixture, olives and cheese. Cover with foil and bake in a pre-heated 350 degree F. oven for 25 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes and serve with beans, garlic bread, and a green salad.
What if you can’t find beef? Try chicken or pork instead. A vegetarian option replaces the meat with 2 cups cooked rice, 1 can of black beans, and 1 can of corn. A vegan option replaces the cheese with a nut “cheese.” If you can’t find enchilada sauce, use any kind of jarred salsa or taco sauce. Corn tortillas last in the fridge much longer than flour tortillas. They make a great substitute if your store is short on bread.
Bottom line is to not panic and ranch forward. What would a chuckwagon boss do? Take stock of what is available, and use your creativity to play with ingredients and alter familiar recipes.
What tips or altered recipes are helping you shop during a shortage? Share in the comments.
A rabbit hopped across my roof. Of course, he did; these are strange times.
When I came downstairs, I could see the rabbit’s tracks in the crusty snow of the lower roofline. I pulled aside the lace curtains, thinking it must be an illusion. Perhaps wind pocked paw-like holes in the snow or chunks of ice fell in a gust that made a track. It’s been intermittently windy and snowing, the cold seeping back at me through the pane of glass as my mind imagined the possibilities. There had to be an explanation.
Later in the day, the Hub asked, “Did you see there was a rabbit on our roof?”
Okay, I didn’t imagine a hippity-hopped trail. The Hub set out to investigate. Like Davy Crocket, he picked up the rabbit’s trail where one would expect it — on the ground. The rabbit hopped over from Mrs. Hitch’s house, through the upper branches of the lilacs (upper branches because the snowbanks are still four feet deep), onto to plowed trail and up the stairs of our deck. From there, the rabbit took the kind of leap of faith known to artists. Impressively, he went for it and lept up to the banister and across the broken gutter to land on the edge of the roof. He hopped over to the side of the second story, cut a trail across the roof.
In the tracks, you can see the rabbit’s hesitation. He paused at the edge, paws gripping the roofline. It’s a good thing we still have deep snow because I don’t think he would have survived a summertime landing. The Hub tracked his giant leap into the snowbank from where the rabbit ran off. No evidence of pursuit from the ground. No past sightings of gabled hares. No explanation. Just a bunny with four lucky rabbit’s feet.
And thus, I step across the threshold into a new era.
A friend suggested that humanity will likely look back at March 2020 and remember our last moments before the world locked down the way some remember what they were doing when an assassin shot President Kennedy, or how others recall where they were the moment of 9/11. We will remember what preceded the shift, maybe develop nostalgia for that last day of innocence when we went out for drinks with friends, not yet believing the toilet paper was gone from our town. Not our town. Not us. The oldest myth alive — not me. Yet, here I am, coughing, spiking a fever, asking to be tested. Denied.
Only celebrities and the critically ill get tested.
My before moment came last Friday when five of us rode up the peninsula in a friend’s crew-cab truck. Three women, giggling in the back while the two men up front talked. We all pointed out the winter deer and watched the waves leap over ice heaves along the snowy road. Spring will come, we said. We celebrated a friend’s birthday at the Fitz, famous for its sunsets and smokehouse dinners. The waves rushed the ice, splashing and catching the colors of the sinking sun. The horizon grew orange and pink, melding into brilliant copper. Those colors imprinted our minds and hearts, crystalized within the waves. We toasted with honey-mead and watched for the green flash. Darkness followed, and we drove back down the peninsula.
We were people without a curfew, people who believed we’d be seeing Monday morning like other Monday mornings after the weekend. People making plans. The birthday celebrant and I stayed in the truck when the other three stopped at a small grocery store in Calumet for a six-pack of beer. We talked about writing fiction, how it finds a way into truth. She told me something deep and personal, saying she could never write it, and I turned it around for her as a miner’s story. She got it. She understood she could write about the painful places in her life without feeling she had to confess to the world. We wrote stories in the air. The world spun.
Wallace Stegner believed that fiction writers have no other agenda than, to tell the truth. He said, “We write to make sense of it all.” Stories and characters are a way to draw out the ideas, experiences, and emotions from our heads to examine them in greater detail and apply conditions to see what happens. To understand. Or teach. The writer and reader meet on the pages of stories and connect intimately in private to work through what was and could be. We need truth-seekers in the world — the poets, memoirists, and fictionists. We dare to go to vulnerable places and shadowlands, looking for answers or carving art into the bones of life.
Driving home, we sat with toilet papers on our laps, laughing at our good fortune to buy beer and find a stack of TP. We felt giddy as teens up to mischief. Later, over birthday cake, we told stories. The next morning Wrangling Words canceled when the library shuttered despite its efforts to remain disinfected and open. The Hub went out to coffee for Frank Sinatra morning and later to the brewhouse where he met up with some of our friends. Sunday night, he commented on a tickle in his chest.
Then Monday morning arrived, and I woke up unusually early. The Hub had run out to grab coffee and claimed it was “martial law.” He’s a veteran. They all fear martial law and think it’s “coming” the way a zealot believes the end is is “near.” What was actually happening is that the State of Michigan canceled all schools and restaurants and bars were to close at 3 p.m. that day. Not zombies or martial law, but upsetting to those who suffer PTSD. My own hypervigilance kicked in, and I went to the co-op to order 20 pounds of jasmine rice, and for good measure, I bought dried elderberries and roots to make tonics.
Then I insisted he called CBOC (our local VA clinic) because of the tickle in his chest. Normally, I wouldn’t have even noticed. He had to call the VA hospital because CBOC was not answering, and the call center was so overloaded it took three attempts to get through. By then we checked, and he had a mild fever. Once he got through, the VA screened him for Covid-19 and passed him on to a different call center where he sat on hold for thirty minutes. They screened him and said a nurse would call back but that it wouldn’t be until the next day because they were so backed up.
Later in the day, I started to notice an uncomfortable tightness in my chest. Barely Day 1 of Social Distancing, and already we were sick. I remember thinking, great this must be how the slow caribou feel when the wolves close in before getting a chance to run. We fired up the sauna, fixed dinner, and prepared tonics. We encouraged each other to drink lots of water. The nurse called back that night and told us to stay home. I asked about testing, and she said only if we were critical.
The next day we both felt tired, my chest still tight, and his cough worsening. CBOC called to check on him, and it was a nurse we knew, so, again, I asked about getting tested. She told us straight up that they had no tests for veterans. If we wanted to be tested, we had to go to the ER, but the ER was closed to all but emergencies. Through digital means, friends assured us that we lived in the UP, and no one had tested positive. Inwardly, I grumbled because how could anyone test positive if no one was being tested? I had a few dizzy spells and experienced my heart revving up like a stuck throttle. We saunaed and rested.
Wednesday morning, I woke up and felt good. Then I learned that my daughter and SIL were both coming down with something, too. Out of the blue my fever spiked, and my heart raced. I went out to my sun porch to cool off. My neighbor was in my back yard so I stepped outside to tell her we were quarantined and from a distance, discussed how to handle egg deliveries. We worked out that she’d leave them on the front steps without having to touch any door handles. That made me realize I had to clean the door handles for our UPS driver. She then said, of course, they were testing people and go get tested.
Thus, I tried a different route outside the VA for myself. It took 20 times to call the local clinic. After several holds, I got screened and placed on hold so long that the local nurse followed up on my call before my original call was ever answered. She was concerned about my heart racing but told me not to go to the ER unless I was “certain” I was having a heart attack. Well, that wasn’t comforting. So, Todd has to be not breathing, and I have to be in cardiac arrest before we get tested for the thing that has us all shutdown, isolated, and quarantined. Am I missing something in this healthcare strategy?
Maybe I am, when I think of others involved — the practitioners themselves.
The stark reality is twofold — one, we don’t have enough tests, and two, we need to protect our healthcare professionals. If they get overwhelmed or sick from mild cases like ours, they will be worse off when severe cases start adding up. But I really hope they don’t. There’s still an innocent part of my brain that thinks we are all going to experience a normal Monday next week. That everyone will get a wimpy heart-fluttering mild fever, cough-cough, and say, “That’s it?” Truth is, I still think we are perched on the threshold. Let’s keep distancing, give our healthcare folks support, check-in from a distance with neighbors, and plan to wash our hands and doorknobs indefinitely.
This morning, I washed my toothbrush. Spring cleaning will be intense. I’m tired and panicked about how it’s Thursday, and finals are due Sunday. My focus has flown out the window. But the tightness in my chest is gone, and my heart settled down. The Hub scraped ice, and we both agreed we felt better. We likely do not have The Virus, but we are acting as though we do. For an introvert, my life is not all that altered. For the Hub, an extreme extrovert, he’s bemoaning the lockdown. We will shift. To what, I don’t know.
But if I have to be quarantined someplace, I’m grateful to be in an intact community. And maybe this is a chance for other communities to heal. We can’t heal the world without first healing the smaller place we call home. This is our challenge. And literary artists will be the ones pressing inward to define and explore what needs expression. Troubled times often clarify deeper truths.
It is dark now, and a rabbit was on my roof. It sounds like a good place as any to start the work of writing. Be well. Be safe. Write.
March 19, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a rabbit on the roof. Or many rabbits. Why are they there? Explain the unexpected, go into any genre. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by March 24, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our latest weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.
Rabbits on the Roof by Charli Mills
A hummingbird with wings green as shiny jalapenos flit between foxgloves. Caleb stilled his chubby hands. Marta couldn’t say her neighbor would’ve approve of foxgloves where he once mowed lawn. He would’ve hollered at barefoot urchins digging in his yard. Those who survived, claimed it as a community garden. His house served as a schoolhouse. Not like the old institutions. Marta taught all ages how to garden with pollinators. On the rooftop, they raised rabbits. The neighborhood had two milk cows. Three years after the Great Calamity, no one hungered. Humanity reclaimed what it lost. The Industrial Revolution ended.