Remember when the worst holiday problem was Uncle Joe who defended a point of view you hated. Now it’s literally a life and death problem.
So I didn’t fly to Los Angeles and drive up into the Kern Mountains to enjoy American Thanksgiving with my immediate family. I spend the afternoon in Mississauga researching Door Dash, Uber Eats and Skip the Dishes for roast beef restaurant takeout. This is Toronto or close enough. I don’t expect turkey. We never have turkey on the mountain anyway. Our eldest, even senior to me, and I am very senior indeed, doesn’t like turkey. We have roast beef from Whole Foods, which as I’m sure you know, entails a small second mortgage or at least a lien of the car. Three ribs usually does it.
Since Toronto is back to orange or maybe even red by today, there is no indoor dining and no outdoor either if by chance, you have a parka that warm. Chop and Cagney’s have roast beef on Sunday. It isn’t Sunday. The British pub has it every day and even has Yorkshire pudding or what it calls Yorkshire pudding but could serve as a hockey puck. The Keg seems to be confused offering every kind of delivery but impervious to ordering. I call them up. Sure I can get roast beef. I just have to pick it up. Would I like directions? No, thank you. It is our go-to place for major occasions, but how can I see a menu. “Just tell me what you want,” says Stephen. So I do. Dreaming it is Cagney’s, I order Caesar salad – it is definitely not Cagney’s superb Caesar, as it turns out – and the 10-ounce rib roast with mashed potatoes. And then dessert?
I can’t handle milk products, so, of course, I order Creme brule.
The first hurdle is that I have been shut in since March 13th except for early morning elder shopping in the grocery store. I step out of the lobby door into darkness. Whaaaat?! ‘Get a grip girl,’ I tell myself. I make my way north, do the left turn on Winston Churchill just before the freeway and park in The Keg’s empty parking lot. I call Stephen. The nice Bell telephone lady tells me to try again later. I tell her how many types of idiot she is and call again. And yes, Stephen says my dinner is waiting. I stride in the heavy door -once I had man-handled it open. The automatic thingee is taking Thanksgiving off. I present myself. Stephen is on the phone with his back to me. The young woman coming toward me looks alarmed. She stops more than 6-ft. away.
“Could you put your mask on, please?’
I already have glasses and a tight fitting tam, so I haven’t missed the additional stricture of the mask, which I have taken off one ear to talk on the phone.
Shame! I am overcome. While I am apologizing profusely, she picks up my order and says, ‘It’s not as if it will kill me.’ ‘O God,’ I expostulate, ‘I certainly hope not.’
It turns out there was a line for tip on the bill. You bet.
Here, where I live, no one fights the mask mandate. They want to go into stores. They never punch out the door person. Well, it’s true that one legislator and his looney followers demonstrate at the parliament building, but he’s been kicked out of caucus and the rallies are short and sweet, so they can get home in time for their afternoon meds.
How do you get 50 Canadians out of a pool in an emergency. ‘You say, “Please get out of the pool.”‘ Done.
On the way home, I irritate one young guy because I take too long turning left into a continuous stream of traffic. Just grateful he saved his horn concert until we were safely across. Like F—, I’m really old!
Unpacking the ‘hot’ bag, I am impressed. The main course is inside an insulated bag as is the warm bun. ‘There’s bread! And that lovely whipped butter with garlic and honey!’
I set to the hot food with my music on shuffle. It plays the Stones Paint it Black, Hugh Laurie’s St. James Infirmary and Leon Helm’s When I go Away. Eighteen months ago, I picked up my ex-husband’s ashes from St. James Crematorium, but I refuse to remember. I go with Leon who wants ‘no crying for this orphan boy’ ‘only tears of joy’.
The food is delicious, especially the bread and butter, even though or probably because I really can’t eat wheat or butter. I have opened a bottle of Berringer Chardonnay and poured two ounces. It’s true. I can’t drink alcohol. The beef is beyond description, streaked with buttery fat -I can’t really eat fat. Let’s just assume that everything on the table is an anathema to my digestion and a wonderful delight to my senses. As I am digging through the crust of burnt sugar on the dessert down to the yummy custard, I realize that I had not felt lonely once.
I’m not really an orphan. Well, legally I am but I am part of a 3 person bubble. At Canadian Thanksgiving in early October, we three singles – my sister, my niece and me – feasted together. My lovely niece cooked. We will do the same at Christmas. Usually if I am here and not in California, we drive an hour and some north to my other niece’s and join 6 to 9 children and 7 to 9 adults at a long table full of laughter.
In pictures, the youngest, Austin, is barely recognizable to me now. He is a real boy not a retiring toddler. His nearest sister, Jennifer, has lost her front teeth. Emily, their half-sister has become a statuesque young woman easily confused with her mother. Jason, the college student, is a taller mystery than ever. Quinn and Arya are still blonde and as free as ever. The other three are new step-dad inclusions and I haven’t got to know them.
We will miss the usual Christmas potlatch that my sister’s family goes in for.
Why not see them? I am 84. My sister is 78. My ‘bubble’ niece has serious health issues. We are willing giving up one Christmas to avoid dying alone on a ventilator lying prone. That last part – arrrrgh! But of course I would be unconscious by then. My son wouldn’t be tenderly sitting beside me, the way he did for his father. My daughter wouldn’t be able to show up in the ICU, from across the continent, as I have done for her.
If you are putting your hand up for that, you’re a ‘better man than I am, Gunga Din’. (Literary reference there. Google it.)
When I put on a mask, even now as the weather grows cold, I don’t breathe well and I get sudden hot spells. But I have absolutely no doubt that they work to prevent me infecting others and others from infecting me. Staying home except for essential shopping has protected me. Staying at least 6-ft. away from ‘non-bubble others’ has kept me safe. Luckily, I don’t have employment concerns because of my age. I do lose my mind staying in, on a fairly regular basis. On the other hand, I spend at least 2-hrs a day talking to others on video. Once a week or so, we three bubblers see each other in person. We don’t wear masks but we don’t hug either.
Nine and half months of living alone has been an education in mental health. Every emotional collapse has brought some more insight. It is very painful. It is nearly a year of invested time that I’m not about to throw away. But what if someone told you all you had to do to save your life was cover your mouth and nose and sit on your couch.
Deal or no deal?