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Letters from the Homefront: Baltimore Views

The following “Letters from the Homefront” account is part of our new initiative, Collecting in Quarantine. Inspired by the poignant letters in the Maryland Historical Society collection documenting past adversities from the Spanish flu of 1918, to the Annapolis yellow fever epidemics of 1793 and 1800, MdHS is calling on Marylanders to send their personal stories of how the pandemic is impacting their lives.

A Citizen in the Age of the Pandemic by William "Bill" Hughes
“A Citizen in the Age of the Pandemic.” Photo courtesy of Bill Hughes

April 17, 2020 – On this day, William “Bill” Hughes  from Baltimore writes:

It’s a hard, scary time for sure. COVID-19 is the enemy, but you can’t see it. You can’t give it a good punch in the nose and a kick in the you-know-where.

It’s a vicious killer, who doesn’t discriminate. It could be anywhere or nowhere. But we all know it is out there. We’ve seen the horrific fatality numbers, especially in New York City, and now on the rise in Baltimore and in the state.

If COVID-19 is not on the attack, then it adopts a wait and see posture. It wants you to think it’s gone. Then, it looks to strike at a moment’s notice and – to kill you and your loved ones.

I’m in the most vulnerable category in this pandemic crisis because of my age and prior medical history. One little mistake on my part and I’m history. Gone baby, gone!

I caught a virus back in the fall of 2017. It was awful. For two weeks, I was simply helpless, weak, sitting around and coughing my ass off. No energy, sick 24/7. I thought the misery would never end. COVID-19, if it turns on me, will make that painful experience pale in comparison.

I’ve stopped shopping at the Waverly Farmers’ Market on 33rd Street on Saturday morning. Too damn risky. Too many people, and they all tend to stand too close to each other. At least, I imagine they do.

I take three or four short walks a day with my wife Ann. We keep our distance. I’ve noticed that the other walkers in our neighborhood feel the same way. Our shared unspoken motto is: “Stay Safe. Keep Your Distance!”

Back in early March, before the regulations got too heavy, I took a walk “On the Avenue” in Hampden, to get my daily exercise in. I parked my car by public school #55, now vacant. I wore my mask and kept a safe distance.

Common Ground by William "Bill" Hughes
“Common Ground.” Photo courtesy of Bill Hughes

I got a coffee on the Avenue at the “Common Ground” to go. You ordered on their front steps and then they handed it out to you through a window. They let you know up front – “no cash” – only a credit card would do.

Then, once I got the coffee, I would walk west on one side of the Avenue (W. 36th Street), down to Falls Road, and come back on the other side. Most of the shops were closed and the streets practically empty of traffic. I observed that there weren’t many of the locals around either. Some of them use to regularly hang out in front of the Royal Farms store at the intersection of Roland Ave., but not on this day.

The Avenue in Hampden by William "Bill" Hughes
“‘The Avenue’ in Hampden.” Photo courtesy of Bill Hughes

I’ve been around for over eight decades in Baltimore, the city of my birth. And I haven’t seen anything remotely related to this current pandemic.

The last time I was quarantined was when my Irish mother made me stay in the house for one full day! I was around six years old at the time. I had cursed out one of our neighbors in Locust Point, who had complained that my brother Jim and I were making too much noise playing out on the lot next to his house. It was a bum rap.

Now, since things have come to a stop, it has helped me to pay more attention to Mother Nature and to the animal world.

On my walks, I check how the azaleas and tulips are doing, and the dogwood trees. Some of the trees, sadly, aren’t doing well and are slated to be cut down by the city. Thanks to the rain we’ve gotten, however, there is plenty of green to admire in this spring season.

The Azaleas by William "Bill" Hughes
“The Azaleas.” Photo courtesy of Bill Hughes

I’ve noticed the animals, such as the squirrels, the robins and the crows, are busier and louder than ever. I think they abhor a vacuum and have stepped in to fill the space that we have vacated. Even the rabbits are coming out of hiding earlier in the day. When the crows do their caw caw cawwwww ritual at dusk, it’s sounds loud enough to wake – Edgar Allan Poe!

It’s clear from the daily news, that many of our fellow Baltimoreans are stepping up to the plate, and putting their lives on the line, to fight this beast – COVID-19. My hat goes off to all of them.

Whether they are the nurses, doctors and their assistants in the hospitals; the paramedics driving those ambulances; the police and the firemen; the postal workers or the gas & electric company personnel, I count them all as my heroes. I’m grateful for their unselfish service. They are, indeed, Baltimore’s best.

Tree-Cutting Time by William "Bill" Hughes
“Tree-Cutting Time.” Photo courtesy of Bill Hughes

Finally, COVID-19 has struck a serious blow at our economy. As of this writing, layoffs are in the tens of millions across the country and spreading. And, the numbers of people without any health insurance continues to climb steadily everyday.

Soon, millions won’t be able to pay their rent, mortgage or utility bills, or even put food on the table. America’s “Great Depression” of the 1930s can be expected to return, only this time with a more devastating effect not before seen in our nation’s history.

We need to pray for adequate medical supplies, test kits and wise counsel from our scientists, doctors and political leaders. However, absent a vaccine, sooner rather than later, to subdue COVID-19, we are, brace yourself, in for one hell-on-earth-like episode.

Please note: The views, information, and opinions expressed and shared on the underbelly through the Collecting in Quarantine project do not necessarily represent those of the Maryland Historical Society. Our staff does not verify for accuracy the information contained within these submissions. We also do not edit the content beyond minor modifications for formatting or to remove personally identifying information, if applicable. Just like the historic letters in our collection, each letter presents the writer’s own perspective. The primary purpose of this series, with the permission of contributors, is to share and collect the experiences of Marylanders living through the COVID-19 crisis at this moment in time.

To learn more about the Collecting in Quarantine project and how to share a story of your own, click here.