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Letters from the Homefront: ‘Beauty in the Time of COVID-19’

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.

Portrait of a young girl holding a cat in her lap
As today’s contributor has learned, animals can provide great beauty and comfort during this difficult time. Portrait of a young girl holding a cat in her lap, photograph by unidentified photographer, undated, PP92.211a. Emily Spencer Hayden Photograph Collection, PP92, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Historical Society.

April 29, 2020 – On this day, Brenda Stevens Baer from Baltimore writes:

 5:30 a.m. Our thickly-furred, beautiful gray cat, Stella Blue, climbs on my pillow and settles next to my head with a rumbling purr that says, “Hey, my bowl is empty. Get up now!!” I pretend I’m asleep.

7:30 a.m. I get up and go immediately to the windows in the family room to check out the weather and the cardinals at the feeder in the backyard. It’s not raining and the sky is blanketed by white, puffy clouds. There are two foxes sitting near the woods. They have beautiful red coats; long, fat tails; and slender, anxious faces. I love to watch them lope across the yard.

8:30 a.m. I go to my computer to read poems and articles about poems and poets. I read and reread. I wallow happily in metaphors. I think, and then I write as long as I want to. I don’t have papers to grade, nor teenagers to herd toward graduation. I don’t have to plan any tutoring sessions. I have the freedom and the time to open my imagination to whatever frolics there.

11:30 a.m. The mail arrives and Bob retrieves the book of poems I ordered. In that book is a beautiful poem about aging by Kay Ryan that asks us to think about older people becoming stronger rather than weaker because we are wiser and kinder as we are “letting in heaven.” This poem gives me a beautiful boost, one that makes me want to go outside and sit in the sun for a while.

12:30 p.m. Bob and I have lunch together as we talk about his teaching preps and my two writing groups. After sandwich wraps, we discover the sweet leftover pineapple from last night’s dinner is still fresh, so I dish it out and squirt canned whipped cream over mine because I like the sound of it, and it mellows the acidity of the fruit. Bob takes his straight.

3:10 p.m. We set out on our neighborhood walk. The air is warm, and it’s nice to think it is also cleaner because of stay-at-home orders. There is a carnival of color all over the neighborhood: azaleas and flowering trees. We notice neighbors we’ve never seen before, and also a shared sense of community that wasn’t apparent before now. A woman who is standing across the street by her car takes note of my walking stick, which is a real branch I found out on the NCR Trail months ago, and asks if I would like to have one of her husband’s canes. I’m touched by her generosity and wonder if my decision not to accept her offer was the right thing to do. As we turn the corner at St. Patrick Street, Bob notices an egret in a small stream. It soars before we get our fill of its beauty, but we do get to witness its wing span and a bit of its flight above the trees.

4:00 p.m. My daughter Elaine and I begin a Zoom conversation that lasts over an hour. I think of drawing her beautiful face with that cascade of long curly hair that surrounds it. We talk about what we can and can’t find on grocery shelves. We talk about her writing center work at UMBC and how she is doing yoga classes online now. We exchange recommendations about television shows. She and her mate Kevin are just finishing up all seven seasons of The Sopranos. I tell her about Unorthodox, the series Bob and I are watching.

5:30 p.m. Bob and I share another at-home dinner: baked salmon and bright green steamed broccoli. The beauty of a serene household that comes together each night in peace does not escape our notice. I do the cooking; Bob does the dishes. And then we proceed to the tv room to watch the news for as long as we can stand it.

8 p.m. After a game of Scrabble, one in our Coronavirus Tournament, we settle on our old brown sofa to watch a show we’ve decided on together. Our other cat, Bad Boy, comes to join us and plops onto my lap, which is covered by a handmade afghan he thinks belongs to him. He allows me to stroke his neck as he leans back into my chest. He’s been a part of our marriage from the beginning, and his presence is invaluable to both of us.

While none of our days is unique or filled with the travel, museums, or theatres we used to find necessary, these slow days that allow us to relax, study, write, and walk are gifts replete with the beauty of few external demands and the elastic nature of time.

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.