Roach: A drawer full of masks

If all goes well, there will come a day when we finally tuck our masks away.

Late this morning, the bride and I will hop into the car and drive to Walgreens in Illinois where we will get our first COVID-19 vaccine shot.

A few weeks later, we will get our booster injection.

The vaccine marks a last chapter for our nation and the world. We have seen death and suffering. We have seen courage and incompetence. We have seen a president fall and a new one rise.

If all goes well, there will come a day when we finally tuck our masks away and bid farewell to the biggest health crisis the world has experienced in a century.

The pandemic has been terrible. But, like most things, it came with blessings along with obvious curses.

The bad was brutal. Appalling mortality and morbidity rates and immeasurable societal effects. The isolation. The struggles and destruction of small businesses. The chaos of virtual schooling. The unrelenting pressures and hardships for health care workers. And the friction between those who believe in science and those who deny it, with anti-maskers parading about not in the simplest communal protection, but invisible cloaks of selfishness.

But as summer and two shots chase away COVID-19, I have to confess there are some things I will miss about quarantine.

I will miss the quiet created by fewer people driving to work. The days, weeks and months free from the compulsory socializing that keeps you from a good book or Netflix documentary.

I will long for the bubble our family created. At the outset of the pandemic, it was touching to witness the care with which our adult children treated us. The efforts they made to keep their parents safe were a sweet match to the way we hovered over them as children.

There was another benefit of quarantine. Without the usual work and social schedules, we were able to spend more time with our children than in any window in the last decade. In fact, there were several weeks where, after careful isolation and testing, they and their significant others and pets actually moved home with us. In a blink, our house was as alive as it had been when our children were in high school. We even managed to pull off a small, outdoor wedding, complete with customized masks celebrating the event. Any wedding is special, but the virus made this one even more unique.

We saw our neighbors walking the streets near our home, getting exercise they couldn’t at a fitness club. We waved to each other. We’d actually stand outside and chat. You know, like neighbors.

I’ll miss the social alternatives we created. The distanced morning coffees on the back deck with the rising sun. The late-afternoon Hillbilly Happy Hour in the driveway with a firepit and lawn chairs, sharing beer and wine from 6 feet apart as the last rays of the sun warmed us.

I will miss the way we worked and the obstacles we overcame simply to be with friends and family.

Years ago, I researched the 1918 influenza pandemic for a screenplay. My attorney cast shade on the notion, so I abandoned the project. But not before I was able to glean this information: After the flu, the United States economy went on a nine-year run of heady proportions. More importantly, the Americans who survived the Spanish Flu decided to celebrate.

During that pandemic women’s dresses hung in repressed fashion, just above ankles, covered by boots. The years after the flu saw those skirts rise, and with them the cultural explosion of the Jazz Age and the Roaring ’20s. It was as if the whole world said, “Damn. That was awful. Life is short. Let’s have fun.”

And so, too, will we have fun. Lots of it.

But a long time from now, years into the future, I will open a dresser drawer and find tucked behind some sweaters a handful of masks. And they will make me think of the Time of the Plague. And how we made the best of it.

John Roach, a Madison-based screenwriter and producer, writes this column monthly. Reach him at footer that says "Like this article, get so much more by subscribing"