Saturday, April 18, 2020

Part 1: The best laid pandemic plans

The virus hit Pleasant Glen like an Iowa summer thunderstorm.

At first, the angry red blob hopscotching across the radar on the other side of the globe was dismissed with a healthy dose of Midwestern skepticism. “Those forecasters aren't right even half the time,” they said.

As black clouds roiled on the horizon, people gathered on porches and in parking lots and cast a doubtful eye. “Can't be as bad as the winter of 19--,” they said. “Can't be as bad as the Spanish Flu.”

They smelled rain in the air – cases confirmed on either coast – and buried the metallic taste of fear under a veneer of Iowa stubborn. Plans were made to make plans . . . eventually.

When at last the storm hit, it brought the thunderous rumble of businesses shuttering their doors, and lightning strikes of homeschooling frustration. The winds howled with the fury of middle-aged women forced to miss hair color appointments. A tidal surge of panic swept shelves clear of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and Busch Light.

Julie's first concern was keeping Miss Irene safe. Julie realized that her 90-year-old friend and landlord was more healthy than most 45-year-olds, but she was also more social than most 21-year-olds and more headstrong and harder to restrain than a two-year-old.

Miss Irene had a kind heart and a strong sense of civic responsibility. There was rarely a charity or relief project that took place in Pleasant Glen that she didn't endorse or – more likely – organize. And where Miss Irene volunteered, Big George, her beau of 50 years, was sure to be dragooned. (Not that he was any less benevolent.)

But with older adults being at higher risk for complications from the virus, Julie thought this was one battle Miss Irene and Big George should sit out – or at least observe from the (relative) safety of their home.

After yet another unsuccessful attempt to buy toilet paper, Julie stopped at Pleasant Glen Cycles and Motors to talk to J.J., Big George's son.

“Whatever we do,” J.J. said, “it has to seem like it was their idea. You know how hard my dad will dig in his heels if we try to tell him what to do.”

Julie nodded in agreement. “The trick is to keep them busy, so they don't have time to think about being stuck at home.”

“Remember how Dad griped when I cut him back to 40 hours a week at the shop?” J.J. had taken over all managerial duties at PGCM long ago, but Big George remained the shop's top mechanic.

“You know he still works more than 40 hours, right?” Julie asked.

“And that's why he's back on salary. The overtime was killing me!”

Across town at Miss Irene's house, a similar discussion was taking place.

“Whatever we do,” Miss Irene said, “we have to make the kids believe it was their idea.”

Big George nodded in agreement. “The trick is to keep them busy, so they don't have time to worry about us.”

“Do you remember how pleased with herself Julie was when she thought she had convinced me to quit Taekwondo class?”

“I take it she didn’t find about your little agreement with the instructor?”

“I didn’t tell her, and you can sure as heck bet that Mister Ricardo didn’t tell anyone. Pffft," Miss Irene scoffed, "best four out of five.”

“It was nice of you to let him win that last match, dear. Good thing Chuck Norris threw in a few acting lessons when he taught you Chun Kuk Do.”

“Isn't it, though?” Miss Irene said, ignoring Big George's sarcasm. “Those skills will come in handy when we tell the kids we're self-isolating. Although it's going to require something a little more subtle than taking a dive.”

All four of them quietly contemplated the situation. Or rather, three of them contemplated quietly while Miss Irene, who found movement helped her thinking process, reviewed her taekwondo forms. After much consideration and a near miss with a floor lamp, schemes were hatched and a family dinner with mandatory attendance organized for that night.

“If all else fails . . . .” J.J. said.

“. . . we’ll tell them it was Trey’s idea,” Big George said.

Julie grinned. She knew that Big George couldn’t resist his grandson’s charm, and neither could Miss Irene.

Miss Irene kihaped loudly. She knew that J.J. was a pushover when it came to his son, and Julie was nearly as fond of the boy as the rest of them.

To be continued...

To learn more about Julie and the gang, check out my novel, "Scout's Honor." Coming soon: "Scout's Redemption."