Pandemic Diary: Just a Box of Rain

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry.
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.
—T. S. Eliot, “East Coker,”
Four Quartets

* * * *
One day, he decided to read the pages that I’d left next to my typewriter. I was a literature major in graduate school, and I had just pounded out some pages about “The Waste Land” for a summer T. S. Eliot seminar. “I don’t understand anything you wrote, but it sounds like you know what you’re taking about,” my dad said with a chuckle.

My dad had a pretty good chuckle, just so you know. Chuckles are difficult to rank because they receive little attention in the universe of laughs, but they are worth a note. My dad’s chuckle was never one that claimed he knew more than the person with whom he was speaking, or more than anyone else, for that matter. It was an honest assessment of how amused he was at the moment, which I realize now was one way that told us his full-bodied laughter was true and truly felt.

I did not appreciate my dad’s chuckle that summer day so long ago, though. “The poetry of T. S. Eliot is more important than a laugh,” I am certain I thought. (I was insufferable, I assure you. My insufferable self, so convinced of his own importance, still is around here somewhere, but does not show up often.) Well, Eliot’s poems have plenty of laughs and chuckles available, as I now know, and I also know now that my dad’s message to me was a sort of baffled pride in a son so different from and yet so similar to him.

As I have grown older, I have come to appreciate Eliot’s volume Four Quartets and its deeply considered meditations on time, man’s role in the cosmos, eternity, and the permanent immanence of eternity in any possible moment, never at any individual’s bidding. With my father’s death from COVID-19 on Sunday, May 10, those themes become that much more important to me, and since he chuckled at my Eliot paper (“your report” he called it), perhaps a start with Eliot (“East Coker” opens with “In my beginning is my end”) today would have earned a chuckle from him.
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My Mother’s Day

My mother taught me to read when I was so young that I do not have a active memory of it. My memory device (I think it is referred to in medical texts as a “brain”) started to record life when I was two-and-a-half, and in my recollections of moments spent with my mom and with books, I am an active participant in the task at hand: our endless laughter at the very idea of eating green eggs and ham (the “and ham” was my favorite part), our (re-)discovery of the Cat in the Hat’s many hijinks.

Mother’s Day, the annual holiday, is one whose date I annually forget. It is perhaps because it is celebrated on different dates in different nations and I have online friends in some of those different nations that “Happy Mother’s Day” Facebook posts make a weekly appearance in the spring. I think that I have sent my own (American) mom a Happy Mother’s Day note twice in one year thanks to this phenomenon.

Today is not Mother’s Day; it is my mom’s birthday, my own Mother’s Day.
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A Two-Ton Hand-Me-Down

We are talking now of events in the fall of 1973, when the blue Buick came into our lives and the OPEC oil crisis started to unfold; the price of a gallon of gas went up by half in just a few months that year, from about 40 cents a gallon to just under 60 cents. Getting a second car was no one’s idea of practical, so I do not think it was in my father’s plans or dreams, either.

A 1955 Roadmaster in 1973 was not yet a collectible classic and it was also too old to be of much use as a second car for a young family with one driver. (Did it even have seatbelts?) Thus a 1955 blue Buick Roadmaster in 1973 sat smack in the middle of useless. Even though the car was 18 years old, it had not been driven much; for some reason I remember hearing the sentence, “It has its original tires.” This was probably not a selling point.

My great-uncle, my grandfather’s older brother, had died. If there is a statute of limitations on offering condolences, this meets the requirements: He was an elderly man, he died over 40 years ago, and I never met him. I have seen precisely one photo of him, and that viewing happened almost 30 years ago, too. In my memory, he is standing in a doorway in the photo and he looked like Myron Cohen. (For anyone who is even one day younger than me and not a fan of old Borscht Belt comics, this reference is perhaps a bit obscure.)

He left his personal sedan to his brother, my grandfather, who did not want the vehicle. To the best of my memory, my great-uncle lived in Manhattan and retrieving it was going to be enough of a chore, I mean, reward enough. My grandfather enlisted my dad, his son-in-law, to pick up the car and they brought it up to upstate New York and our home, where it became our first-ever second car. In the long history of uncomfortable and long car rides, I am given to understand that this may have been a top-ranked long, silent drive. (My father can be talkative only after he warms up to you, and my grandfather was not a communicator, either.)


To the best of my recollection and some reasearch, this is the Buick. A 1955 Roadmaster. (

The car sat in our driveway, a one-car-wide driveway, a blue mystery to my five-year-old eyes. Life had presented me with one more strange equation: “Someone that you have never heard of but is somehow related to you dies = new car.” No sadness, new car. Except the car was not new, it was old, even in my limited car knowledge. The backseat was not a seat, it was a bench, the same color as the outside of the car, and it was awkwardly, overly cushioned. Thus it was as welcoming and yet impossible to sit on as any plastic-covered furniture I had encountered in the living rooms of “old people.” I could kick out my legs without touching the back of the front seat, which was also a bench and not two seats. I do not have a photo of the vehicle that I came to loathe, but research and my memory has presented me with this photo of a 1955 Buick Roadmaster, a four-door, which is what I remember, in the car’s exact shade of blue. The exact shade of blue.

My father neither put the car on blocks nor sold it, at least not immediately. To be fair to him, even if he had tried to sell the car in that time period it probably had no takers, given that it was not yet a classic and never was fuel efficient. It was a two-ton tank. Thus, even in the gas rationing era of 1973-’74, we had a second car and it had to be started up and driven every so often. The destination was usually my elementary school two uphill blocks away, a ride that only took the blue Buick 20 minutes to make. These were the longest 20 minutes of my life every morning, especially in winter, because that car did not have a heater, or its heater was what people in 1955 expected, or it did not have a heater. I would walk from the back seat/bench to the front and ask when the heat was going to kick on. My father would reply with chattering teeth and I would walk back. At least the walk kept me warm.

The one thing I clearly remember about that evil car is crying from the cold. There is, as you know, outdoors cold, which can be tolerated because you know that you are outdoors, and indoors cold, which is always colder than anything you can tolerate because you simply expect it to be warmer inside a building or a vehicle. That Buick was always colder than the outdoors. Life had presented me with another new equation: It was a dead car given to us by a dead man who had cursed our family.

It disappeared one day. I think my father sold it or put a brick on its gas pedal and jumped out as it drove into the Hudson River. Its whereabouts today are unknown and perhaps unknowable. But I knew one thing, well, I knew two things about the blue Buick: it was frigid in all seasons and conditions, and if something like the blue Buick is what you get when you inherit something, this car was one more reason I wanted everyone around to me live forever.

The WordPress Daily Prompt for September 10 asks, “Clothes and toys, recipes and jokes, advice and prejudice: we all have to handle all sorts of hand-me-downs every day. Tell us about some of the meaningful hand-me-downs in your life.”