Evanston RoundTable, April 30, 2020
In my lifetime and yours, there has never been anything like it. The longest I can remember staying in previously was when I was a kid down with a cold or flu. Usually these episodes lasted a day or two, maybe three. I’d spend the day in my parents’ big bed reading, while meals and snacks were brought up to me on a tray. That is when I discovered Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. I still have the treasured if much-tattered volumes with the wonderful illustrations by Donald McKay, fiercely guarded on the inside title page by the book plates that read: “Property of Butch Jacobson.”
At 5:30 or so I was allowed to watch the little black and white TV in their bedroom, including Captain Video (“Master of space, hero of science!”) and the Mickey Mouse Club (“Forever let us hold our banner high. High! High! High!”), both of which I was assiduously devoted to. There was one episode of Captain Video I inexplicably missed, however. The Captain and his sidekick were stuck inside a space ship’s vastly long and very large exhaust pipe when suddenly the ship’s engines kicked on, threatening to incinerate them. Uh oh. The next night I must have been off doing something else, and am thus to this day befuddled about how they escaped their doom. (If you know, do tell!)
In other words, my confinements were largely pleasant affairs. And while I never feigned sickness to get out of school, I wasn’t sorry to miss a day or two now and then.
This one is oh-so-different.
And yet, despite all the tragedy—the deaths and illnesses, the ravaged economy, the laid-off workers, the fractured polity—and the shackles of confinement, there have been compensations. My wife and I are learning to bake bread, and even our mistakes are delicious. At night we have taken to watching a movie or series, most enjoyably “Anne With an E” and “Last Tango in Halifax.” We go for walks together, drive together, and read books together.
At the start of The Confinement there were jokes about the marriages that would crumple and dissolve. With us it’s just the opposite: we haven’t had so much fun and spent so much time together since we were first dating, just kids learning to laugh and love together.
And as if that weren’t blessing enough, every evening after dinner my 11-year-old grandson calls on FaceTime and we read from Harry Potter. We started four years ago and read intermittently. Now our pace is steady—a chapter or two a day. We finished book four two weeks ago and are nearly done with book five. Notwithstanding the overheated adjectives and egregious overuse of adverbs (“Why do Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle always snigger and smirk so exaggeratedly?” the reader wonders confusedly and exasperatedly), the books are wonderful. Harry, Ron and Hermione are the most splendid trio since The Three Musketeers or Cream, and the story line, character studies and moral conundrums are most…well…splendid.
Best of all it’s an hour a day we spend discussing magic characters good and bad, the inexplicable behavior of people—wizards and muggles—as well as humor, friendship and the wonderful British English expressions, of which the books are bloody chockablock.
Of course, I’m retired, and therefore relatively unharmed by The Confinement, other than hating the impact this will have on others and the changes that will inevitably ensue.
But not all the changes are bad. Some of them are…well…nice.