By Gloria Sirrine Switzer
I chuckled out loud recently, when I read the suggestion to make a calendar of your daily activities as a coping strategy during this “shelter in place” time in our lives. A family monthly activity calendar, FMAC, was essential in our past life, when our 3 kids were living at home and involved in sports and extracurricular activities. This FMAC was posted in an obvious, regular meeting place, the refrigerator. It was helpful, kind of, in keeping everyone aware of who was doing what, when, and where. AND it kind of helped the kiddos and hubby be organized. It also kind of lessened questions directed to me like; “What are we doing tomorrow” or “Do we have to go?” Kind of.
Our “nest” has been empty for 18 years now…”Wow, has it been THAT long?” a voice in my head said as I wrote those words. The voice continued, “And you have been retired for 14 years and your Wonder (the pet name for my spouse) has been retired for 18 years!” COWABUNGA! Are we THAT old already? “Yup, the big 75 this year for both of you!” the voice in my head reminded me. But I digress; back to the FMAC.
Fast forward to present day. With only the two of us, the former FMAC was just not big enough! Let me explain. I have always been the busy extroverted one (my dad nicknamed me Go Go). My Wonder has always been the strong silent type who enjoys his time at home. Together this arrangement of married bliss has lasted 52 years as of March 9th, 2020. For me, retirement allowed me the freedom to “get involved” whether it be volunteering in community activities, attending workshops, or taking classes about people from other cultures and religions; things that fed my passion for learning about peace, justice and ethnicity. I like learning new things, being with people of all ages and doing fun things, like clowning around, exercising, being outside and reading; love my Book Club! Interacting with our grandsons is fun and special too; we have 5, ages 2-19.
For Wonder, retirement allowed him time to perfect his golf swing, to raise and show beautiful dahlias (they take a lot of work and time!), to create beautiful and useful furniture in his woodshop, to enjoy his daily Sudoku and play Hearts on his computer, to watch college sports and to just be at home; unless of course, we visit the grandsons or we decide to take a trip away from Fremont. In the “old days” he was a runner, but wear and tear on his knees has kept that to a minimum although he still works out at the gym. We pretty much have enjoyed our own timetables and lifestyles the last 18 years and though these individual interests have often led to different schedules, it has worked for us with very little conflict.
Now remember, my priorities do not include golf, dahlias (except for giving them away) or woodworking. And Wonder, does not particularly enjoy lectures, peace marches, or the books that I suggest he read. Thank goodness we both like the grandkids, nature and traveling!
So here is the glue that kept our lifestyles organized and running smoothly the past 18 years; the giant sized FMAC that now rests on the desk where it is handy for each of us to write our game plan in the little squares for the day, week, or months ahead. And all we have to do is check the calendar before asking one another, “What are your plans today?” or “Where are we going on this weekend?” or “When are you playing golf?” Tip: we use our first and middle initials to designate who is doing what, GL or GA, because GS would be a little confusing. Another fact for keeping this lifestyle going is the fact that Wonder is patient, tolerant, kind and very easy going.
Sometimes one of us slips up and finds it easier to ask the other what’s up for the week instead of getting out of our rocking chairs to check the FMAC. Like 3 weeks ago on March 8th, when I thought it best to prevent any confusion or stress about the upcoming week’s activities. Did I mention our 52nd wedding anniversary was March 9th? It was going to be a particular busy week for both of us and I wanted to be sure we were on the “same page.” That week started off as scheduled with Church on Sunday followed by a movie in GR celebrating International Women’s Day with 13 friends and family members. Monday morning followed smoothly for me, an early riser, with a water aerobics class, coffee with friends, and a reflexology appointment at 11:30. Wonder, a night owl, started his day mid morning catching up with the news on his computer, doing his daily Sudoku and cooking a late morning breakfast. He then transferred sacks of dahlia tubers from cold storage into the house to wake them up and then headed outside to cut brush. At 3:30 pm that afternoon, we drove to Allendale to attend the Interfaith Leadership Lecture, “Islamophobia Impacts Everyone” presented at the Kirkhof Center on the GVSU campus; a free event for students and community. The speaker was Petra Alsoofy, a young woman alumni and a practicing Muslim. The week earlier, when I suggested this event, Gary said he might be interested in going, so I reminded him of that when I got home around 1 PM and he was chainsawing a huge pile of branches. I also reminded him we would have a chance to see our 2 older grandchildren, our daughter and son-in-law, who live in Allendale. It also gave us a chance to celebrate our anniversary dinner with them after the lecture! He bought it with that little suggestion. Did I tell you that Wonder is very patient, accommodating and open to new experiences, especially if they include food?
I just happened to take along our wedding pictures and Wedding Day Memory book in case the grandsons hadn’t seen it. This photo sharing session after dessert, provided an opportunity for Wonder to be patient and tolerant as I explained all the details to our grandsons, whom I’m sure had never heard the whole story as to why March 9, 1968 was our wedding day.
That story is kind of like the COVID-19 story, only it wasn’t a virus we were dealing with then, but another world problem; the war in Viet Nam. In 1967, Gary, who wasn’t yet Wonder, was a junior at MSU and I was a junior at WMU. He dropped out the winter semester to work and clarify his career plans. We were engaged to be married in June of 1968, after I graduated from college. Suddenly a serious reality hit; kind of like the Coronavirus; he was drafted into the military. But, it wasn’t going to be so bad, as he was stationed in Berlin, Germany and after graduation and our wedding, I would move to Germany to teach and be with him while he finished his 2 year Army stint. Like the COVID-19, even though we heard the death toll on Walter Cronkite’s nightly news, we didn’t believe it could affect us. But like COVID-19, the world began to change and we were suddenly affected when Gary was to be transferred from Germany to VietNam with a MOS of 11 BRAVO (read Infantry soldier). He called me from Germany in February of 1968 to say “Cancel the June wedding, I’m heading to VietNam. I’ll see you in March when I’m home on leave.” Just the facts, short and simple!
OH NO! What to do? Our plans cancelled, our life together in question, feeling out of control, fearful, worried, and uncertain about our future; very similar to the present day feelings we were experiencing these last 3 weeks as the news of the Coronavirus spread and appointments, plans and events were cancelled, schools and businesses were closed and we were advised to shelter in place. Our FMAC started having Xs drawn over the calendar spaces as more things were cancelled. It felt terrible and foreboding, crossing off our plans.
Like we see families and communities supporting one another today during this pandemic, our family and friends, gathered around us 52 years ago and helped plan a fast wedding. It was my parents who were separated during WWII as a young married couple with one child, who suggested we get married when Gary was home on leave. The planning for a wedding that was supposed to take place in 3 months happened quickly over a matter of days. We borrowed wedding attire, found a priest who would marry us during Lent ( a no- no back then), sent handwritten invitations, had friends who prepared reception food and made the wedding cake, and found a township hall that would open its doors if we cleaned it out. But, the best thing was that there were no quarentines during war time, so we had a big reception with my musician father’s 5 piece dance band providing the music! We drove across the Mackinac Bridge and back for our honeymoon staying in Petoskey 1 night. Then with all of our wedding presents, we moved into a downstairs apartment in Kalamazoo that happened to be vacant for the month of March.
I returned to my student teaching assignment during the day while Gary enjoyed the quiet of our first home. He had meals ready at dinner time, the first of many kind deeds, that eventually led to my pet name for him. For 3 weeks we “played house” and sheltered in place but for much different reasons than today’s pandemic.
And then, just like that, the honeymoon was over and he left for VietNam, the worst day in my life, or so I thought at the time. I moved back in with my college roommates and finished my student teaching, hoping and praying that he would survive and be able to meet me in Hawaii for his R&R in October and also return in March of 1969 so we could continue to live our lives together. I created a calendar for him with pictures and sent it to him in Qui Nhon so he could count down the days to his homecoming. He survived. I survived. We survived. And now, here we are, 52 years later to the day, March 31st, when he left for VN, preparing for the next month or more, of living in a worldwide pandemic. What a coincidence to be writing this reflection on this day.
Today, Go Go and Wonder, in the vulnerable age group for COVID-19, have experienced the novelty of a new kind of togetherness for the last 3 weeks, similar, yet different to the weeks we spent together in 1968. As we flip the calendar to April and face a new month or more of living and hopefully surviving during this worldwide pandemic, we are reminded that once again, the honeymoon is over. This is real. Our lives as we know it, have forever changed. Recognizing with much gratitude the gift of life we have together at this time, we will move forward day by day, sending loving kindness to all those who read this reflection and all those suffering in our world. I’m still reading and listening to TED Talks and Wonder is potting his dahlia tubers in preparation for beautiful flowers this summer. He still likes to be at home and I still like to be on the go, but for now, we are walking daily, side by side, on the beautiful trails in Newaygo County, sharing more breakfasts together (that he cooks) and trying to stay in the now, one day at a time. We have paused the need for the Family Monthly Activity Calendar. In the meantime, we are adhering to the recommendations of the professionals fighting Covid-19.
Wash your hands, shelter in place and tell those you love, that you love them. And remember, the dawn always follows the darkness.
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