Sweet Homecoming

Barbara is overwhelmed when she arrives home and discovers a welcome party. That’s me in the sunglasses with my friend Cindy, on the right.

Every so often, you meet a person who radiates goodness, reminding you of all the positive traits of human beings.

They aren’t perfect, but who is? But being around them is very good for the soul, reinforcing the notion that genuine kindness and good humor are still possible in this very crazy world.

Barbara Paight is one of these people. We first met about 30 years ago at my first job at a small daily newspaper, and reconnected two years ago when we attended the Women’s March on Washington with the Connecticut chapter of the National Organization of Women.

At a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, I warned Barbara that I was alone and would be joining her and her pal Dom for a day in D.C. whether they wanted me or not. Barbara was very gracious, welcoming me with open arms and allowing me to tag along as we explored the city’s monuments and tourist attractions after the march.

What I remember most about that day was laughing and a sense of giddiness about almost everything, including buying colorful beaded bracelets from a monk near the Washington Monument. There wasn’t anything particularly funny about anything we were doing, but the mood was light and uplifting, mainly because of Barbara. Some people are like that, reminding you that the world isn’t such a bad place after all.

I had such a good time on that trip that I wrote a blog about Barbara entitled, “Long Live Lunch Ladies.” https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/thegsandwich.wordpress.com/18012 It was one of my most well-read blogs, mainly because of Barbara’s wide circle of friends.

We promised to stay in touch and actually did, reconnecting for a night of bowling last winter. And then the pandemic struck and Barbara got the news that she had breast cancer, forcing her to make weekly visits to the hospital, the last place anybody wanted to be.

Before her diagnosis and the pandemic, Barbara worked as a cafeteria worker at a school in her hometown. You know someone has superhuman skills when they actually enjoy being around a rowdy group of kids at lunch every day. It takes a special brand of tolerance and compassion to do that work, but Barbara loves her job.

She even took her lunch lady roll onto the road during our trip to Washington, bringing along mozzarella sticks and fruits and veggies for hungry marches in a portable cooler cross-strapped to her body. She taught me the trick to opening up a mozzarella stick correctly, something I could have used when my kids were little.

Barbara set up a Facebook page called “On Mondays I Wear Pink” to allow her friends to track her progress and offer words of encouragement and support during chemotherapy. But I couldn’t help think of Barbara and how difficult it must be to cope with breast cancer during the pandemic. At a time when everyone was being told to avoid hospitals, she had no choice but to venture out and risk contracting Covid-19. On top of that, she couldn’t see any family or friends during her five-month treatment.

Though Barbara knew she had an army of supporters pulling for her, her family and friends wanted to show her how much she’s loved. So on her last day of chemotherapy, they organized a very socially distant welcome home party, covering her house in pink streamers and balloons and lining her street with cheering family and friends. Double bonus: even her husband Joe, who’s been at her side throughout her treatment, didn’t know about the welcome parade.

Barbara emerged from her car looking overwhelmed, thanking everyone for coming out and promising to get better quickly so she can go bowling again and have a sip of tequila with friends. But mostly, she looked happy to finally see people after months of treatment and quarantine.

We were always with her in spirit, but I think the turnout showed Barbara how much people love and care about her. And let’s face it, when you’re sick, sometimes that’s what you need most.

Old Yeller

Some people nickname cars, so why not generators? Meet Old Yeller, definitely on its last legs.

Thirty-six hours after arriving on Martha’s Vineyard in August, 1991, we took a direct hit from Hurricane Bob.

Packing 90 mph winds, it ravaged the island, zapping power for eight days. The storm arrived on a Monday and four friends were due to arrive on Thursday. We told them to come, convinced we’d have power. We didn’t.

The power didn’t return by Thursday, but our friends arrived as scheduled. We were thrown unwittingly into survival mode, forced to make do with what we had. We bathed in the Atlantic Ocean, brewed coffee in the fireplace and went outside when nature called.

This was in the days before I-Phones and computerized grids that allow you to track power companies’ progress – or lack thereof – in your neighborhood. At one point after the hurricane, I was so desperate that I took a paper bag and scrawled “NO POWER” with an arrow pointing down the street and nailed it to a telephone pole, just in case they didn’t know we were still out.

I’m not sure the bag worked, but about a day later we finally got power back. Yippee!

Hostessing without power isn’t easy, but it’s possible. One day, we caught blue crabs at the beach. Using my Grandma Rose’s recipe, I sauteed our catch in olive oil and onions until they turned the sweetest shade of pink, tossed in crushed tomatoes and simmered it over a charcoal fire. I boiled a pot of linguine and voila: dinner was served. We ate over candlelight, told funny stories and drank lots of wine and beer. After dinner,  I took the pots and dishes outside and washed them with rain gushing from the gutters.

 I was a little more adventurous and carefree in those days. Today, I demand that my son pull our canary yellow Champion generator out of the garage and fire it up the second the lights go out. Though I realize this is a “first world problem,” power outages set me off and make me cranky, particularly when it’s 90 degrees outside.

I knew this last one would be a doozy when my son and I drove around looking for gas after the winds stopped and it took two hours to find an open gas station. We ultimately coasted into an Interstate 95 service station on fumes, following our roundabout route through three towns back home for fear of being blocked by falling trees and wires.

My son had high hopes for a quick return of power, but I’m a veteran and predicted we’d be out for about a week. (Thankfully, it was only five days.) I think it was the number of fallen trees and wires dangling like spaghetti. Truth be told, I’ve never driven under so many toppled trees and wires in my life, but after a few days it became routine. I guess this is what they mean when they talk about Yankee ingenuity (or is it stupidity?)

I was chastened when I attempted to drive down a street on Sunday and one of the huge trees that we’d all been driving under had fallen and was blocking the road. I’m just glad no one was under it when it fell.

On the plus side, I’m happy to say I can still host house guests during an outage. Steve’s sister and brother-in-law stayed with us sans power en route to a family wedding. Though we tried our best to dissuade them, they weren’t deterred by our limited resources and amenities, including no lights in the bathrooms or guest bedroom.

Happily, our generator provided enough power to fuel our well, and fire up the Keurig for morning brew. But it wouldn’t last. Steve snapped the generator’s pull cord Saturday morning, leaving us without the prospect of power. 

So we did what anyone else would do: drove to Home Depot and bought a new generator. We hauled it home about an hour before the power came on late Saturday afternoon.

But that’s OK. If I’ve learned one thing after all these years, it’s always have a back-up plan. And if anyone needs to borrow a generator, well, you know where to find me.