This pandemic interview is with my youngest brother and our parents. Please give a warm welcome to three of the most beloved people in my life!
The novel corona virus was still a distant concern for Oklahoma in late 2019, as Joe and Alison Dunaway announced to their five adult children a hope to sell their house and downsize. It is a lovely, sturdy, memory-filled, brick two-story on 41st street in northwest Oklahoma City, so why would they leave it?
I’m not saying that’s what started the pandemic. Just floating theories here.
Still, facts is facts: In early March that next spring much of the family, including some grand children, gathered to help with garage demolition, one of the many improvements they wanted to make before listing the property. We had a big family cookout and laughed and played tug o war and even let Dad win at that. Nobody cried openly about abandoning our childhood home. We were on our best behavior, is what I’m saying. But they still wanted to sell.
Within a week, the shut downs happened. And one year later, they still live there, soooo… (author shrugs knowingly)
“It’s not a punishment, it’s a consequence.” ~My mom, about literally everything that felt very much like a punishment when I was little.
Now for their actual pandemic story, and my little brother’s too. They all three visited the farm on the evening of my birthday a few weeks ago and indulged my curiosity. We were eating dinner as I took notes, and it was fun and enlightening. I had no idea my family members were such fully formed human beings:
John Philip Dunaway, supposedly 35 years old, is Joe and Alison’s youngest child and an avid sports fan. Kobe Bryant’s tragic death on January 26, 2020, became a landmark in Phil’s mind, kind of a timeline milestone to which all other headlines became relative. He doesn’t remember worrying about the novel corona virus before that, but he does remember noticing when news of the health scare began to eclipse Bryant’s passing. It felt “surreal” he said. He also remembers the evacuation of the OKC Thunder basketball game on March 12, 2020.
Dad’s attention was grabbed with a twist of skepticism at first. He remembers thinking of the local government, “What do they know that we don’t?”
Mom works for an accounting firm who services mostly trucking companies, so this year of record setting shipping has kept them busy right from the beginning. She has seen in brand new ways, through the invoicing side of operations, how integral truckers are to the smooth functioning of our society.
Her employer acted swiftly that first half of March, 2020, to get everyone working from home. Mom told is about the day they announced it. She used a rolling office chair to cart her own equipment and office supplies to her car then, once home, set it up on her own. The instructions she was given could be summed up as, “Wherever it plugs in, that’s where it works,” and it did. Mom continued working from their living room all year, with the exception of about a week in October when Oklahoma was hit with that historic ice storm and electricity was out for several days. That week, she returned carefully to the office.
She definitely misses her coworkers but has adjusted beautifully over the months. She also appreciates how hard her managers have worked to keep everyone connected, engaged, and motivated. They have hosted online talent shows and parking lot carnivals; they surprise employees with cakes at their door steps; and they just seem to provide the kind of daily support and attention that keeps everyone working well. Mom foresees this remote working situation continuing indefinitely, even after masks are no longer required. She likes not having to spend so much time driving, and she loves having her lunch breaks free for taking neighborhood walks with Muddles and Kate Toto (their four legged daughters).
Philip’s job at the Oklahoma Tax Commission kept him moving all year. Sometimes working from home, sometimes alternating shifts in their building near the Capitol complex to help manage DAV paperwork and mail, also working in a new facility downtown, the one with a great view but questionable elevators. The months have been varied, and he has adapted great. Also, he never got sick despite several coworkers who did. We are so thankful.
Dad’s daily work changed the least. He is a property manager responsible for office buildings all over the city. He wore masks all year long and still does, and though he was inevitably exposed to positive cases he never contracted the virus himself (for which we are so thankful). Most months, building occupancy has been much lighter than usual, of course, thanks to so many people working from home.
I can attest to our parents’ determination to keep the family both healthy and safe as well as connected all year. We have had Zooms calls, sometimes weekly. Our local group has enjoyed a few tentative, distanced gatherings outdoors. And Mom and Dad have redeemed their grandparent privileges by helping chauffeur Angela’s teen aged girls to and from school when needed. Like students everywhere, Chloe and Kenzie have juggled an ever changing schedule, and with their sweet Mom working full time, keeping that world smooth was a beautiful team effort.
Philip is easily our most app-savvy sibling. Early in shut downs when grocery shopping was cumbersome and restaurants were closed, he took the plunge and started using “Shipt” to keep his apartment well stocked. Everything he needed could be delivered to his door.
Mom and Dad ate in mostly familiar ways throughout pandemic. Mom is diabetic, so she missed out on much of the baking the rest of the world was using to soother their nerves. “It was hard” not having sweets, she said, “But it always is,” Dad added.
Dad stepped in to do much of the grocery shopping since he was already out and about every day, but Mom did share this somewhat disturbing and truly memorable tidbit: At a particularly low point when infection rates and just everything in current events felt especially serious, she went to the store and bought onions and a package of chicken livers to cook for Dad (he is famous for craving liver and onions but rarely eating them because, eww).
Brace yourselves: She wanted Dad to have his favorite meal once more, just in case they died.
I kid you not. She sat across from me at our dining room table and told that story nonchalantly between bites of jasmine rice with feta and Greek chicken.
Dad, seated at her right elbow, turned to her and objected, “What livers? I didn’t get any livers.”
“Well we never died.” And they resumed their meal straight faced.
I cannot make this stuff up.
Speaking of diabetes, Mom was able to use Telehealth consultations to stay in touch with her doctor. She was tested a few times for the virus but never contracted it.
These conversations we have had about this past year have afforded me such a wonderful view of my parents as human beings. Dad surprises me with his optimism and inclusive world view. Mom’s compassion does not surprise me one bit, but it does serve to remind me of her soft, sensitive heart. As for my baby brother, pandemic has caused me to see him as more of an adult than ever before. Yes, I know he is 35. But I was in 6th grade when he was born, so he is often a baby to me. A tall, lanky baby who has worked at the same government job for 13 years and always brings frozen desserts and his own drinks to family parties.
I wanted to know how they felt in relation to other people. Did they feel in harmony about how to navigate safety protocols, for example? Dad thought for a moment then said gently, like the concept surprised him, “Sure, I don’t remember conflict, but I also didn’t avoid people for differences.”
Mom acknowledged some laxness among certain small groups, maybe less attention to hand washing and sanitizer from time to time, which prompted an interesting story from Dad: Recently, since the winter holidays, the offices he manages are using noticeably less hand sanitizer. We all theorized on whether it is because people are now bringing their own or because they have become less diligent over time. It’s interesting. We reached no conclusions.
Phil felt at ease with people in general, though he did express frustration over our governor having never ordered a statewide mask mandate. Phil shared my appreciation for how Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt handled this exceptional year.
Dad read more books this year than usual but doesn’t remember everything he read. Or at least, few titles stand out. He paused a moment to glare at me over the rim of his glasses, insisted dramatically that he was not invited to the siblings book club even though it is a cold hard fact that he WAS.
Where the Crawdads Sings stands out as a great family reading project. We devoured it en masse then had an outstanding Zoom discussion about it. I so thoroughly loved hearing what my sisters and Mom and Dad thought of the story, the characters, the inbuilt mysteries, and the surprises at the end, all of it. Those of us who love reading got that from our parents the same way we inherited an embarrassing love for good Tex Mex. My fingers are crossed that once the Crawdads movie releases, we can all see it on the same weekend.
The group has been trying to also read Boom Town, but so far we are as unimpressed by the author’s snarkiness as we are entertained by our state’s and city’s history. None of us has finished it yet. Like a quiet rebellion.
Phil misses the frequent Knights of Columbus events, especially football parties and the annual bowling tournament. Dad, whose voluntary role with the K of C has always kept him pretty busy, admits that “having fewer meetings to attend was somewhat relaxing,” though he does miss the people. They tried Zoom a little bit, but it fell somewhat flat.
Mom struggled with such fewer family gatherings this year but said with lots of affection that we have done a good job at creatively seeing each other and not getting sick. So true! Since shut downs last March, we have had a handful of sidewalk and patio visits, one memorable outdoor Thanksgiving, and enough masked car rides to end the year feeling very thankful that no one spread the virus to each other.
True to form, Mom spent a great deal of energy this year talking more to her loved ones, especially her sister Marion and their first cousin, Maureen. This past year has brought innumerable health challenges that compounded some already scary chronic health problems, and the ongoing isolation has been damaging to everyone’s state of mind. Long phone calls and careful but crucial home visits have been literally life saving. For this, Mom will always have my admiration.
Dad shared a depth of optimism that really humbled me. He said it was, “amazing that so many people did cooperate” with the plea to wear masks and socially distance, despite the absence of a statewide mandate. “I have never seen that in my life,” he remarked and, with some of his own humility, added, “My life was less changed than others’.”
Of course he quickly punctured the reverent mood by claiming it was all about his own “abundance of patience.” Ha!
What gifts did pandemic bring my family?
Phil very much liked the stimulus checks, and he earned a significant raise at the Tax Commission this year too. One could say that his pandemic gifts have been abundance and added security.
Mom feels so lucky that no one of our family lost jobs or lives this year. She was visibly moved saying so, fully aware of how close we all could have been to tragedy. They lost many friends to covid-19. “So blessed!” She searched for wood to rap with her knuckles. She also learned how to settle at home more and is determined to “use this year’s experience, not waste time.” Going forward, as the world reopens, she intends to be more selective and deliberate about how she lives her life.
Dad shared that pandemic sharpened his awareness of the interrelationships that exist in the world, between everything. Society, families, everything. It is all connected. Did it change his view of essential workers? “Nope. Maybe I just see degrees of essential. I always saw them as essential, everyone is in a continuum. It’s a cohesive, holistic society.” He made great big, round shapes in the air with his arms as he said this. I thought for sure we were on the verge of another rant about the myth of overpopulation. Instead, he continued making his point, “There are so many interdependent tasks, who is not essential?” At that I choked back some actual tears.
He also reflected that he had taken for granted the ability to see people, and that this experience “makes it more precious. You realize you need it.” (Ok Dad you can join our book club jeez.)
How fun to hear about the television they watched like Cobra Kai and to be zero percent surprised that Mom is sick of television after a year indoors. Philip is such a movie buff, and as for television he remembers gobbling up the original Twilight Zone series as well as Hercules.
I could go on for hours about my family and bet you could about yours, too. Suggestion: If you want to start a great conversation with your parents, ask them their opinions of why liquor stores never closed during pandemic.