On Black Friday of 2019, Rose Marie lost her Mom, Mary Jo Hurst. Though long before we started using words like pandemic and unprecedented, it could be considered the true beginning of pandemic for Rose and her family. Still, there were happy occasions through winter, like a surprise celebration for her husband Lance’s 50th birthday. Everyone came, he was completely surprised, and they made a big, happy family memory at Main Event. In the photo below, from left to right, are Rose and Lance’s grandchildren: Nixon, Leia, Cash, Isabella, and Presleigh.
Certainly it was March 24, 2020, the day they settled her Mom’s estate, that everything felt different. That day is when she first felt the severity of the situation. Real estate agents wore masks. Each party sat in their respective vehicles, waiting for their moment to sign paperwork separately. Her moment of closure was reduced to a swift and impersonal series of tasks.
Rose had begun stocking up on shelf stable provisions before the grocery stores were overrun. She doesn’t remember buying any food that was too extraordinary but does admit that she and Lance just enjoyed a little more of all the foods they love, and she smiled that now maybe there is a little more of her to love, ha. She had no need to hunt for paper goods, thanks to an online service she uses called Who Gives a Crap, a philanthropic mail order company that delivers recycled paper goods to your doorstep, without plastic packaging. It’s an environmentally friendly solution and one that also saved Rose and her family the nuisance of the TP frenzy. We chatted a little about the Doomsday Preppers show and, like I am hearing from so many people, she said, “Nobody’s making fun of them now!”
Lance’s law enforcement job kept him on a mostly uninterrupted schedule, and their grandgirls as she affectionately calls them live in the Tulsa area and coped with fluctuating school plans all year. I know her well enough to say with certainty that Rose’s heart was with them all, and with her adult children, every single day.
Her own job is at our beloved OKC Zoo, where she rises to any challenge they offer. More often than not, she works in client relations and in fact ended the year as Guest Services Supervisor, though she jokes that many days she feels lucky to be a guest services survivor, ha. “Now everything trickles downhill to me,” she laughed. We talked about how her job kept her from ever feeling too isolated, even if the masks sometimes did lend a sense of separation. She gently celebrated having found her “inner introvert,” as being at home was not hard for her. She loved reading more books and listening to more podcasts and audio books. She loved cooking more and shopping online a little. She thrived with a slower pace, outside of her job. “Solitude can be a nice thing,” she said sweetly. Looking forward, she intends to “purposefully appreciate the homebody life.” (Amen.)
Being with the public almost every day, all through the pandemic, my friend said this year has been a study in human behavior. She has a lot to say about how the masses handled things. About what it was like working in a hospitality role at such a bizarre time. She witnessed lots of belligerence and politicizing about masks, anger over closed exhibit buildings and limited entrances, and more. She dealt with hot tempers when people showed up to the zoo on a crowded day or botched their own online reservations. She told me one story when she was able to diffuse a situation: The guest had honestly made a reservation for the wrong day and was nerveshot, asking for help, and Rose said, “It’s ok, nobody knows what day it is anymore!” The trick, she told me, is meeting people where they are.
Gradually, many people did become more cooperative. The school break helped for a while, as did nice weather. Now, as spring takes hold and infection rates are finally relaxing, Rose anticipates more crowds. Hopefully they will be kind and gracious to the zoo staff and to each other. It’s the lack of self regulation that sparks conflict. “There could be a rash of PTSD for folks who manned call centers this year,” she quipped.
Truly, everyone has been feeling Pandemic Weariness. She knows it. She feels it, too.
Regarding people who complained about the temporary shelter in place orders or closed restaurants, Rose was disappointed. It all smacked of shocking entitlement to her, and she said with some exasperation, “Just stay home!” She wondered aloud whether we, collectively, would have survived the hardships of the World War II era. “We should be ashamed,” she said sadly, and doubted whether we are learning any lessons.
Admittedly, the year’s historic social unrest and political divide may have revealed gaps in her knowledge, but Rose has a sensitive, fertile spirit and was eager to learn. She had no trouble zeroing in on hate speech and the lack of human decency. She had no trouble siding with the oppressed, the systematically victimized, and anyone without a voice. Her idealism is not meant to have a Pollyanna view of the world, though. She does “hope we can have gratitude for our privilege” but does not expect everything to change overnight or to be perfect.
When the outside world is saturated with this kind of negative energy, healthy people find ways to balance their own energy. This past year has been revolutionary in some ways, she said, and clinging to positive messages has been key for her. Choosing thought leaders, as she called it. I asked my friend how she chooses the thought leaders worth following. Her criteria are simple and beautiful: They must reinforce the positive, inspire her, and care for the Lesser. She likes Brene Brown, Glennon Doyle and her partner Abby Womback, Jen Hatmaker, Reverend Ed Bacon, and of course Sara Cunningham, the Free Mom Hugs lady.
When Rose mentioned that Jamie Lee Curtis had obtained rights to the Free Mom Hugs movie project, I almost cried. What Rose doesn’t know is that to me, she has always been the Free Mom Hugs woman. For so many reasons, Rose just oozes unconditional acceptance and deep comfort. Even my husband feels it in her presence.
Rose Marie coped with the mounting social tension and Oklahoma’s ever spiking infection rates in a few creative ways. She baked a lot, especially zucchini bread and sweet treats for coworkers. She read voraciously, recommending to me I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown, President Obama’s new book The Promised Land, and Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad. She also feasted her spirit on “comfort media,” nothing too serious, romantic comedies like Emily in Paris. Rose also researched a few self sufficiency projects that, thankfully, never became necessary. A few emergency house repairs plus normal life stressors, unrelated to the virus and all its fallout, consumed any extra time and energy she had.
A really unique idea she had was something she called a “Tipping Binge.” She literally went out into the world, cash in hand, and found excuses to lavish money on unsuspecting people, mostly retail workers. She loved doing this at Crest grocery stores (in fact I think she stopped at the MWC location on her way to the farm for our interview), because their employees are allowed to accept tips, unlike Wal-Mart, and she could gift both the cashier and the bagger. She tipped at fast food restaurants. She tipped drivers and delivery people and all kinds of strangers. Rose said this idea sprang from observing how much desperate, manic behavior was taking over out in public. She hated to see people trying to do their jobs and getting mistreated. She also felt grateful that her family was able to maintain their lifestyle in the midst of everything, so sharing their abundance only made sense. She and her husband also made extra charitable donations this past year. “You have to be grateful for what you have.”
Rose sat still and wore her mask calmly the entire time we spoke. And she retained full composure of her beautiful self. But the more we discussed our social climate, the more I could feel her peace twisting up. Slowly, a little bit of protective film grew around her countenance, like she was guarding me from her truest emotions. She clearly has deep feelings and strong opinions about the state of our world. Maybe pandemic isn’t exactly the root of it all, but rather the phenomenon that has brought it all into focus. “We are both more and less connected than ever,” she observed sadly. I asked her where we go from here. How do we move forward? Her answer was swift, “We start with the children.”
This is where our conversation got really exciting. I asked Rose, if she were offered a chance to build a curriculum or a program for children, a budget and the means and the time and space to do whatever she said, what would that look like? What would she teach them?
- We teach philanthropy, and not just the obligatory giving away of money but also the donation of time and energy and talents. We teach them that giving is part of life.
- We restrict their screen time. We get them outside and out in the world more.
- We teach them very young how to love the planet, eliminating plastics and caring better for animals.
- Can we teach them to see similarities between themselves and other children? Is that how we include antiracism? Somehow, she intends, we conquer systemic racism and hate.
After this brief and sudden brainstorm, Rose was visibly lighter. She sat up taller, and her shoulders fell back again, away from her masked face and wispy bangs. She sipped her drink and shifted comfortably in her chair. I observed aloud that those worries must be a heavy weight to carry. She said, “Yes, sometimes it’s too heavy to carry, but you can’t turn away because that’s how it continues.” On those days, rather than turn away, she attempts to counterbalance the weight by doing something charitable. She believes they can somehow, at least energetically, cancel each other out. And I agree. At least internally, as least as a germ sized beginning, an act of Love is much more powerful than any dark thought.
Before we said goodbye, Rose indulged me with a little restaurant dreaming, since she has not been to a restaurant all year long. She and her siblings really miss Joe’s Famous Pizza in Edmond, especially their taco pizza. With a serendipitous nod to their Mom’s name Mary Jo, that is where the family spent much quality time together in the few months after she passed, to nourish each other while packing up her house. She also misses a really good, slow brunch at Cheever’s with “the most perfect rolls in OKC, followed by chicken and waffles, and Brunch Punch.” Yum!
Thank you, Rose, for showing your passionate heart to me. Thank you for the calm you lend to the public scene and for the many small, meaningful blessings your Tipping Binge has cast out into the community. Keep nurturing yourself and your family in all the good ways you already know, and keep hoping for the best in our world. You certainly make it extra wonderful.