Scout Finch gives us a glimpse into her hometown of Maycomb, Alabama, in the opening pages of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” She describes the heat and malaise of the 1930s South, where men’s stiff collars wilt before nine in the morning and ladies take baths before noon.
Harper Lee wrote these words, and gave them to Scout to say — that a day was 24 hours long but seemed longer, and there was no hurry, nowhere to go and nothing to buy and nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.
She was describing rural Alabama in the early days of the Great Depression, but the sentiment reminds me of what we have just been through, are still going through, even as we move to open up, bit by bit. I have thought of this passage often in the past few weeks.
I sit at the keyboard and search for something to write about, some small adventure, an interesting article to share, or just a little chat among friends. I have had nowhere to go, nothing to buy, less to do and little escape from the Daviess County line.
Even though things are opening up more, I find I still postpone trips to the grocery, choosing instead to eat the heels from the loaf of bread, thawing containers of soup put back for snow days — containers that in other years would have been tossed after a respectable amount of time. My meals, when I deign to make them, are haphazard and make no sense, as if I opened cans blind, grabbed the first three ingredients in the fridge, and that is just about what I do.
I venture out some, but rarely, and when I go, I consolidate my trips to minimize time away and exposure … to you all, I guess. When everything was closed other than a handful of essential stores, I wore a mask religiously. Had one in my purse. Had one looped around my gearshift. Had one hanging off an ear. But as soon as we were open for business, all that went out the window, as if the pandemic never happened. I forgot all about masks.
On every single trip out, I have had to jog across the parking lot and back to the car to dig out a mask from the glove compartment. It isn’t until I see someone else in one that I remember the protocol. It surprises me every time.
A pal and I were hanging out, socially distanced more or less, and the idea of a road trip arose. Maybe somewhere out West, where the infection rate is small and there are wide skies and fresh air and big spaces to stay away from people. Maybe we would drive and take a cooler for supples, picnic along the way.
Maybe we will chat with a friend who has just done such a trip, an impromptu plan of her sister’s, who got the other siblings together to meet up and explore the Dakotas. Maybe, if we are careful, and stay in hotels whose safety plans we can peruse and approve, maybe that would work.
We have ordered travel books from Amazon, but our destinations are not the kind to engender tons of books on the subject. But the library is open now, and I’m heading there soon. I never mastered the online services. Just as I was going to sign up, the system went down, and I lost my motivation.
But I am a Sunday afternoon browser, anyway, and much prefer to get lost among the stacks, loading my arms with books I never knew existed. Ordering online and curbside pickup, for me, can’t compare.
But even as I dream about a little road trip, I am still nagged by the uncertainty of “what-ifs.” I would not have said I am a fearful person, and I still don’t think I am. Yet it doesn’t seem good sense to be nonchalant, exactly, either.
So, this is my challenge — how to come out of my hidey-hole and how to stay informed and safe, yet calm and reasonable.
I’ll start by visiting the library travel section, an outing that seems like an extraordinary indulgence. I will go when I think the smallest crowd will be there. I’ll remember my mask. I can walk there if I am mindful of the load of books I check out.
I can venture, slowly, carefully, out. Here I go.