Fears, Friendship and Fun at 86: A House Party in the Midst of COVID-19
Surely you’ve heard about these crazy wild weekend parties kids are throwing in the middle of the pandemic. Let me tell you about how seventy and eightysomethings do it. How we adapt to COVID-19, savor our friendships, manage our anxieties, and enjoy our own kind of craziness.
We hoped to rent a lake house in New Hampshire for a long weekend in September for our party of 10 old friends who’ve been vacationing together for 23 years. This year it seemed doubtful because of COVID-19. Almost all of us are over 70 and Peter my partner and I are 85 and 86. Several of us have health situations that make us especially vulnerable. But this weekend is so precious to us all. We have been together for more than two decades. That is, except for Peter my new love, who joined the group last year.
By February we had found a house that met all our criteria: on the lake with a dock and a small beach, will accept two nicely behaved small dogs, can sleep 10, with enough rooms for one couple with a snorer to have two rooms and a ground floor bedroom for Peter and me because he uses a walker.
In July we were still uncertain so we came up with a safety plan. We’d each get tested three or four days before we would arrive and only show up if we tested negative, and showed no symptoms. We agreed there will be no hugging or touching if you didn’t already live together. We would bring all our food and we would not see anyone but ourselves. By the end of August, we agreed the weekend was a “go.”
In early September, I was really anxious, however, while waiting for our test results. My worry was not so much that I would test positive, but that the results of our tests would not come back in the expected two days. Luckily, all 10 of us all got “negatives” before our Thursday departure time. I was disappointed rain and cold were predicted for the next three days. Oh, well, reading by the fire could be nice.
At last, we arrived at the house, the lake, and the start of our four-day vacation. As each couple arrived there were whoops of joy, air hugs, and tales of our adventures so far. And a preview of all the scrumptious meals we’d eat. The two fluffy white dogs instantly became the center of attention. The only difference between us and the kids was no one brought a keg and all the drugs were prescribed.
Peter and I found our downstairs bedroom. For some strange reason, the door to our bathroom was three-quarters the size of a normal door. Guess what? Peter’s walker couldn’t get thru. And if he collapsed the walker, he couldn’t move forward. A few practices run and he figured a maneuver that would work.
Masks had been part of our face to the world for months. On arrival, some of us ripped off our masks but others were hesitant even though we had agreed it was okay. One friend said she was not going to take hers off at all, but by the next morning at breakfast, she had shed it.
That first night we connected in our usual fashion, but it was so much more satisfying to see each other in person rather than by Zoom as we had in recent months. Our check-in involves each of us talking for five or ten minutes without interruption while the others listen. We learned one person’s cancer was still at bay, that another’s mother had entered hospice, and how three grandchildren were faring spending their freshman college year studying at home. We got recommendations on books, TV shows, and recipes. We relaxed into being together.
Listening. It’s the glue for all successful relationships.
Threads from our check-in monologues could be picked up later while we enjoyed the sunny and warm weather that belied the predictions of bad weather. Some of us took walks and some of us climbed the nearby mountain. At 86, I knew better than to attempt a steep mountain—no matter how short the hike. We swam many times in clear cool water. We read and ate delicious meals lingering at the table, talking about our lives, the election, our fears, our kids. We laughed a lot.
We entertained ourselves. One benefit of the pandemic is friends and families have rediscovered not only conversation but old-fashioned games. One night, our thespian member organized us to read three ten-minute plays. Peter and I were cast as the parents of a thirty-year-old son who still believed in Santa Claus. So much fun!
On Sunday afternoon, it was my time to make dessert and I ruined it with my expectations. I usually aim low when it comes to cooking, but this time I had found an enticing recipe for an iconic cold lemon soufflé cake and decided to give it a whirl. However, I soon began to get anxious about my ambition. I worried that some of my ingredients might disappear by Sunday as sometimes happened on these weekends. So, I took my lemons, my eggs, and the electric mixer and hid them in a bag in a back corner where they would be safe.
Yes, I actually hid them. And, then, ironically, the next day when I went to retrieve them, the mixer had disappeared. Catastrophe! No soufflé without a mixer. I was sure someone had taken it from my hiding place and hidden it somewhere else. I raced around the kitchen like a madwoman throwing open cabinets and opening drawers. Others joined in the hunt. Finally, a housemate came in the kitchen and went right to the mixer placed behind some large bowls. She had needed it for breakfast.
Then I couldn’t find two pans that were the right size. One was too small, the other too big. The smaller soufflé came out golden brown, puffy, and delicious. The soufflé in the larger pan was flat and runny despite several frantic re-heatings. “To hell with gourmet cooking,” I shouted, “Let them eat kale!”
Too soon, it was Monday morning. At our last breakfast together we exclaimed over and over again, “This was wonderful,” and, “Old friends are the best.” It was a poignant moment, because realistically, who knows what the future holds for us. We elders live in the present.
There is only the present.
It takes more effort to stay close to friends during Covid - it is absolutely important to do.
Relationships are what matter most in life.