COLUMNS

Just Thinking: Each phase of pandemic quite a ride

MARGO BARTLETT
Margo Bartlett

We went through the puzzle phase.

We went through the sharing-home-videos-featuring-family-members-singing-song-parodies phase.

We went through the projects phase. That was a long one, since people planted gardens, baked everything from brownies to croquembouche, started quilting, raised chinchillas and braided rugs the size of basketball courts.

We read books. We couldn't read books before because libraries and bookstores were closed, and all the books on our shelves were ones we'd read before, such as "The Bobbsey Twins at the Seashore" or "The Secret of the Old Clock," starring Nancy Drew.

I also have several primers from the "Alice and Jerry" series. I know most people learned to read with Dick and Jane; only a select few of us in the west part of northeastern Ohio had the pleasure of meeting Alice, Jerry, their dog Jip and the mysterious Mr. Carl, who appeared whenever another character was needed to drive a slender story line while teaching systemic phonics and sight words. Mr. Carl always was showing up with a horse, or a wagon full of hay, or with a box full of kittens or with a station wagon full of Tupperware for Mother. No, I'm kidding about that. No man in the "Alice and Jerry" books ever touched a kitchen item.

I started buying "Alice and Jerry" books years ago because the sight of one of the familiar covers made me feel as if I was back in my first-grade classroom, sitting in those sturdy blond chairs and writing with the fat black pencils they gave us in those days. Children don't get nice thick pencils anymore. They learn to write with good old yellow No. 2s. This is called tough love.

Now I'm being silly, and that's OK, because the next phase was humor, or what passes for it in these days when any joke involving a mask is considered hilarious. It's as if the virus has cut us off from the wider world of wit, leaving us with knock-knock jokes that aren't even funny: "Knock-knock." "Who's there?" "Don't touch my door." See? That's not funny, though I do think the one about French supermarkets being devastated by the virus is amusing. All that remains is de brie.

The humor phase soon died out, and we moved on to philosophical musings. Most of us see the world pulling together -- well, more or less together -- to vanquish a germ that's merely doing what we're all doing, existing. It's not plotting to kill us all; it isn't sitting in a hideout below the city streets, gloating over its murderous plans under a bare light bulb. It's a tiny, germy, living thing, making its way.

Some participants in the philosophical phase lean in a more cataclysmic direction. Because they've never personally experienced a pandemic, they're bracing for the next unbelievable development. Cats might start talking. It might begin raining fruit cocktail syrup. We could wake up with Scottish accents. Bicycles might fly when riders pedal really hard.

I'd enjoy those developments, except for the cats, who would be annoying, and the syrup, which would be sticky. But it's all wishful thinking, since we did go through this just a century ago, which in terms of serious time was last Tuesday. My mother was born in 1918, and although that undeniably was a long time ago, it can't be that long, not when somebody living was that baby's child.

The only other pandemic I can speak about is the Black Death, because it's in Kathleen Winsor's novel, "Forever Amber," which not only is a scandalous love story, perfect for 13-year-old girl readers, but when placed on a plate also serves as a weight to squeeze water from tofu.

As I've mentioned before, most of my general knowledge comes from novels, including the works of Edward Eager, in whose children's book "Half Magic" is an animal named Carrie the Cat. Only recently, during the celebration of the women's suffrage centennial, did I connect the cat's name with the prominent suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt. "Half Magic" is set in the early part of the 20th century, and if I had a hat, I'd take it off for Mr. Eager. "Good one, Ed," I'd say.

The final phase, the one I'm in right now, is the nattering-on phase. You sit around with your nearest and dearest, telling stories about long-dead children's book authors (Eager was also a noted lyricist), telling jokes and waxing nostalgic about your first-grade readers.

Now I'm wondering if I could put new words to the song "Oklahoma" and rename it "Oh! Corona"

Write to columnist Margo Bartlett at margo.bartlett@gmail.com.