On March 11, 2020 - the day the pandemic was declared - I was in Toronto undertaking ethnographic research for my doctoral dissertation. I had been in the city for six weeks and planned to continue my research until the early autumn. Four days later, we included a young man attending university in the city as part of our departure caravan and left a strangely subdued Toronto behind us, fleeing eastward to our rural Atlantic Canadian home, where his mother planned to pick him up. The journey took three days and two nights, and we watched eastern Canada shut all but its most essential doors as we travelled. Even so, the hotelier who owned the first small but clean place we stayed offered our young friend a room of his own at cost so we could all have a bed to ourselves and a bit of privacy. The second place we stayed was part of a chain, so we had no such luck. But the take-out food from the local restaurant was hot, delicious, and came with extra servings, as if the chef somehow knew he was feeding hungry, weary travellers.
Here at home in Cape Breton, my husband and I learned that local stores were running out of basic necessities like flour and yeast. I knew where to find staples like these, from the New Brunswick Speerville Mill, which delivers by truck for free anywhere in Atlantic Canada so long as the order reaches a reasonable minimum cost. We put a note in our community's emailed events sheet that we were placing a group order, and neighbours responded to stock their pantries and help us deliver food across the county. As a result, we all had what we needed in those early days when grocery stores weren't able to keep up with demand.
I'm not ashamed to say that the last several months have been among the loneliest of my life and my husband's. We have no children or extended family and can't connect meaningfully with our friends, even those that live here on the island. We Zoom with people we love from time to time and exchange care packages with a couple of neighbours, but I would give a great deal to sit in a Calgary restaurant with the other writers in this blog tour and chat about the industry over dinner, or tuck into the George & Pilgrim in Glastonbury and spend the evening buying rounds of cider with our English friends, or demolish a table full of appetizers at the Smoke & Barrel in DC with our American friends, or sleep on a Reykjavik apartment floor under our Icelandic friends' enormous cats. I'd give even more to fill my house with friends like we did before the pandemic and eat, drink wine, and talk until it's too late to send them home, to tuck them into the spare bed and the couches while a fire burns in the wood stove overnight.
Still, I'm also more grateful than I have ever been for the small connections we've made and continue to make during this awful time; the empathetic hoteliers, the generous chefs, the hardy neighbours, the classically-trained Austrian pianist who sang "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" in Latin with me through our masks while Sean and I bought our Yuletide tree on Saturday. They remind me that basic human kindness exists and that it is possible to connect with people in a place of shared experience. I want to remember that and carry it with me when the world opens its doors again.
Speaking of human connections, this blog entry is part of Rhonda Parrish's annual Giftmas blog tour, which raises funds for the Edmonton food bank. I've been a person who ate because someone else fed me, and my grandmother raised me to make sure nobody left my house hungry. I don't live in Edmonton, but I don't think that matters, and I'm asking you to donate a little money to the food bank if you can. Thank you so much. Here's the link to the CanadaHelps.org page for the fundraiser.
Happy Holidays, everyone. May your days be filled with small, kind, human connections.
Other bloggers in the tour: