Sharing Our Stories: Alumnae Stories from the Pandemic
An English major at Douglass, Kathryn Ruth Bloom ’67 enjoyed a long career in corporate communications in the biopharmaceutical industry. After retiring, she completed a Ph.D. in literature at Northeastern and now has a second career leading literature classes in retirement communities in the greater Boston area. Her articles, op-eds and fiction have appeared in a variety of publications, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Newsday, Boston Globe, Boston Herald and Hadassah Magazine. She is a loyal supporter of the AADC and of the AADC Annual Appeal. Here is her story, shared on September 24, 2020.
Marie Kondo was going to be so proud of me. I was going to spend my pandemic lockdown time finally ridding myself of all the stuff that no longer sparked joy. After the first few days, I’d learned my lesson: Forget It. My apartment’s tiny entrance hallway is home to the aging pair of sneakers I now use as my outdoor shoes and the sanitizing spray and disinfecting wipes I use immediately on my return. My large walk-in closet will not be featured in “Martha Stewart Living.” Instead, it resembles an aisle at Costco, filled with supplies of masks and gloves, with boxes and boxes of pasta, tuna fish, and toilet paper for use “just in case.” And as the endless days and weeks go by, I’m finding another reason not to downsize right now: Many of the very things I was originally tempted to discard have taken on renewed purpose and usefulness.
My old white cotton gloves, for example. Back in the sixties, ambitious young secretaries like me were known as “white-glove girls,” carefully accessorizing our dress-for-success suits with dainty little white gloves. I haven’t worn cotton gloves to work in decades, but still have a few pairs in an old handkerchief box and dug out a pair when I began to develop dishpan hands from endless washing. Before going to sleep each night, I smooth some Vaseline on my hands and put on the cotton gloves. By morning, my hands are softer and less likely to chap or bleed as the day goes on.
There’s that old blue pocketbook that was once was my most stylish go-to handbag; when it began to show significant signs of wear, I used it only when running errands. Today, it is so worn out that the designer would probably deny any association with it, but it’s become the bag I use when I make my weekly supermarket run. I spray it with Lysol on my return without worrying about staining or otherwise harming the leather.
Then there’s my old electric typewriter, which I vow to throw away every time I trip over it when I’m digging around in the back of my bedroom closet. As a writer, I live in terror of my computer’s breaking down; I need a keyboard and here’s one waiting for me “just in case.” And I’m cooking so much more now that I can’t discard my mother’s old cookbooks, or that broken wooden fork that belonged to the grandmother I never knew. I feel the loving presence of my bubbie and my mother, now both so long gone, whenever I stir my spaghetti.
I’ve lived in apartments my entire adult life and so don’t need gardening tools, but now there are a few from my childhood I regret no longer having. For example, if this self-isolation goes on much longer, it would be really helpful to have my father’s old rake to use when combing my hair.
I want to believe that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But since the turn of the 21st century, I’ve been sequestered after 9/11; stuck in my apartment without electricity for 23 hours during an electrical blackout; obeyed the sheltering-in-place regulations after the Boston Marathon bombing, and somehow survived the endless blizzards of 2015. Each time, I turned to stuff I’d kept for “just in case.”
When the pandemic is over, I may discard, recycle, and donate the things I no longer need. On the other hand, I may just pack them up again and remind myself that they are there for the next emergency. Or maybe I’ll ask my more orderly friends, those who are now seriously downsizing and decluttering, if I can store my extra stuff in their newly-organized basements and garages. The blue handbag really has to go, though.