A Covid Disrupted Christmas

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men. Gang aft a-gley.”

It’s boxing day. I just finished eating a small bowl of oatmeal porridge—with strawberries, maple syrup and goat’s milk. The sore throat I’ve been nursing for four consecutive days, shows no signs of improvement. Hot beverages, soft food, salt gargles, and rest…so the recipe goes. Honey too. It’s antibacterial. I didn’t know that. But I was tired of honey—honey in peppermint and lavender teas, honey in hot lemon water, blobs of honey licked off a spoon. Maybe, I took the suggestion a little too far. So, this morning I figured that if honey was antibacterial, maple syrup must be too. No scientific reasoning led to that conclusion, just rationalization born from boredom and desire.

I was supposed to spend eighteen days of the Christmas season in Ontario with my children and grandchildren. Covid cut short my stay. When one family member tested positive for the virus, my son-in-law, always prudent and considerate, bought me a ticket on the earliest emergency flight home. Even though I had tested negative, he paid more than the already expensive fare for a premium seat—to keep me, and other passengers, as safe as possible—just in case. Because of his generosity, I may be spoiled. What luxury not to be squeezed between two strangers in a row with armrests wide enough to accommodate only one person. No line-up for the bathroom. Copious legroom for someone much taller than me. The special “treat” I could have done without. But, I stashed the small box of goodies in my carry-on. Mom would have approved. “Waste not, want not,” was her motto.

My covid test at the airport came back negative. Two days later an illness grabbed me by the throat. A tickle turned to fire. Gobs of mucous choked me. Every part of my body hurt. Fatigue kept me pinned to my bed, albeit in a semi-upright position so that I didn’t gag. The next morning, I made my way to a covid testing centre. After waiting three hours in a line-up, the test felt anticlimactic. And also deficient. In other screenings, the oversized Q-tip was inserted farther into my nose, slowly swept the area several times, not two or three, and included both nostrils, not just one.

Positive results are communicated within four hours. I heard nothing. Negative results are posted on-line. Seventy-two hours later, I still have no information. How odd it would be if whatever disease I have is not covid. All five members of my daughter’s family tested positive as well as every neighbour and friend who had visited during my stay.

In spite of my present state of health, or more accurately, non-health, I am truly grateful that I enjoyed ten good days with family before my abrupt departure. Highlights included:

  • sparkly professional manicures for the three girls—me, my daughter and granddaughter
  • buying and decorating an evergreen tree
  • my son, a master at weaving strings of lights trough branches, joining us to illuminate the specimen
  • a rhapsodic tour of Casa Loma—a fairy-tale adventure for everyone
  • a long walk on the marsh boardwalk bathed by a warm December sun
  • many gourmet meals prepared with love by my talented daughter—some of my favourites were “second” breakfasts such as bagels with avocado, eggs, and mustard sprouts or granola with fresh fruits, yogourt and pistachios
  • assisting my two-year-old grandson build intricate, often wheeled, structures with Lego and observing his concentration as he solved some complex engineering problem; reading dozens of illustrated stories to a rapt audience; watching my costumed three-year-old granddaughter perform an original ballet; cuddling my blissful six-month old grandson. And all the time inhaling the enchanting fragrance of these three tiny people.
An illuminated deer in one of the horse stalls at Case Loma

Yesterday was Christmas. In spite of my illness, I donned the bright red sweater I had planned to wear in Ontario then added a shiny gold necklace and earrings. No need for lipstick. An N95 mask covered most of my face. For a few brief minutes Face-Timing with my children, it felt like Christmas.

However, there was no smell of roasting turkey, no crackers with paper hats hidden inside, no carols or laughter or outdoor excursions. Not even snow. Every Christmas Day I usually spend an hour or more photographing nature—the sea, the sky, the trees, the wildlife. When I look back through my Christmas folders, I relive the wonder of those Christmases past. How grateful I am to have many pre-Christmas images taken during my Ontario holiday.

Grandchildren painting

In fact, I am thankful for many things. Some of those blessings include:

  • the return to health of my daughter and her family
  • my husband’s affectionate care for both my little dog and me
  • a bright, warm home in which to convalesce
  • the abiding love of family and friends

Covid may have changed the appearance of your Christmas celebrations. Even so, if you look with your heart, you can still see the wondrous beauty of the season.

May peace be within you; may your heart be strong.”

Love

Prairie

,

Alexia the Tortie Point Siamese

Alexia

When Rowan and I entered the house, the look on my husband’s face said it all, “What have you done? No Cats!”

The look on my young daughter’s face said more, “I love her. I love her. I love her.”

So, it was settled. The cat stayed.

Over the twenty years of our marriage Carl and I had nurtured two dogs, three children, a few guinea pigs, three or more rabbits, lots of gerbils and hamsters, one canary and several fish. What was one small feline?

I had wanted a cat for some time. Kevin, the owner of our favourite pet store, knew this. However, the right one proved illusive. Then, one day when Rowan and I entered his shop to buy cedar chips for a rodent cage, Kevin announced, “I have your cat.” I hurried to the enclosure he indicated. Then, stopped short. In it were five Siamese kittens. “But I don’t want a Siamese. They’re noisy and needy and devious. Nasty little beasts.” Why I thought that, I don’t know. Hearsay, I suppose. I’d never actually met a Siamese cat.

Kevin said, “It’s the large one.”

The large one was perhaps four months old. Kevin had kept her for a personal pet but his circumstances changed and he had to let her go. He believed that our family would be her perfect new home. “Pick her up,” he said.

I reached inside the large wire pen and retrieved the kitten from the shelf on which she sat. She lay on her back in my arms. Her intense blue stare met mine. To my surprise, she stayed like that—cradled, contented. When she began to purr, I was sold. Or rather, the cat was sold. To me.

Algie and Cher, the two miniature Schnauzers that had been in the family for a decade, paid no heed to this newest addition. Alexia, however, attempted to intimidate the canine pair. She sprawled along back of the sofa, then waited for one of the dogs to pass beneath her. Swoop! Down went a long foreleg to swipe at the head of the trespasser. Back then, it was usual for domestic cats to have their front paws declawed. So, Alexia’s flared talon-less toes held no threat. The dog paused only long enough to look up in disgust.

On warm days, our new neighbour, an elegant spinster, strolled down the sidewalk in front of our house. On a bejewelled leash, her Siamese cat sauntered beside her. Rowan, inspired by the spectacle, requested a harness for Alexia. She wanted to enter her into the children’s pets category at the county fair. We duly purchased the apparatus; but, as soon as the contraption was attached to the cat, she lay down, belly to floor, legs splayed and refused to budge. “The indignity! Never will I behave like that pampered furball!” Rowan had to carry Alexia to the judges’ table where the recalcitrant cat, much to her disdain, was thoroughly examined, then later declared, “Best in Show.” The golden trophy was bigger than the animal. Rowan’s pride outshone both pet and prize.

Along the windowless wall in our sunroom, stretched eight feet of conjoined white cabinets. Cupboards and drawers lined the bottom half, open glass shelves the upper part. The unit rose to more than six feet in height. Alexia’s favourite sofa, the one where she ambushed the schnauzers, sat at right angles to the display unit. Alexia sometimes rested in one of the empty glass compartments. More often, with one powerful leap she would soar from sofa back to cabinet top. There she would roost, mistress of all she surveyed.

Alexia in Display Unit

A cat can navigate the length of a mantle cluttered with candle sticks, Christmas cards, pine cones, and innumerable miniature relics, without displacing a single thing. In spite of this particular ability of felines, the top of our white cabinet was usually unadorned. One Christmas however, as a precaution against active dogs and children, I decided to place the nativity creche high, high, high. The top of the display case felt ideal. The creche was a rustic affair that consisted of a star-topped wooden stable with crudely carved people and animals. To supplement the latter, the children recruited some creatures from their Fisher-Price Farm. Alexia soon noticed the encroachment into her space, performed her flying cat feat and landed on all fours beside the intruders. Her investigation was brief. Swat! Joseph flew to the floor. Swat! Mary met the same demise. Swat! Swat! Swat! Swat! Swat! Out went the three wise men, shepherds, sheep, dogs and pigs, yes, we included pigs. One final “Swat!” and down came baby Jesus manger and all. Alexia slid inside the now vacated stable, lay down on the few remaining pieces of straw and peered out over her realm. Her imperious expression declared that I need not replace the former Yuletide inhabitants.

Alexia lived a glorious eighteen years. She survived the acquisition of other dogs and rabbits, a divorce, seven moves, short periods of temporary residences, and in her very old age, Sophie.

One month after I retired, I adopted Sophie, a three-year-old Australian terrier. In spite of her grand age, Alexia still presided over the castle. She lay at the top of the stairs that led to the upper bedrooms and guarded the landing. Sophie refused to pass her. Perhaps the dog didn’t realize that the cat’s paws were harmless or maybe she chose to defer to the matriarch. Whatever the reason, for the next few years, whenever I climbed the stairs, I had to pick Sophie up and carry her past the smug sentinel.

Alexia died quietly—lying on her back, cradled in my arms, purring softly.

A teen-aged Rowan with Sophie and Alexia

A note to my readers:

As I did last year, I won’t be posting over the summer. I will still be reading and writing though. Until September, savour the moments and be kind to each other.

Love,

Prairie

Alexia and a younger me