As a 22-year-old fresh out of college, I’ve watched as COVID-19 stripped away all the last-hurrahs I’d awaited in my final semester—only to be released into a world that had even less to offer than I’d been warned to expect. Well acquainted with my own struggles, I spoke with three women from Detroit—Mamie, 94, Francisca, 67, and Chris, 75—about their own experiences during quarantine—and was reminded that there are still plenty of ways to seek out connection, grace, and joy, even now. Below, all three women discuss how their lives have changed while shielded from the outside world.
Mamie, 94, lives with her husband in an assisted living facility and recreates fond memories through cooking.
I sometimes watch the cooking shows on TV, and I get some recipes from there. I like the chef from New Orleans. And I like to look at the one that has this air fryer. Martha Stewart—I like her. I do that every day. It’s rewarding.
My favorite thing to cook? Greens. Anything with vegetables. When I was small, we grew up on vegetables. We didn’t have fried food like they do now. For dinner, every day from Monday through Friday, we had boiled vegetables. And then on Saturday, we had boiled vegetables with cooked fish. I’m 94 years old, so I’m from the old school [laughs]. We enjoyed that. We thought we were rich and we didn’t have nothing, but we had plenty of food. We had hogs that we’d kill and smokehouses with hams hanging up. We didn’t want for nothing. We were very happy and broke [laughs]. It was a happy time.
My sisters and I were talking about the way we were raised—the right way. I always tell the kids when they go on off to school to take God with you, and if you’re having a problem, take it to Him and He will make a way for it. So far we’ve just been trusting the Lord. That’s my biggest, happiest thing to do.
On what it would take for her to feel comfortable again
They would have to have a secure vaccine. My cousin says, “Maybe in the next year.” I say, “Oh, that’s a long time.” I think the president should listen to the doctors, but he won’t. And these kids going back to school, it’s dangerous. My niece is still going to school online. She’s afraid, too.
With the things going on now, I wouldn’t even think of doing something. The world has changed. I just hope and pray for everything to be in divine order. I remember polio. At first, they didn’t have a cure for it. Finally, they found something that would help, and that was a blessing. But I’ve never seen anything this bad. I’ve never been in nothing like this, ever.
My husband has a bit of dementia, and there are things he just can’t remember. I don’t think he has any idea what’s going on. That’s one thing that’s changed, too. I can’t relate to him like we did before because I can’t discuss anything with him. We talk about things, but sometimes I don’t know what he’s talking about. He’s calm; I don’t have any trouble with him. I can see the change in him, from where he used to be. He’s 92. I pray every night and day that the Lord will let me stay here and take care of him. I don’t want to put him in a nursing home.
My experience during this time is just trusting in God for everything. We definitely need prayer. Prayer saves everything. I have the experience of the Lord leading me. I know He will do it. Some people may doubt things, but God is the one we have to look to.
On the current Black Lives Matter movement
I was listening to a program about [the death of] John Lewis, and how he was treated. Tears came in my eyes because it was so hurtful. He was a champion. He didn’t give up. He kept fighting to the end. That really stuck with me. I’m hoping that there will be some change, and we all can live in peace.
We all need to pray more and trust in God—that’s what I say. I don’t care whether you’re Black, white, green or red. We all bleed red.
Francisca, 67, lives at home with her son and finds joy in her 7 (seven!) dogs.
(Answers have been translated from Spanish.)
My dog actually had five puppies on the exact day all of this started. That was unforgettable. Imagine being with the vet and seeing your dog have puppies on the day that the pandemic really began. Thanks to them, I’ve been able to entertain myself while quarantined in my house. They’re babies, so they can cause a lot of trouble. As soon as they opened their eyes and started walking around, they were driving me crazy. But they’ve kept me feeling good through this. Thanks to them, I’ve been busy. I’ve had a job taking care of seven pets—five puppies and their parents. I’m happy to have them around.
On changing her daily routine
I have spinal injuries, and also some problems with my vision, but my appointments canceled due to the pandemic. More recently, I’ve been able to see doctors weekly, so I can keep moving forward with my progress. I always make sure that I’m wearing a mask.
Here in the house, I try to do the chores that I can, but I can’t do them at 100 percent because of my health. I do my best to stay busy at home so I don’t start thinking too negatively. I’ve started to develop not depression but an anxiety because I can’t do anything I did in the past, like spending time with family and other things that seem normal. When I saw my doctor on Friday, I told him about what I’ve been feeling, and he asked if I’ve had any thoughts about committing suicide. I said, “No, no.” I would never think to do that. I try to stay as calm as I can.
My health comes first, so I’ll do what I have to do. I also have my puppies, and I try to take them out in the yard when I can. I’ve been trying to avoid any negative, anxious thoughts.
On socializing safely
I’m friends with an older couple, and I’ve been able to see them. I’ll see them at their house, just me and them, but when I do visit them, I make sure we’re protected. We’ve been going to the clinic, and they check our temperatures to make sure we’re okay. I made sure I had the COVID test done so I would be able to visit my friends. Sometimes, I go out to the store with my son to spend time with him once he gets off work. The only times he goes out without me is to go to work. Then he comes right home.
There was a moment when I was getting a lot of phone calls from friends who thought I had COVID. I told them, “No, I don’t have it. I’ve just been in my house this whole time. I’ve been taking care of myself, and I’m not going out anywhere.” Of course, if I do go out to the store to get anything, any necessities for the home, I make sure I have my mask on. I’m a very social person, so a lot of people will recognize me, even with the mask, when I go out [laughs]. We’ll say hi, but we try to take all precautions. I’m afraid of COVID-19, but we have to stay positive and be calm.
On advice for younger generations
I want them to protect themselves as best as they can from COVID—and even more so, look out for other people. There are people who aren’t taking care of themselves health-wise, who aren’t taking their vitamins or anything like that, and it says a lot about how they protect themselves. The younger kids seem to not listen as much. They’re only on their phones, not paying attention to much else. I think it’s good advice to let them know to listen to their elders, so they can protect themselves and others as much as they can.
Chris, 75, lives at home with her husband and recalls her teaching years with children’s books.
I still read kids’ books, and I buy books for kids in the neighborhood or my friends’ kids—ld students of mine, their kids, whoever. Our nurse at the wound care clinic—he’s got twins that are seven. The doctor who did my breast cancer surgery—I bought books for her boys.
I don’t know if you were around when they had American Chillers and Michigan Chillers. Well, the author has a cabin right by Mullet Lake—we go by it when we go to Indian River. He is the nicest man. During the pandemic, he had all of his books on sale for half price_hey’re usually $6. I bought everything that I’ve never read. He’s now got about 40 American Chillers out, and then he’s got the Michigan Chillers. I’ve read them all so I can say to kids, “This is a good one. This is not so good.”
On how COVID compares to other difficult moments in history
I think the only thing that approximates it or comes close is 9/11, when my daughter was in New YorkI walked through the teachers’ lounge and saw what was going on. I got so frightened because [my daughter] worked near the Trade Center, for an investment company. I called, no answer. We didn’t have phones in our classrooms back then. I was just petrified. I called my husband and he tried calling her. We didn’t hear from her. And then I saw the second plane hit.
Finally, the secretary said, “Mrs. Pasternak, your daughter’s on line two.” The whole staff heard the page and knew she was okay, but everybody was terrified. That was the worst time. My husband kept saying, “I’ll drive and come get you.” She said, “No, dad, I’m OK.” She went right to a pharmacy and had him call her in some Cipro because they were worried about anthrax on the plane Then she went up on the roof and watched one of the towers fall down.
We just felt so helpless as parents, but that got better because two weeks later she came home. The fear went away much faster than this [time]. This is a continuing, lingering thing. Are we going to have a second wave? They seem to feel we will. I feel horrible for teachers and schools, just horrible. I wouldn’t know what to do. So, there’s that uncertainty, and [given] the fact that I’m 75 and my husband’s 79, [I wonder] whether this is going to be the way it ends, realistically.
On what she’d do if the pandemic ended tomorrow
I would probably go to Minnesota to see my sisters, and then I would go to Reno to see my son and his wife. Oh, and [my husband and I] would take another road trip. We still have five [state] capitals to visit. All we have left now is Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. I would do that immediately, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to do that now. I would throw my husband and his wheelchair in the car and we’d go.
When I taught fourth grade, I went to Lansing 23 times; I could give the tour. And when we were in Phoenix once, we took a picture in front of the Capitol and that started it. One summer we went to Ohio, Indiana, Illinois. We’ve been to 45 capitals, and we’ve had so much fun. There’s just crazy little things that you learn. When we went to Jefferson City, I said to [my husband], “One more thing, this is where I was sent Scholastic Books from for years and years and years. Can we go see where it is?” So we put it in our phones and we went to the Scholastic Books company, and outside is Clifford the Big Red Dog. Some ladies were coming out and they said, “Can we help you?” I said, “Are you the ladies that take our orders when we call?” And they go, “Yeah.” I said, “I love you.”
Photography by Cydni Elledge.