Counting Our Blessings for the COVID Holidays

Dr. Jean G. Gispen

The ongoing pandemic has dramatically changed how we celebrate holidays, and Halloween is the next holiday that isn’t right this year.

South 11th Street, where I live, is perfect for trick-or-treaters: straight, flat, with very little through-traffic and with generous homeowners on both sides of the street. One woman has dressed as a witch, with a smoking cauldron full of dry ice. One man has lain in a coffin in his front yard, scaring the wits out of trick-or-treaters when he rose from the dead to give them treats.

We are the ones who give out ghost hands, vinyl gloves filled with popcorn. In the early years, these hands had candy corn fingernails too, but as the number of trick-or-treaters rose, the ghosts became less willing to donate their fingernails. One year, the ghosts were completely noncooperative. That year, we gave out chocolate bats and bat droppings in little zip-close bags.

This year, we are nervous about Halloween and the thought of some 100 or 150 trick-or-treaters – and parents –asking for candy.

During last week’s Sentinel testing at Ole Miss, four asymptomatic people were positive for SARS-CoV-2 out of 152 people tested. This is a positivity rate of 2.6%. If Oxford has a similar positivity rate, we would expect four trick-or-treaters at our door to be positive for the virus and not know it.

My husband and I are in the vulnerable older category as far as COVID is concerned, with grown children and as-yet-nonexistent grandchildren. So we, our ghosts and our bats are taking a break in 2020. Our house will be the one without skeletons or carved pumpkins decorating the yard, with lights turned off in the front of the house and inhabitants skulking sadly in the back of the house.

We are counting on making ghost hands again in 2021.

Thanksgiving is another question in our minds. Early in our marriage, it was always in Jackson at my parents’ house, with whatever other siblings made it there from out-of-state. Later, it was at our house, with my parents driving up from Jackson, Memphis siblings coming down, and the Atlanta brother driving over.

Recently, it has been in Memphis at No. 8’s house. A couple of times, it has been at the beach in Florida with our family of friends rather than with our family by blood.

We’ll skip the Memphis gathering this year – and to be honest, No. 8 hasn’t offered it. My husband and I live in our bubble of two, and we are not willing to chance joining that bubble with the bubbles of my two Memphis brothers and their families. When families or friends gather together without masks or social distancing, everyone there takes on the risk of the least-cautious person in the gathering.

I don’t think that my brothers or their wives or their children are incautious or irresponsible, but I know that my brothers work in hospitals, my sister-in-law works in a school and I work in a clinic. We have multiple exposures to other people, which makes gathering in a group risky.

Will we still celebrate Thanksgiving? You bet. Our older daughter will come home from Nashville. She usually drives the four hours to get here without stopping, but if she stops, she wears a mask in the store and gloves to pump gas. She cleans her hands with hand sanitizer when she gets in the car again.

We let her in our house, but we make her stay at least 6 feet away from us and eat at the end of the table distant from our end. If she wants to help cook, she and we wear masks. Everyone washes hands frequently, we don’t sing or scream or hug, and we try to space ourselves throughout the house.

Even if she takes a COVID test before coming home and she’s negative, we’ll still keep her masked and 6 feet away, because a negative COVID test means she was negative right then, at that instant. It does not guarantee that she is free of SARS-CoV-2. The virus could be in her, biding its time to make her infectious and give her symptoms.

We’ll cook turkey (in a bag), cornbread dressing (the traditional, with celery and parsley and onions and turkey stock), bread dressing (with apples or nuts or sausage, using whatever recipe appeals to us this year), green beans or other vegetable, and desserts. We’ll have salad. Forget the potatoes; the cooks prefer dressing to potatoes.

We’ll share some of whatever looks best with the friends who shared the Florida Thanksgivings with us, and they’ll give us some of what they cook. We’ll wear masks and stay 6 feet apart when we pass the food off to one other.

We’ll call or Zoom or Facetime the daughter in Berlin.

We’ll hike in the woods or around town, because that’s what we do after eating Thanksgiving turkey.

We’ll watch a movie on TV. We’ll read books.

We’ll count our blessings: that we are healthy and here to share this unusual Thanksgiving; that we have food on the table, a house and a job to go back to on Monday; that we haven’t put anyone else at risk by the way we celebrate.