Documenting a pandemic

By Kris Ferrazza | Jun 01, 2020

Just 10 weeks into quarantine, I’ve decided it’s time to document this pandemic. Too soon, you say? Never.

Maybe it’s because I have too much time on my hands. Maybe deep down I’m convinced I won’t survive, or maybe it’s just what I do.

But I’ve taken to the scrapbooks. While it’s hard to pin down a moving target, I’m taking it day by day. I’m pasting photos and notes onto pages for future generations. So when my grandchildren ask Elizabeth and me, “What was the Pandemic of 2020 like?” we can tell them, and show them, in grandma’s handwriting.

There are photos of my eighth-grader doing math in the morning while munching Pop Tarts and wearing yoga pants. She is FaceTiming with friends, putting on facials and giggling with girls and wielding a lightsaber or playing video games with boys.

My pantry is pandemic central. I photographed tightly sealed bins of flour, rice, pasta and cereal lined up like soldiers. We have Kleenex, Tylenol, Vitamin C and ginger ale in case we get sick. Soup, Ramen, beans and other long-lived emergency rations line the cupboards.

This was our life in 2020, kids.

It’s clear from my rambling notations that I’m outside my comfort zone preparing for the end of the world. Ask me to plan a party for 80 people and I’m fine. Happy occasions are my forte. But prepare for a dystopian future? I am not built for this.

An emergency in my world is being unprepared for company. My husband and daughter will tell you we have “emergency” party plates, napkins, plastic cutlery, tablecloths, birthday candles, sparklers, balloons, confetti poppers, cupcake wrappers and more. I have bags of gift bags, festive tissue paper, ribbons, bows and a stash of cards and presents fit for any occasion in a closet in my spare bedroom.

The nightmare scenario I’d been preparing for was not a contagious virus that would sweep the globe. No, it was that someday someone might visit and we suddenly would learn it was their birthday, anniversary, graduation or retirement. I assure you I could —using only a cake mix, roll of Scotch tape and my massive national stockpile — throw a party together in under five minutes. Take that, MacGyver.

But how often does this really happen? When does someone drop by and casually mention it’s their birthday or anniversary? Never, which is why I have been overrun with party supplies for decades.

If nothing else, this situation has made me appreciate the over-buyer I always was. I won’t say hoarder, because that’s too extreme. Let’s just say I’m a person who likes to be prepared, and now I am tapping that stockpile like there is no tomorrow.

Since we’ve been limiting contact with the outside world, I have no regrets about anything I’ve ever bought. Right now, the paper napkin holder on my kitchen table holds napkins that cheerfully proclaim “Happy birthday,” “Trick or treat” and “Be mine.”

This colorful collection of witches, bats, hearts and balloons is a bit jarring. At least once a day I reach for a napkin, tilt my head, ask myself, “What the heck?” then think, “Oh, right. Pandemic.” It feels like we have slid into a parallel universe. At my house, every day is Valentine’s Day, Halloween or Cinco de Mayo. So we’ve fully embraced the crazy. I haven’t even dipped into the Christmas stuff yet.

I’m saving that for Fourth of July.

For years I mentally beat myself up when I went through my party totes, sorting through countless packages of holiday napkins, cups and plates. I would say, “When am I ever going to use all of these?” and see dollar signs wasted. Now I simply go to those totes when the napkin holder is empty, pick from a huge selection of Easter bunny or Thanksgiving napkins and restock. Who’s laughing now?

Like many pandemic shut-ins, we’ve been cooking and baking quite a bit. Paper cupcake wrappers are coming in handy for muffins and other goodies, and it’s satisfying to watch the overstock dwindle. There are robot cupcake wrappers I bought for my nephews (now in their 20s), ballerinas, Sesame Street and other juvenile themes long outgrown by our crowd.

Today marks my daughter’s last day of middle school. We didn’t expect her junior high career to end this way. But tonight we will celebrate with chocolate cupcakes in Elmo wrappers, haunted house napkins and jalapeno paper plates. We will light sparklers and toast the future with ginger ale in Hello Kitty paper cups.

Best of all, I will document the whole thing for posterity in the scrapbook.

And the beat goes on.

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