The Thunker - Sarah Donohoe

In the mid-1930s people listened to a radio program called Cowboy Tom’s Roundup, which is where Tex Ritter first sang a rousing version of “Bread and Gravy.” My dad learned the song as a Phi Kappa fraternity brother at the University of Iowa back in the ’50s. There are more variations to the lyrics than there are brands of toilet paper, but this is the version I grew up hearing my dad sing. The lyrics remind me of what it’s like during the “Shelter at Home” phase of 2020, when we are trying to avoid the grocery store as much as possible and make do with what’s already in the cupboards:

On Monday we had bread on gravy,

On Tuesday we had gravy on bread.

On Wednesday and Thursday it was gravy and toast

Which is nothing but gravy and bread.

On Friday we spoke to the steward,

“Could we please have something instead? ”

On Saturday morning when we got up

We had gravy without any bread.

It’s been a month now since our self-quarantine began. One of the things I do for isolation therapy is bake, which I’ve been doing regularly since social distancing became a thing. But one can only eat so many baked goods before one has more of a muffin top than a cupcake.

It’s time to find a new hobby.

Cooking with chard, for instance. Or making protective masks using old drapery material. (Our masks are made from fabric my mom sewed for the drapes in their downstairs family room. It’s probably 20 years old. I knew I was saving it for something!

I love to sew with old drapery fabric. A la Scarlett O’Hara, I made a lovely gown out of some deliciously creamy brocade drapes retrieved from Spencer and Julie Penrose’s home in Colorado Springs. (He built the Broadmoor Hotel.) I made the dress for a formal tea held in the mansion in 1991. I still have the dress and am waiting for an opportunity to wear it again.)

I’ve been doing my best to find a little levity amidst the challenges we are all facing with the coronavirus, ergo, the frat song above. But with the current burdens on both global and local societies, I, and many others, have been questioning life’s purpose, contemplating suffering, death and grief, and reflecting on the existence—or non-existence—of God.

When the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) wrote about God he used the term in a nontraditional sense to define nature or a life force. This is important to remember when reading Rilke’s poem “Go to the Limits of Your Longing. ” The poet instructs us to find the sacred within, and then push ourselves to embody the light and love the world needs. I hold this poem dear, especially as we face the current seriousness of our global situation affecting every single person on the planet.

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,

then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,

go to the limits of your longing.

Embody me.

Flare up like a flame

and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

My heart aches for people who are sick with COVID-19 and equally for those who have lost loved ones to the virus. It is all happening so quickly! Like many others, I have reconnected with distant family and friends from my past, in part to keep the embers of long-neglected relationships from extinguishing. None of us knows who will be next and we don’t want to have regrets.

Poet Olivia Ward Bush-Banks (1869-1944) was not so fortunate, as expressed in her poem, “Regret. ”

I said a thoughtless word one day,

A loved one heard and went away;

I cried: “Forgive me, I was blind;

I would not wound or be unkind. ”

I waited long, but all in vain,

To win my loved one back again.

Too late, alas! to weep and pray,

Death came; my loved one passed away.

Then, what a bitter fate was mine;

No language could my grief define;

Tears of deep regret could not unsay

The thoughtless word I spoke that day.

One positive outcome from the virus is that across the globe people are saying “I’m sorry. ”

“Remember when…”

“I miss you,” and

“I love you.”

It is never too soon to say it again.

You may let The Thunker know what you think at her e-mail address, donoholdt@gmail.com.

© 2020 Sarah Donohoe

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