Relevant Chicken

My situation is like your situation.  I am in isolation.  And, in the beginning, I thought I would use my time to edit and update some blogs that have been sitting on the shelf, waiting to see the light of day.

As I began dusting them off, I realized they were not relevant to what is happening in the world right now. Until last week, relevance was more personal.  But the term “It’s all relevant” is no longer personal. It is universal.

Isolation is where we are today. And while each person has varying degrees of how they are dealing with this pandemic, we are all now in the same global boat.

So I will leave those blogs on the shelf for now.  I may edit them so that, when this is all over, they are ready to be published. But in the meantime, I am going to stick with stories from the past week.

I will begin with my mother, who is in her 80’s, and lives by herself in a city across the country from me.  A strong independent woman, she has never complained about living alone. The call to self-isolate crept up on her, like everyone else, without much warning. I gave her a call that first Saturday to check in.

I was concerned that she had a plan to stay inside. I was concerned that she had adequate supplies. And I was concerned for her health.

What I was not prepared for was her mental state. She had already planned to stay (for the most part) inside. She had (to her mind) a fully-stocked pantry. And she had recently visited her doctor and was given a clean bill of health, and was adequately hydrating and eating well. But she was blue. Very blue. The feeling of isolation was suddenly overwhelming for her. All of her social touchstones were gone. Her church, her choir, her women’s groups, her lunch dates with friends, and her storytime with school children. These were the reasons she had never felt isolated in the past.  In all the years she had lived alone, she kept a very busy social schedule. And now that was all gone.

I kept her on the phone, chatting until she felt a bit better. And then I suggested she learn how to download apps to her cellphone. For the first time, she seemed interested. To get the ball rolling, I suggested a grocery store app that I already had on my phone. She seemed very excited. She had never heard of curbside grocery shopping, and was interested in trying it out. So we decided to set up a “maiden voyage” by using my app and having it delivered, curbside, to her local store.

Like most women her age, she is not addicted to social media, and so she was unaware of the shortages at grocery stores that happened within the first few days of panic buying. So as we began to assemble the list of groceries that she needed, I tried to gently remind her that she may not get the brand or size she was looking for.  There were only 5 items on her list. I kept her on the phone as I scrolled down my app, searching for her choices.  When she mentioned toilet paper, of course I told her it was unavailable, and explained why.  She had 4 rolls on-hand, and said that would probably be just fine. The idea of my mother running out of toilet paper made me sad. But what happened next broke my heart.

We had chosen the particular store because of a specific flavor of rotisserie chicken it carried. She would routinely buy a chicken and shred it, separating it into six different bags to last her for a few meals, but the first meal would be the hot chicken straight off the bone.  Just talking about it was making her mouth water. She was so excited about the prospect of having that chicken for dinner, I hated to tell her it would be Wednesday before she could pick up her order.  The days of same-day pick-ups are gone for now, I told her.  And I could hear the disappointment in her voice.  And then it got worse.  I found the chicken on the app, but an advisory next to it read, “Not available for curbside or delivery”.  My heart sank.

My eyes filled with tears when I realized that my sweet mother would be unable to enjoy her favorite chicken for the duration of this horrible situation.

Mom sounded sad, but even in her disappointment, she rallied.  “What if I drive to the parking lot and wave a twenty dollar bill at people walking past, asking them to pick up some hot chicken.”  The whole thing seemed so absurd, and we both burst into laughter. But I was still sad.  We finished placing the order, and she eagerly awaited the day she could pull up and have her groceries delivered to her car.

I found myself still awake, and on Facebook, at 2:30 am. A friend from my past had posted something, and I was commenting. In my comment, I mentioned what had happened with my mom.  As it happened, this friend and I had been co-workers at a restaurant nearly 30 years earlier when we both lived in the same town my mom currently lives in.  She still lived in the neighboring city. Mid-discussion, I fell asleep.

When I woke up, I checked Facebook (morning habits die hard), and noticed that another friend from 30 years ago also commented, “What is your mom’s address? I will take her a chicken this afternoon.”  I cried for the second time in less than 24 hours.  I messaged her immediately. I thanked her, gave her my mom’s address and tried to send her money to cover the expense.

Friends, she never accepted the money. She was at my mothers front door in less than 3 hours with a fresh hot chicken in her hands. I barely had time to call mom to let her know to answer the door when someone knocked. She kept me on the line when she got to the door, and I heard the conversation between her and “K” (who my mother had never met, and who I hadn’t SEEN in 30 years!).  I could hear the excitement in mom’s voice. I was overjoyed by her happiness. And when she got back on the phone, she told me that not only had “K” brought her the chicken… she had also brought a 4-pack of toilet paper from her house, AND picked up a beautiful lavender potted tulip. She also refused to let mom give her any money.

Third time I cried in 24 hours.  I messaged “K” again to express my gratitude and to try and convey the fact that there was no way she could know how much that meant to me.

It gets better.

Mom showed up Wednesday to pick up her first curbside order. Her picker’s name was “Paris”, and I called ahead to explain that it would be my mom, and not me (since I’m the one on the app). Paris  walked straight out to mom’s car and was so friendly and lovely that mom asked when she worked so that she could make sure she only came when Paris was working. I wrote a glowing review that afternoon. And mom called later to say she wanted to start her next order (again, four days out).

By this time, mom had figured out that substitutions were okay, and that she couldn’t get her chicken curbside. In the meantime, my friend “K” had given mom her cell phone number and told her she could call her anytime for help.  I was overwhelmed with emotion.

The day of her second curbside order arrived, and this time mom called Paris herself, who happily came to mom’s car and chatted with her for a minute or two.  Mom told her about the chicken situation, and how lovely my friend had been to her.  With that, Paris leaned in close and asked mom if she had cash.  Mom, surprised, answered that she did. Paris told her she would run inside and grab mom some chicken.

Mom got two of her favorite chickens that day, and made a new friend. She has something to look forward to, and a local contact who is ready to lend help because I live too far away. And when my friend contacted her recently, mom asked if she could go to the post office for her, and in exchange made her a batch of her world-famous chocolate chip cookies.

Side bar:  My mother’s chocolate chip cookies are otherworldly.  They have solved more problems and soothed more souls than I can count. She is famous for using those to thank those who help her in her apartment community.  If mom could have marketed them, I am fairly certain she would have either gotten rich, or created world peace.  Or both.  Either way, they were the perfect gift for “K”, who has cookie-loving children.

A week has passed, and I look back on that moment in wonder.  If that had happened a week earlier, it wouldn’t have mattered.  She could pick up a chicken herself inside the store. And even if they were out, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. She would have gone to her choir rehearsal and had lunch with a friend and all would have been right with the world. But at that moment, that chicken was everything. It meant her happiness, even if was for the moment.

I am reading about other moments like this. In a landscape of political and viral mayhem, humans are coming together to help humans. On a one-on-one basis. Neighbors are meeting neighbors, some for the first time. Strangers are reaching out, and in the process, they are becoming friends. People are finding ways to make other people’s lives sweeter, safer, more bearable.

I wish I had something more pithy  to end with, but all I can come up with is that this is truly the silver lining to the current dark cloud we are under.

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