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Inside the newsroom: My phone call with mom about COVID-19 and Thanksgiving

Vehicles form a line for COVID-19 testing as the University Health Wellness Bus visits Centennial Park in West Valley City on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020.
Vehicles form a line for COVID-19 testing as the University Health Wellness Bus visits Centennial Park in West Valley City on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

The COVID-19 numbers came into the newsroom Saturday and they were horrible, as expected. A glitch in the state’s Friday case reporting meant the numbers — among the highest in the nation to begin with — would be even higher the next day.

They were.

“In Utah, average daily case counts have more than doubled each month since September,” Deseret News reporter Ashley Imlay wrote. The rolling seven-day average for new cases is at an all-time high of 2,957. Just one month before on Oct. 14, the seven-day rolling average was 1,204. On Sept. 14, it was 487.

I called mom.

“They’re terrible,” she said into the phone from her home in Provo. She wasn’t referring to the COVID-19 numbers. That part of our conversation and the Thanksgiving holiday was yet to begin. She was referring to the Stanford Cardinal, and at this point in the third quarter of the game it was Colorado 28, Stanford 9.

Football on Saturday has been a staple of my mother’s life since her own days at Stanford, where she earned a degree in political science, graduating in 1955. Raised on Long Island, New York, she made the trek cross country for college and Saturdays in the fall always included football. The habit stuck and became a part of family life for all of us decade after decade in our California homes.

“Did you see today’s COVID-19 numbers?” I asked.

“Are they bad again?”

“Yes.”

“How are you feeling about that?” I asked her. She moved from California about four years ago to Provo to be closer to family. Wasn’t easy giving up that Bay Area sunshine, but she made the move and never looked back.

“I think it’s horrible,” she said of the numbers. “I don’t know what’s wrong with the people,” she began. “It’s just really bad and I don’t understand why people don’t think it’s serious.”

Last week mom went out to her car. She’s been staying home, keeping distance from friends and family as the numbers continue to climb. But with a mask on and a plan in place, she was ready to run an errand that needed doing.

The car wouldn’t start. Without regular trips out, cars sit idle. Batteries die. So help (my sister in Provo) was summoned. The many consequences of people not wearing masks, not taking it seriously, include isolation, sickness, death, and the consequences of not venturing out, such as dead car batteries.

“Oh come on, get in there,” she said into the phone, distracted by the game we were both watching. Stanford was on the 2-yard line and although our conversation was important, Stanford was poised to score.

Colorado 28, Stanford 15 now.

“We made sacrifices,” she said, when I asked her to recall being a young girl during World War II. Her father, a corporate attorney, would travel from Manhassett, New York, to Washington, D.C., as part of the war effort. His job was to procure oil from the Mideast to help win the war.

On the homefront, she recalled the efforts everyone gave to do their small part. “You couldn’t buy meat. There were ration cards. Gas was rationed,” she said. Government officials and the public feared attacks along the East Coast.

“We had blackout curtains. The air raid wardens would come check each house at night because they didn’t want any lights showing. This was on Nassau Avenue,” she said, recalling her childhood home.

“Did those restrictions make anyone upset?”

“I was a young girl. But it never came up. I recall a cousin came to live with us and you couldn’t get nylons. So she would paint a seam up the back of her leg to make it look like nylons.” You make do, she said

20110928 Norman Rockwell’s iconic illustration “Freedom From Want” appeared on the cover of the “Saturday Evening Post” in 1943.
20110928 Norman Rockwell’s iconic illustration “Freedom From Want” appeared on the cover of the “Saturday Evening Post” in 1943.
Courtesy of the Norman Rockwell Museum Collections, Courtesy of the Norman Rockwell Museum Collections

“So what are you thinking about Thanksgiving today?” I asked.

“Right now I’m think I probably shouldn’t go. My other option is to go and wear a mask and eat far away from everybody. But I probably shouldn’t go,” she said. She then asked again the question mask-wearing Americans are asking those unwilling to fight the pandemic.

“People are dying. I don’t know why they don’t take it seriously,” she said.

“I just don’t want to get sick. I’m not ready to die of COVID. I was feeling terrible last week. I was lonesome and sick and was really down. But I feel better now and ... wait, Colorado may score. That’s it. 34-16. Very bad,” mom said, lamenting Stanford’s lapses.

The best counsel right now is to not mix households. In our family a few households intermingle regularly because of child care. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has put emergency orders in place, to be re-evaluated on Nov. 23.

“So if you could give a message to Utah, mom, what would it be?” I asked.

“Wear masks and stay home. It’s really the only thing that’s going to get this better. Do you agree?” she asked me.

“Yes,” I replied. It’s really that simple.

She said if it comes to it, she doesn’t want people to stay away because of her. That’s more of the spirit of sacrifice mom’s generation understands.

“I have a really nice house here and the sun is coming in. I counted up my great- grandchildren. There are 38 (including the ones on the way). I’m making stockings,” she said, referring to the Christmas stockings she has knitted for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren over the decades, not the WWII kind.

She then started to think a bit more about Thanksgiving.

“I’m going to go buy a chicken. I hope I can find some fresh cranberries because that’s my favorite,” she said, as if I didn’t know. “And Ice cream. Unless I buy myself a pie.”

“We will come by,” I said, perhaps stay on the lawn, bring a whole meal, or something. Rethinking Thanksgiving doesn’t mean eliminating family love.

“Think Stanford can come back?” I ask.

“Nope. They’ve had it today,” she said.

We hung up in good spirits. The game continued. I began penning this column, trying to find a way to tell readers to wear a mask and follow the counsel of our health, political and religious leaders, all of whom have said the same thing: wear a mask and socially distance. Please.

An hour later the phone rang.

“Can you believe it?” she said. Stanford hadn’t given up. A quick score, stout defense, and they were back in it. We were on the phone when a touchdown and two-point conversion made it Colorado 35, Stanford 32.

But time was short. A desperation play at the end failed. But still, the team didn’t give up.

Feels like the state of Utah is in the fourth quarter. Saturday’s numbers don’t build optimism. But this can be turned around. There is hope when there’s a willing spirit. So wear a mask. Do your part. And if needed, trade turkey for a chicken and fresh cranberry sauce.

Mom and I would appreciate it.