Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

Growing up in Finleyville, my backyard was where all the neighborhood kids played. The long, grassy part was the kickball field; beyond that was the wooded part with the tree swing, the hammock and the green canvas tent.

And beyond that was the creek, except we said “crick.” My sisters and I weren’t supposed to play in the water, but we did. One day, when I was probably 6, I was playing there with a neighborhood boy and fell in. My soaked and muddy clothes were evidence, and now I was in trouble.

Afraid to go into the house and face my mother, I went with my friend to his house, where his mother allowed me to sit on a swing while I dried out and hatched a plan to run away. After a time, she called across the street to my own mom, paving a way for me to return home.

That mom across the street was named Elsie. Her son, my playmate, grew up to be the man I’ve long referred to here as the farmer.

A week ago today, Elsie died of COVID-19 at a nursing home in Virginia. She tested positive for the virus the week before that, and within a few days began to show symptoms. The farmer and his brothers were able to suit up in protective gear and go into the room to see her. She was sleeping.

The nursing home kept the virus at bay through the summer. And then, inevitably, it crept in – probably riding in on the exhalations of an exhausted nurse, patient care assistant or cook.

When the farmer told me about his mother’s positive test, I was first worried, and then angry. How could they let this happen? Didn’t they know how lethal the virus is to those who are elderly?

His reaction was more generous than mine: How could they keep the virus out? He places no blame on the employees who cared for his mother, reminding me instead that those people are doing impossibly difficult work, for much less pay than they deserve.

Still, it is a disgrace what has happened to parents and grandparents, our dear elderly aunts and uncles, our wise old friends during the pandemic. It’s sad what the virus and its isolation have done to all of us. But when the disease has ended its run and we reflect on the many things it took from us, we will conclude that we should have done more to protect our elderly. When they start giving vaccines, the frontline workers will get theirs, and then our elderly should come next.

I didn’t really know Elsie back in those Finleyville days. My family moved away, and then her family did. By the time I’d reconnected with the farmer nine years ago, Elsie had already begun to fade a little.

But she stayed funny, and smart. She raised the farmer and his three older brothers from rambunctious little boys to strapping men. How she kept them fed and in line I’ll never understand, but I’ve heard stories of how she baked a dozen loaves of bread every week. The boys would devour all of it in an afternoon, and then she’d bake some more.

The last time the farmer spoke to his mom, about a month before her death, it was on a cellphone, looking at her through a window outside her room. Although he’s glad they had that moment, it was far apart and strange. She deserved better. They both did. We all do.

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