Blogging in a Pandemic, Part II

As we enter our third or really our fourth week of social distancing, self-quarantine, or whatever else you want to call it (no closer than six feet from anyone but each other, washing our hands religiously, no restaurants, no stores except when we can’t get delivery of groceries, and so on), I have to say that this week things suddenly seem much harder and much sadder. But we are still fortunately feeling fine despite having flown twice in March, and we feel very, very relieved, and are so grateful to be home.

And we also feel very grateful that so far our families are also okay and our friends. I almost am afraid to write that for fear of tempting the corona gods. But I know that magical thinking is just superstition. We all just have to keep staying apart, staying safe, and staying home. The anxiety sometimes feels unbearable, but my mantra has always been and continues to be—one day at a time.

We’ve taken some wonderful walks in places nearby, a few of which we’d never been to before. And we’ve taken many walks in our neighborhood, chatting with neighbors from at least six feet apart, and feeling a sense of community and warmth that can be overlooked when we all just drive in and out of our garages.

I’ve cleared out a drawer filled with expired medicines and other products, organized our “junk” drawer, and discovered dust in places you cannot imagine. Every day I try to think of at least one small project to accomplish, even if it is simply remembering to mail a check.

I’ve also started to accept that I will never do some of the things the internet keeps throwing at us: free courses online, free tours of museums and national parks, free videos of exercise classes, and so on. I just can’t focus long enough to do those things. Fortunately, doing genealogy in shorter spurts than usual and writing my blog still provide me with a way to escape from the pandemic pandemonium.

Now we are preparing for a Zoom seder. The planning has given me an opportunity to work with my nine-year-old grandson on that project. In fact, we’ve had more contact with our kids and grandsons during these weeks than we usually do, though not in person. I am reading the wonderful book Hatchet by Gary Paulsen with the older grandson and playing chess online with the younger one. And we’ve had Zoom cocktail hours with friends and with family. So it’s not all bad.

What really prompted me to write this particular post was one of those little benefits I’ve gotten from people spending all this time at home. My brother, who also has been spending more time at home than usual (but who is still working since he is a doctor), was going through a box of papers and photographs that had been my father’s and discovered this photograph.

I know this is not great quality (and my brother’s scan of it does not help). But I am so excited by this photograph. Let me explain why.

This is a photograph of my father as a baby being held by his father with my aunt sitting on her father’s left. My father had written the ages in the margins, and although he had not written the names, it was easy to deduce the identities from the relative ages and the facial characteristics using other photographs of my grandfather, of my aunt as a young child, and even of my father as a baby.

Eva Schoenthal and John Cohen, Sr. 1923

My aunt Eva Hilda Cohen and my grandmother Eva Schoenthal Cohen, c. 1925

My grandmother and my father, c. 1927

But what made this so special is that I had never seen a photograph of my grandfather with his children. All the photographs I had of him were either of him alone or with my grandmother. So seeing this photograph was really touching. Look at how he is looking at his son. There is such joy and love on his face.

It was especially touching because I knew that my father had had very few years living with his father before my grandfather became disabled from multiple sclerosis and was ultimately institutionalized for the rest of his life.  He died long before I was born, and for most of my life I knew almost nothing about him. I didn’t ask when I was young because my father seemed to be reluctant to talk about him. I didn’t know if that was out of sadness or anger or indifference. But I didn’t want to upset him either way.

One of the gifts of doing genealogy and talking to my father in the five or six years before he died in February 2019 was that he finally did talk a bit about his father. And in doing so, I realized that even though he had not spent many years living with his father, my father had loved him. His reluctance to talk about him was due to pain and sadness, not anger or indifference.

The fact that my father saved this photograph and hid it away in a box we never saw before is telling. This must have been a photograph he cherished, something special that he didn’t want mixed in with the hundreds of other photographs he had taken over the years of vacations and friends and family. I am so glad that my brother discovered it and that he shared it with me. It gave me new insights into my father and his father.

Have you discovered any wonderful photographs or other treasures while staying at home? Have you always planned to label and/or scan your family photographs? Maybe now is a good time.

34 thoughts on “Blogging in a Pandemic, Part II

  1. My wife’s twin brother died young at the age of 49. The company he worked for was very generous and had shipped all his personal belongings in a container from Germany to Canada. Among them were thousands of slides and many photo albums. Over the years I scanned them all. Now I am making use of these troubling times of self-confinement and social distancing to tag them all, one picture at a time. Quite a few treasures have surfaced, which I will eventually share, when I will write about my late brother-in-law Walter Panknin. I devote an hour to this task every day. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your touching family photos with us, Amie! Stay safe!

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s wonderful, Peter, that you are using this time for such an important project. Someday your descendants will be so grateful, and you will have preserved your family history for posterity. Stay safe and healthy, my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely story. It really hits home for so many of us. Wonderful too to see another photograph of John. We never know who has an unknown photograph of our family members. How I wish for one of my grandfather who died of the Spanish flu in early 1919. Stay well.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A touching reminder not to pre-judge anyone, but when we do (as we do inevitably) LOVE THEM MORE.

    On Fri, Apr 3, 2020 at 8:31 AM Brotmanblog: A Family Journey wrote:

    > Amy posted: “As we enter our third or really our fourth week of social > distancing, self-quarantine, or whatever else you want to call it (no > closer than six feet from anyone but each other, washing our hands > religiously, no restaurants, no stores except when we can’t ” >

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Amy, this past week has been harder for me too. I’ve only been out of the house once since the 12th. Although I’m over my cold/flu or whatever it was, I’m now experiencing vertigo. I’m sure it’s stress-related and there is nothing I can do about it. Like you, I haven’t been able to push myself to join in on all the things that seem to be going on online. It was wonderful to read about the photograph your brother found and shared with you. Looking on the bright side, my Mom is now using a cell phone and when I call her it is awesome to hear her answer, “Hi, Cathy!” instead of the usual “Hello?” when picking up her house phone (vintage with rotary dial).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi, Amy -I wonder how many of our families went through pandemics — Well — we’re here!  They survived!All the best -Stay well,Jane Strauss  (in Times Square! and, doing fine, been wearing masks for a month)

    janestrauss.weebly.com

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I need to use this time at home to do some scanning of the old photos. Like you, the anxiety of this time makes it hard to focus for any length of time. Even as I distract myself with family history research in the evening, my ear is tuned to the Covid-19 reports coming from the television in the other room as my husband catches the news.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We turned off the tv news two weeks ago. It did nothing good and only made us anxious, sad, and angry. I suggest getting your husband noise-cancelling headphones and mute the tv! 🙂

      Like

  7. In this time we can build deeper bonds to those who came before us. This distancing can be a time of greater sensitivity and reflection. Looks like your insights about your father and grandfather fill in some of the previous unknowing about their relationship.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What a treasure! You definitely get a sense of your grandfather’s pride in his children from his beaming face. A much needed bright spot in some really challenging, unprecedented times. I’ve also found myself struggling to focus over the past few weeks. My blogging has slipped, but I am for more regularity (anything to focus on besides the news is a victory).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Michael. I know exactly what you mean. I keep plugging away, editing posts I’ve drafted, but am having a much harder time writing the new ones. But knowing that I have a regular schedule of Tuesday Friday posts keeps me motivated. Something has to!

      Like

  9. Beautiful photo – so glad it was discovered.

    I, too, feel it is hard to concentrate on things. I have completed a few household projects – oven cleaning and sorting through the expired spices. Each day I think I will work on genealogy or blogging and, sadly, I rarely do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You probably realized that I am writing more about the present than the past these days. And most of my genealogy blog posts were written before the pandemic really hit home and have been sitting on my drafts pile, waiting to be posted.

      Like

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