Friday 8 July 2022

July by Jim Bates, Arnie Palmer

It’s funny how things work out, and by funny I mean interesting. Here it is July, 2021. The pandemic has been going on for over a year, nearly a year and a half. Somehow, a year ago many of us thought we’d be done with this by now. Not even close. A new variant has raised its ugly head and cases are on the rise. We’ve had the vaccine available for nearly six months and about half the population has chosen to get vaccinated. Which is good. But the other half have chosen not to, which is bad. Those who have chosen not to receive a shot (or shots) are getting sick. And often times dying. People are wearing masks. Many are not. Kids are planning to go back to school this fall. But maybe not.

People are getting worn out, mentally fried, and sick of the pandemic.

So are we.

But Meg and I continue on with our commitment to do whatever we can to keep our kids healthy. We will get our boosters when we can. We will continue to wear masks and social distance. We will try to stay safe. Thank goodness our friends Jack and Linn and Arnie and Amber have decided to do the same. We have out own little Pandemic Family we call ourselves. We are all committed to doing what we can to protect our kids. Knock on wood, no one has gotten sick from the coronavirus yet.

I’ve being working at the Quik-Stop a couple of blocks down the road from us for nearly two months now and let me tell you, you meet all kinds of people at a gas station. Toss a pandemic into the mix and things get interesting.

First off, in spite of the pandemic showing no signs of letting up, the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers are stubbornly hanging onto their beliefs like their lives depended on it. Which they do, it turns out. 95% of all new Covid cases are with people who have refused to get vaccinated. Which is their prerogative, but it puts others at risk. At the Quik-Stop I have a clear shield at checkout, which helps. And I wear my mask and clean my hands, but still…It drives me nuts that people come in mask-less and wander around oblivious to others. Meg and I and our friends are vaccinated so we aren’t too worried. But it’s not about us, it’s about our kids, who, of course are too young for the vaccine. So, we are careful for them. I wish others were as well. But they aren’t.

On the other hand, I kind of like working there. You met some real characters, and, if you take Covid out of the equation, it’s kind of interesting. Myrtle Hokinson is a widow who walks into town every day from her home in the woods three miles away. She comes in for a pack of filter-less camel cigarettes and a cold twenty-four-ounce bottle of Budweiser Beer. Able Johnson raises mink. He stops in nearly every day for a lottery ticket. Clarise Yankton is a retired phone company employee who has her daughter and granddaughter living with her. She lives in a double-wide trailer near the station and stops every day in for anything they’ve run out of. They are on a Food Assist program and I’m glad we can help her out.

I’ve put a sign on the door that reads Masks Appreciated. No one pays it any attention.

I’m working three days a week, from ten to three, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. I mainly run the cash register but sometime do the stocking. My manager, Bob Fischer, is a thin, wiry man about forty-five who I suspect augments his coffee habit with amphetamines. I’m not kidding, and he’s not the only one up here. There’s a lot pill-taking going on in our county if you know what I mean. It’s unfortunate, but it seems the longer the pandemic goes on, the more people are finding strange ways to deal with it, and not with the best outcome either. Drug use is up. Suicides, too. Depression and anxiety are also on the rise. Very challenging times. The few people we are in contact with in Minneapolis (like my brother) tell us the same thing. The country is deep into what is now being called Pandemic Malaise.

Meg and I talk about it a lot. Did we do the right thing in moving up here to little Esker on the shore of Lake Moraine? The answer is still a resounding, yes! When the pandemic is over and life returns to normal, will we move back to our home in Minneapolis? Sure. Anyway, we think we will. We’ve made the best friends we’ve ever had in our lives up here with Jack and Linn and Arnie and Amber. So what if I have to work at a gas station run by a coffee addicted speed freak and get to serve customers who turn up their noses at science, ignore the guidelines and muscle forward doing whatever they want to? Ain’t that America, right? (To paraphrase John Mellencamp.) Land of the free and home of the brave. Right. Tell that to the nearly 600,000 people who have died so far in the United States. And their families. The number keeps rising.

Lately I’ve taken to coming home from work, grabbing Andy, and going down to the lake to unwind. We are becoming serious rock skippers, and one day after work, two days before the Fourth of July, that’s what we were doing.

“Look at that!” Andy yelled, sailing a nice flat stone out over the calm water. “One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven.” He counted. “Eight! I did eight, Dad!”

“Good going, son,” I told him. It was great to see how well he and his sister Allie were adjusting to life in the Northwoods. Meg was running her daycare (we now called it) for Andy and Allie and Sam and Willow, our friends, Jack and Linn and Arnie and Amber’s kids. And her editing job for Charlotte’s Press was going well.

I skimmed a rock out over the water and counted to myself. “Looks like five,” I told Andy.

He’d been watching and counting. “Yeah, that’s what I got.” He was silent for a minute, holding his stone, waiting for me to take another turn. Then he asked, “Dad, are we going to do anything for the Fourth of July?”

I threw my stone. Four skips. Hmm. Not my day, I guess. I sat down on the beach and looked out over the water. Andy joined me. It was nice having him next to me. I’d trimmed his hair so it was just above his shoulders. He was wearing cut off jeans, ripped tennis shoes and a white tee-shirt. On his head was his ever-present blue Minnesota Twins baseball cap.

Meg and I had talked about it. The guidelines were that if you were going to be in a crowd, you should wear a mask. But, because you’d be outside, wearing a mask wasn’t required. For us, what it came down to was that we just couldn’t run the risk of being in a crowd of fireworks display watchers and subjecting the kids to the possibility of getting the Covid virus. Especially not if we could help it. Maybe next year.

“No, I’m afraid not,” I told him. “It’s too dangerous.”

I looked down at him. He had his knees pulled up and he was looking out over the lake. It was nearly three-thirty in the afternoon and getting pretty warm, probably eight-five degrees. The far side of the lake was about two miles away. It was considered a small to medium sized lake for the area. There were some sailboats out on it and maybe 10 speed boats, a couple of them pulling water skiers. There were three jet-skies buzzing around, and a couple of pontoon boats idling along looking at the scenery. Lots of people sitting quietly in their boats and fishing. It was summer in Minnesota and people were out and about, doing their best to enjoy life and forget the pandemic.

Yet, it still raged on.

            “Why not?” Andy asked. “The dang pandemic?”

            “Yeah, I’m afraid so,” I told him. “Your mom and I talked about it. It’s just too dangerous.”

            He heaved a dramatically heavy sigh. “I hate the pandemic.”

            I put my arm around him. “Me, too.”

            He leaned into me. “Are Uncle Jack and Uncle Arnie coming over.” He’d started referring to our friends that way last month when Arnie’s wife Amber had announced she was pregnant. I have no idea why. All I know he was especially excited that our friends were going to have a baby.

            “Yes, they are. They’re bringing Linn and Sam and Amber and Willow. We’re going to have a bonfire on the beach.” I looked at him. “Right about here.”

            He brightened up considerably. “Really?”

            “Yep. We’ll roast hot dogs and make smores how’s that sound?”


            “Yeah, you know. Graham crackers, Heresy’s chocolate and marshmallows.”

            He smiled, remembering. “Oh, yeah. I love those.”

            “Me, too.”

            He got to his feet and started picking up stones. “You know what, Dad?”


            “If our friends are coming over, I don’t think I’ll miss the fireworks at all.”

            I grinned him. It’s a pandemic. We were all doing our best to adjust to it. “I have an idea. When they come over on the Fourth, you want to have a rock skipping contest?” I asked.

            “Sure,” he grinned. “That’d be great!”

            We spent the rest of the afternoon on the shore of the lake skipping stones. It was a little thing, but it was one of those days I’ll never forget. In spite of the pandemic, life was going on. And for Meg and me and Andy and Allie and our friends, it was going on pretty well. And that’s all we could ask for. 

About the author 

Jim is an award-winning author who lives in a small town in Minnesota. His stories and poems have appeared in over three hundred online and print publications. His collection “Resilience” was published in early 2021 by Bridge House Publishing. Additional stories can be found on his blog: 

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