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Stay in Your Own Holler for Now

With most of America going on home isolation because of the coronavirus, General Doc and Col. Peggy decided last week was a great time to take a Caribbean islands vacation.

When they got back Saturday evening I picked them up at Pittsburgh Airport. They weren’t hard to spot as I drove up in the usually bustling “arrivals” lanes – except for a lone cop on duty, they were the only people in sight.

As the family’s designated shuttle driver for anyone flying in or out of Pittsburgh International, I usually prefer to use my own car, but this time I purposely used Peg’s Lexus. She asked why.

“Honey told me if I picked you up in my car, I would have to quarantine it for two weeks,” I explained.

Normally I would have hefted their luggage into the car, since they have bad backs. This time I didn’t move out of the driver’s seat. I didn’t kiss my sister – which would have been difficult anyway though the bandanna – nor did I shake hands with my brother-in-law. I wasn’t angry with them, I just had to keep a social distance.

“Glad to have you back,” I said. “How was Turds and Tacos?”

“Turks and Caicos,” Col. Peggy corrected. “It was good. They have Fox News now, not just CNN. We were able to keep up with everything about the coronavirus.”

“How were the beaches?”

“Oh, they were closed,” she said.

“Hey, Fred, have anything to eat at your house?” Doc called from the back seat.

I eyed him in the rearview mirror while adjusting my bandanna. It kept slipping off my nose.

“No,” I said.

“PEG, WORSHRAG WANTS a ‘West Virginia – COVID-19 National Champions’ T-shirt, if you’re looking to get him something for his birthday,” I said. “He found it on the internet. It also says, ‘Practicing social distancing since 1863,’ and ‘You stay in your holler and I’ll stay in mine.’ All week long we were the only state in the union without a coronavirus case. Every time they showed the national map, we cheered ‘We win!'”

“Funny stuff,” Peg said. “When are you having Worshrag’s birthday party?”

“Birthday party? Are you nuts?”

Worshrag, turning 31, doesn’t really care about a party, but our oldest grandson, Rufus, is turning 16 this week and he doesn’t get a real party either. That really stinks.

I parked Peg’s car in their garage, waved goodbye and exited quickly through the garage door. I felt bad for again not helping with the luggage, but figured they could carry an armload at a time out of their suitcases. Who knows how many people touched those suitcases?

“I KEPT MY distance like I promised,” I called out to Honey as I opened our front door. “I used the bandanna, too.”

“Whoa, there, cowboy,” she said. “Go back out on the porch and take off all your clothes.”

“But – but – it’s cold out there.”

“You’ll survive. Put everything in this plastic bag. I’ll wash them separately.”

A few moments later I came back inside, shivering.

My wife stopped me again. “Underwear and socks, too, buster. Now, straight into the shower.”

She’s strict, but I know it’s for my own protection. For all of us, really, including General Doc and Col. Peggy.

My mother, Ol’ Food, grew up in Lincoln County, W.Va., in the 1920s and ’30s. The coronavirus T-shirt reminds me of one of her old sayings, that there are people back in the hills “who live so far up a holler they have to pipe the sunlight in.”

Honey keeps reminding all of us that our family probably would not have existed if her grandfather Lloyd hadn’t practiced his own version of social distancing during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. Stationed on a flu-infected troop ship headed for France in World War I, he kept apart from others by going down in the ship’s hold. According to the story passed down in the Ryan family, he crossed Atlantic alone, sitting on sacks of potatoes.

Alone in a ship’s hold on sacks of potatoes, or far up a West Virginia holler – either one seems a good place to be right now.

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