Skip to main content

Chester County Press

Editorial: A Family's Masks

07/06/2021 03:23PM ● By Richard Gaw

It is the autumn of the year 2025, and owing largely to the reality of a downsized home due to the recent departure of her two children for college, a Unionville woman endeavors to reduce the contents of the home she has shared with her husband since the kids were barely out of their strollers.

It is an exhaustive but necessary deep dive into the depths of her family’s memory, but for the woman, it is also one of pure glee, because there is no practical reason to remain in the possession of household items whose dates have long expired, or clothes that no longer fit, or trinkets or do-dads that have little sentimental value. By the second room, she has become a human cleaning machine, filling up several plastic bags in a purging of both the home and the past.

Her energy, she finds, is contagious; her husband has wiped away nearly every metallic and useless gear and grind from the garage, as well as completed the tall order of dropping off outgrown bicycles and love-worn toys at a nearby Goodwill store.

There is a desk beside the front door that has become a daily depot for the business of the woman’s family – a sizable museum of keys, outdated driver’s licenses, personalized sport cards made of the kids when they were in youth soccer and old holiday greetings cards inked with signatures and soggy with sentiment. With the remainder of her home cleansed from the collected debris of the past 20 years and a small black mountain of bags stacked at the end of the driveway, the woman saves the desk for last.

The woman affords the unruly stack as much delicacy as a lion pursuing a wildebeest. The action is swift, a three-step motion of holding the item in her hands, asking ‘Do we really need this anymore?’ and tossing the item in the bag. Within minutes, she has nearly reached the bottom of the drawer when she removes a face mask, and then another and another and another.

They were worn by her family from March 2020 to July 2021.

She turns over the personally embroidered cloth of the masks in her hand. It was the year of vanishing smiles, she remembers, when we all disappeared into the safe crevices of our homes to wait out the devastating storm that ravaged country after country.

It was a year when her children’s bedrooms became their virtual classrooms, and when the social and economic and community order of her beloved Kennett Square Borough became suddenly silent of its shopkeepers and restaurants and festivals.

It was the year of being caught in the necessary but dreadful Brady Bunch montage of Zoom meetings.

It was a year that tried and tested the question of whether we as a nation would ever overcome the toll of such a hardship.

It was the year of the phone call that she received on her way to the hospital from her mother, informing her that her father had just died – one of the 600,000 Americans who became the victim of a cruel and punishing disease.

It was also the year that turned her life into a frame-by-frame picture book of her children’s development that allowed her and her husband the stunning gift of time suddenly slowed down. While the world outside raged with fear, their home had become a sanctuary of new conversations both silly and enlightening that galvanized them in a way that normal life with all of its schedules and commitments would never allow them to.

It was the year of listening.

The woman noticed that the jackets and coats that normally would occupy several rungs of the coat rack near the front door were now hanging in two college dorm rooms. She held the four face masks from that horrible year that somehow brought her family closer together, and placed them one by one on available rungs.