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Holding it together in the Pandemic by Mary McGonagle Johnson

Writing.ie | Magazine | Mining Memories | Tell Your Own Story
Mary Johnson

Mary McGonagle Johnson

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The husband and I were excited, if a bit confused ,when my son suggested a family meeting on zoom. I had heard people talk about Zoom, but I’m not that well up on technology, so occasionally my 14 year old daughter would try to teach me. But that was before the pandemic of course.

Now we’d been isolated for three months, partly because of our ages, as well as some health issues. Luckily our daughter lived nearby and called over often with some of the grandchildren. But they would stand in the conservatory and blow kisses through misty glass, partly blocking my view as they reached out for a hug. But still, I had felt their presence when we shouted words of love to each other.

The rest of the family was a bit scattered, some lived quite a distance away, so hadn’t been able to visit us for months. We spoke on the telephone frequently, but I longed to see their faces, and feel their hugs.

So I got excited when my son rang me from Boston and explained about the zoom meeting. ‘We will be able to see you and dad; and have a chat mum.’ ‘You mean I will see you all the way from Boston?’ I was confused, and still struggled with the idea until my granddaughter enlightened me once again,telling me that it would be a virtual meeting.

‘A virtual meeting.’ I shook my head.

‘Will they come here and talk through the glass like you do? ‘ I asked. She laughed at that. ‘This is how it works, ‘ she explained.

‘You’ll be on your laptops with Grandad. It will be like us all being together in the same room. You will be able to see each other, and you can talk to everyone.’

‘ Sure they don’t all live together.’ I was confused. I scratched my head and said to my husband. ‘We’re meeting the family on Zoom tonight.’ ‘Zoom! ‘ He said, as he poured himself a whiskey. I tried to explain the little I understood.

‘You’ll need to shave, put on a clean shirt’. I said. ‘ You mean to tell me that they’ll be able to see me?’ He looked puzzled. ‘That’s what they tell me.’ I said , confused about it myself. Off he went towards the bedroom. I decided to put on a nice dress, and some make up. I hadn’t bothered with make up for weeks, sure who would see me anyway, in this lock down. Sure I can’t even go to the shop.

I felt a spring in my step as I walked towards the bathroom. I had not seen them all together since Christmas. I look all right I thought, when I had done my makeup, although I did struggle a bit with the zip on my dress. I have eaten far too much during this lock down, probably drank too much red wine too. I thought.

Then my husband appeared, he was all dressed up in his best suit, as if he was going to a wedding. ‘You didn’t have to go to that extreme, I only meant that you needed to smarten up a bit.’

‘You’re all dolled up yourself.’ He looked at me, with surprise on his face as if he hadn’t seen me before. ‘None of my clothes fit me. I’ve put on so much weight.’ I tried to pull in my tummy. ‘It’s all that wine you’re knocking back since we’ve been locked in.’

Then as if to retract his insult, he said quickly. ‘That’s nice perfume you’re wearing’. Just then my phone bleeped. It was my son. ‘I sent a link to your laptop mum, just click on it, and you’re away.’ ‘Away where’ I mumbled. I clicked on the link and prided myself on getting so far. Then a message appeared on the screen.

‘Your host is waiting.’ Who was my host, I wondered? I clicked again, and glanced at the kitchen door half expecting someone to enter.

Then on the screen I could see my grandchildren. They were all talking, and blowing kisses. I became so choked up at seeing their faces after such a long absence, that the tears were blinding me. I couldn’t speak for a few seconds.

Hi mum, imagine seeing you on Zoom, you look well, makeup on as well .’ It was my daughter, she opened her arms as if she was going to hug me. I reached out , but my empty arms dropped like cold stones.

‘Ach look at my hair it’s like a bizim.’ I protested. ‘Your hair is white Granny.’ My youngest grandson, Finn, shouted out.

‘Well darling , sure I have not been able to go to the hairdresser, they are all closed you see.’

‘ Our school has been closed too so we have to stay at home, it’s brilliant.’ He put his thumbs in the air.

‘You’re looking very smart Dad.’ My daughter noticed her smartly dressed father. ‘Are you going to a wedding?’ She teased him.

‘It was your mother, she told me to smarten myself up for your visit.’ He nodded towards me. There was more laughter. ‘I didn’t want you all to think we were letting you down because we’re cocooned.

How are you coping ? ‘ she asked him.

‘Arrah! I’m sick of this lockdown, can’t even go out for a pint.’

‘Hopefully it will be over soon.’ Catherine replied. Teaching from home is no fun, especially when you have to help these two as well. She touched her daughter on the head.

Then my student granddaughter appeared on the screen. ‘How are you two doing with this Covid, hope you are following the rules, are you washing your hands often Grandad?

‘ The hands are worn off me.’ He held them up for her to see.

‘It so lovely to see you Ciara’ I reached out my arms but they fell down flat once again.

‘ How is college? I hope you’re not too lonely up there in Dublin pet .’ I blubbered.

‘ The worst part is not being allowed to travel home.’ She blew me a kiss. I hope it will be over soon. You should both be due to have the vaccine shortly.’

‘The sooner the better’ her grandad answered.

Suddenly anothet son appeared on the screen . I got up to greet him.

‘ How did you get here from New York so quickly Patrick? I was caught again, forgetting that he was not here in the flesh.. They all began to laugh at me.

‘Don’t be silly Granny. This is just a virtual visit.’ My youngest grandson shouted, he seemed to understand the expression better than I did.

How are you mum?’

My son reached out his arms and I jumped up. I nearly knocked the laptop over as I reached out to him, before once again I woke up to reality, remembering that my son was just a face on a computer screen, he was untouchable for now. I scratched my head.

My family was chatting away now. They hadn’t seen each other during the lockdown either, and were keen to catch up on what was happening in each other’s life. ‘This is lovely, having you all here together, just like Christmas.’ Then I remembered that I had some ice cream in the freezer. I always kept some for the grandchildren when they could come to visit

‘‘Who would like choc ice?’ I got up to go to the kitchen. ‘You’re getting mixed up mum, they all laughed. ‘We are not really there.’

‘You will have to get used to these Zoom meetings mum. It might be the only way we can see each other for some time.’

My daughter looked serious.

I knew that, but I was becoming mesmerised. I needed to hold each of them, to put my arms around them, to hug them. But that was not allowed at this pandemic. I didn’t know when I would ever be able to do so again. I sat down on my chair, dwelling on the horror of it all .

Then someone announced. ‘Time is up, we’ll have to finish.’

Then one after another they were gone, leaving only the echo of their farewell words of love, leaving us staring at a cold blank screen. I looked around the room, it was cold and silent. The two of us were alone once again.

I had felt the presence of our loved ones for a short time, if only on a cold screen. Still, It gave me some comfort to see that they were all safe and healthy, at least for now.

That gave me courage to hold it together until we are released from the lockdown, when I can give them a real mothers welcome again.

(c) Mary McGonagle Johnson

About the author

I was born on a small farm in Malin Co Donegal, I left school at 14. In those day there was no opportunities for further education unless you had money. I did read a lot when I was young, and sometimes thought that I would love to write.
I left Ireland in 1964 and went to Manchester. After a few years, I decided to go to night school and study for O’levels, with the intention of eventually becoming a teacher. When I applied to teacher training college, I still didn’t have enough qualifications, so they set me a mature students entrance exam, which I passed. This was 1974, I had a 5 year daughter at this time. After my training I taught for a short while , and had my son in 1978, I then stayed at home for a few years,but continued to study with the Open University. I graduated with my second degree a year before my daughter graduated from Lancaster University.
I entered a competition in Ireland’s Own in the early ’80 and had my story published, I also had a story published in Woman’s Way. I then joined ‘The Manchester Irish Writers.’ We published four books of short stories and poetry, all of which I feature in, under the name Mc Gonagle Johnson. We also performed our monologues at Manchester Royal Exchange.
At present I’m trying to write a novel, I have written 47,000 but seem to be stuck there. That story is based on my family history.

  • The Dark Room: A thrilling new novel from the number one Irish Times bestselling author of Keep Your Eyes on Me
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