We often talk about the “new normals” of the pandemic era, but people have been incredibly creative in overcoming the obstacles of separation. My family in Virginia showed just how to overcome even the most distant isolation. Today is my birthday but I remain in Chicago with my mother who was placed in hospice in her home on the Northside. To my surprise, a Black Forest cake arrived from my childhood bakery in Chicago: Lutz. To bridge the distance, my family ordered a Black Forest cake from our favorite German bakery in Virginia: Heidelberg. We proceeded to eat the cake together, but remotely. Even my son Benjamin (who is self-quarantined due to his work as a psychiatric counselor at D.C.’s only psychiatric hospital) joined in on the remote party. (Ben donned his PPEs for the occasion). In a strange way, I have never felt closer in what will be strangest but most memorable birthday of my life. (I also wanted to thank everyone for the birthday wishes on the blog and Twitter. I truly appreciate it.).
My big brother Dominic brought my gift from the family: my favorite Blanton’s Bourbon (which is incredibly hard to come by). My nephew Jason (who is the co-owner of a couple of bars in Chicago including Spilt Milk) put together a package for the makings of my favorite drink, an Old Fashioned, as well as a bottle of Remus Repeal Reserve Bourdon.
The huge cake and massive amount of alcohol does raise some questions as to whether the gifts were meant as celebratory or malevolent.
When I grew up, we would go regularly to the bakery and Lutz would love to torture us by proclaiming in a big booming voice that we could choose any sweet or cookie as a gift from him. Looking at dozens of incredible Napoleons to eclairs to Madeleines, we would be paralyzed for 30 minutes as Lutz would laugh at the impossible dilemma facing us.
After over month from home, I cannot say that a Zoom birthday is my preference, but these are novel times to deal with a novel virus. The upside is that I will spend my birthday and Mother’s Day with my 92-year-old mother who has rallied in the last couple weeks. Like most families spread across the country, the pandemic has become a montage of such moments, bitter but sweet vignettes that become part of your family history.
The fact is that crisis tends to distill our relationship to their essentials in a way that can be obscured in better times. Now I am going to make an Old Fashioned.