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Gwen Tuinman

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COVID

A Return to Contentment

Why I woke up thinking of Popham’s Shoe Store this morning remains a mystery. I haven’t bought shoes there since I left my hometown forty years ago. Theirs was the only shoe store in town. During my public-school days in the early seventies, their shoe selection for children seldom changed. I learned to tie laces in a bow by practicing on black velvet saddle shoes with leather detailing around the eyelets. From kindergarten to second grade, I wore the exact same shoe in incremental sizes. In third grade I chose big girl shoes and repurchased that style until fifth grade. The pattern continued until I graduated to adult sizes.

The arrangement satisfied me. I was content. No one at school teased me because, with the exception of a few well-off town kids, we were all in the same boat. I usually had three or four school outfits, and play clothes for at home. Hand-me-downs, let out waistbands (and shirt buttons removed then sewn on further to the right) were the norm not the exception.

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Getting Things Done

As a creative person, I’ve historically found administrative to-do lists terrifying. I’d start off gung-ho, then turn into a morose Hamlet-type. “To get it done, or not to get it done. That is the question.” All those unticked boxes came to symbolize shame and guilt. They mounded up so heavily I couldn’t lift them. Why try?

In retrospect, each administrative task I listed was made of a subset of smaller tasks that could have comfortably been completed had I tackled them over a realistic timeline. But that would have been too kind.

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Missing Pre-COVID Smiles

I visited my dentist for a cleaning, a mundane and slightly dreaded experience made all the more off putting by COVID. The hygienist welcomed me with a temperature gun to the forehead, a dousing of hand sanitizer, and a list of blanks to initial on a clipboard form. All acts were necessary for both our safety. And any one who might follow in our wake.

After the appointment ended, I returned to the reception area where four clerical staff sat in a row staring into the glow of individual computer screens behind a plexiglass wall. A voice asked, “Can I help you?” It was impossible to discern who’d spoken. No one had looked up from their screen. And their masks hid my cue–the speaker’s smile of engagement.

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