Her name is Julia Anderson, she’s 9, and just finished fourth grade at Thornton Creek Elementary in North Seattle.
Sitting at her family’s kitchen table working on her mom’s laptop, as a school project she put together a PDF: “Julia’s Field Guide to Life in the Time of Corona.”
It has photos of the family’s backyard garden, a young cottontail bunny that lives in their woodpile, of Julia with a set of cut-out spelling words.
With a photo of Julia unloading the dishwasher, she writes, “I don’t enjoy unloading the dishwasher.”
But the young girl, whose parents are Barbara and Carl Anderson, also is aware of the news around her.
She adds, “I am lucky, though. I have food, and other people are losing their jobs and don’t have food to eat.”
It’s always the personal stories that bring events to life. So how are future generations going to learn about the pandemic of 2020?
The statistics and charts show the catastrophic figures, but, after a while, the numbers seem to meld into each other.
Now, the Seattle Public Library, along with the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), the Washington State Historical Society in Tacoma and the Southwest Seattle Historical Society’s Log House Museum are among those asking you to send in your COVID-19 stories and photos to chronicle the pandemic’s effects on ordinary life.
For now, at least, that means through their websites. At some later date, when it’s possible, your contributions might be accepted in person.
“We are living in this historic moment, and we need to try and capture that. I was surprised at how thoughtful the submissions were,” says Maggie Wetherbee, head of collections for the Historical Society museum in Tacoma.
Says Jade D’Addario, digital projects librarian at the Seattle Public Library, “It’s really the everyday experiences during the pandemic that tell the story. “Somebody talking about how they became unemployed, a family member who got sick.”
You’ve been responding, from a Korean-American girl’s visual depiction of how she felt hearing the term “kung flu,” to a woman having to reinvent herself after losing much of her income, to a large quilt done by 20 volunteers depicting life during the pandemic.
We can look to history to see the impact of such personal stories.
Here is a recollection that vividly brings us to the 1918 pandemic. It’s from Elizabeth Sherlock, of Utah, in a collection of such stories with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She says her father was 7 when the deadly flu hit Provo:
“My father and his four brothers . . . were all confined to a semi-enclosed (screened) summer porch attached to the house where they could get some fresh air. My father said that as he and his brothers lay there on the porch, they could hear the horse-drawn hearse going back-and-forth continuously, day and night, taking the dead to the cemetery. Fortunately, all five . . . survived.”
One of the submissions to the Seattle Public Library this year was from Amaranta Sandys, mother of a 12-year-old boy. She had been teaching art in schools and libraries. That’s gone. She says she applied for unemployment benefits, but that’s stuck somewhere. She was getting $462 a month child support through the Department of Social and Health Services from her ex, but that’s been stuck somewhere since March.
“Covid-19 has completely changed my lifestyle, from being a bumble bee social person (to) .. . . home school, cook, work and create from home,” she wrote.
“I stressed out and my anxiety kicks in here and there because of financial uncertainty, but I have to remind myself that this could be a time to get creative, work on my yard, spend time with my son and take one day at a time.”
Sandys has gotten a couple of small grants, one from the city to make pandemic best-practices yard signs, one of which now has been enlarged and put on a county Metro bus. She has another grant to work with a small number of kids, at social distancing, painting a mural in South Park.
“I have to reinvent myself. Very soon I’m going to do my first Zoom class,” she says.
Denise Long, 68, of Stanwood, is a retired special ed teacher who is a quilter. This is how she deals with a virus that hovers over everything in our lives.
“I’m an artist. To me, art is a way to work through what is going on. It keeps me sane,” she says.
In April, she put out word among her quilter friends about her vision for a “Covid Commemorative Quilt.”
It’s nearly done, a 4- by 5-foot detailed, colorful work consisting of 24 squares, each square a visual symbol of life during the pandemic. A mortar and pestle for a pharmacy. An essential worker such as a bus driver. A roll of toilet paper for initial frenzied purchases. A person wearing a mask. A hand sanitizer with a pump.
“I’m so proud of the ladies and one young man who worked on this. It’s been very satisfying. What’s happened is not political. It has struck us all,” says Long.
The submissions to the various institutions are predominantly from women.
Maybe it’s because, you know, it’s that thing about guys not talking about their feelings.
Or, “maybe it’s because women find that the stuff they’re doing at home is more remarkable than what men think they’re doing at home,” says Nancy Kenney, associate professor emerita of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington.
In case you’re thinking about contributing, here is a selection of some others that’ve been submitted.
Molly Mesec, of Puyallup, is a 14-year-old going into ninth grade. She was born in South Korea and adopted at 4 months by Jay and Amy Mesec.
At the Annie Wright Middle School she attended in Tacoma, there was an assignment about life during the pandemic.
Molly watches the news. She had heard President Donald Trump’s remarks about the “Chinese virus” and the “kung flu.”
They stung. Molly decided to do a digital drawing.
“Because I’m Asian, it made me feel the next time I went out in public, people would think I had the virus and they would avoid me,” she said in accompanying text to her work.
It shows an Asian girl, wearing a mask, on her smartphone, with six people in the background, all in the shadow, their backs turned.
What would Molly tell the president, if she met him?
“I’d hope he wouldn’t be so mean and racist.”
Debbie Mensinger, of Pasco, was on the CDC website that had instructions on how to make a mask.
“I guess I could do something like that,” she thought. “I went to Walmart and got some good rubber bands, and then I walked by a display of Seahawks stuff.”
She couldn’t help but notice the lime-green foam can coolers, the kind that fits just right with a Bud. A little work, and she had her mask.
But with temperatures nearing the 90s, a foam mask “is hot,” she says.
Anyway, she’s got others to wear, including a Marshawn Lynch official “Beast Mode” mask in all-black fabric.
“That’s for formal attire,” says Mensinger.
Greg Bloch, marketing director for St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral on Capitol Hill, has been filling a cardboard box with signs that have been up at the church.
‘THE CATHEDRAL IS CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.”
“Live-streamed liturgy during Cathedral closure.”
What will future generations think of this signage: “Cathedral Yoga classes are suspended until further notice.”
Anne Cisney, of Seattle, a reference librarian, says, “I like to make textile art.”
While managing her young children, she began working on a 1 by 1 ½ foot wall hanging.
What would she show future generations about life in 2020?
With felt and embroidery, she created nine images. A hospital bed with a gray-haired person. A woman wearing a head scarf, gardening. As a centerpiece, a laptop, because it is in the digital world that we now communicate.
On the hanging, thanks to someone who’s familiar with Latin, Cisney embroidered this message about social distancing, “Procul Absimus Aut Peribimus Simul.”
She says it loosely means, “Stand apart or perish together.”
You have to have a little sense of humor.
For Turk Holford, 75, with the Colville Tribes, it meant putting on a painter’s mask, with its industrial respirators, when his daughter, Candy Holford, came to visit his home in the Spokane Valley.
Holford’s wife, Diana Holford, suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and obviously has to be extra careful during the pandemic.
On the front door, Candy placed a sign that read, partly, “NO VISITORS. This is our dad’s home . . . He needs to protect his health . . . RESPECT your ELDERS.”
Polly Aird, of the Wedgwood neighborhood in Seattle, is a historian. She sent the library an 11-page PDF: “In the time of COVID, George A. Bear Finds a Friend.”
She decided to take part in the impromptu worldwide project in which teddy bears and other stuffed animals are placed in windows for kids to see in neighborhood walks during the pandemic.
But her front window couldn’t be easily seen from the street. She does, however, have a window that faces the next-door bedroom window of Liam Lee, 3.
Aird found a stuffed bear that had belonged to one of her grown children. Thus, in mid-March, George A. Bear made his appearance.
On a sunny day, he was wearing sunglasses. On a rainy day, he had an umbrella. When the sun came back out, George was holding his lucky red ball.
Kailey Lee, Liam’s mom, says they appreciate the teddy bear. “A great surprise,” she says.
Aird is happy, too.
“I know other people are doing big things, like working in food banks,” she says. “I’m in my 70s.”
George A. Bear’s adventures are continuing.