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The Lament of the Hostess

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

Heaven knows, I am a compliant soul. My female condition, not to mention my Catholic girlhood, incline me towards obedience. So when, in this virusy era, residents of the community where I live are directed to wear a mask, stay out of stores and each other\’s houses, and keep a six foot distance from each other, I bow my head and strap on the mask, reject the shelter of a friendly roof in the rain, and keep both friend and foe a sword\’s distance away from my body.

When a visitor arrives, I carefully place our chairs eight feet apart on my front porch. We sit and strain to hear our muffled voices beneath our masks, guess at our hidden smiles, and peer into each other\’s eyes to discern the real meaning of what we think the other just said. Even in Vermont, it gets hot at this time of year, and as the hour passes my friend and I begin to sweat while our glasses fog up, and we hear the air conditioner\’s chilly hum in the forbidden indoors.

None of this is easy, but for me one of the hardest parts is not being able to offer her…anything. I\’m not talking about a four-course dinner, or a smear of brie on a cracker, or a single roasted peanut. I\’m not even allowed to give her a cup of coffee (iced and with a splash of cream would be lovely in this weather), or a glass of wine, or a drink of water. In order to swallow any of these things we would have to remove our masks and open our mouths, thereby shooting clouds of virus into the atmosphere.

I don\’t know why this particular restriction seems so hard, but as my friend and I sit mumbling into our facial coverings, I keep having to quell the urge to jump up and run inside and bring out something for us to share. I had no idea that the hostess instinct was so rooted in me, but there you have it.

I suspect that I\’m not alone in this. There is something atavistic about the desire to offer food and drink to a visitor. Perhaps as she hands over a bowl of dip and a plate of crudités, the hostess\’s subconscious is saying \”See? My hands are full of good things. I cannot attack you.\” And the guest\’s subconscious sighs: \”Whew! I guess it\’s o.k. to relax.\”

Our fellow primates, the monkeys and apes, share food with their friends. My dogs Wolfie and Bisou used to share bones (well, Wolfie, who outweighed her by seventy pounds, used to let Bisou have his). And partaking of meals is at the center of countless religious rituals.

So yes, it\’s tough, and it feels inhuman not to be able to eat and drink with friends. This is why restaurants were among the first establishments to open in many states (restaurants and tattoo parlors, the latter pointing to the even more primitive urge to paint one\’s body), and people flocked to them. And many of those people are now paying a heavy price.

Which is why for now I\’ll keep my fridge door tightly closed when a friend comes over. Instead I will indulge in one pleasure that is still allowed and never gets old: complaining.

7 Responses

  1. Such varied pandemic styles: on the one hand, some of us strategize ways of consuming liquids without removing masks; on the other, bare-faced crowds drink for hours in air-conditioned bars.Sigh.

  2. Perfect last line AGAIN! But you make some great points. Maybe that's why I like to have a drink – whether a cup of tea or a glass of wine – when I Zoom/Skype with someone. It feels as if we're having drinks together, and as you say, there is comfort in that.

  3. We have had guests over for dinner — three times not counting my son and his partner. We eat on the deck, far apart from each other. We also went to a gathering on someone else's deck. All were risky, we knew that, but all but one was worth it (the other people's deck — they were Dean's friends, not mine).

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