On Friday, I got a phone call from someone who said he was my son, though the voice was sepulchral, and barely audible. He was sick. “I’ll be up this afternoon,” I instantly said. He and his wife are house parents at a sorority at Cornell. Forty-six of the 49 sorority sisters were sick, five had gone to the hospital, and my son, his wife, and son were down too.
I drove up through a snowfall, and got there in the early evening ready for a bite to eat. There was no one in the kitchen, no one in the dining room, or the living room. It was like boarding the Flying Dutchman. Where was dinner? Where were the girls?
In their small houseparent’s apartment, my son lay, somewhere between grey and yellow. His wife was huddled in the sling chair watching television, and the baby toddled to the door to greet me with “Hi!!” and a burbly, deep cough.
All bathrooms had been compromised by 48 ill peoples’ stomach flus. The chronic mess in the kitchen had been attenuated because nobody was eating. As I heated up herbal tea and Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, the occasional perky, healthy girl bopped through to heat up something in a box for dinner, leaving a mess behind. Several young men were displaying their feminine side, nursing girls whose bedrooms they would otherwise be lucky to see. Putting cloths on their feverish foreheads, I’m told. Comforting them on their return from the bathrooms, which I didn’t venture into.
I missed out on a nice dinner and a party this weekend, with two different men whom I like, but sometimes the gravitas of my love for my children, and my grandchild, reminds me how second-place everything else in my life can be when they are endangered. It’s a good thing to keep in mind, though I hope my next reminder will not be so unpleasant for them.