Christmas 2020 Newsletter

The plague diaries.

I remember reading on reddit late last year about a mysterious new virus that had emerged in Wuhan, China. Mostly because that happens with somewhat regularity and it is usually not a lot to worry about, I didn’t give it a lot of thought. So while I was writing last year’s newsletter, doctors in China were trying to get a grip on exactly what they were facing.

And as 2020 dawned, it was clear that what we were facing was not like many of the other diseases that have emerged recently: it’s virulence as at a level not seen in our world since the early 1900s. I watched videos of people in China being loaded into “containment boxes,” and apartment doors being welded closed as they desperately tried to get control of the situation. The whole time I am thinking, “if I am watching this on the Internet, surely governments around the world are as well and are preparing.”

Guess not.

But what we didn’t know then was that this disease – SARS-CoV-2, now better known as COVID-19 or simply Coronavirus – had already spread. And as February began, countries started shutting their borders and shutting down. And as the first cases started being detected in the United States, the news started coming sometimes too quickly to even keep track of. In many ways it reminded me of the hours and days after 9/11.

As an Auburn fan, I was looking forward to seeing Auburn Basketball play in the NCAA Tournament, something that until the last few years has been a rarity. Last year we made it to our first Final Four, so there was a lot of excitement. But then the NCAA announced that the tournament would be played in empty arenas. Shortly thereafter the NBA became the fist league to straight up suspend play. Other leagues followed suit. Then the college conferences started suspending their tournaments, then suspending athletic competition entirely. Less than 48 hours later, the NCAA tournament was officially cancelled.

So here we are, ten months later. It’s COVID Christmas, possibly the most unusual Christmas in memory. We’re all walking around in masks like some kind of post-apocalyptic dystopian cyber-horror. But much like the Christmas star, I keep telling myself that hope is right around the corner.

As I write this, the first people are being vaccinated against COVID. Which, when you think about it, is just mind blowing about just how quickly we can move as a species when faced with an existential threat. Our scientists took this virus apart and developed, tested and deployed a completely new vaccine in about a year. That’s pretty cool! And not only one vaccine, have several. And now the biggest problems we face are logistics: getting enough of these vaccines manufactured and distributed as quickly as possible, and getting as many people as possible vaccinated.

So hope is coming. Help is coming. We just have to hold on a little bit longer. So stay safe, stay healthy, keep those masks on and appreciate your family and friends from six feet away. We’ll get through this together, and hopefully my next newsletter in 2021 will be about how we beat back the biggest threat to humanity since World War II.

But enough about that. So what did the Pecks do this year? Well, 2020 was a garbage year, and not just because COVID made everything stupid.

In January, while helping her father with some repairs at their house, Sarah dislocated her knee. While she was able to get it reset and walk with the help of a knee brace, further medical examinations determined that she would need surgery to repair the damage. Ultimately this surgery was carried out in March, just weeks before all the hospitals started shutting down elective surgeries. The good news is, after several months of physical therapy, Sarah is almost back to normal. And hopefully that will never happen again.

While this was going on, we were planning what was supposed to be a fun family trip: we were going to go to Chicago and visit family, then take Amtrak’s Empire Builder on a 3-day train ride across Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and ultimately ending up in Portland, Oregon where we would spend a week before flying home. But when COVID happened and everything shut down, that got put on ice until later. And then when the protests erupted this summer, it looked like that ended up being for the best, but we’d still like to do it.

(And, as a side note, everyone refunded me in full except for Southwest Airlines. So, don’t fly Southwest Airlines.)

In April as the first wave of the pandemic was raging, Scarlett’s school went all virtual. She continued doing virtual school through the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year and has continued with virtual this fall. And while she misses her friends she has actually handled virtual very well.

While sequestered at home, like many people, we had the opportunity to take care of lots of things around the house. The biggest thing we did this year was build a pond.

Using the fill dirt from the pond, we also added some new vegetable garden beds in the backyard. We haven’t planted anything in them yet, but we will next year.

We also revamped our outdoor lighting with newer fixtures.

After being sequestered in the house for awhile, everyone was getting a bit stir crazy. So we went to an outdoor, socially-distanced drive-in concert held in nearby Cullman, featuring Alan Jackson.

Even though Scarlett’s dance lessons were interrupted by the pandemic, she was still able to get her recital in.

During the summer we took a trip to Knoxville to see some family. While there we went tubing on the Little River, swimming, Splash Country (side note, admission was limited to 50% of usual capacity, it was very easy to socially distance) and visited a cavern as well.

Scarlett continues to be active in Girl Scouts as much as we are able to during the pandemic. As fall rolled around, Scarlett bridged from being a Daisy to a Brownie. We’re so proud of her!

As November rolled around and the third wave of the pandemic arrived, our usual large Thanksgiving was narrowed down to just a couple of visitors. But we did still celebrate Scarlett’s 8th birthday.

There we other things that happened this year. There were protests. We had an election. But I think one of my favorite things that happened is not one event, but a continuous one: instead of eating out, we’ve been getting our “eat out” meals to go and finding places around town to have picnics in the back of the truck. We’ve discovered so many hidden places around town that are nice and quiet, perfect places to have a meal without the risk of catching the disease.

And that’s really the thing. As I am writing this, we just passed a grim milestone: this Christmas 300,000 American families will be without a loved one – lost to a disease almost no one knew existed a year ago. And I will be forever grateful that we have managed to, so far, stay disease free as has all of our families. Because that’s what this is about. Not presents or trips, or projects. It’s about family, and getting to see everyone again. Even if we have to sacrifice to make sure that the ones we love survive.

And we just have to hold on a little bit longer. We’re almost to the end. We can make it.