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The Jones residence in Shirley following the snowfall earlier this week
The Jones residence in Shirley following the snowfall earlier this week

SHIRLEY – We’ve never had streetlights along our rural road, save for one posted at each end, like sentinels overlooking a mile-long stretch of darkness.

The only light at night comes from the houses, spaced an acre or so apart. Most blink out by midnight. Lately, though, I’ve seen lights shining through the trees at odd hours.

Raiding the fridge at 3 a.m., while my husband, daughter and grandson slumbered upstairs, I wondered about those unaccustomed lights. Were my neighbors also up and about, contemplating the fix we’re in as the coronavirus disrupts and threatens to dismantle the world around us?

As the news worsens worldwide, and cases get closer to home, hopeful messages crop up on social media. Surely we can all find things to be thankful for, they say, count our blessings, embrace the simple things we still have, virus be damned.

So here goes. My loved ones – my children, grandchildren and siblings are safe. For now. Our household is healthy. So far. We’re well situated, with comfy digs, provisions (toilet paper, too) and plenty of space, inside and out. We’re together, shoring up each others’ spirits, getting on each others’ nerves.

Still, it feels tenuous.

My husband and I have shared this house for more than 30 years. We brought up our two children here and never felt we were in close quarters. Now, it seems constrained.

Our daughter can’t go to work. Our grandson can’t go to school. We can go to the grocery store, but not out to a movie, the library, a restaurant. Like everybody else, we’re stuck, sheltered in place.

As a free-lance journalist, I’ve always worked from home. My home office is where I write. But I also attend meetings, events, go out to conduct interviews. Used to, that is. Now, it’s all long distance.

Walking is my favorite recreational activity. Now, though, even some outings are denied. The Trustees of Reservations, for example, have shut down all sites, including Far and Near in Shirley.

Close by, rambling options include woods out back that stretch to the Squannacook River and a rural road that’s less trafficked lately. But walks can be emotionally risky in these socially distanced days.

Like the day our 7-year old grandson, went walking with his mom. As they passed the home of a friend and first-grade classmate who lives a couple houses away, the other boy called out from his yard. Delighted to see each other, they were eager to exchange hugs and play together. But their mothers had to put the kibosh on their impromptu play date. Tears ensued. As for the walk, he was done.

A virtual visit with another friend and a big cookie eased his disappointment, but for how long?

We’re all in this together, or so we hear. But given the ban on gatherings, anywhere, anytime, and the self-imposed, six-foot stand-off zone when we do meet, that image seems far-fetched.

There are bright spots. The Ayer Shirley Regional School District, for example, keeps families in the loop with regular updates from Superintendent Mary Malone, daily home assignments and cheery to-do lists from teachers, virtual School Committee meetings shared via Zoom and continuation of the free lunch program, thanks to Food Services Director Susan Parker and her helpers.

Speaking of distances, my friend, another town resident, is in the risk group, age-wise and loath to leave the house during this trying time. When her daughter came with a grocery list, they compared notes through the window and when she came back with the delivery, she left it on the doorstep.

Another friend can’t visit her mom in an area nursing home, on lock-down since this viral siege began.

Like everybody else, I hate having my life on hold, with no resolution in sight.

And in the quiet hours, duties done, household asleep, I deeply miss my son, who lives in Arizona, with his wife and their baby daughter, nearly a year old now. We’d hoped to visit soon, maybe fly out there for her birthday. Now, any such plans must be tabled for the duration.

How long? Nobody knows.

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