It took four weeks, but I finally lost it.
I’m sitting in my kitchen with a Reverse Manhattan and the New Yorker, weeping after reading the Wheaton College newsletter. Four weeks ago, I was desperate to get my son home to Virginia from college in New England, afraid travel restrictions might strand him on a closed campus in a state with a higher rate of infection. Now, I’m terrifically nostalgic for before, when my friends had jobs, I could go to the fabric store, and had an overbooked calendar.
That calendar included portraying Rebecca Flower Young, a military contractor in Philadelphia ca. 1780, and, eventually (still?) in the fall, Elizabeth Weed, a pharmacist in occupied Philadelphia, 1777. I think about those women when I get frustrated, tired of being home and just craving normal. More than anything, I want the absence of fear. It’s not something I think about consciously, this fear of the RNA strand, it’s something I experience after I’ve been to the grocery store or the pharmacy. Most of my life has shifted online, but t’s not a huge change. I worked from home already two to four days a week, and lots of my commerce was online.
It’s scary because I know not everyone is behaving the way I am: wearing a mask when I run errands, for example. Because my friends are getting laid off in increasingly large numbers (the last straw came today when a friend posted about joining the 17 million unemployed). I’m frustrated by my lack of control, lack of agency, inability to protect or really help the people I care about beyond my tiny circle of two at home. I can’t even do much for my mother in PA or my father in FL except keep myself safe. And while that impotence could fill me with rage and tears, I am practiced enough at sublimation to recognize an opportunity to understand.
How did Elizabeth Weed feel in 1777? She had a son to care for, who was often unwell. She needed to sell remedies to keep paying for food, firewood, and other necessities. She would have had no choice but to stay put and trade with the enemy. Did she feel trapped? Did she walk down the street wondering about each person she saw? What could she get at the market? Where *did* the neighbor get that butter? Those onions?
I sat at my table trying to schedule a grocery delivery or pickup in the next two weeks and thought about how the miserable onions and contraband butter of 1777 are today’s last bag of flour and package of toilet paper. It’s funny, in a way, but it’s also a pointed reminder of what the people we portray felt.
Right now, that’s the best meaning I can offer you: insight into how you might have behaved under British Occupation in 1777 Philadelphia, or in rationed 1944 upstate New York. What creative solutions might you have found? How would you have flexed? How would you have comforted your children when they caught you crying in the kitchen?
Henry Cooke said:
Great blog. Perhaps a similar and perhaps more immediately relevant comparison for your people is how they must’ve felt during the annual cholera outbreaks that struck Philadelphia for many years. I don’t know if they were as common at the time of the American Revolution as they seem to have been in the early 19th century, but it must have been a challenging time for Elizabeth Weed, who would have been called upon to compound herbal and mineral concoctions to try to help heal her neighbors. It must have been an equally helpless feeling when her customers/patients didn’t recover despite hers and the physician’s best efforts. Thanks for the thought provoking share!
Jane Campbell said:
It’s probably been a couple of years but this recent post about a Philadelphia widow pharmacist reminds me of another post on your blog. This one recounted the story of a Philly pharmacist’s widow who later moves across the Delaware River to Burlington, NJ. Is Elizabeth Weed the person in both posts? Also can you tell me how to find the older post? I’m from Burlington and wanted to show it to a friend.
I’ve enjoyed your blog for years. Thank you!