It took five tries before I settled on a direction for today’s post. Between angst over the state of the world and boredom with what has become a daily pandemic routine for the past two years, writing does not flow. Little feels important enough to discuss here, like wasted breath. But on Thursday morning, with the house to myself, I finally found something to riff on. I have my mother to thank for it. Would she have like being called a crone in her later years? I wonder. Anyway, this post is partly her fault.
It’s early Thursday morning. My partner Mick has gone to campus to give what will be one of his last lectures before retirement. I have the house to myself. I put on the softest lights in the kitchen, turn on the local jazz radio station (KBEM-FM aka Jazz 88), grind coffee beans, boil water. This particular way of beginning my day makes me think of my mother, her habit of getting morning coffee going and turning on WCCO 8-3-0, a Twin Cities AM radio station on the air since the 1920s. When I was a kid, it was THE radio station to tune in to for everything: weather, sports, news, really bad jokes, and music that parents listened to. It was the voice of assurance and accuracy during tornado warnings and blizzards. I still remember those morning DJs, Boone and Erickson. The sound of the radio took its place every morning alongside the sounds of coffee sloshed into waiting cups, toast popping up from the toaster, cereal hitting the bowl.
I haven’t listened to WCCO radio since the 1970s. Maybe the 1980s – I still tuned in when there was a tornado warning during my young adult years, certain that would save my life. As I wrote this piece, I checked online to see if WCCO 8-3-0 is still on the air. It is, owned now by Audacy, Inc. I have no desire to tune in to see what it’s like today. I’m happy with Jazz 88, a listener-supported FM radio station owned by the Minneapolis Public Schools. In the early mornings, the programming is full of good jazz interspersed with BBC news segments, traffic reports, and school news. Every once in a while, I hear a student announcer read a script, voice uncertain at the beginning. Most evening programming showcases different forms of music – R&B, blues, funk, old jazz standards, local musicians, the occasional school concert. The local flavor of this station makes me feel like there’s a chair for the community here in my living room. It goes with the sound of my fingers hitting my laptop keyboard.
I believe that community connection is what my mom felt every morning when she switched on our radio. There was a sense that whatever we were going through, we had company.
I’ve been thinking about connection a lot lately. Thinking about company. In this pandemic, connection has been strained, stretched, sometimes broken. The huge rift over how to manage things isn’t healing. Settling into our third year of pandemic constraints could have showcased how well we’ve learned to mitigate virus transmission and care for each other, but that isn’t what is happening. There’s so much anger, false information, failure to communicate well. Connections everywhere have snapped, some for now and some forever. Good company is hard to come by.
Every time I chafe at pandemic constraints, I think of our three-month-old granddaughter, Maeve. The desire to protect her is urgent, undeniable. It is for her that we maintain our little community of vaccinated family and friends, for her that we must figure out how to keep the world from imploding in the face of what the pandemic has laid bare. We must nurture our human connections, community, and proven healthy practices that we’ve spent generations developing. Our care and caution right now is the very least we can do to take care of our children and ourselves.
The jazz station has been playing this whole time I’ve been writing; I just heard the announcer talk about 50 years of KBEM. I’m so grateful for this little bit of company. In my head, I hear my mom telling me to wash my hands, come to the table, Boone and Erickson laughing on the radio in the background. I’m glad Mom passed her radio habit to me, glad I can still find these kinds of voices, music, and stories with an easy switching on of our stereo, a soundtrack that connects me to so many others in the Minneapolis area. This is one of the habits that has pulled me through this weird and awful time. Mom’s handwashing rule was a pretty good habit, too, it turns out.
Let’s hope that in another 50 years, Maeve will have the chance to talk about how she has found connection to our community, how she has found the voices that guide her wherever they may be. She won’t remember a time before COVID, but she’ll remember that her family did everything they could to offer her a healthy life even when a sizable portion of the country failed to follow the science. We even played a little music along the way.
Thanks for the nudge, Mom.
A little something extra
A poem by David Budbill:
This Morning Oh, this life, the now, this morning, which I can turn into forever by simply loving what is here, is gone by noon.
From Happy Life by David Budbill, Copper Canyon Press, 2011.