Cookbook image for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley Hale
Family & Friends

Widows in Quarantine

I’ve taken Covid tests so often that I know what to expect. There’s always a bit of fear, but then…everything is fine. I’m tested every week at school, and I’ve taken more rapid tests than I can count. We made everyone Covid test for our wedding. And every single time I’ve taken one, it’s been negative.

Apparently, according to my dad and the National Institutes of Health, having an allergy to nuts (which I have) lowers your risk of getting Covid. Hey, I’ll take it!

I mean, I’m a teacher and have been teaching in person for over a year. I have three kids in different schools and I eat out at restaurants and I live my life. I wear a mask when it’s needed, but I hug my friends and family, always. After more than two years, a wedding and a honeymoon, I figured I was immune.

You know who else thought he might be immune? My dad.

And so, as I’m sure you can imagine, here’s how the story ends. I flew out to Oregon, had a blast making jam, and woke up the next day…with Covid.

My dad tested positive first, because he had symptoms, but I followed closely behind. My trip back to DC was put on hold, and we called everyone to tell them the news. We were fine, we reassured them. We were just going to have to quarantine.

The first problem – apart from a searing headache which kept me in bed for the first day – was that my dad’s cupboards made it very difficult to cook. At one point, I pulled everything out that I thought I could use for dinner, which included 4 massive jars of artichoke hearts, some diced tomatoes, black beans, a dozen cans of tuna fish and some canned pineapple. A friend brought by a few other ingredients, and I managed to pull together a soup. The next day, I vowed to order groceries for pickup so I could make us something good. Something that would heal us both.

But what?

Earlier that week, I’d come across my mom’s stack of cookbooks. As I thumbed through them, I found a gem: Julia Child’s book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The cover was torn, but otherwise, it appeared to be mostly unused. My mom’s name was inside the front cover, and the printing said it was from 1972. I don’t remember my mom ever using this cookbook to cook for us (she wasn’t much of a cook when we were kids) but my dad claimed she’d cooked a lot for him when they were first married.

And so I chose a recipe: Coq a Vin. It was one of the few that had the corner dog-eared, as though she may have made it, or at least thought about cooking it. “Remove the rind and cut the bacon into lardons…saute the bacon in hot butter” it began. I laughed. “I love Julia Child!” I said to my dad. “She starts this recipe with, ‘saute the bacon in hot butter!'” He laughed too, and I sipped some wine and listened to the old 70s music that my dad had on in the background. He ate pretzels and read a book and would sometimes look up and tell me about what he was reading. The chicken simmered in the wine while I cut up the mushrooms and tried to remember if my mom had ever made anything like this. I couldn’t recall it. I’m sure we would have turned our childhood noses up at it, had she tried.

The dish was good – I could tell even before we started eating. “It’s gourmet food!” my dad exclaimed, though it wasn’t really that gourmet. Still, it felt good to take care of my dad in this small way, since he’s always taken care of me.

I mean, he was still taking care of me. He had gotten me medicine in the early days of my illness and he made me breakfast every morning I was there. But this was something I could do for him, using my mom’s old cookbook.

We spent much of our time in quarantine walking around the (mostly empty) neighborhood, my dad and I talking about everything, including what it had been like in the early days after we’d both been widowed. One day, when we were walking in the misty rain, he recalled running into a friend in town, way back then:

She had been widowed too, when she was in her early 30s. She came up to me and asked how I was doing. It had been a few months since your mother died. I said, “oh, I’m fine.” But then she stopped and put her hand on my shoulder and said, “no, how are you really doing?” And for the first time, I felt free to say, “I feel terrible. I feel like shit!”

That made a big difference to me, back then. Having someone who would really ask about how I was doing, and someone who really wanted to hear my answer. Someone who showed that they really cared.

I cooked for him every night of our quarantine. I made stews and braised meats and roasted vegetables and whatever else seemed good that day. He was impressed that I’d learned so much about cooking since we lived together.

But honestly, I think I could have made anything for my dad, and he would have appreciated it.

He likes to tell me that he can take care of himself, and that he’s become a decent cook. He likes to show me that he cleans his own house and that he doesn’t need help getting groceries. He can manage on his own, he reminds me. I know the feeling – I’ve always wanted to show that I can handle a lot on my own.

But it was nice to be able to take care of each other.


  • Babette

    You once again cheered me up with this post. I went to DC for work and came home to test positive for Covid despite being double vaccinated and double boosted. I cancelled my birthday plans and have a searing headache. Your post made me feel a little less alone. 💕😇

  • Linda Morse

    I’m responding to Why I Write from late May of 2022. My husband and I wrote to each other so much over the years – first as teenagers, then after he went into the military, then after getting married and feeling frustrated or unable to explain myself/himself, then as he struggled through alcoholism – lots and lots of writing/emails back and forth – so I have a lot of letters of his which have been of enormous comfort to me. After he died I of course wrote a huge letter and sent it with him into the casket/cremation (my (adult) girls even did too on my light suggestion) but other than one day when I had to leave the house at 5:30 a.m. to deal with a bad tooth, I have written to him. I have quite a lot at this point of 19 months out. It has established a positive routine for me and helps me to feel connected to him and myself. Many “letters” are mundane, the events of life, others are pouring out my heart and pain. I also read Buddhism, Marcus Aurelius, Joseph Campbell, Rolf Gates, books on the 2nd half of life – i.e. aging productively in one’s 60s – all sorts of spiritual works. This strategy has kept me putting one foot in front of the other and feeling a sense of moving in a positive direction. What direction, I don’t know, but I throw out all kinds of questions – do I want to be alone for the rest of my life, potentially 20 years, what is my purpose here, why do I want to keep going, what do family and friends do, how I feel about them, being lonely – everything goes into these journals. Thank you for your writing as it is filled with meaning! I think writing is key to moving forward.