“I drove down and I got her, because I’m watching the news and I see all these cases going up, and it’s getting me nervous. I call my daughter and tell her I want to get her up here, and she tells me, ‘Yeah, Mom, I’m nervous too, but I can’t take off work. I’ll lose my job. I can’t lose my job right now.’ I told her, ‘Don’t worry about your job. I’ll go get her.”
Her granddaughter was down in Florida where she’d been living for the past two years. She goes to school in Miami, but when the pandemic began, all her classes went online and a part-time job at a local restaurant was eliminated. Even though it was jarring, she told her mother that Florida seemed to be okay, and so she’d ride it out, because nobody there thought it was that serious.
“I knew it was bad. I yelled at her over the phone and I told her it was going to get bad. I yelled at my daughter and she was talking about her being stubborn. I know stubborn. I mean. You think her mother’s not stubborn? Her mother’s even worse! I told her she needed to get that girl back here before it got really bad, but nobody’s got the money for a plane ticket and even my daughter didn’t want her getting on a plane, and I didn’t either, so I just prayed.”
As Rhode Island’s handling of the virus seemed to be going well, Florida became a hotspot. When she checked in on her granddaughter, she started to hear fear in her voice. She has asthma. She’d started staying in her off-campus apartment alone. Her roommate had gone back to South Carolina. Still, every time they talked, her grandmother would ask her if she wanted to come home, and she would say, “No.”
“That was until mid-June. Then she goes ‘Gran, I want to leave.’ That was all I needed to hear.”
What was the breaking point?
“One of her friends got it and wound up in the hospital. Once she knew someone, it was all over. She went from being scared to being scared out of her mind. I was already scared, because I’m seeing all these numbers about how bad Florida is. I mean. My husband tells me I can’t go get her, because I’d be putting myself at risk, but I know how I’m going to do it and I tell him to just mind his own business or help me, but no matter what, I’m going to go get her. That’s my granddaughter.”
Her neighbor has a camper that he wasn’t using. She got the idea that she could pick up her granddaughter, put her in the back, and the two of them wouldn’t even interact.
“I used to drive trucks. I drove trucks all my life, so I’m not scared of much. Like drives, that doesn’t scare me. That’s why nobody can believe I’m a Rhode Islander. I’ve done straight drives before too. I did a drive to Texas to go to my sister’s wedding years ago and I only stopped once. Long drives don’t bother me at all. But I haven’t done a drive like this in a long time, and I’m in my 70s now, so I didn’t know how I was going to do. I mean. I got in the front seat, and I told myself I could get down there with only two stops if I had to, and I told her to pack up her s*** and be ready to go. She hadn’t seen another person for a month, but I told her I didn’t even want her walking by the driver’s side door when I got there. Just get right in the back and stay there, and if you need anything, text my phone.”
She ended up having to stop three times, but she made good time, and pulled into her granddaughter’s apartment complex an hour earlier than expected.
There was only one problem.
“She was sick.”
Her granddaughter was coughing, her stomach was upset, and she had a mild fever.
“Now what the #$% are we going to do? That’s what’s going through my head. I can’t take a sick person over state lines. I don’t want to put anybody else at risk. I mean. I had to wait it out.”
She called her daughter and her husband and told them there was going to be a delay.
“I didn’t want to tell them why, but what could I do?”
Her husband ordered her not to go in her granddaughter’s apartment, so she stayed in the camper in the parking lot.
“It’s the worst thing in the world knowing you’re close to somebody you love and you can’t help them. I was thinking about all those people in the hospitals on ventilators and the people in nursing homes, some of them my age, and I thought about how bad that must be. I felt so bad for those people and I’m worried sick for [my granddaughter], and I’m praying the whole time. I mean. It was the most afraid I’ve been in a long time.”
They tried to get her granddaughter a test for COVID, but despite what you may be hearing, it is not that easy to get a test in Florida, and her granddaughter was too scared to go to a hospital. The symptoms seemed mild, or at least more mild than most, but the asthma was always in the back of everybody’s mind.
“We told the person at the health department that we got on the phone what we were trying to do, and they told us how long we’d have to wait after the symptoms were gone — and they were still there when we called — before we could try bringing her home. I spent two weeks in that camper. I had people delivering pizza to me in the parking lot every day, and that was what I ate, and I had them bring another one to her, and I would scream at her over the phone, because she was trying not to eat. I said, ‘If you think I won’t bust down that door and force feed you and die doing it, you’re wrong, little girl, so you better eat that damn pizza and I’m going to ask the delivery person if he sees an empty box outside your door every day. She knows I don’t play. I’m not a spoiler, like her mother. You can’t be like that when you’re in trouble. You have to get smart and you have to get tough. Thank god my husband didn’t go down and get her, or everybody would be dead.”
After her granddaughter’s symptoms subsided, they still had to wait the appropriate number of days before they could try the trip home. When that day came, Gran went back to the original plan and got in the driver’s seat.
“I saw her come out and she had lost some weight, but she told me that was from before all this, but I didn’t buy it. She had her bag and she got in back, and that was it, I took off. I must have gone 100 for the first four hours. I wanted to get home.”
They arrived thirty-three hours later.
“My neighbor was so nice. What a sweet man. I mean. He let her stay in the camper until her quarantine was done, because he told me, no offense, but I’m not going in there until I can have a cleaning crew go in and scrub it down right, and I said, ‘I don’t blame you.’ He just let her stay in there, and then she went home to her mother.”
Her granddaughter has been tested since she’s been home, and she tested negative for COVID, but everyone’s still being cautious. She still hasn’t seen her granddaughter in person, but they talk on the phone every day. So far, everyone is doing fine.
“My husband says I should just go over and give her a quick hug, and I tell him to shut the hell up, because drive down to Florida and back just to die now so I can give somebody a damn hug. What kind of stupid s*** is that to say? I mean.”
I tell her she should go into the Grandmother Hall of Fame for doing all this, and she tells me she didn’t think anything of it.
“Now I got her back for good, too. You think she’s going back to Florida when all this is done? I don’t think so. She’s here forever now. That was my other motive. She couldn’t wait to get the hell out of Rhode Island when she was going through high school, and now she doesn’t want to go back, and I’m glad to hear it. It makes it all worth it.”
In my mind, I imagine a caravan of borrowed campers traveling all over the country, driven by truck-drivers-turned-septuagenarians, ready to come to the rescue.
“My long-haul days are over, but I did like being out on the road again for a little bit. You get some peace and quiet and I don’t get any of that with my husband. All he does is talk. Good thing he stayed home.”
They get the job done.