DUBLIN – In these tumultuous times, there’s at least one thing we can all agree on: This will be a holiday season like no other. In most households in the United States, Thanksgiving celebrations will be quieter and more modest, followed by a mellower holiday season on the shopping and home fronts.
And if you’re an expat like me who focuses on such times to reconnect with those back home, which in my case is Medford, the resurgent menace of COVID-19 will reduce our presence in the lives of our loved ones to the virtual realm in the weeks to come.
Of course, I’ve been luckier than most. For two years, from the spring of 2018 until the summer of 2020, I shuttled between Dublin and Boston to help care for our ailing mother, whose memory and life skills were gradually being erased by dementia. I’ve come to appreciate that these extended visits back home were a gift, yet another way my mother has enriched my life.
My parents moved to Medford as newlyweds in October 1956, scrimping and saving to buy a house six months after marrying. We never lived anywhere else. It was the only house and only neighborhood I knew when I was growing up.
So when my mother died in late June, I felt a profound loss, not just of a cherished person but of a formative place as well.
My sister Tracy and her family still reside in Medford (in our parents' original home), with my two other siblings, Paul and Susan, living nearby in Saugus. But with my mother’s passing, the balance has shifted decisively toward Dublin, my homeplace since 1992 (though it can never be my hometown).
And now the coronavirus has redefined the boundaries of my life yet again, confining me and my family to our suburban Dublin community.
Since Oct. 21, Ireland has been in a nationwide Level 5 lockdown, which will last until Dec. 1. The top-level restrictions on our lives, as cataloged in a COVID-19 pamphlet posted to every house in the country, are far-reaching and include: no household visitors, cultural venues closed, gyms and pools shuttered, restaurants limited to takeout and delivery, and only essential domestic travel permitted, with a 5-kilometer (3-mile) radius allowed for exercise.
Paradoxically, schools reopened in September – with strict safeguards in place, especially at the high school level – and there are no plans to close them before Christmas, with the figures showing that students in classrooms aren’t contributing in any significant way to the growing number of COVID-19 cases. (College classes are nearly all remote.)
Despite all this, I remain free to travel back to Boston. Aer Lingus is still flying daily out of Dublin and I’m sure I could concoct some tale of woe to get past any police checkpoints I might encounter on my way to the airport.
But it’s already been a topsy-turvy year, for me and my family. Besides, where’s the benefit of a holiday visit if I have to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival? My old bedroom in Medford is cozy enough and I have plenty of reading to catch up on, but I’m no Henry Thoreau, as much as I might admire the Concord naturalist. (I’d also have to quarantine upon my return to Dublin, making me a freeloading lodger in my own home, which would definitely not endear me to my wife and son.)
Plus, if I can speak frankly here: During my lengthy visits in recent times, I found the general mood and disposition of folks around Boston to be pretty sour and unsettled given the political upheaval of the last four years. Even with the bitter presidential race over, it will take time to restore some degree of hopefulness and civility to American life.
Given these circumstances, I’ll be a homebird this holiday season, nestled with my family in splendid isolation after so much time away.
Of course, as soon as we’re allowed to emerge from our semi-quarantine and businesses can reopen, I’ll be dashing off to the barber for an already-overdue trim.
When you’re Facetiming with friends and family, you don’t want to look like Bob Geldof on a bad hair day.
Medford native Steve Coronella has lived in Ireland since 1992. He is the author of “Designing Dev,” a comic novel about an Irish-American lad from Boston who’s recruited to run for the Irish presidency. His latest book is the essay collection “Entering Medford — And Other Destinations.”