by Ellen Lightle, 04/22/2020, Pentwater, MI
At least 125 years old, the original walnut finish intact, the breakfront stands guard quietly. While some would probably call it a china cupboard, our family knows it is a breakfront – literally its front line broken with the lower cabinet and drawers jutting out much further than its upper shelves, visible behind two watery glass pane doors. Four generations with us, it now resides with my daughter in Ohio, with one noticeable blemish, namely the absence of its dress-uniform crown molding. When my parents, in later years, moved into their downtown St. Louis apartment, the breakfront was too tall for the low ceiling. They carefully saved the flourishing piece, only to have it stolen from their storage unit.
Speaking of St. Louis, where the breakfront spent the majority of its years, in a recent text my daughter remarked that during the corona virus pandemic people should be mindful of history and try to be more like St. Louis than Philly. The reference eluded me until later the same day I read an article in my small town newspaper about the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. St. Louis had imposed stringent restrictions early on, successfully mitigating the spread of the disease, whereas Philadelphia was slow to react, causing an exorbitant number of cases and deaths. I needn’t have been in awe of my daughter’s historical knowledge. As the administrator of the second largest township in her state, since the outbreak of COVID-19, she listens to a daily briefing from her governor, who for the past month has been saying that Ohio is going to be like St. Louis, not Philadelphia.
Today is a Monday, and I am about to have my first experience with Zoom. My daughter has asked me to be an observer of her township’s groundbreaking virtual public meeting; she and her tech director want some objective feedback about the mechanics of it. They assure me I am on mute and only a silhouette image. Like a game of “Hollywood Squares” on my screen, I see the elected trustees, the finance director, and my daughter. She is dressed up, wearing make-up, and looks great, speaking from her dining room, which has substituted for her office since the corona virus outbreak. At first, I take a few notes about the format and some of the topics on the agenda, most relating to the current crisis and new challenges.
Suddenly I am distracted and overcome. Behind my daughter stands the breakfront. I realize this is not the first time the elegant family heirloom has heard discussion of a threatening pandemic.
The breakfront’s very presence, full of grace and wisdom, gives comforting reassurance.