Interviewed May 12, 2020. Interview edited for clarity and length.
Phil, 73, is a retired chef and has been a PRUMC member for 25 years. Divorced and in a long-term relationship, he has one surviving son, 47, and three grandsons, who are 19, 17 and 7.
What do you miss most during the quarantine?
I miss the social contacts quite a bit. I haven’t been able to see my son or have my grandsons visit or anything like that. And I miss getting together with my Sunday School class. I’m in the Good News class. We have an annual supper club that’s a lot of fun; we break the class into small groups who get together about four times a year for a meal they put together from dishes they all contribute – sort of a potluck, but with a planned menu! It’s a great way to get to know people better. I’ve been a member of the church for over 25 years, but for many years I was working weekends in the culinary industry, or if I wasn’t working that day I was totally exhausted. So, I didn’t go to Sunday School or church. When I retired, I became active in the Sunday School class and have been ever since. I’m missing those family and church contacts.
I notice a tendency to stay up later and sleep later these days, but I’ve not had the urge that many people describe to take on big projects!
How would you compare what’s happening now to past times of challenge in your life?
I don’t see it as a huge challenge personally. I’ve been going to the grocery store, and I’ve been to Home Depot and the hardware store. I wear a mask and wash my hands a lot more frequently. Having been in the culinary business, though, I was always focused on the need to wash hands more than a lot of people probably are. Yes, I’d like to spend more time with friends, but I understand what’s going on.
Some things in my past probably have given me a different perspective on the experience of being isolated or not getting to do what I’d like to do. After I graduated from college, I was drafted into the Army and sent to Thailand, where I was processed in and then just waited for a month, with absolutely nothing to do, until they could get us transportation to Korea. Once I got to Korea, I spent 11 months, mostly on top of mountains in radio relay stations. There were only a few people who were sent at the same time, and I barely knew them. You just had to make the best of your solitary moments.
After I got a business degree and an MBA and spent decades working in the pulp and paper industry, I had a midlife crisis about what I should be doing. I’d been interested in cooking since I was a small boy and spent summers in a cottage on Long Island Sound with my grandparents. My grandmother was a wonderful cook who made great Sunday dinners for our family. She had a shelf full of items in her kitchen just for us kids to play with while she was cooking. At the age of 45, I went to the Culinary Institute of America and then started over in a whole new career. So I guess adjusting to change is something we all do, or life forces us to!
Do you have thoughts on how we, as a society, could keep in perspective what’s happening and try to move forward?
Those of us who are isolated at home don’t really have it as bad as it could be. I really feel for people who are much more isolated than most of us. For example, my sister-in-law’s father is in a nursing home, and they’re not allowed to visit him. She is extremely close to her father, particularly after losing her mother at a very young age. I really feel for her and for the thousands and thousands of families who are in that boat. I think if I were not allowed to visit my parents during this time, it would have been just devastating not only for them but for me. I look back at the last year of my mother’s life, when she was losing her faculties but seemed to be so happy when my brothers and I, her “boys”, would visit. It would have broken my heart if we couldn’t have seen her during that time. I don’t know how people are dealing with that.
I‘ve been through some extremely difficult times. In the last six years, I lost both of my parents and one of my sons, and those losses have been very hard. Also, being in the culinary field and being opinionated, I had to learn to keep my mouth shut – because if I didn’t I would get myself fired. That happened! I spoke my piece to those in power and they didn’t like it, and I ended up looking for a new job. In comparison to those things, this isolation time is nothing. I’ve learned that I must put my trust in God, and he will give me strength to survive very difficult times.
For the future, we are really looking forward to getting back into the Sunday morning routine of Sunday School and church when this is over. It’s too easy to roll over and go back to sleep if you’re just reaching for a computer!