A little heart peeps through the paper folded in half, left on my porch by the welcome sign. I pick it up and feel the smile of a tiny heart in my palm. In the A4-sized paper is a thank you note signed by “John, Kate and baby.” I have never met John or Kate; I do not know whether they are expecting baby boy or girl. Nonetheless, I felt connected to this budding life.
It is mid-April of 2020 and a monster from the other end of the planet has disrupted every-day life. Schools, offices, and non-essential businesses have closed down. Most people are sheltering in place, but there are still those who need to step out of the comfort of their home. Grocery stores had to remain open, as did post offices. Hospitals and healthcare centers were seeing an upsurge in patients.
The state has made masks mandatory for all public places. Masks are not something that is sold in drug stores or grocery stores in pre-pandemic time. There was an urgent need to mass produce something that required tailoring skills, pieces of cotton cloths and plenty of hours of free time.
I picked up my old sewing machine and started making pleated masks, following a step-by-step video converted from a drawing, posted by a Good Samaritan on Facebook site of Emerson Hospital.
I started sewing these masks, initially filled with fear of the uncertain future but also gratitude for the opportunity to help my community. The first few masks were a sort of experimentation, with crooked seams and uneven elastics. After a week of trial and error, I had made the first batch of a dozen masks and posted pictures of them on our town’s community Facebook page. A few other women in our town were doing the same thing— cutting, sewing, and posting their finished products online, so that everyone in need of a mask could immediately get one. We were all in this together— all cutting, sewing and posting- connected by an invisible yet strong bond: seamstresses on demand.
There was an influx of messages on the Messenger app from people of all walks of life. These were the very wheels and barrows of society, without whom we could not have survived even a day- grocery store clerks, postal workers, nursing home attendants and, of course, doctors and nurses. Schools were closed but their cafeterias were open for lunch pick-up and their food servers needed our essential supply of masks. And what about expecting moms and dads? They had to attend prenatal appointments at the hospital, to listen to the first heartbeat of the life budding inside them and to watch a pair of floating limbs. I received a request from one such mom on a Saturday evening—“Can we have a pair of masks? We have to go to the doctor for my routine checkup on Monday.” I had only one mask left from the last batch, but the baby’s father would be accompanying her, and he would need to be wearing a mask.
After wrapping up with dinner, I set up the sewing machine one last time for the day and sewed one more red polka dot mask with pink tie backs. The next morning, I slipped the two red polka dot masks into a Ziploc bag and left them by my bear welcome sign. A few hours later, I found there a paper folded in half with a thank-you note, the most precious thank-you note.
Chanchala (Lilly) Priyadarshini is a Boston-based scientist, teacher, poet and a classical vocalist. She holds two graduate degrees in Chemistry and is a mother of two college-aged daughters. Besides being a scientist and an educator, she has a deep passion for poetry and literature. Since her youth, she’s been writing essays in English as well as poems and songs in her mother tongue Hindi. Since autumn of 2019, she has decided to shift writing from a hobby to a full-time career. She has published essays in online journal Lokvani and poems in literary magazines Hindi Jagat, Vibhom Swar, Rachana Utsav and at online portal Sahitya Kunj. She is a member of many poetry and literary groups such as South Asian Poets of New England, Vishwambhara etc.. Chanchala also founded the Sahitya Sarit Boston group, dedicated to the promotion and preservation of classic and modern Hindi literature. To promote communication and awareness around different cultures and languages, she translates poems and songs from different European languages into Hindi as well as Hindi poetry into English.
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