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Column: Virus isolation sends me back to childhood

  • Paul Keane. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

For the Valley News
Published: 4/17/2021 10:20:04 PM
Modified: 4/17/2021 10:20:03 PM

The isolation of the 2020-2021 COVID-19 pandemic has given me too much time to think, and I’ve gone back into my early childhood to rediscover all those little things that only 5- and 10-year-olds believe are important.

My first flashback happened recently when I was rubbing my tired eyes and remembered — Oops! No fingers in a pandemic! — use a tissue.

I suddenly thought of the Sandman. Does anyone remember that 1954 song by the Chordettes that began “Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream”? As a child, when I scrunched my tiny fists and rubbed my eyes in the morning or night, my mother would explain that the Sandman would put me to sleep and leave his little sandy footprints on my eyelids, which I needed to wipe away when I woke up each day.

Childhood had so many of these magical beliefs: The Tooth Fairy would leave me a quarter while I slept if I put my baby tooth under the pillow. The Easter Bunny would bring chocolate and hide colorful eggs for me (and even some kids who didn’t celebrate Easter) to find. The four-leaf clover, which I could search for in any grassy place, would bring me luck. “Dust bunnies” lived under the bed and multiplied all the time. Cupid, with his arrow, came on Feb. 14 to remind me to say to others, “Be mine.”

Other childhood beliefs weren’t entirely fun.

Bedbugs might be living in your bed. (“Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite.”) And you might need to watch out for a magical force called luck There was a “lucky” rabbit’s foot (though not for the rabbit) and there were seven years of bad luck if you broke a mirror.

Or what about the unlucky number 13? During the 1950s, some hotels would skip floor 13 and go from 12 to 14 because people refused to accept a room on the 13th floor. Of course, floor 14 was still the 13th floor, but bad luck apparently didn’t recognize it without the number “13” attached to it.

I’ve never seen the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny, but I have seen dust bunnies (they still live under my bed) and I have found at least one four-leaf clover.

I’ve never seen a bedbug, thankfully, and I’ve never felt a bedbug bite. That isn’t to say that they live only in the magical imagination of childhood life. They are very real.

In the famous Diary of Samuel Pepys (1660-1669), Pepys describes his life in London at the time, including waking in the morning having been troubled by bedbugs all night. And Civil War soldiers recount gathering lice from different tents, spreading a blanket on the ground and conducting a kind of lice race to see which louse from which tent would get to the other side of the blanket first.

But back to my pandemic isolation and the fun images of my childhood.

What all this unstructured time has done for me is remind me of the kindness and charm of the adults who created a before-television world of the imagination, full of magical stories that would inhabit kids’ noggins to stave off the great enemies of childhood: monotony and dreariness — foes the pandemic has brought back to families everywhere,

So thank you to all those creative adults who filled my childhood with a priceless lesson: The imagination can make you free. It has come in handy this pandemic year.

Paul Keane lives in Hartford Village.

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