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A visit from Trump-loving cousins

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Cousin Justin and his wife, Elaney, were driving up from Tulsa to stay with us for three days, now that the pandemic was easing. We hadn’t seen them for ten years. Justin was retired from his mid-management job at a pharmaceutical company. Elaney had been a schoolteacher before marrying Justin—the second marriage for both—after which she worked at Wal-Mart for a while. They enjoyed a comfortable retirement in Tulsa; Justin played a lot of golf and Elaney contented herself with baking and crocheting.

Hazel and I had the extra bedroom, now that the kids were gone, so they could stay there. We figured we’d show them San Francisco’s famous sights, drive across the Golden Gate to the Marin Headlands, and go down Highway 1 to Princeton and Santa Cruz. Elaney had never been to the Bay Area and wanted to see everything.

Their flight was right on time. We met them at SFO’s Terminal 2. Justin was grayer than I remembered, while Elaney had gained a lot of weight. “Oh, God,” Hazel whispered when they hove into view. “Don’t say anything.”

Neither wore a mask, although mask-wearing was still required at the airport. I’d heard from another cousin that Justin and Elaney thought that masks were unnecessary and that the shutdowns had been unwarranted, but then, they lived in Oklahoma, one of the reddest states in the country, and Justin had always tended to veer Republican. Hazel and I had decided we’d do our best to steer away from politics during their visit.

It was sunny and warm at SFO, but on the drive back to Pacifica the fog closed in, as usual, and the temperature fell by a good 15 degrees. Elaney was fascinated. “Ah jus’ cain’t believe it!” she said, in her Sooner State accent. “Why, y’all must have a heckuva time figurin’ out what to wear!” We all laughed. “The weather’s one of the things we love about the Bay Area,” Hazel said. “It’s so diverse.”

Justin was looking out the window. We’d left the freeway and were driving up to Skyline Boulevard through suburban neighborhoods. Many of the houses still had Biden-Harris signs in their yards, left over from last year’s election. “Guess we’re in Blue Country,” Justin mused.

Hazel, who was in the front passenger side, and I glanced at each other. “Anyone want to listen to a CD?” she chirped. “We have Beatles, Carole King, Kenny Loggins…”

“Got any Christian music?” Elaney asked. I almost braked the car, I was so taken aback. Hazel seemed to be struggling to find something to say. We were all Jewish. Justin, like me, had been bar mitzvah. We knew that Elaney wasn’t Jewish when Justin married her, but the subject of her religious beliefs had never surfaced. We’re liberals; it doesn’t matter what religion you practice, as long as the marriage is based on love.

“Umm,” Hazel muttered, rifling through the CD box. “I don’t think so.”

Justin changed the subject. “People out here still wearing those masks?”

“They are,” I replied, as we turned west on Sharp Park Road, headed down the hill toward the sea. “Even though the Bay Area has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, second only to Seattle, I believe. But people are still wearing masks.”

“Why” Elaney asked.

This time it was Hazel’s turn to answer. “Well, I think for a couple reasons. One, the variants are out there, and people still aren’t sure about them. Also, it’s common courtesy to wear a mask, even if you’ve had both shots. Have you guys had your shots?”

I flinched. Hazel didn’t really have to ask that question at that time.

“’Course not,” Elaney said. “It’s all fake. I mean, the virus and all.”

Justin picked up the theme. “That’s what I don’t get. This Fauci—who’s a real socialist looney—convinced everybody to be paranoid about COVID. I mean, people die all the time. More people die of the flu every year than supposedly died of COVID, but we don’t shut the country down every time somebody gets the flu.”

A heavy quiet filled the car.

“President Trump was right,” Elaney volunteered. “The Chinese Flu was introduced to hurt America. Everybody knew it then, but the antifa atheists and big international money hoaxed people into it. And look what happened. Gonna take decades for the U.S. to get back on its feet.”

We hit Highway 1 and swung south toward our house. I knew that Hazel was thinking the same thing as I: It’s going to be a long three days.

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