The term “cooped up” during the threat of the coronavirus has a special meaning in the Deane household, for back in the early 1950s, our home was constructed by dragging a chicken coop out of a line of sheds to add to the side of an old tractor barn as part of a four-room house layout.
As chickens were once rounded up and shooed into the coop to keep them safe from predators, most likely foxes, we now “self-isolate” as protection against the threat of the virus.
Over the years, I have personally expanded the original four rooms into nine by extending the kitchen roofline to create a saltbox family room addition, by tearing off the main roof to add a second story and shift the appearance from ranch to Cape Cod and by adding a two-story ell off the back of the house for a dining room and a spare bedroom below.
Then, in a repeat of the earlier history, I transported a tractor shed from the campus of Masconomet Regional, where I was a teacher, to the back of our property to reassemble as a gambrel barn.
But back to the chicken coop. In tearing apart a wall of the kitchen to run a stairway down into the new saltbox, I discovered the little doorway that had once allowed the chickens entrance into the coop. This verified the story for me.
A subsequent published magazine story of my house construction efforts somehow made its way to a Jacoby family in Wisconsin.
Wes Jacoby was the one who had cobbled the two original buildings together with the help of carpenter Al Macy of West Newbury to create a house on his three-acre squash farm at the corner of Gypsy Lane. His widow sent me a series of black-and-white photos recording the building progress. She even stopped by once on a return visit to Newburyport.
Now, back to the “cooped up.” Like the chickens before us, we now seek refuge from the dangers of the outside world, leaving cautiously only to replenish our food supply or to get some fresh air.
By doing so, we take some risk, but that is a part of life. As the chickens might run into a fox, we might be exposed to the coronavirus.
This might be due to random chance, but we can lower the odds by “self-distancing” and wearing masks and gloves, just like the chickens used sight, sound and flock response to know when to head for the henhouse.
The big difference in all this is in the “cooped up” aspect. Presumably, the chickens didn’t get bored by staying inside. We as humans do.
We read. We write. We edit family genealogy slideshows. We do little home maintenance projects. We watch television. We sort through boxes and closets. We FaceTime with our sons and their families. We “gear up” and head for the supermarket’s early senior citizen shopping hours, still being careful to maintain the proper social distancing.
At times, this gets a little old, but then I think of those who hid for years during the Holocaust in the hope of avoiding detection. I think of those with compromised medical conditions who must be careful even in the best of times.
I am reminded of those in the 1950s who were threatened by the polio virus or those in 1918 who faced the Spanish flu. I think of world wars that stretched out over years.
No, we are not immune. This is just our time, our crisis, albeit one that may be unprecedented in scope. We can get through this. We have to, just as our predecessors did.
The fox, sadly, may take some individual chickens, but the flock will persist. It is just human nature to fight to be among the survivors.
But, unlike the chickens, at the same time we care for those who are impacted.
We are all in this together.
Stuart Deane lives in Newburyport.