Peck of Dirt
by Lynn Campbell
My grandma used to say, “You have to eat a peck of dirt before you die. As a child, I reasoned that it would be best to eat the dirt slowly, and then you would live longer.
I was never a germaphobe before the COVID-19 pandemic. Sure, I washed my hands and the dishes and the floors. Basic stuff. But I never worried about things that have been top of our minds since the state of emergency was declared in March of 2020, over a year ago.
For example, the office where I work has a communal lunchroom. Prior to COVID, it would never occur to me that colds and flus went around because we all touched the same coffee pot handle. And the doorknobs! Looking back on it, no wonder we all got the same virus. Just think, if we had been hand sanitizing and obsessively disinfecting surfaces all of our lives, how many runny noses we could have prevented.
I have had a great debate with a few people on the subject of cleaning groceries during the pandemic. Some carefree folks just bring their food home and toss the packages willy-nilly into the cupboards and the fridge. Throwing caution to the wind!
Before I learned that COVID germs probably don’t linger on surfaces to a life-threatening extent, I was cleaning all of my jars and boxes, then airing them out. Because of a disinfecting wipe shortage in my area, I had to resort to a complicated system of full-strength liquid cleaner diluted with water in a spray bottle. Plus a hefty roll of paper towels. This was a time-consuming process. I thought my grandma would roll over in her grave if she could see me now. It would be shocking enough for her to watch me carefully rinsing the debris out of my soup cans and yogurt containers before putting them in the recycling bin. Grandma was alive in the good old days when everything from chicken bones to wine bottles to Kleenex boxes were all just tossed into a garbage bag. Bad for the environment, but very low effort for Grandma.
I set up my grocery cleaning depot on top of my washer and dryer, protected with brand new plastic bags. (Note: do not do this if the machines are operating. The vibration will knock off your cans.)
The trick is to try to clean the surfaces without getting things so wet that your Kraft Dinner ends up tasting like bleach. What is more toxic, the outside of the package au naturel or the chemicals used to clean it? There’s the rub.
A piece of advice from personal experience: don’t, I repeat don’t, ever squirt disinfecting spray into your eye. You will get an eye infection and have to call the doctor. The doctor will not want to see you because you might have COVID. You will have to take photos of your ugly eye and send them to the doctor. Hopefully you have a computer, or you could go blind waiting for snail mail to get the evidence there. Next, diagnosis, then a prescription for antibiotic eye drops faxed in to your local pharmacy. Socially distanced, safe doctoring at its best. A happy ending.
After that medical emergency, I added protective eyewear to my grocery disinfecting costume. I also wore a fresh mask. Not the filthy used mask I had worn in the grocery store. Was I becoming one of those germaphobes who I had secretly pitied in the past? Dressed like someone in a war zone for grocery shopping and sanitizing? Does anyone else have chapped hands from using too many chemicals?
At first, it felt weird cleaning groceries. I felt like a raccoon washing its food in the brook. Every jar of pasta sauce and loaf of bread was painstakingly wiped down, in the hopes of not contaminating anything edible. All the fruits and veggies floated in a pristine sink full of special produce cleaner, or lots of salt water. Do not dare touch an apple, or heaven forbid attempt to eat it, without going through this imperative process!
Then it felt weird when I quit washing food packaging after I learned that it probably wasn’t really necessary. Airing out products for seventy-two hours was good enough according to some experts.
After touching that possibly germy potato-chip bag, use hand sanitizer, and do not touch your face! Do not eat out of the bag! Pour some carefully into a bowl. Then wash your hands again. Sigh.
After shopping, I always change my clothes, take a shower, and clean my glasses. Would a Hazmat suit be over the top?
The bottom line is that COVID-19 is very contagious, deadly, and serious. But so are many of the flu viruses that have claimed many lives over past years. What’s the difference? Widespread government and scientific information. Lockdowns and warnings. Social media scares. Confusing, contradictory opinions.
The moral of the story is that during cold and flu season, and especially during this new pandemic, we need to feel clean and safe for the sake of our own mental health. We need to feel that we are doing the best we can to protect ourselves and our families. But we need to do this without driving ourselves crazy. We need to eat that peck of dirt as slowly as possible as we try to get through this and hope to stay healthy and sane.
Photo credit: Tania Mousinho (London) @shotsbytania
Lynn Rhodes Campbell is a freelance writer, based in the friendly village of Sunderland, Ontario. For the past nine years, she has written feature articles for Focus on Scugog magazine. She started out her career as a newspaper reporter after studying journalism at Ryerson University. Previously, she worked as the writer/photographer/news editor of the Uxbridge Times-Journal, wrote high-profile columns for the Toronto Sunday Sun. Lynn’s comic novel, entitled Journal of a House Sale: Buy My House Please! was self-published in 2012. Despite other career pursuits over the years, she has always enjoyed writing fiction and poetry in her spare time.