30 April 2020

A Coronavirus Disappearing Act

My parents went missing on Saturday.

I contend–but cannot prove definitively–that the dog had nothing to do with this.

Here's how it all went down:

My wife and I have been discussing adopting a dog since just after the governor (Jay Inslee, Washington, for those of you playing at home) put the state on lock-down. In the six weeks since, we've been working from home, practicing social distancing, and doing our best to keep our son educated, socialized, safe and happy.

On the face of it, this seems to be an optimal time for pet adoption. Both of us being home pretty much full-time ought to help ensure a relatively painless transition for a newly-adopted pet into our home. Of course under the most ideal of circumstances, times like these can prove challenging. Not everyone deals with change all that well, and the "adjustment period" can often prove stressful.

Still, our seven-year-old has been asking about getting a dog for over a year. He's an only child. With the three of us now practicing social distancing and staying at home, he hasn't had anyone to play with aside from his mom and dad, in nearly two months. He's a great kid, a fine young man, with a giving heart and a wonderful sense of humor, and he likes playing with his parents, but my wife and I have of course been concerned about the effect this prolonged period of isolation might have on him. And of course, a dog would give him someone else new to play with.

So we started looking.

For those of you who haven't been paying attention, it seems as if the entire country has had much the same idea. Shelters are empty for the first time in, well, ever. This is overall a good thing. But we were frustrated for a while in our attempts to find a dog.

Right up until the moment when we weren't. As these things are wont to do, the opportunity, when it came our way, came fast.

Last Saturday my wife found a nine-week-old Golden Retriever/Rottweiller mix available to a good home. The apparent product of an "unscheduled breeding," he was, explained the fellow making him available, the pick of the litter. The picker had backed out unexpectedly, however, and he was now the final member of the litter in need of a good home.

So we came to an understanding, made arrangements and drove a half-hour down to Tacoma on very little notice to collect the newest addition to our family. The meet-up, examination of shot records and the puppy in question went off without incident.

And just like that, we had a dog.

That's when things got weird.

Now, our son is very close to his grandparents. And both sets of grandparents are dog owners and dog lovers. So we called grandma and grandpa, to tell them that, SURPRISE! their grandson now has a puppy!

I called my mom's cellphone from the road at 7 o'clock. My parents live east of Tacoma, in Puyallup, and in non-COVID-19 times, we would probably have stopped on the way home to give our son the opportunity to show off his new puppy.

But, times being what they are, we opted to err on the side of caution, and settle for a phone call. The call went to voicemail. So I left my mom a message and asked her to call us back.

Now, my mom is pretty conscientious about getting right back to someone if they leave her a message. So when the thirty-five minute drive back home passed without my hearing back from my mom, I sent her a text.


I called again at 8:30. And at 9:00. And then I started calling my dad's cellphone, too. I didn't expect a response (my father rarely carries his cellphone with him. Most of the time it can be found charging on their kitchen counter.

But my mom had recently gotten the new iPhone, and was having some trouble with it. A couple of nights previously she hadn't been able to answer her iPhone, so we had connected using my dad's iPhone.

No dice.

I should probably mention at this point that my parents are in their early 70s, and while for the most part pretty healthy, do have some health issues which put them in the high-risk category for COVID-19. At any other time, I'd have chalked their protracted silence up to not bothering to check their phones, and left it at that.

But we don't live in "any other time." We live in the Age of COVID-19.

So I texted my brother to ask whether he had heard from them this day. We talked on the phone a few minutes after 9:30.

Now, my brother is pretty level-headed. And we both tend to be pretty sanguine about our parents. He currently lives a few hours away, so it stands to reason that if there might be a problem with my parents, I'd be the one to go and check on them.

So when we talked about it, I explained the progression of events thusfar, adding that both my wife and I had also attempted to reach both of my parents via Facetime, still with no response. Then I said that I thought that if 10:00 rolled around and I still hadn't heard from my parents, I'd drive the thirty miles down to their place in Puyallup and check on them.

"You know, it's probably nothing," he said. "But yeah, maybe you'd better go. Let me know what you find out."

My wife and son were still up (only the puppy had gone to bed. And he was up and down all night). So they rode down with me.

By the time we got everyone dressed and back out into the car and down the road to Puyallup, it was nearly 10:45. My parents' lights were on, but their gate was locked, so I got creative and climbed through their front hedge, and knocked loudly at their front door.


I made my way around to the back door and checked on things before letting myself in with our key. My parents and their dog, a 90 pound yellow lab with a bark that can drive a nail, were nowhere to be found.

And wouldn't you know it? My dad's iPhone was in its accustomed place, charging on their kitchen counter.

I  used my parents' remote to open the gate, then went back out to the car, called my brother, and my wife and I talked with him about what to do. We decided to text my parents closest friends; a retired nurse and a still-practicing emergency room physician. We didn't call, because by now it was past 11, and the wife of this couple is still recovering from hip replacement surgery, and we didn't want to disturb them if they were already asleep.

My brother suggested I go back in, leave my parents a note and retrieve my father's phone, take it home and if we hadn't heard from my parents by morning, use it to start calling their friends. So I did that.

No sooner had I written the note and picked up my father's iPhone, than I received a text message from the couple of I had text asking if they knew anything about my parents' whereabouts.

Their friend's text read:

"Yes they were here for dinner and left less than an hour ago... please don't worry... they should be home any time now... I always have Berniece [my mom] text when they arrive at their house..."

So my parents skipped out on quarantine without telling anyone.

I immediately called my brother back to fill him in. No sooner had he picked up than I heard my parents's garage door begin to go up.

The prodigals, it seemed, had returned.

So I let my brother know what had happened, and that he could stop worrying. Before we hung up he said, "You gonna go talk to them?"

"You know it," I said.

"Tell them I'll call and yell at them tomorrow."

So that's what I did.

My wife (who is a genuinely lovely, caring person.) assured them that we were so relieved that they were okay. We had gotten worried.

By this point, after getting out of bed to drive back in the direction I'd already done a round trip to earlier in the day, with it getting up to midnight, my ire was competing with the relief I felt, and my folks, no doubt sensing this, were suitably abashed.

Which is funny, because my parents are independent, intelligent people. "Abashed" isn't really in their playbook. They're at the point in their lives where they don't really need to answer to anyone.

And yet here we were.

In a genuinely funhouse moment, I was reminded of getting caught sneaking out when I was a teenager. Except the roles were reversed.

As it turned out my mom hadn't heard her new iPhone ring. it hadn't even buzzed any of the times we'd called. She had inadvertently set it to "Silent," and that apparently meant it didn't even vibrate on that setting.

Needless to say this did nothing to lessen my antipathy for iPhones.

Anyway, our son got to see his grandparents, and we got to hear about how they had been sneaking out back and forth, their friends to their house one weekend, them to their friends on the next, without telling anyone. My dad explained their silence as not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings. I guess because they were going out with friends and not us?

All ended well, all things considered. It was good to see my parents after nearly two months' time, and no harm was done. And I was crystal clear with them that in the current age, it's essential we stay in touch, and should–Heaven forbid–a similar situation arise in the near future, I'd do the exact same thing all over again.

And they would hear about it all over again.

And they will.

So, was it the dog's fault? Of course not. On the other hand, if we hadn't gotten him that day, would we have even known to be worried, or would those sneaky kids breaking curfew to go eat, drink, and play cards with their friends have just gotten away with the whole thing?

All I can say is that it's a danged good thing all three of them–my mom, my dad, and the puppy–are cute!

The Culprit?
See you in two weeks!


  1. So glad your folks were ok. It is a bit strange when we remember the nights we were late getting home as teenagers.

    I well remember one night I got home at my correct time of 11pm. Of course my date and l lingered on the fromt porch kissimg good night. Until my stepdad flipped porch light off and on twice and I knew I'd better get inside and I did.
    Dad wasn't too mad because I was home at 11 but he teased me about the goodnight kissing.
    Turns out it was a good thing my dad had still been awake and up, talking to me. My boyfriend met up with his older bad guy cousin and they had robbed a convenience store out on the edge of town. Ribbed cugarettes, beer and money. But the cousin had a gun so that made it armed robbery. The sheriff in our small talked to my Dad and dad gave his word that l got home at 11pm. Somone reported I had been with my date earlier. The robbery took place at 5 to midnight. I was lucky my dad had been up and I was lucky I'd gone home at my curfew time. I could have easily been with them at the robbery if my parents weren't strict as I did sometimes rebel.This was in 1956 small town, Tx. I had not rebeled that Saturday night.

  2. Glad to know everyone was OK after all.
    And posting a great puppy picture makes everything even better.

    What's his/her name?

  3. Some great stories out there - yours, Brian, and I'm glad your parents are okay, but yeah, you did the right thing reaming them out, and God knows I'd have added, "and how do you know that none of your friends have the virus?" and on and on and on. And what is the puppy's name?
    And Jan - what a great story you have! Wow. Close shave.

  4. Cute puppy! I'm glad your parents are okay. I hope they and then you didn't catch anything from the ER doctor working on the front lines.

  5. Jan- THANK YOU for this wonderful story! Is it possible we'll get to see the extended version in a future Jan Grape blog posting? Seriously, I have SO MANY questions!!!

    Thanks O'Neil. High praise coming from a master storyteller.

    Steve- he's named after a Roman general famous for having kept Hannibal from actually taking the city of Rome. The short version of that name is "Max."

    Eve- the threat level was actually very low. The nurse has been isolated after having hip replacement surgery in mid-March, and her husband the ER doc has a rigorous post-work sterilization routine, and lots of available PPE. And it's only these two friends. My point, which they still agree is valid is that the Age of COVID is not the time for secret trips and not responding to family check-ins. And as I told Steve above, he's "Max" for short. For you, my fellow Follower of Clio, I'll say, he's named after Fabius the Delayer, so his full name is "Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator Verrucosus." Or, as my son insists: "Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator Verrucosus Thornton."

    Barb- Thanks! Yes, he's pretty adorable. And so far no contagion.*knock wood*


  6. What a suspensful story that was. Glad it all turned out all right. And an adorable dog. We also named a dog Max. He was a beagle, and it was so long ago, I forget his full name. I hope you and your whole family remain well.

  7. Glad they're okay, Brian! And the pup. I would have felt the same thing you did.

    BTW, iPhones have separate settings for vibe and sound, and you can set separate (and loud if necessary, one of the few uses for Metallica) tones for SMS and phone.


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