What is normal?

A tiny, little virus has changed our lives. “Covid” is not a word that I knew before this year, much less that it must have had 18 brothers that lived before it.

“It’s called Covid-19, Grandma,” my six-year-old grandson corrects me when I use the term coronavirus. We chat on FaceTime, the only way we’ve been able to communicate and actually see one another since December during my last visit to Arizona where the Missoula native now lives. “Maybe you can visit us when Covid-19 goes away,” he suggests.

His words hang in the air like an autumn leaf floating to the ground on a crisp October morning. Summer has officially ended and nine months have disappeared since I last hugged my grandson for real, not just some emoji squeeze or thin words on a greeting card promising ‘hugs.’ Covid-19 condemns hugs. Will they ever return?

The virus sparks new markets — decorative facial masks, tee-shirts that promote social distancing, and how-to books on Zoom for Dummies. Our Rotary club hands out People of Action facial masks to its members. I lead Rotary board meetings from my computer at home. I attend social functions and trainings online. I search my photo collection periodically to add new virtual backgrounds to my Zoom account. I grow accustomed to the Hollywood Squares-type faces gathering online, from my memoir class colleagues to family reunions to sessions on history from famous authors. I start to accept this new way of life.

But I don’t want to accept it as normal.

Last week, I joined five friends and one big, lop-eared dog named Ranger who all braved a rather cold evening outdoors for fellowship at Missoula’s Ten Spoon Vineyard & Winery. Being with friends live in a social setting, cold weather or not, is refreshing. Great conversation. Wine tasting. Yummy pizza. And even some comedians performing to boot. Laughs at no charge.

Take that, Covid-19.


She tells me I am
Forever gone from her life
And those of her friends
Who think they are special
Better than the rest
Way better than me
In my frumpy gymsuit
And zero brand collars
No penny in my loafers
Much less fancy tags
From places I can’t pronounce

She tells me I am
Not among the invited few
With privileges to enter
No member number by my name
To celebrate a marriage
Play a volley of tennis
Swing a new driver on wet grass
Race against time in a private lane
On routine morning laps
That anesthetize life
For the next generation

She tells me I am
My child not smart enough
For lavish play circles
Skilled in violin or dance
Ivy League study trips
To Kathmandu or Tokyo
Shopping sprees in big cities
Filled with faces of a different kind
On shores not of our making
Horses race to the finish line
Await the golden prize

She tells me I am
Undeserving of her anointed
Self-importance as though
My gymsuit remains baggy
Shoes tattered and socks worn
Running on empty streets
Curbs with no master
To slow me at red lights or stop signs
Before dawn cracks open her window
Enough to see the hospital walls
Ahead in the darkened alley

She tells me I am
Uncertain who resides behind
The mask of protection from
A March madness that seeps
Into Earth’s seams
Slows its rotation
Halts splashes in the waves
Stops shiny rings on young fingers
Hopeful of a future that may disappear
She remains unaware
Lost in old reruns to mark time in place

She tells me I am
Waves her black pastic in my face
To let me know she pays for the best
Most famous doctor on his way
To save her skin from everyone else
Who sneezes with aching brains
Scarred lungs and seared hearts
Like hers left from years of ugliness
Too selfish to consider the value
Of what friendship might be
If she chooses to look

She tells me I am
As I wipe droplets from her sweaty brow
Insert fluids into her bulging veins
Ignore her delirium as nonsense
Spews from her crusty lips partnered
With the venom of her kind
Gasping for air and life all at once
Retreat from the past
Act in the now
Save the woman from herself
Save myself, too

I tell her she is
God knows we tried our best
Gave all we could
Against all odds
Isolation, ventilator and
Life-saving drugs aside
The same outcome
Her daughter cries
I discard my gloves in a red bag
And move to the next room
Another life cancelled

–Victoria Emmons, copyright, 2020

Freeze Frame

Stuck in the age of Covid-19, racing to nowhere except a way out of this box to which the world has been condemned, a prison cell of prevention, or not, for those unlucky thousands who carry coronavirus with them to their graves, leaving the rest of us to worry about droplets lingering for days on Amazon delivery boxes, empty grocery store shelves, dirty gas pump handles, or our own Fido’s nose, even a child’s hand fresh from a playground jungle gym when the real jungle is Mother Earth spinning in all her infected glory, laughing as she twirls leaving that voice message that cries, “I told you so.”

—Victoria Emmons, copyright 2020

“The Ballad of Don Lewis: The Untold Story of a Synthesizer Pioneer”

Watch for this new documentary produced by Ned Augustenborg about my dear friend Don Lewis. 

Don Lewis gained iconic status in San Francisco’s live music scene during the 1970s and 1980s while performing on the LEO (Live Electronic Orchestra), an interactive network of synthesizers and sound modules that Lewis designed and engineered, that eventually proved to be more than a decade ahead of its time. Earlier in his career, Lewis was based in Los Angeles where his pioneering efforts in the world of Electronic Music lead to work with The Beach Boys, Quincy Jones, Billy Preston, Marvin Hamlisch, Sergio Mendes and Michael Jackson.

But after years of success as a live performer in San Francisco, Lewis was abruptly labeled a “national enemy” of the Musicians Union. Picketing of his performances soon followed which halted Lewis’s ability to continue making a living as a musician, fueled mostly by the Musicians Union’s fears regarding the advancement of electronic instrumentation. Don Lewis personified those fears.

Learn more: www.theballadofdonlewis.com  


Birch Symphony

Her twigs whistle softly
Woodwinds not yet silenced
Still merry with seasonal change

Rustling leaves offer a hint of song
High notes and low ones
Orchestrated by the wind

Clever of the skies
To solicit mid-air composition
A subtle gift to my ears

Music for the heavens
And those who fly high
Above swooning branches

Melodies that dance forever
Join tiny voices of sparrows
And rouse cackling blackbirds

She gently touches her cloak
Slowly, then with vigor, she
Plunges through each chord

Mighty wind at her back
A gust arrives in D Minor
Blows her instrument awry

Her tempo changes,
Each prelude starts anew
A scorching endless song

Percussion at the ready
Clashing arms mere zest
To flute-like singing bees

That hum, dance and
Swirl to the sound
Of life in the making

Her symphony foretells
Desire, yet alas, quiet
When winter will silence her song

—Victoria Emmons, 2018

A Prayer for Cold Feet

Do not set foot
into a black limousine.
A ride through empty streets
makes the dream real.

No pretend toe tag,
coroner’s signature required.
Son rescues a wedding ring
from a burial far too deep.

Well-placed calls to
sisters, brothers and daughters.
Search for an American flag
to drape across a wooden coffin.

Images of sixty-some years
pasted to a display board
filled with silly grins
at milestone occasions.

Give me a handkerchief,
please. Be there for me,
you, a witness to
love, family, legacy.

Write your name in a book
to remember celebrants
for a friend, father, grandpa,
brother, husband, lover.

Shoe pinches my toe
with each step toward
sympathetic arms outstretched,
pinches my heart.

If the shoe hurts
I don’t have to wear it.
Allow me, dear Lord,
to live with cold feet.

—Victoria Emmons, © 2017
For Karen

The Gray Envelope

A short story by Victoria Emmons (the writer)

The walk up my steep driveway to the row of mail boxes at the top of the hill left me winded. I pulled open the small, black door for box number 9044, expecting free circulars and a telephone or energy bill. A curious, gray envelope dominated the stack of mail awaiting my attention.

I lingered in front of the mailbox and stared at the business size envelope. My name was imprinted on the return address. My name was also neatly handwritten as addressee. Only one important word differentiated the two: catering.

Ever since I adopted my husband’s surname, people confused me with another person of the same name. Victoria Emmons is not a common name. Nor is it shared by anyone famous, or so I thought. Yet the likeness created a strange, new relationship for me.

The first mistaken identity occurred at an alumni reunion in Palo Alto for my husband’s alma mater. I was adjusting to my new last name having worn it only a week. At the registration table, I wrote “Victoria Emmons” in large, bold print on a name tag and stuck it on my jacket. Within seconds, someone asked me if I was a caterer.

My husband and I lived on the east side of the San Francisco Bay. Unbeknownst to me, a rather famous caterer sporting my new name managed a business on the other side of the Bay. Victoria Emmons Catering was well known there. The company had served Queen Elizabeth when she toured the Bay Area some years earlier. The caterer’s stellar reputation brought her a wealth of business. Trucks bearing her corporate logo — and my name — scooted all around town.

That night at the reunion, I thought it humorous that someone mistook me for the famous caterer. I brushed it off, explaining that I was a hospital administrator and never gave it another thought. Until it happened again.

For the next 15 years, I experienced countless mistaken identity moments. There was the mother at a Castilleja School parent gathering who struck up a friendly conversation about our daughters, eventually asking for my favorite recipes. Or the parent who was far less subtle, nearly accosting me with hand outstretched while shouting, “Victoria Emmons! I just have to shake your hand!” She was disappointed to learn I was not the caterer.

Once at a volunteer awards luncheon in Los Altos, a woman checking in guests noticed my name tag.

“Victoria Emmons! I want to thank you for doing such a wonderful job on my husband’s funeral,” she said, her eyes beginning to moisten. I gently squeezed her hand.

“Thank you,” I said. “I am so sorry for your loss.”

I was now becoming a caterer.

I did some research. I learned that the the caterer with whom I shared a name was much shorter and older than me. She even spoke with a British accent. It was clear that not many people knew what the real caterer looked like. I wondered how long I could get away with being her impostor.

While it was bad enough that strangers mistook me for a caterer, when my own friends did so, it was disheartening. One day over lunch, a friend asked me about my catering business, expecting that I could work two full-time jobs.

Even a computer store salesperson once confused me with the caterer when I tried to buy a new laptop. He was convinced I had a Stanford address since Victoria Emmons was already in their system.

Queries about my catering became commonplace. I began to introduce myself as “Victoria Emmons, not the caterer.” It was my personal disclaimer. After all, I was known in the community in my own right. As spokesperson for El Camino Hospital, my name appeared frequently in the newspapers. I was often interviewed on radio and television. I wondered if the other Victoria Emmons knew about me.

The day the gray envelope arrived, I knew she did.

I was eager to read the letter that Victoria Emmons the caterer had mailed to me. This was the first direct contact with my namesake. My hands shook a little as I pried open the unexpected correspondence.

Inside the business envelope, I found a 4” x 6” envelope addressed to me. It had been mailed to the catering company. I was confused. The smaller envelope contained a lovely handwritten note on embossed stationery from a woman in Princeton, New Jersey, whom I did not know. Tucked inside her note was a newspaper column about me.

The note began, “Dear Victoria, Imagine my surprise when I read about you in the New York Times.” The writer went on to ask how things were going in California. The bizarre communication left me befuddled. No letter from Victoria Emmons the caterer was included in the envelope.

The news clip about me, a brief mention in a daily column about acts of kindness by New Yorkers, had been somewhat of an accident. My sister Anita who lives in Manhattan lost a stamped letter intended for me. The person who found the letter wrote a poem on the reverse side, signing it “vegetable writer” prior to dropping it in a mailbox. When I told Anita about the vegetable writer, she encouraged me to send the heartwarming story to the Times columnist who published the story.

The woman from New Jersey sent the article about me to her friend, the other Victoria Emmons. It was a natural mistake. My namesake forwarded her friend’s note to me without explanation. I wondered how she got my address.

I wrote a response to the woman in New Jersey to set the record straight. I felt certain she was embarrassed by her mistake. I did not share with her that her friend the caterer and I had a 15-year history of mistaken identity.

When the caterer finally retired and sold her business, the name changed and so did my odyssey. People quit asking me for recipes. Although I never met the other Victoria Emmons, I felt like an old friend had died.

Story first published in “Captivate Audiences to Create Loyal Fans” by Julaina Kleist-Corwin © 2017