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During the pandemic, I had some of the happiest days of my life.

A tree with purple ribbon wrapped around it.

A purple ribbon tied around an old tree, Edgemere Park, 2020. (Photo by Jennifer)

I am part of a private online group of writers publishing journal entries every day during the month of June. 

[A Journal Entry, 6.3.21]

Happiest Days

During the pandemic, I had some of the happiest days of my life. Starting in March 2020, Robert and the kids were home all day long with no place to go. Robert telecommuted and the kids finished their 7th and 8th-grade years online. Every day, I busied myself with various projects and looked forward to fixing lunch for everyone. It’s like we were living on a farm or hiding in an attic. The house was so quiet. We sat at the table together, two, sometimes, three times a day. We read books, watched movies, and on rare occasions played board games.

I did not play enough board games though because I hate them. I feel so much guilt about not playing more board games with my kids but I can’t help it. The new ones, like Unearth, make me feel like my brain doesn’t work anymore. The old ones, like Clue and Monopoly, are so boring, they rival my first job out of college. I was more than $40,000 in debt with student loans and the only job I could find was taping car rental coupons to paper so they could be microfilmed. I did this all day, every day, five days a week. Sometimes, I got insidious mandatory overtime, which meant I taped coupons to paper on Saturdays, too.

That Job Made Me 1) Want To Die…

That job made me 1) want to die from boredom and 2) regret not becoming a teacher, which paid slightly more than the $800 a month Hertz paid.

Hertz had been a summer job, by the way. That’s how I got the full-time gig. They hired eight college students during the summer of 1986 to “cash qualify” renters around the nation. It was a total drag but somehow seemed better than working at the mall. I often felt sorry for the people who didn’t have credit cards and couldn’t rent cars. (That would have been my parents.) So, sometimes, I’d approve them for car rentals even when they didn’t meet the cash-rental requirements. (This was in the days before debit cards!) One of the requirements was five years on the job. If someone had been on the job for say, three years, and still pulled a decent credit score, I’d cash-qualify them anyway.

So, goes the memoir of first-generation college students

I made so many people happy that summer, and guess what? Hertz can’t fire me now 😁. I wouldn’t care if they could. It’s been 35 years this summer since I worked for them and I still wince when I think about the wasteland of it all. It was my own personal Reality Bites. To add insult to injury, one of the guys in that group of eight, Dan, landed a decent job with Hertz after college, while I moved on to lesser responsibilities. Dan was male, tall, and had a business degree. Jennifer was female, not tall, and had a political science degree.

Mr. Dan made $25,000 a year, which he complained was not nearly enough. Meanwhile, I made $9,600 a year. After various withholdings, I brought home about $600 a month. My rent on a 200 square foot efficiency apartment was $210 a month and my student loan payments were $350 a month. I had $40 a month left over for food and gas.

I still made more money than my parents, though. They were both in their fifties and unemployed. So, goes the memoir of first-generation college students living in the godforsaken Heartland or Rust Belt in the 1980s.

In Hindsight, the Poverty…

In hindsight, the poverty I was living in with my big college degree was no different than the poverty I lived in growing up. I was 22 and $40,000 in debt. It was such a nightmare. Also, in hindsight, economics played a huge role in my desperation to get married. My college boyfriend and I were both first-generation college grads — both equally broke, equally in debt and equally underemployed. We were also equally without any big dreams beyond a decent couch from a big furniture store.

God, I sucked at life.

So, we got married and pooled our meager resources and together we had enough money for food. But, in 1999, eight years later and one year after the birth of my daughter Juliette, the marriage came to a fiery end. In her book, Share Your Stuff, I’ll Go First, Laura Tremaine asks the question, “What broke you?”

That marriage is one of the things that broke me, but not into nearly as many pieces as custody battles, custody arrangements, and parental alienation. Nobody wants me to be a judge in family court. I thank God for the birth of my son, Sullivan, in 2005. If Juliette’s birth was my joy in 1997, and Bridgette’s birth was my happiness in 2007, Sully’s birth was my restoration. My son. My beautiful son.

Anyway, back to the misery of Hertz. In the mid-to-late 1980s, so many Gen-Xers left Oklahoma City because they could not find jobs and survive here. This mass exit was dubbed the “brain drain” by local media and chambers of commerce. In contrast, in 2018, the city was named a top 25 city for Millennial job-seekers.

Thank you, goodbye.


Robert and I both got COVID-19 twice during the pandemic. It was like having the flu, strep throat, a bad headache, and a cold all at the same time. I’m glad we recovered. Two friends in our Catholic community did not, Deacon Grover, and someone else I don’t feel comfortable mentioning here. We grieve these losses, still.

From March until August, our lives were very quiet. One day, while Bridgy was in the front yard twirling her baton and Sully was practicing baseball, our priest walked by. He lives a mile from our house but I’ve never seen him in our neighborhood before. It took us all by surprise. This was during the height of social distancing and as we all waved to him from afar I started to cry. It was a while before I realized the reason I was crying. I missed the wine at Communion. In only being able to take the bread, it’s like I was only 50 percent protected against the wiles of the devil.

Everything is such a blur now…

Everything is such a blur now. We were fortunate in that the kids returned to school in August. Life kind of got back to normal even though the kids were burdened by minor losses. Bridgette missed going to the state AAU gymnastics meet, state NBTA baton twirling competition, and American Youth on Parade, the national baton twirling competition. Sully missed his 8th-grade banquet and graduation party and an entire season of baseball.

All in all, it feels like without the usual mile markers, Bridgy rocketed from 12 to 14 overnight, although her birthday is still a month away. Sully went from graduating 8th grade to being almost 16. I’m grateful for our survival, but during the blur, my children grew one day closer to leaving home forever. That’s why in the midst of a pandemic I had the happiest days.

One day, a bunch of people even tied colorful ribbons around the winter trees in Edgemere Park. People sort of came together in spurts like that. It was memorable. Mostly, I was happy because my people were nearby, not scattered about in the busyness of responsibilities and growing up. Death was looming large around us but we were all still alive. It felt like we were living in a cabin in the cool, green, damp woods, which of course is what I have always wanted and want more and more as the world grows madder and time goes quickly by.


Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

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  1. Michelle Stepp

    I feel this so much. Even as an (always) home school mom. It has been such a blessing but I also know time is so incredibly precious after losing a child and I am grateful for all the time I have. I want to squeeze every last drop of it. And I, too, always wanted something simpler like a cabin in the country with land to till & animals. Even more so (as you said) as “the world grows madder and time goes quickly by”. Agreed with Bryon above-if you write a book, I’d buy! Blessings

    • Jennifer

      Thank you, Michelle. I think about you so often! Thanks for leaving a note.

  2. Bryon

    I do hope you write and publish a book. I’ll buy at least two copies. 🙂

    • Jennifer

      I wish I could pull myself together enough to write it. It’s so hard working on anything beyond my fulltime job and family responsibilities. I tell myself my day will come, but by then I will be a different person with different thoughts about the past and present…Thanks for supporting my work, Bryon!!


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