Sit. Stay.

For the humans in the house, social distancing has its virtual consolations, but there’s no replacement for Sprout’s petting and cooing visitors.

Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.

Sprout is depressed. And he’s acting out, like a 3-year-old throwing a tantrum. The other day, for the first time in years, our sweet doggie knocked over the wastebasket in the master bathroom and chewed up discarded tissues. Bad boy!

I know why he’s depressed. He’s missing his two-legged friends. Those are the people who stop by to visit Jim and me, the folks who walk in the door and yell “Sprout!” and reach down and pet him and coo and spend half of their stay playing with him. They make my husband and me look bad, as if we never pay the least bit of attention to our adorable doggo. Those people, who obviously come over just to see Sprout, have disappeared.

Since shelter-in-place went in effect, since the coronavirus situation demanded social isolation, Jim and I have adapted. We miss seeing our family and friends, but constant phone calls and all the online options ease the pain. Sprout, however, doesn’t understand virtual hugs.

Our house is now entertainment central, too, and that’s working out just fine for the humans here. Jim gets his sports fix by watching repeats of baseball games from the 1990s. His two favorite teams, the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs, continue to lose.

Sprout could use some company.

I’ve gone back to the past with a marathon reading of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries. While Jim relaxes in his recliner, watching Tuffy Rhodes blast three home runs off Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets (the Cubs still managed to lose that 1994 opening game), I sit on the sofa, Sprout curled up by my side, and delve into the superb plotting of the Queen of Mystery.

Miss Marple, a spinster living in a small town in England, may not get out much, but she’s such an expert at solving crimes that the police often stop by to get her take on their latest murder investigation.

When I eventually got to the eighth book in the Miss Marple series, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, real life’s ugly head disrupted my reading pleasure. Christie never gives an age, but I’ve always thought of Miss Marple as someone in her 80s. And in The Mirror Crack’d, she is feeling the effects of aging. She can’t work in her beloved garden since her doctor has decreed that she should abstain from kneeling or stooping because getting back up may be problematic. Her failing eyesight is interfering with her knitting, as she can’t keep accurate account of her stitches. And rheumatism is causing her some unwelcome pain.

The aging of this fictional detective hit me hard, becoming entangled in the life I live today.

Sprout is 10, called “a senior dog” by his veterinarian. His brindle coat now shows patches of gray and even though he still leaps high, like a pole vaulter on steroids, he’s developed a few health problems related to aging.

Those obnoxious busybodies known as “They” have declared that “elderly” refers to people aged 65 and older. That’s a life stage Jim and I have entered. And the constant news on the coronavirus front tells me that the elderly are most at risk of death from this insidious disease.

Now there’s an unwelcome factoid.

And so our isolated staycation continues apace, full of anxiety but not panic, prayers for our loved ones, phone calls and virtual greetings, old movies, books and baseball games.

And Sprout looks at us with sad, puppy eyes, waiting for his friends to return.

Carol Schaal, who retired as managing editor of this magazine in autumn 2017, is writing her second mystery novel. Her debut, All the Deadly Secrets, is available through Amazon. Email her at