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Bridget Wingert: Happy to Be Here

Stories as the pandemic progresses

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Author James Andrew Freeman has figured out how to write about COVID-19 “when mostly good things happened.”
The author has taken facts and turned them into fiction, a collection of a dozen interconnected short stories about ordinary people going about their daily business and coping with a pandemic and life’s interruptions.
Loose strings tie the stories together, one after another, and characters surface and resurface. And there’s not a lot about the virus but most of the stories are related to Bucks County places and people.
In one, “Covid: Before We Knew,” Freeman writes about Devon Schwartz, who left his job as a car detailer at the Mercedes dealership in Doylestown, and became a professional mourner – yes in this fiction there is such a person.
“It wasn’t any fun at all. Things hadn’t been fun for a while. We didn’t kinow what it was at first, this ‘Covind’ virus like Ray Bradbury’s ‘There Will Come Soft Rains’ with dystopian particles falling down from the sky and into our lungs. We were children, innocents ...”
And then, “Devon had turned professional, you see, assisting deaths for a part-time paycheck, not because he didn’t care anymore, but because he cared too much to let fate bring the sick ones to him. He went to them and by 2020 business had picked up a bit.”
And then he said, “What we didn’t know did hurt us and it hurt us badly, down to the core, but it also taught us new things to think ... Covid, we would learn, COVID-19.”
Freeman insists the book is positive but it’s hard to tell sometimes. He says the theme is love and redemption. “I want readers to reflect on what matters in life and death and to reassert their own values.”
It begins with a story about Devon, who struggles through spraying and fixing cars and finally admits, he can’t do it. There was Kathy and Kathy’s Chevy Malibu that changed him.

“The Not Forgotten Man” is about a Marine, who is lost in a California desert. His story is told in four parts.
Michael Forbes shows up later as the “Designated Early Mourner.” Like author Freeman, the son of a doctor, he had a way of being in hospitals, hospices and assisted living facilities – “he looked right into the dying ones’ eyes, coming close to their souls, if eyes are windows.” The same Kathy who appeared in Devon’s story comes back when Michael discovers her journal. He doesn’t feel guilty about “prying into her life and the life of some guy named Devon Schwartz.”
There’s a tragic tale in Cpl. Jeff Ready’s experience, which begins when he is courting Cheryll, later his wife. In a later story, he’s lost his group in the burning Mohave Desert 17 miles from his base. He cries out for his father who later says, “It was a combination of goof-ups ... Local park rangers said that Superman himself could not have walked off the base in those extreme conditions. My son damn near made it.” The Los Angeles Times said he “must have been a special human being, endowed with and touched by love.”
Marriages break up, new meetings occur. Two names that show up in separate stories are Tim and Kate Ann.
Fathers emerge more than once. Among James Freeman’s collection is an excursion to Drakeshead Calif., and Lassen Volcanic National Park with his father, James H. Freeman. And Michael Forbes emerges again, this time as a father of teenagers and living in a Northeast Philadelphia rowhouse.
But the final piece takes James Andrew Freeman back to the camp where he hiked with his father. It’s a family reunion. The pandemic, James Andrew said during a visit to the Herald, has reemphasized the importance of families. It’s a theme that runs through the book.
Freeman has taught creative writing for 40 years at Bucks County Community College. He has published 21 books of fiction, including “Irish Wake: In Loving Memory of Us All,” and “Parade of Days.” He lives in Langhorne with his wife, Mary Ellen Lohin and family. His residence in Bucks County goes back to Doylestown and Lumberville and the “Dump the Pump” demonstrations along the Delaware in 1983.
Publication of “COVID-19 True Fictions” was supported by a 2021 Cultural Incentive Grant from the Cultural Programming Commitee of Bucks County Community College. Professor Freeman will donate his first year royalties to the Dr. Keri Barber Student Scholarship Fund, benefiting a student with financial or disability need who has faced obstacles to college.
The book is available at local book stores, amazon.com and at xlibris.com.


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