Monica Duffey, 61, can’t wait to Christmas Eve. It’s the day each year that one of her brothers picks her up from the group home in Waukesha, Wisconsin, where she lives with seven other women with developmental disabilities. Rituals are important to Monica, a heavy hitter of Penny Press crossword books and a longtime fan of R&B group Brenda & the Tabulations. Since the passing of her parents, Christmas has meant celebrating with her eight siblings, Joe, Maureen, Tom, Tess, Anne, Katie, Dan and Peter – who are known to compete to give Monica the gift she loves most. .
Holidays typically include a weeklong visit with Maureen, who, along with Tom, is her tutor, and a rotation of visits with other siblings and their families. But this year, as coronavirus infections escalate in Wisconsin, residents of the group home have been asked to forgo family visits. Maureen and Duffey’s other siblings have discussed the change of plans with Monica on several occasions, but it still dominates their phone conversations. Courtesy of Monica, Maureen conferred a New York Times reporter on one of their regular calls last week. Here is a slightly edited excerpt.
Maureen Hello Darling.
Maureen How are you tonight?
Monica What day are you coming to pick me up for Christmas?
Maureen Well you know the virus is really, really bad in Wisconsin right now. Do you remember I told you that? I think it’s bad everywhere. So none of us are meeting for Christmas this year.
Maureen We have some surprises planned for you.
Maureen Why? For the holidays. For Christmas. So we’re working on it now. You gave Anne a list, right?
Maureen And Katie is making one of your favorite things for Christmas, and she’s going to send it to you.
Maureen What do you think? What do we always have on Christmas that you like to eat? It starts with a “G.”
Maureen Yes. And Katie was making it today, and she’s going to send it to you. So look for this package.
Maureen No, well, she’ll probably send it tomorrow, which is Wednesday. So look for it around Saturday, or maybe Monday. Do you have all the decorations in your room that Tess left? What about your tree ornaments?
Maureen And the exterior lights, can you see them? What colors are there?
Monica Orange, yellow, blue, green.
Maureen Which is your favorite?
Maureen What are you doing tonight? Are you relaxing now before dinner? What are you going to eat for dinner?
Maureen What is it called? Spell it?
Monica [quickly] NEGLECTED
Maureen Oh, Sloppy Joe, alright. Well.
Monica Who is coming to pick me up on the 23rd?
Maureen We’re all going to be staying at home this year, darling. Everyone is moving away from each other because of the virus. And we don’t want you to get sick because if you do get sick you might have to go to the hospital and we can’t come with you. And we would hate that.
Maureen We still have a few surprises, but I won’t tell you what they are yet. We miss you and love us.
Maureen I’ll call you in a few days.