Sequestration … Been There

Sequestration … Been There


For a few shining moments the world was bright and new, masks came off, and the cobwebs in the car were swept aside. 

Ah, well. Back to sequestration, a term that can mean voluntary withdrawal from the company of humans or banishment. Our current version is slightly less onerous than the virtual quarantine many of us observed during the first waves of pandemic, back when we were washing cereal boxes and stocking up on rice, beans, and toilet paper. We’ve tasted freedom, we are vaccinated, and there’s plenty of toilet paper.

But this wave is nasty and caution propels, well, the cautious into voluntary separation again. 

We’re not alone, of course. Jurors on high profile trials are told to bring books, games, and a full deck of cards. A sequestered jury is unplugged and held incommunicado for extended periods of time. During the O.J. Simpson trial, presiding judge, Lance Ito, decided things were getting wonky, and hey, presto, the jury was sequestered for 265 days.

That’s sequestration somewhere between exile and banishment but with snacks. 

I first encountered the word as an eleven year old stuck in a boarding school. Those relatively few of us whose behavior was considered beyond the pale earned “sequestration”, a relatively short stay in what passed for the school’s pokey located in the basement of a new dormitory. I suppose the kindest analogy would be “time out”; the most descriptive would be short term incarceration. My transgressions have faded from memory, but I’m sure I earned my spot in the cage, more substantial than a mesh fencing closet, closer to a chain link basement suite.

Those of us who failed to meet the firmly held standards of behavior, in and outside of the classroom, became familiar with terminology such as sequestration probably not found in most 4th or 5th grade classrooms. For example, poor performance in course work was graded in the commonly accepted fashion, but in addition a frustrated  teacher could add a “blackball” to the week’s report. As one whose weekly report was studded with blackballs, there was no figure or ground; I had no idea what I’d done or left undone to earn my blackballs, but I came to expect I would not be getting  through a week blackball free during my career there.

So much for the life academic. Repairing to the dining hall, we sat at assigned seats with faculty at the head of our table. Breakfast was fine, lunch manageable, but the dinner menu featured items this eleven year old could not handle. The meal was supervised by adults as well, adults who splashed the nightly slop on each plate without pausing to make sure the plate would be welcomed. Apparently the school had maintained a crackerjack root cellar throughout the last decade as a primary source of inexpensive fodder for the boarding students. I’m sure quasi-potato dishes were served from time to time, but the primary accompaniments to fish sticks or liver were boiled turnips, rutabaga, and beets. Occasionally, as I remember it, we were presented with a medley of roots including all three of the major boiled substances.

It is only as I sit here in the afterglow of very late middle age (75 is the new 70) that it occurs to me that lunch was palatable because it was served to the day students who might carry the turnip reports back to parents paying through the nose for a tony private school education. They got Latin and French as did we who boarded, but they were educated without the restorative power of rutabaga.

I mention this dining experience because, once again, the desserts that came my way were just but not sweet. A contemporary description of turnips raves,” Turnips can be swapped into nearly any recipe in place of potatoes. Try making turnip fries, coleslaw, stir-fry or salad”. 

Oh, they tried, almost on a daily basis.

And, as the patient reader will have guessed, some of us saw the menu as a perfect gag fest and stonily refused to attack the turnip slaw even when threatened with the last of the unique responses to unacceptable behavior. I did not do more time in the jug in sequestration, but was banished to a table at the far end of the dining hall, where I was to sit in darkness until I had polished off the mashed turnip souffle. The walk of shame from the jolly banter of our assigned table to the bleak isolated table was known as “Sitting with Sir Henfry the Unworthy.”

Did my behavior or attitude change as a result of blackballs, sequestration, and a visit with Sir Henfry? 

Not a whit. 

Have I grown fond of turnips?

Equally whitless.

What I have come to admire, however, are distinctive euphemisms. Compared to the school’s catchy distractors, contemporary euphemisms such as “downsizing”, “passing away”, and “family planning” are downright snoozers. Words, words, words as Hamlet put it, much better food for thought than rutabaga hash.

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