April 4, 2020

Pandemic, Porches and Hope

The lazy days of warmer weather brought almost every neighbor outside; the adults would settle down on their stoop, or porch, as we called it. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a neighborhood of porch-sitters. The Dyer, Simmet, Ungren, Manino, King, and Sumner families along with my parents, would holler across the street - Hi there, how are the kids? - Do you have a cup of sugar I can borrow? - Did you read The Onlooker this morning? Tommy can’t come out to play, he has a tummy ache.

Us kids would congregate on the porch and plan our evening fun of outdoor games such as One O’clock, No Ghost, Hide 'n Seek, Red Rover. A countdown would begin as we surrounded the porch: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – as we frantically took off to hide in any of the neighbor's yards. This was allowed back then. Parents would sit and visit on the porch while the kids played. Hours passed when the dreaded street lights came on--shortly followed by porch lights flicking on and off--calling us to our homes and signaling the end of our outdoor fun.

A disaster, death, illness, wedding, baptism - any and all events - would bring the adults to their porches hollering congratulations or to call out sympathies – publicly and without embarrassment. Mornings would find the adults sitting on the porch with a cup of coffee and toast, in our family it was Hardtack or Trenary Toast with peanut butter, and the local newspaper. Simple elegance and a familiar connection to each other. Neighbors caring for neighbors … united.
As an adult, I can’t help but reminisce as I wander around looking at our town’s porches. Over these years, sadly, have noticed a difference in neighborhoods with parents too busy to sit outside, few if any kids playing in the yards, and goodness gracious if you called out a greeting to a new homeowner – expect the look. It felt as if we had we lost our sense of unity and caring for each other.
Then, THE PANDEMIC COVID-19 hit – the Coronavirus struck the world. 
We were told to “shelter in place” – stay home, you can walk but keep 6 feet from others, wash any groceries; toilet paper became a commodity along with hand sanitizer. Now we are admonished to wear masks when outside. An extreme sense of dread has visited the planet – we’re all scared, cautious, and, in many cases, pulling together. 
As we sit on our porches or stoops, walkers’ wave, smile; neighbors are calling out to each other – Hi, there, is everything okay? Do you need anything? How are the kids doing? Where’d you get that mask – it’s cute. I hear families playing in the alleyway and in backyards. Community members are spending time in their yards, on their porches, kicking a ball around. People are sending cards and calling neighbors and families to check on them, doing puzzles and playing board games. The warmer days are bringing families walking past our house – waving toward our window if we are inside. Stories of people parked in their cars clapping in thanks as our health care workers enter and leave the workplace. Individuals and groups are gathering around tables making masks for doctors, nurses, firemen, policemen, and now for each other. People are calling restaurants to deliver meals to our essential medical and emergency personnel.
Planet Earth’s residents are uniting through this horrible, terrible, rotten pandemic. I guess we do need each other. Neighbors caring for neighbors … united.

The Hardwood Walking Stick

All through my 30s onward, I’ve walked woods from the Appalachian and Smoky Mountains, along with the mountains, hills and valleys of Michig...