Jon Kaplan lives in Randolph, Vermont, and writes about cycling and small-town life. Jon is a member of the Kimball Library writing group and contributes to the Korongo Writers Forum and the Korongo zine. The Kimball workshop began online last fall as an outreach effort on behalf of residents isolated by COVID-19 restrictions. Jon’s short essay on emerging from the winter of 2020–2021 into a maskless spring marks a turning point in the pandemic. —Ed.
By Jon Kaplan
My older son, Jacob, has been living with us for the past 14 months. COVID derailed his post-college plans, but he has been making the best of it, working as a long-term substitute and para-educator at Randolph Middle and High School. This spring, he has been coaching the middle school lacrosse team. He played lacrosse there when he was in middle and high school. His first game as a coach was the other night, and we wanted to support him and the team. “Is it okay to have spectators?” I asked him earlier. He thought that it was. With recent information that the chance of transmitting COVID outdoors is exceptionally low and with a majority of Vermonters over the age of 16 being at least partially vaccinated, watching a lacrosse game outdoors seemed pretty low-risk.
It was fairly warm for mid-May, and we were grateful for the nice weather. The sky was bright blue with some picturesque white puffy clouds and a pleasant breeze. My wife, daughter, and I decided to ride our bikes the short distance to the game and even brought our dog, Cosby, along in the bike trailer. As we rolled up, I noticed immediately that many spectators weren’t wearing masks. We have spent most of the past year at home, venturing out just for essentials. We have adapted to wearing double masks and anxiously seeking out available hand sanitizer after touching the keypad at store checkouts. To be outside with other people and not wearing a mask, and more significantly, not worrying about things, seemed like emerging from a long sleep filled with dark dreams.
I spotted a couple of friends and went over to chat. The newness of seeing other people and seeing their whole face was remarkable. I did notice that we weren’t quite ready to hug, shake hands or high-five. The six-foot bubble we have grown so used to is a hard habit to give up. It was such a relief to be outdoors in a social setting, unmasked, and doing something so ordinary as watching middle school sports. I felt a certain giddiness and tried to suppress a grin. I cheered on good plays by both teams, not sure if it was the game or us as a community I was cheering for. (You’ve got this, Vermont. You’ve beaten this virus.) At one point, Cosby seemed to pick up on the positive vibes and went into enthusiastic back scratching on the fresh green grass. His joy exemplified the moment.
Not a mask in sight and no social distancing.
A part of me recoiled . . .
My daughter and I watched the first half of the game and then rode to the local disc golf course to play a round. As we parked our bikes, we saw a field full of little kids—probably five- and six-year-olds—playing Tee ball with a few adult coaches. Parents leaned against trees or sat on blankets around the field, talking and laughing, enjoying the sun, and watching their kids. This is how things are supposed to be, I found myself thinking: a community out and enjoying each other. We’re social creatures. Not meant for isolation and only interacting with each other via a screen. This mass gathering of people, most without masks, was a little bit of a shock.
About halfway through our game, as we circled back toward the first tee, we saw a crowd of about twenty people gathered around a picnic table for a Monday-night disc-golf league. Not a mask in sight and no social distancing. A part of me recoiled, worrying about their safety, but my more rational self acknowledged that, once again, this is going to be okay. The simple things like getting together with some friends for a game of disc golf and some laughs have become so much more valuable. Hopefully, we have all taken away from this experience how special these little things are. We took these things for granted, but the last fourteen months of being locked down and scared have given us some perspective.
After crossing over the pedestrian bridge to the other side of the river and the “back nine” of the golf course, we passed a playground full of kids and parents. Laughter and screams were in the air. Both ball fields on this side of the town’s recreation area were active. The smell of hamburgers and hotdogs drifted from a grill set up near one of the fields. It was like the entire community had been given the signal that this Monday was the day to get outside, put aside the worries of the past year, reconnect with friends and neighbors, and get a glimpse of normal. —JK
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