'Just A Wonderful Feeling': As Case Counts Fall, Vermonters Celebrate Birthdays, Wedding Plans & Bingo Night
As a summer without COVID-19 restrictions gets underway, people are resuming activities — large and small — that the pandemic had paused or postponed.
After spending a quarter of his life in a pandemic, four-and-a-half-year-old Fergus Whelley got invited to a birthday party a few weeks ago. It was the first one he’d ever been to.
“It was like we had to have candy instead of cake,” he said, remembering the piñata, “and then we had cupcakes.”
“Those were the biggest cupcakes I’d ever seen!” his mom, Nikki, chimed in.
"That sense of normalcy coming back; that’s just a wonderful feeling.”
Nikki was feeling the effects of her second COVID-19 vaccine dose that day, but she still took him to the party.
“You know, it was just like a ... like a whirlwind of an experience: feeling crummy from the vaccine that’s going to allow us to do more of that kind of thing.”
It’s been two weeks and some change since Vermont’s vaccination rate hit 80%, and Gov. Phil Scott lifted all pandemic restrictions. Summer is in full swing, and people are ... doing things again.
Some are returning to the office. Some are going on vacation to Maine or California; some are going to the movies and spilling popcorn under the seats. Some are attending funerals, or weddings or birthday parties, where they’re seeing their new niece's smile for the first time.
One couple in Colchester told me they just made up for last Thanksgiving, with turkey, cranberry sauce, everything — in June.
For Kathy Carter of Milton, bingo nights are back. And in Milton, bingo night is every night — except for Mondays.
“Monday nights are only good for laundry,” she joked.
Kathy is a bingo caller. Some say she’s the best in town. She continued calling throughout the pandemic, when bingo night was masked, distanced and had capacity limits. All that’s gone now, and she calls out numbers to a room of people the same way she has for over a decade.
“[It] feel[s] like you can start talking with people again, and being a little bit closer and not always be keeping your distance, you know what I mean? That sense of normalcy coming back; that’s just a wonderful feeling.”
A lot of the regulars stopped going to bingo night during the pandemic — but now they’ve returned.
“Some people, they come out and play every night — it’s what they do,” Kathy said. She says that when people play bingo, they can forget about their troubles.
Sonya Greeno does not play bingo. I met her sitting on a chair outside her house in St. Albans, listening to a band play in the park nearby. She said the first thing she did after getting her vaccine was to walk down the street without a mask on — which felt good, but she’s still apprehensive.
“I went to the Mobil station before I went to work this morning to get coffee,” she recalled, “and there’s no sign that says I need to wear a mask anymore. I still wore my mask. I was unsure.”
After more than a year of the pandemic, something as ordinary as walking down the street might feel extraordinary. But something as mundane as going to the grocery store might still feel strange. It does for Sonya.
“I used to touch my fruit, and there were old-fashioned ways to see if your fruit’s ripe, if it’s not ripe. I don’t do that anymore, I take my chances. I put it in the cart. If my fingers are on it, I put it in the cart,” she said. No more smelling the sweetness of pineapples, or squeezing the soft skin of peaches.
Missy Matteis and Mack Lacey are also being cautious. The couple lives together in Somerville, Mass., and they were supposed to come to Vermont, where Mack grew up, for their wedding last spring — but they didn’t.
They originally pushed their wedding to this June, but in March, it didn’t look like vaccination rates would be high enough. So they’re waiting until 2022. They hope that by then, the pandemic will be officially over.
"It's like a pandemic release and reunion as well as our wedding," said Mack.
The ceremony is going to be at The Round Barn in Waitsfield — and the latest save-the-date cards have ‘Waitsfield' spelled wrong. But they laughed and said at this point, that kind of thing doesn't really matter.
"If everyone's there, healthy, having a good time, we're there," said Missy. "They say 'third time's the charm' on the top, so everybody gets the vibe," added Mack.
In the meantime, four-and-a-half-year-old Fergus Whelley of Middlesex has started having playdates again. And he’s excited about taking swimming lessons this summer.
Recently, he got to see his grandparents again.
“Seeing them in person was better than phone call[s],” he said, “So they could see me be bigger.”
And with the wisdom of a four-and-a-half-year-old, he says in person is better because, well, it’s in person.
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