A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky by Heart: Despite intrusion of virus, we’ve made positive changes and learned valuable lessons

By Steve Flairty
KyForward Columnist

The pandemic experience has been a bummer for most of us. I passed through my own bout with COVID-19 early in January and fortunately had minor symptoms: a dry cough, no fever, and some lower back issues temporarily. Almost surprisingly, my wife, Suzanne, tested negative on two separate occasions, certainly a blessing.

I figured there must be something good to come out of this rude intrusion into our lives, something we could use to make us better. Cavalier is a good word to describe the lack of thoroughness of my hand washing in the past (despite Mom’s long-ago directives and more recently Suzanne’s). I do much better now and hope to continue the good habits when COVID-19 passes. After all, diseases will always be around, and clean hands are their enemies. I’ve also learned to be more efficient in errands I run around town, cutting down on needless contacts which bring more infection opportunities. Maybe I can save on gas expenses in the future.

Others across Kentucky tell me they have learned lessons and are making some changes, too.

Susie Hillard, of Lexington, reads more these days and mentioned that she has “broken free of shopping for sport or to relieve boredom.” In Madison County, Kirksville resident Darlene Snyder is learning to slow down her life’s pace a bit. “I’m a high-paced individual on the go all the time. Being forced to sit still was somewhat painful at first. Now though, I can see the benefits of a temporary slowdown,” she said. Darlene has been doing some “masked” dating lately, and although she says it can be a bit “daunting,” she sees positives while being with her friend, David Shew. “Communicating has more intent and purpose,” she said. “I get a glimpse of his smile through his eyes (and) I’m more aware of the beautiful blue eyes looking at me.”

President and Chief Historian of the Lexington History Museum, Foster Ockerman, Jr. and his wife, Martina, see three changes in the daily activities they hope to continue.

“We are cooking more, healthier and better, having subscribed to one of those meal services which will continue,” he said. “We are bumping up our home offices and will convert a basement playroom to a video broadcast studio with top-quality camera and mics and three different ‘sets’ for our meetings. A home studio will replace a home theater as a must item, and finally, I can avoid ‘man hugs.’”

Others talked about the subject of eating habits being influenced by the pandemic, including a couple of my neighborhood friends while I was growing up as a tot in rural Campbell County. Lois Summey, now living in Florida, finds it “therapeutic” to spend time with husband Elvis in their kitchen “experimenting with new recipes,” adding that “it’s now been nearly a year since we have been in a restaurant.” Her sister, Carol Dawson, of Union, Kentucky, likes “having a mystery shopper choose my items for curbside pickup” but gives “specific” instructions on the condition accepted for her groceries. She also has pleasantly accustomed herself to the fact that her “Master Gardener Staying Connected” group is doing important functions online now, a consequence of the need to stay physically distanced.

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

Dave Robertson, former Lexington resident now braving the snow and cold while living in Texas, believes he “will never be a traditional shopper again” after these pandemic times. And ironically for Dave, today’s increased reliance on home delivery hearkens back to his youth. “When I was a kid in Atlanta in the 1950s,” he explained, “milk was always delivered. Prescriptions from the pharmacy were delivered. Doctors made house calls. My wife Jean was the youngest of eight kids in Hopkinsville, so the milk was delivered daily. The grocery store delivered at least twice daily. You could get almost anything at your front door.

“And now the pandemic has only served to further open the home delivery market, either through the sellers themselves like Kroger, or a third-party vendor like DoorDash. And doctors make house calls—virtually if not physically. What goes around…”

In Boone County, Florence resident Julia Pile likes some of the positive consequences virtual school has on her children, including allowing them to have more control of their time, which she calls “white space.” She and her kids also enjoy less rushed time at breakfast and the scheduling allows more sleep time through the week “where they don’t have to get up so early for school.”

Freelance writer Shawn Murtaugh, of Louisville, is cynical about mask-wearing. She plans to “get far more involved in what our government is doing. I have always done a lot of what is now considered essential—other than wearing masks. And since masks, both wearing and seeing people wearing them, cause my blood pressure to boil, I stay away from places where it is expected when I can,” she said. Lydia Jacobs, of Pippa Passes, in Knott County, says, in regard to what information to believe about medical issues such as COVID-19, that she sees a need to “use common sense and evaluate the veracity of what I hear before I carve it in stone.”

Here’s a quick look at more responses to my “make us better” question. Sheri Wood has increased her love of gardening. Karen Leet and Kathy Doyle appreciate hugs more than ever. June Tompkins, through virtual teaching, has learned how better to use a Chromebook, an educational took used in the last several years.. Linda Morefield is happy to “save her knees from hard concrete floors” which she avoids through curbside pickup. Jessica Stott is liking the idea of waiting in the car for doctor appointments to save her “four littles” from the “germy” waiting rooms.

Some of us make do in a special way after unfortunate events confront us, and the result is powerful. My friend Wanda Slone, from Kentucky before moving to Florida a few years back, shared this. “I live in a retirement home with about 85 people,” she said. “Because of COVID-19, we lost our pastor. Since I used to teach Bible to senior high girls, I offered to teach a Bible study. It has been successful, and I remembered how much I missed teaching. So guess I will continue… never dreaming that at the age of 88, I would teach again.”

Oh, the spirit of Kentuckians!

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