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Jim Kenyon: Mother’s Day looks different this year

  • Cathy Dimick, office manager of the Historic Homes of Runnemede, delivers donated carnations to each of the 19 women living at the senior care facility in Windsor, Vt., Friday, May 8, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Florist Diane Epstein, of Windsor, left, and her daughter Kaytlynn, 18, middle, delivers a donation of 19 carnations to Cathy Dimick, office manager of the Historic Homes of Runnemede, for women living at the residential care facility for seniors, in Windsor, Vt., Friday, May 8, 2020. Epstein anticipated a Mother’s Day during which the women would be unable to have visitors due to the the COVID-19 pandemic. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

  • Florist Diane Epstein, of Windsor, right, and her daughter Kaytlynn, 18, depart after dropping off 19 donated carnations to administrator Barbara Spear, left, and office manager Cathy Dimick, second from left, at the Historic Homes of Runnemede in Windsor, Vt., Friday, May 8, 2020. The flowers are for the women living at the facility who cannot receive visitors on Mother’s Day due to COVID-19 precautions. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Columnist
Published: 5/9/2020 8:54:32 PM
Modified: 5/9/2020 8:54:26 PM

For Bev Thomas’ two daughters, Mother’s Day in recent years has started at Frazer’s Place, a small roadside dining spot on Route 5 in Windsor.

Sue Benson, who lives in South Royalton, and Judy Toom, who drives two hours from her home in Colchester, Vt., don’t need to consult their nonagenarian mother before placing her order, to-go. It’s the same every Mother’s Day.

“Frazer’s fried scallops and french fries are her favorites,” Benson said. A side dish of Frazer’s homemade coleslaw is a must as well.

With their husbands in tow, Benson and Toom drive a few minutes south to Stoughton House, which is part of Historic Homes of Runnemede, a senior housing community in downtown Windsor.

At the Stoughton House, they settle into the library on the second floor for a family meal and small talk. “Mom always looks forward to the visit,” Benson said. They shower her with small gifts and flowers — especially yellow roses, which are her favorite.

“It’s always a special day,” Benson said. “It’s just not going to be as special this year.”

Like many senior housing communities across the country, Runnemede stopped allowing visitors at the outset of the coronavirus outbreak a couple of months ago. Elderly people who live in close quarters are among the most vulnerable groups during the pandemic that has already resulted in more than 75,000 deaths in the U.S.

Runnemede, which has 45 units in three buildings, has had no known cases of COVID-19, administrator Barbara Spear told me Thursday. Nobody has shown symptoms or been tested.

Rules against visiting have forced families to adapt. Instead of sitting around a table at mealtime and having face-to-face conversations, they video chat.

But Thomas, 92, suffers from hearing loss and other ailments that make video and phone calls a challenge. Benson and Toom have taken to staying in touch with their mother the old-fashioned way: They write letters. “She likes getting mail,” Toom said.

Ahead of Mother’s Day, they mailed her care packages of books, magazines and chocolate goodies. They made sure to include several balls of yarn for her knitting projects.

“Things so she knows we’re thinking of her,” said Toom, who has also sent flowers, although the florist couldn’t guarantee the yellow roses her mother loves so much.

Thomas, who was Royalton’s town clerk 50 years ago, and the 18 other women who live at Runnemede also received flowers from an unexpected source on Friday.

Diane Epstein, who once owned a florist’s shop downtown but now works out of her home, dropped off fresh carnations at several senior communities in Windsor.

“This is going to brighten their day,” Cathy Dimick, Runnemede’s office manager, told Epstein during the drop-off.

“I know people aren’t getting visitors,” Epstein replied. “I felt that I needed to do something.”

On Wednesday, I found Alison Gagnon behind a desk in the manager’s office at the Earl Bourdon Centre in Claremont. Gagnon retired last fall, but was pressed back into duty after the sudden death of Bourdon’s manager, Alex Puksta, on May 4. He was 59.

Gagnon’s mother, Elaine Perrault, is among the 85 or so residents at the senior housing community on Maple Avenue.

As Bourdon’s acting manager, Gagnon could probably pull rank to pay her mother a face-to-face visit on Sunday. “That wouldn’t be fair to others,” Gagnon said. “It’s going to be hard day for a lot of our residents who would normally spend the day with their children and grandchildren.”

At the Bourdon Center, social life has come to a “grinding halt,” Gagnon said. There’s no bingo or card parties. The hair salon on the third floor is closed. Residents can’t get their pets’ toenails clipped.

Instead of congregating at lunchtime in the dining room, residents cart their meals (on Wednesday, it was stuffed cabbage) back to their apartments in cardboard containers. “It’s the same food,” Gagnon told me, “but my mother says it doesn’t taste the same. When you have to eat alone, it’s a different mindset.”

The vast majority of residents understand social-distancing measures are needed to “protect themselves and their neighbors,” Gagnon said. “If the virus gets into this building, we’re in trouble. It would be like a wildfire.”

Bourdon Centre has had no known cases, she said. She was unaware of anyone who had been tested.

Bourdon, which opened in 1979, offers affordable housing for seniors (its oldest resident is 100), who often raised their families in the Claremont area. Many residents have children and grandchildren who live nearby and are accustomed to dropping by whenever they have a few minutes, but that stopped in March.

“Not having their families around is hard on people,” Gagnon said.

Particularly on Mother’s Day. Last year was 76-year-old Sherrie Curtis’ first at Bourdon, but she was able to participate in a family tradition.

On Mother’s Day, her son, Don Woodman, and his wife, Wendy, typically host 15 to 20 family and friends for smoked ribs or grilled chicken in the backyard of their Claremont home.

“We’ve already missed being together on Easter,” Woodman told me. Now all the traditions that go with Mother’s Day can’t happen.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said.

Woodman and his three siblings will likely stagger their visits Sunday to the Bourdon Centre’s grounds, where they can wave to their mother while she stands on her balcony.

“It’s awful not to get close enough to even get a hug,” Curtis told me. “But I’ll be counting my blessings and remembering all the Mother’s Days we’ve celebrated together in the past.”

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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