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As lockdown drags on, residents work to maintain human connection

  • Friends Anna Grallert, left, of White River Junction, Vt., and Loey Crooks, also of White River Junction, talk in downtown White River Junction on Monday, May 4, 2020. The two walk together every day. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to valley news — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/4/2020 8:59:59 PM
Modified: 5/4/2020 8:59:55 PM

LEBANON — Sitting at opposite ends of a picnic table in the middle of a largely empty Colburn Park on Monday afternoon, father and son Jim and Graham Robinson enjoyed a rare get-together over a small pizza and sandwiches.

The two men used to meet multiple times a week for lunch — Jim Robinson traveling from his home in Woodstock and Graham from his in White River Junction — until the COVID-19 outbreak.

For weeks, they and other Upper Valley residents have been isolated in their homes. In late March, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu issued stay-at-home orders mean to slow transmission of the virus.

While the Robinsons’ recent lunches have been less frequent and more physically distant, they are life-affirming and uplifting in the midst of isolation.

“A lot of people are re-evaluating and spending time with loved ones,” Jim Robinson said.

Weeks into isolation, Robinson’s words hold true for many residents around the Upper Valley, who have found themselves relying on tight circles of family and friends to get manage the stress of the pandemic.

“I always thought of myself as an introvert,” said White River Junction resident Loey Crooks. “But after being forced not to see people, I need human contact.”

For Crooks, that means weekly virtual game nights with her family. Lately, they’ve been playing the board game Clue over video chat and texting each other their solutions, Crooks said.

It also means daily walks through the village with her friend Anna Grallert, also of White River Junction.

In order to follow social distancing guidelines, the women stay six feet apart, avoid crowded areas and wear masks or scarves when possible.

“I’m coping a lot better,” Crooks said of how the two weeks of walking with her friend have helped. She spoke Monday from a bench in White River Junction, where she was taking a break from one of those daily walks.

Grallert, who sat on a post several feet away, said that along with their walks, she’s found comfort in reaching out to her loved ones with greeting cards, calling it “a way to interact without interacting.”

For Burlington resident Dewey MacMillen, communicating with her friends through the mail has been getting her through the past month of isolation, too. MacMillen, who’s been staying with her parents in Norwich, said she’s sending baked goods like banana bread and cookies to friends and coworkers.

She’s even working on what she calls a “quaranzine,” which compiles funny texts, memes and messages she and her friends have sent each other throughout isolation.

“Ten years from now, we can look back and laugh,” she said.

While the past month has prompted many people to find ways of coping with the stress of the virus and being at home, it’s also revealed other difficulties.

Enfield resident Jennifer Grace, a retired nurse, said she’s become increasingly concerned over the past month about people not wearing protective gear like face masks when they go out in public.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people wear cloth face coverings when in public settings where they might be near other people, like markets or other stores.

But Grace said that’s not happening in Enfield.

“When I go to the post office, I’m not seeing anybody wearing masks,” Grace said, adding that the same is true at some local markets. “Not everybody is on the same page.”

That’s a concern for Grallert as well, who said she went to a chain hardware store in Lebanon on Sunday and saw few people wearing masks, calling it “very upsetting.”

“It brings me hope when people are taking necessary steps,” she added.

As the number of COVID-19 cases continue to grow in the Twin States, and the stay-at-home orders stretch into another month, one question is at the forefront of everyone’s minds: when will it be over?

“It needs to go conservatively,” said Jim Robinson, adding that he’s worried about another wave of the virus if people act too quickly to open up businesses and public spaces. “It’s risk versus reward.”

Crooks feels similarly.

“I miss the old normal,” she said Monday, with a pause. “But I don’t want to put people I love at risk.”

Anna Merriman can be reached at or 603-727-3216.

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