TGIF: Taking stock following a year that was unlike any other

Brownwood Bulletin
Gene Deason

The past few days have been a time that saw Americans taking stock of what happened to them over the previous year — a year that will likely prove to be the rockiest period of our lifetimes, at least collectively.

It’s also a time when many of us are optimistically looking forward to a future that will be much more pleasant, even if it’s not exactly the “normal” existence we enjoyed before.

The question at hand is, “Where do we go from here?” While others are imminently more qualified to speak on specifics regarding the economy, politics, social behaviors and science, that doesn’t stop me from making the obvious observations and posing the obvious questions.

March 11, 2020, is the date that historians have set as the quasi-anniversary of the beginning of the plague. That was when a worldwide pandemic was declared, the stock market started sinking, pro basketball games were suspended mid-dribble, celebrities Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson announced they were infected, and travel between America and Europe was halted. But it wasn’t until the week after — a year ago this week — that our family saw the effects of it all ripple into our lives. We realized how life would be during a pandemic.

My wife and I had planned to housesit — which mainly meant dogsit — at our daughter’s house south of Austin while she and her family went to the Gulf Coast for spring break. Spring break in Austin-area schools is routinely the week after spring break for Brown County area schools.

They phoned the resort where they had reservations. Everything was still “go” there, so we went forward with our plans. Privately, I wondered if vacationing at the beach was a wise move, given the mounting concerns over this new virus, but our daughter and her husband are, if anything, more cautious than I am about such things.

So, my wife and I finalized our plans to spend the week in Hays and Travis counties. Mostly, we would visit restaurants, see some friends, and stop by a few stores.

After having arrived, our daughter reported that the beaches were unusually empty — certainly not normal on the sunny shores of the Gulf Coast during the middle of March. Farther inland, my wife and I were making the rounds of dining establishments.

The full extent of what was ahead during the pandemic hit home at a recently opened Mexican cantina in Kyle. The lunch hour “crowd” was nonexistent. As we got our check, the waitress said we were welcome to linger if we wanted, but that the doors were being locked. They had gotten word from company headquarters that going forward, it would be a take-out location only.

We went out for breakfast the next morning closer to our daughter’s house. Again, we learned that it was the last day the dining room would be open.

Using our daughter’s SUV, we made a day trip to Brownwood and back at mid-week to relocate bicycles, getting back before they returned so we could celebrate our grandson’s birthday. That was when they learned that students in his school would not be returning to class that spring.

My wife and I drove back to Brownwood that weekend, wondering how long it would be before we would visit them again. Traffic in Austin was unusually light, so we made good time getting home. That’s when we started our version of a self-imposed lockdown.

Over the past year, we’ve learned to Zoom and Facetime. We’ve learned to mask and obsessively wash hands. We’ve learned to do church without sanctuaries. We’ve survived shortages of toilet paper, bottled water and ground beef.

But mostly, we’ve simply survived. More than a half-million of our fellow U.S. residents weren’t so fortunate. I don’t buy the argument that they were going to die anyway. The death rate was up 15 in 2020.

For millions of others who caught the virus and fought it off, questions remain about whether any after-effects will linger, and if so, how serious they might be. Questions remain, too, about mutating strains. Medical science is still learning.

Still, the future for society is bright in many ways, assuming we remember what we’ve learned about being thoughtful of each other and about how much we miss the little things in life until we lose them — things like visiting with friends, traveling to different places, and seeing people we know in churches and care facilities.

Circumstances during 2020 conspired to keep us apart. Hopefully, circumstances in 2021 will conspire to bring us together.

Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column “TGIF” appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at tgifcolumn@yahoo.com.