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LIVE LOCAL: Gwenyfar looks at her goals for 40 with a stay-at-home order

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The downtown post office—with its abundant light, beautiful marble and mural—is a place Gwenyfar loves to go daily for interaction with downtown friends and business owners, but during the pandemic it’s rather empty. Photo by Gwenyfar Rohler


I’m turning 40 this year. At my last birthday, I set a variety of goals for my 40th year: finish a rough draft of a specific book I want to get done; spend my 40th birthday at Woodstock; learn to ride a motorcycle; and, finally, take a long road trip somewhere in the VW bus, preferably with Jock and the dogs. Included in all this is a plan to pay off debts the bookstore incurred after Florence, and to get us in better shape financially to face the Front Street Enhancement Project (wherein our block of Front Street and the one by The Cotton Exchange get torn up for a few months as all the infrastructure gets updated). I’d also like to get the final room in the bed and breakfast opened.

Well, that has all gone out the window. Right now if I make it to my 40th birthday with Jock and the dogs, alive and healthy, and with hope for reopening the bookstore to the public, it will be cause for celebration and a huge sigh of relief. Ten years ago, our building of 26 years got condemned. We spent March through November of 2010 with all the inventory in storage, hemorrhaging money on the building purchase, renovation and expenses. So, somehow, this seems vaguely familiar. I remember praying repeatedly throughout that year that if I could just get the bookstore open again, I wouldn’t complain about work. Well, we are human and we all make bargains with the divine that are emblematic of our frailty. I still complain, I am a very flawed human after all, but I do remember that plea regularly—now perhaps more than ever.

We are all coping with sudden changes and adjustments to our lives none of us foresaw. Deb Shoemaker of New Perspective Art Therapy Counseling noted in a phone conversation this week that learning to do art therapy via Zoom has been a change. But after a few bumps in the road, she’s got a process figured out with the right camera angles. Not surprisingly, her younger clients have found the transition easier than some of her older clients. More than anything, realizing that an online class is possible has been powerful. Frankly, now more than ever, art therapy can be essential to processing what is happening; thankfully, for Deb and her clients, she is providing that tool.

I was at the post office shipping books when I saw Jimmy Pierce of Kids Making It. If you are not familiar with Kids Making It, please go visit their gift shop when it reopens on Castle Street. The program teaches woodworking skills to middle and high school students. The kids get to see the projects through to the finish, selling their products and keeping the proceeds. In addition to woodworking skills, they also learn entrepreneurship. Of course, the only thing any of us talk about these days is the virus and how we are all responding to it. So, how does an after-school woodworking program handle social distancing with a room full of teenagers? Well, Pierce and his staff have been putting together video tutorials and dropping off projects for the kids to work on at home. (For everyone’s health and safety, the retail gift shop is closed.)

“You know Jimmy Pierce,” I commented to Jock over dinner. “There are no setbacks, just a different way of thinking about problem-solving. That’s what he teaches, and that’s what they are doing.”

“So it sounds like you had a pretty good day,” he observed.

“Well, I always like seeing Jimmy, and it is far too rare,” I nodded. “But you know I love the post office, right?”

“Yes,” he chuckled. “You do love the post office.” Jock and many of my close acquaintances have endured a multitude of soliloquies over the years about the wonders of the U.S. Postal Service. I am a devoted fan, starting with Ben Franklin and coming forward.

“Well, I have to say, going to the downtown post office has become incredibly depressing for me. It is so beautiful: the marble floors and walls, the big windows that bring in the light, the lattice for the vents by the ceiling. And, of course, the mural.”

“That is a great mural,” Jock agreed.

“It’s public art—a project funded by the government to beautify the country. In times of great crisis, true leadership has managed to put emphasis on the value of culture, creating something worth living for: Churchill, FDR, JFK … but don’t get me started,” I slumped.

“So how is the post office handling this?” Jock asked.

“Well, the staff are amazing. They are keeping the service windows open and adapting as best and as fast as they can. They wear masks and gloves; the credit card machines are on little tables in front of the windows now. I have to say, they are true heroes, because if they shut down, I don’t know what we are going to do. But it looks like the scene from a horror film in there: plastic shower curtains have been hung over the service windows, there’s hazard tape on the floor to note 6-foot marks for social distancing. It is dark, gray and sad in a building that was so beautiful only two weeks ago.”

“So, you were shipping books? That sounds positive,” the ever-optimistic Mr. Brandis tried again.

“Yes, shipping and curbside pickup are much appreciated right now.” I shook my head. “I thought if we went into quarantine I would finally sit down and get a draft of that book done. Instead, I seem to be doing a lot of paperwork and trying to figure out how to sew cloth masks for us.” I paused. “Don’t get me wrong, I love you; you are important, and if cloth masks are the next step to your health and wellbeing, then that’s what we’ll do. I guess the changes are just accelerating at a speed that leaves me reeling. I need some time to process this.”

Jock’s life, I think more than most, is relatively unchanged by the stay-at-home order. Other than not being able to go to Folks Café four times a day to see his friends or play pool a Blue Post, he is still doing what he does most days: inventing and innovating in his shop. Steven’s Hardware, Grainger, Bruce Watkins and Gulf Stream Steel are all open as essential businesses, so he can still get many of the materials he needs and see a lot of the people he would see in an average week. But, for me, like many small business owners, things are a bit more hectic. I’m trying to sort through paperwork that is entirely new in order to do what’s best for my staff and trying to figure out new models to keep things going while still being a good member of the community. We will figure this out, and we will see each other again.

I might even get a draft of a book written.

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