QUASQUETON — Summertime and, with the dark coronavirus cloud shading the land, the living is uneasy.
As we enter the Memorial Day weekend — the unofficial kickoff to summer and a time to remember and honor military veterans — the traditional ceremonies and activities have been stamped “canceled.”
Here in my hometown, a multi-generation succession of veteran tributes will be interrupted Monday in keeping with anti-crowd guidelines to curtail the spread of the virus.
For the first time in more than 70 years, crowds will not gather along Main Street to watch an American Legion squad lead a homespun parade to the cemetery. Nor will community members gather round the cemetery’s Civil War monument to hear prayers, speeches, recitations and the reading of the names of the more than 200 veterans buried there.
The show will go on, sort of, with a Facebook Live ceremony at 11:30 a.m. But without the parade, without the East Buchanan marching band, without the children laying spring flowers at the base of the monument and without the assembled community, Memorial Day 2020 will be marked with an asterisk.
Summer fun is on hold, too, with the cancellation or postponement of fairs, festivals, fireworks, ballgames, bike rides, concerts and other crowded activities.
With signs of a flattening curve and halting steps to reopen the economy, we hope the pandemic will soon run its course and that summers starved of fun will not become our new normal.
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In my 71 years, gloom has often weighed upon the national psyche with polio and Cold War fallout shelters in the 1950s; the Cuban missile crisis, assassinations, riots and Vietnam in the ’60s and more Vietnam, more riots, Watergate, gas lines and stagflation in the ’70s.
Worries waned during the ’80s and ’90s but resumed in the new millennium with 9/11, terrorism, Middle East wars, climate change, recession and now this.
This may not be worse than preceding crises, but it’s different in that the potentially lethal COVID-19 affects everyone all the time — if not by the disease itself, which as of Thursday had infected 1.6 million Americans and killed 93,000 of us, then by the prospect that we may be next.
In my younger days, my Prime Directive was, “If it’s not fun, don’t do it.” Like the protagonist of “Dallas Buyers Club,” I used to believe “there ain’t nothin’ out there can kill (blanking) Ron Woodroof in 30 days.”
But now that I’m in the vulnerable demographic — 80 percent of U.S. COVID-19 deaths befall people age 65 or older — that feeling has faded.
The flip side of being old and in the way is that social distancing is less a hardship than it is for younger generations. I have hoeing and mowing to occupy my time and free my mind of worldly cares. But those activities, while certainly salutary, don’t meet even my low standards for fun.
Still I feel I have it better than most during the ongoing Stephen Kingish nightmare. I can pay my bills without having to work, and I don’t have to ride a subway car, cut meat while bumping elbows with a sick co-worker or await my last breath in a nursing home.
My parents grew up in the Great Depression of the 1930s, my mom having one dress to wear to high school. During World War II, Mom helped build earth-moving machines at LaPlant-Choate in Cedar Rapids, and Dad fought in the South Pacific. When I knew them, starting in 1948, their Prime Directive was: Work hard, save, never borrow and don’t plan on fun.
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Though I never heard Dad speak the words, his actions throughout his life were consistent with one of the harsh quotes from the movie “Brokeback Mountain”: “If you can’t fix it, you’ve got to stand it.”
That seems applicable now.
Orlan Love is a former outdoors writer and reporter for The Gazette.
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