Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Manitoba Opens Up, Manitobans Open Up

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, July 12 / 21

Zack Gross

As our COVID numbers drop and authorities also drop some health-related regulations, the daily walk my wife and I take around our neighbourhood has begun to change.  Of course, before, we – as law-abiding, science-oriented citizens - would maintain our distance, wear our masks, not enter yards or buildings, and not pat dogs.  As our restrictions ease, our walks are taking longer!

Take for example, some folks we’ve become quite fond of, who live along our local lake and often take long walks just like we do.  Recently, when we found ourselves far from home, going by their place on a hot day, they brought us out a couple of bottles of cold water.  So kind and generous!  And us so dumb not to be prepared.

Now that the rules have changed, they invited us into their yard for a tour.  What a place!  A sauna, a hot tub, a pool, a gazebo and on and on.  But, at least we could answer some of their questions about gardening.  And there were questions about health, as my wife is a retired nurse.  She was careful to not give opinions but to say, yes, you might want to get that checked out.

A few blocks further up, there is a lady who really is a master gardener and proud of it.  She also invited us into her yard for a vegetable tour.  I was impressed when she said, “I’ll hold the gate for you, so I don’t have to sanitize it afterwards”.  A detail-oriented person, for sure!  Aside from COVID, she is also having to deal with canola beetles that are eating her cabbage family plants. 

Short in stature, but not in energy and determination, is a couple I’ve mentioned previously who’ve invited us over for wine on their deck once COVID is in the rear view mirror.  Now they are saying the date for our get-together is coming closer as they reach their two shots plus two weeks threshold.  Ocean-going cruises is what makes their lives feel special, but they see that as not happening until long into the future.

Then there’s the lady well into her 80s who has found isolation very difficult indeed, and even a bit depressing.  She was out washing her car (washing her car at 80+!) and happy to talk with anyone passing by.  And so happy, as she said, to still be “on this side of the grass.”  She said that she is so aware of her time slipping away and the pandemic ruining a portion of her final years.

We are ultra-cautious people, seniors with some health issues, not wanting to take chances, but ironically the second day that it was allowed to have limited numbers of people outside on one’s property, we had guests.  We set up our chairs in a wide circle, drank pop from our own individual cans but still enjoyed the kind of communion that occurs when friends get together.

From our experience in talking to people, not being able to invite folks into your yard or into your home means that something people really like and need to do has been curtailed.  That is, we can’t “show off
,” and I mean “show off” in a good way.  It’s much harder, yelling across a ditch or even standing metres apart, to tell people who we are, what we do, what we are good at, and what we enjoy.

Touring someone through your garden or your library, showing someone the hard work you’ve put into your yard or your job, displaying photos of loved ones or art or handicrafts you’ve bought or made, telling long-winded stories or exchanging gossip – people want to get back to that.  And with those closer to you and whom you trust, discussing the issues of the day or the state of relations over a cold one or a barbecued burger.

CBC radio had a piece on the impact of people being able to hug again.  I recently ran into someone I didn’t know well but highly respect, and after a brief, physically distanced chat, almost stuck out my hand to shake his.  I guess we will have to get used to things again like having people over and showing affection, support or respect.

I think that, at least to start, we’ll find it a bit stressful but ultimately very satisfying.  And those old jokes I am always telling – maybe after 18 months, I’ll be able to tell them again!

Zack Gross is Board Chair of
The Marquis Project, a Manitoba-based international development organization.

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