Great Lakes Echo tasked a group of young reporters with asking members of their grandparents’ generation how they are coping with the coronavirus. We wondered how this crisis compares to the significant social disruptions they’ve already weathered during their lifetimes.
Most said that nothing – wars, recessions, terrorist attacks – compares to this threat to which they are particularly vulnerable. Some noted similarities with the fear of contagion during polio outbreaks.
Their seasoned advice? Fear is real, but faith and family see you through.
By Nyjah Bunn
As a retired emergency room nurse with 33 years of experience, the closest thing to the coronavirus that Doris Watkins recalls is the polio outbreaks of the 1940s and 50s.
“They were sending everyone to (Detroit hospital) Herman Kiefer because they were contagious,” said the 87-year-old Detroit resident. “People were attached to what I knew as an iron lung, sort of like a ventilator. It was a machine that helped them to breath.”
She was once sent to the hospital in the late 50s with suspected diphtheria, giving her some direct experience with the fear of contagion.
“The workers were scared of me and I was scared of them,” she said. “I was in a private room so I couldn’t get anyone else sick. They let me go home after about four days because I didn’t have the illness.”
Nowadays she warns people to stay in the house and practice social distancing.
“I would tell people not to worry and take the advice of the national medical team and encourage others to do the same.
“Make sure to have a balanced diet, clean your homes and don’t cross-contaminate.”
Be fearless: “I don’t have fear, others shouldn’t either. Trust God, do what the professionals say, but don’t have fear.”
And lean on your faith: “You have to have your faith; some will lose it but it’s important to pray and read your Bible, said Watkins, who attended Moody Bible Institute and the International Theological Seminary to become a preacher after she retired from nursing. “I have been financially supporting my church by giving them a little bit more every week because I know they will struggle during this time.”
She is a mother of four, grandmother of eight, great grandmother to more than 20 and is even a great-great grandmother. She spends most days with her family and church family and is the leader of a group that takes lunches to a homeless shelter weekly.
“Almost everything for me is the same. I’m just taking extra precaution at home,” she said. “I am washing my hands more, wiping down surfaces and being extra careful while cooking.
“I call my family members more often because of the virus. I call everyone, even the people out of state, more frequently.”
And she is ready for whatever challenges lie ahead: “I feel prepared. Being a nurse taught me great handwashing skills and I’ve dealt with people in quarantine before.”
“I didn’t go buy up a lot of things, I just got extra Clorox wipes and water.
“I have been trying to encourage people at this time by sending messages out on Facebook, such as telling people not to worry this too shall pass.”
Reporter Nyjah Bunn is the granddaughter of Doris Watkins.
By Ben Goldman
Margo Goldman’s 80th birthday was a memorable one.
For one, this year’s birthday song had an added line: “Don’t move, stay in the house!” the family yelled as the song wrapped on March 22.
Due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, a face-to-face party, as initially planned, would prove dangerous. Family members planning to fly into her hometown of West Bloomfield, Michigan, would have to stay put; those local still sought to avoid any gathering, large or small, with her. She is in the especially vulnerable age group.
But instead of cancelling or postponing the celebration, the family pulled together, carrying it out in a unique way.
Inspired by a trending video on Facebook, her extended family lined the street outside her house, “Happy Birthday” banners and cupcakes in hand. Those unable to travel due to the virus were there virtually via Facetime.
The doorbell rang. She opened her door, and from the doorstep, listened to them sing.
“It wasn’t the way I intended on celebrating it,” Margo said.
But it didn’t take away from her happiness.
“I still had a fun birthday,” she said. “As long as I got to see my kids, that’s what counts.”
Reporter Ben Goldman is the grandson of Margo Goldman.
Chuck and Judy Day
By Lucas Day
Chuck and Judy Day have been through a lot together in their 56 years of marriage.
But nothing like the coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s no comparison,” Chuck said.
In his 78 years, he’s lived through 9/11, served in the Navy during the Cuban missile crisis and beat more than one recession. But the coronavirus scares Chuck because of all the unknowns.
“There’s no medicine that they can vaccinate with, so consequently the only way they can contain it is for people to stay in and I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.
Life experience has taught him to trust experts and not treat everything like a conspiracy theory. He treated the virus seriously early on.
“We’re in that group where if it hits us, it’s (deadly),” he said. “You never know one day to the next if you’ll be around, but this is a little different when this [virus] is out there also.”
The retired autoworker living in Hudsonville worries for lower income people who will be unemployed for the foreseeable future.
What strikes Judy the most about the virus is how quickly it’s spreading. The 75-year-old has tracked the virus from the other side of the world to Ottawa County where they live.
“If you have a television, you get to see a lot of things that you wouldn’t have seen in years [that have] gone by for us,” she said.
The couple regularly tunes in to MSNBC, CNN and NBC.
They have been self-isolating at home for weeks, only approaching others when they get gas and groceries. To pass time they take walks, go on car rides, play games and watch lots of movies.
Chuck, an avid sports fan, said his fading memory comes with one advantage.
“I turned on [a basketball game] the other day and I was so happy I was watching Michigan State, then all of a sudden I realized it was from three years ago,” he said.
“When you get older like we are, they can rerun those [games] because I don’t remember them all.”
Reporter Lucas Day is the grandson of Chuck and Judy Day.
Charles Williams Jr.
By Jordan Meadows
Tomorrow is not guaranteed.
This is a lesson Charles Williams Jr. has learned over his 66 years, from his birthplace of Jackson, Mississippi, to Detroit where he now lives. It’s a lesson only learned through the pain of experience.
Recently recovering from a battle with pneumonia, Williams realizes his vulnerability and understands how quickly life can end.
“It was the hardest challenge I’ve had to face in a while, sometimes I thought I wouldn’t make it,” said Williams, a retired construction worker.
As a result, Williams is very concerned about COVID-19, constantly watching MSNBC and reading online publications. His concern is more for his family than for himself.
As the eldest of eight siblings, father of four and uncle to over a dozen nieces and nephews, Williams worries about how his family is surviving through this crisis, despite knowing he is at a greater risk of harm.
Phone calls of reassuring words and support are all Williams can manage now, as he fights to improve his health, but he’s feeling better each day.
“The only thing that matters in this world is your family, don’t ever forget that,” he said.
Reporter Jordan Meadows is the nephew of Charles Williams Jr.
By Morgan Duerden
At 75 years-old, Janice Cork mows her own lawn, pet sits for three dogs and has never missed a single one of her grandkids’ sporting events.
Life nowadays isn’t nearly as active.
“I’m just playing my computer games and sitting,” she said.
Too young to remember World War II, she compares the coronavirus to the polio outbreak in the 1950s.
“We went through the polio and chicken pox crisis, a lot of people died, but it was nothing like this,” she said.
A retired baker, Cork lives in Oxford in Oakland County. She doesn’t even go to the grocery store anymore.
Her daughter picks up things like eggs or milk, she said. “I don’t really need much.”
She can’t believe how everything is closed and she worries about the children who are missing school.
“They have to go to school 180 days,” she said. “I really hope they don’t have to go in the summer. I’m glad I don’t have a kid that age.”
She has been watching press conferences on TV and thinks the outbreak will get worse before it gets better.
“I’m very concerned, that’s why I’m at home and I think everyone else should be too.”
Reporter Morgan Duerden is the granddaughter of Janice Cork.
By Taylor Haelterman
Rose Bellmore misses her family.
Talking to her son through the porch door is not the same as inviting him to the dining room table, and people don’t talk on the phone like they used to.
“I don’t get up in the morning and be that happy anymore because there’s so much trouble in the world,” she said. “But, that’s part of life. I just try to take each day one at a time.
“I tell the kids, you might have a bad day, (but) wait for tomorrow. Most of the time it’s a little better.”
The 87-year-old Upper Peninsula native from rural Hermansville is taking COVID-19 seriously because she has lived through disease outbreaks in the past, like the polio virus.
This one seems much worse, she said.
“What bothers me the most are the deaths,” Bellmore said. “There’s way more deaths with this than anything that I remember, except possibly a war.”
She is comforted by the pursuit of a medication for the virus, and believes that it is humanity’s best shot at slowing the spread because that is what she has witnessed working in the past.
Until then, she stays busy at home trying to keep her mind from worrying.
“It’s hard to cope without even letting the family come in,” said the mother of eight. “It’s a different life because you are isolated.”
Praying helps conquer her worries while in isolation. She watches Mass every Sunday on TV, and prays each night for the health of different members of her family.
“It takes me close to 20 minutes every night,” she said. “But, I figure that’s a good 20 minutes.”
Reporter Taylor Haelterman is the granddaughter of Rose Bellmore.
By Rui Yan
Reporter Margie Bauman says there is nothing about the coronavirus that scares her: “I’m not afraid of anything.
“The pandemic is a truly horrible situation,” she said. “But as a journalist, I’m fascinated and glad to be able to cover it on a statewide basis for an Alaska newspaper.”
At age 70, she continues to report for the Cordova Times and is also the Alaska bureau chief for the Fishermen’s News.
There is no comparison between the virus and other significant crises she has reported in her career, she said.
“Before I focused on fisheries and environmental issues in Alaska, I covered a range of issues for national media that included civil rights reporting in Wisconsin,” she said. “That was the first time I saw America at its racist worst, and it still goes on.
“This pandemic is different. It affects everyone on an individual level.
“Going out into a city where so many businesses are closed or offering only stuff like meals and other shopping items from outside the stores is weird in Alaska.”
She already works from her home in Anchorage so that was not an adjustment when workplaces closed. But she is irritated that the governor’s orders resulted in closing her hair salon. She is trying to persuade her hairdresser to come to her house because it is illegal for her to open her shop now.
Many of the places she liked to meet with friends or people she needed to interview have closed, she said. It’s impossible to conduct all interviews by phone, email or conference call.
“It’s more fun to be with the people I’m interviewing,” she said.
She is encouraged and inspired by how nice people are to each other in Alaska, actually going out of their way more than usual to see what others need and doing what they can to help.
“We are now having daily televised news conferences with Alaska’s governor and also the chief medical officer for the state,” Bauman said. “I am covering these and writing daily updates that are posted online for residents of Cordova, Alaska, since I cover such issues for their community newspaper.”
Margie Bauman is a 1964 graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism.