Gimme a Smile: Then and now

I’ll be happy to take off the mask, see full grocery stores again and give hugs with abandon.

By Peggy McKee Barnhill

For the Juneau Empire

Then and now. I don’t think I have to tell you the line that separates the two.

Back then, going to the grocery store was a fun outing for me. I would make my list, click my coupons (way back when I used to say, “clip my coupons”), and see how much money I could save in one trip. It was double the fun if the store was doing a Monopoly promotion, where I could collect little tabs in hopes of winning a million dollars, or maybe $5. It was almost like S & H Green Stamps, but not quite. With Green Stamps, if you saved enough of them way back when, you were guaranteed some sort of reward.

Now, nothing less than an empty gallon of milk can entice me to go to the grocery store. Between the mask, the empty shelves, and the pressure to get in and out quickly, shopping has become a drag. Actually, things are getting better here. Instead of empty shelves stretching the entire aisle, now there are merely pockets of void on the shelves. I hope people are eating lots of fresh baked bread with all the flour they’ve stored up at home. Ditto for the pasta. Spaghetti on the menu again tonight? But toilet paper is available again, thank goodness. I don’t know what we would have done — the Sears Catalog hasn’t been published since way back when.

Back then, my Sunday morning theme song was “Get Me to the Church on Time,” from My Fair Lady. I was famous for arriving late and sneaking in during the first hymn, just in time for the hugs and hand clasps of the passing of the peace. Way back when, I was taught to dress up to go to church, and I’ve continued that tradition. No jeans for me. I wouldn’t call them sacrilegious, I just wouldn’t feel comfortable showing up in less than my Sunday best.

Now, with the worship service happening on Zoom, I have no problem getting to church on time. All I have to do is roll out of bed and turn on the computer, while scrupulously keeping my video off. I can fix breakfast during the first hymn and eat my cereal during the sermon (with my audio off, of course. Nobody wants to hear “snap, crackle and pop” during the pastoral prayer). Even for me, pajamas are acceptable church attire when nobody’s looking.

Speaking of Zoom… Back then, zoom was a speed limit that you wouldn’t want to have to explain to your dad when asking for the car keys. Way back when, “Zoom” was a psychedelic TV show for kids that had a very catchy tune (“Come On and Zoom, Zoom, Zoom-I-Zoom”). Now, Zoom is the glue that holds the fabric of our society together. If you’re not Zooming, you’re not going anywhere.

I’m trying not to think about the prospect of Zoom school again, but I will admit there are more than a few benefits of Zoom. In addition to the obvious benefit of church in one’s own kitchen, Zoom allows people to connect in new and exciting ways. In my family, we’ve adopted a pandemic tradition of playing Settlers of Catan over Zoom every weekend. Through the wonders of the internet and an array of technology that someone other than me sets up (I can set up the board!) all five of us can gather around the table from Alaska and California to enjoy this iconic game together. We’ve also played Boggle over Zoom, giving my sister the chance to beat us from Michigan like she has since way back when. Both then and now, she is the Boggle master.

The great outdoors is just as great now as it was then, but trail etiquette has changed. Back then, you would smile and say hi when coming across other people on the trail. You would only get out of the way if the trail was narrow or if there was a bike zooming down on you from uphill. Now, even if none of you are wearing masks, the smile is accomplished with closed lips, and the hi has turned into a mere nod. There’s that little dance of avoidance as both parties veer off in opposite directions to evade as much physical or breath contact as possible. I keep hoping that no one takes offense when I actively avoid them. It’s not that I think ill of you — I just want to avoid getting ill!

Then and now. At some point, I do believe, there will come a time when “now” turns into “way back when,” with lessons we can ponder for the next hundred years if we’re lucky. I’ll be happy to take off the mask, see full grocery stores again and give hugs with abandon. But I plan to keep on playing Boggle and Catan with people who aren’t in the room. Go Zoom!

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother, and author who writes cozy mysteries under the pen name “Greta McKennan.” She likes to look at the bright side of life. “Gimme A Smile”

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