As Memorial Day weekend invites thoughts of vacation and other summer fun by relaxing and enjoying time off, the continuing coronavirus pandemic has instead invited many people’s curiosity about how different it will be this year.
In several recent interviews with The Independent, most surveyed said it will be a summer unlike any in recent memory, whether you are from an older generation or a younger one. Already the virus has already given students an early escape from classrooms while giving work-from-home tasks to adults.
It has brought families and friends together, but in ways never considered. Virtual school and college graduations for May and June, Zoom teleconferencing for discussing whether July family get-togethers can happen and simple conversations filled with uncertainty taking August trips before the season ends.
Rising unemployment figures have also turned dreams of beach vacation getaways into nightmares about reclaiming deposits for trips families can no longer afford.
Businesses here in South County and elsewhere are scrambling to plant stakes in the ground to claim some kind of normalcy — as much as an unforgiving virus will give — to attract tourists.
Local and state governments, doing a dance sometimes together and at other times apart like uncomfortable friends at a summer beach party, are struggling to contain the virus spreading while also trying to help businesses.
These changes and observations, mentioned during interviews with South County residents, wrap themselves around talk about what lies ahead and lost opportunities. Yet, some mentioned a sense of optimism to explore the unknown and strangeness overshadowing this summer season haunted by a killer virus that can appear out of nowhere.
“You just have to go by what they (prevention experts) say. Mask it or casket,” said Beverly Hurley of North Kingstown as she was leaving Belmont food market in Wakefield.
For Elaine Verduchi, who lives in South Kingstown and has summered at a nearby beach club, this may not be the year to go there, she said while walking to her car in the parking lot.
The club wants $1,300 for the season, will have many restrictions and may force patrons to an odd-even schedule for using the club as it tries to limit people on its beach, she explained about her hesitancy.
Throwing out the usual plans, as Verduchi is considering, is also something Sean Hartley of Weekapaug and New York City is facing.
“I can’t make any plans. I don’t know what is happening from one minute to the next. About the only thing I can do is play tennis,” said the theater director and author, as he put groceries in his car.
Not far away from that store is Narragansett Town Beach. It is a draw all summer for residents, their friends and day trippers.
Within view of the beach is the 134-year-old majestic Towers, a landmark that is once more part of an historic event, this time the coronavirus that cripples ways of life taken for granted so often by people. It rises up and arches over Ocean Road becoming a gateway to the nearby and well-known sea wall that stretches the ocean front.
Cars, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles deposit people to sit with walkers, all getting a whiff of salty air and taking in the seaside happenings on land and water.
On a recent day, the beach had nearly no one on it and parking by the wall was blocked to prevent social gathering. Walkers and bicyclists passed by the shimmering water. Brook Connell, who lives nearby, walked his dog by the wall.
He said, “It all remains ‘to be determined’ what will happen with the beach, and everything.”
“We usually go to Maine. That’s not going to happen this year. Maine has a 14-day quarantine just like it is here,” he said about his summer plans — or lack of them — as Memorial Day beckoned his thoughts about summer.
A few steps away finishing their stroll were high students Sophia Roman and Lily Moreau, both of Charlestown.
“I was supposed to go to Aruba, that didn’t happen. I was supposed to go to a Grateful Dead concert this summer and that’s not happening. I’m a little bit upset, but we need to keep everyone safe and healthy,” she said.
Her friend, Lily Moreau, said one major difference for this summer will be shelving visits to look at potential colleges and universities. “Taking a virtual tour just isn’t the same thing,” she said.
Not far from the beach is the Narragansett end of the William C. O’Neill bike path leading to West Kingston. With theaters, cinemas and gyms closed and other past times curtailed by social distancing, the bike path has seen a marked uptick of people using it.
On a walk along it at the intersection with Main Street in nearby Wakefield were two eighth graders — Ava Vazquez of Providence and Majida Demartino of Wakefield. They mused about the cancellations of activities that were very much part of their summer plans.
However, these students from the Compass School in Kingston also saw promise in COVID-19 conditions forcing more fun outdoors for the summer.
Yet, as so often for teenagers, being with friends in groups is part of that youthful rite of passage. It’s not happening for them and other teens who traditionally plan excursions with friends when school is out in June, July and August.
“I was looking forward to seeing my friends,” said Vasquez, with Demartino adding, “There’s more isolation and inside stuff in the summer this year and that is so hard.”
Yes, this summer will be different, said Kathy McGreen of Narragansett, as she strolled along behind them. McGreen’s two daughters, who brought their work-from-home tasks in March so that they — along with their brother — could all be together, walked with her.
Victoria, 25, works in Boston for a worldwide technology company and usually will leave the city’s stuffy and hot streets in the summer for the breezy and cold ocean-refreshing Narragansett where she grew up.
Even if the beaches are limited this year, she said with a smile and tone of optimism, “I still have my parents deck on the house to sit in the sun.”
Her sister, Emily, 23, is from Philadelphia and is a wealth management advisor. She also grew up in Narragansett, but does not come home every week.
However, being home and near the beach is a treat, but she’s wondering about summer plans with her boyfriend — living in Philadelphia — whom she’s seen only once since March.
It’s not a summer any expected, plans are difficult to make, but there’s a silver lining in be able to come back home, said their mother.
“I don’t think I’ve had my three kids under one roof in a very long time,” she said, a smile brimming.