Like the Ghost of Christmas past in Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol,” the coronavirus at the end of 2021 appeared as a strange, otherworldly creature which shimmered and flickered like a candlelight, constantly changing in appearance with new variants.
In 2020 it began with COVID-19 and in 2021 branched into the Delta and Omicron variants.
At least two, Christmas Past and Christmas Present reminded people in South County and elsewhere they live in a new and different world imposing in ways unavoidable. But, Christmas Future – the Spirit of Christmas yet to come – tapped into the storehouse of hope of local residents that things in 2022 will get better.
The Start of 2021
In January 2021, restrictions still reminded people that an unwanted virus still invaded their lives and threatened their contentment and peace of mind of “just living a normal life,” said many South County residents echoing each other about feeling upended in ways they’ve become accustomed to living their lives.
However, by mid-March hope appeared in the virus haze that social distancing, mask wearing and other forms of protection might be eased for them.
Increasing pressure from a public growing weary after a year of inconvenient and disruptive ways of living – as well as a business community taking a hit in profits – led politicians and health officials to push vaccinations as solution for COVID-19.
As summer rolled around, vaccination campaigns were fully underway, restrictions on gathering and mask-wearing had almost disappeared as a tourist season in South County unfolded. It sought to reclaim visitors and economic advantages lost in some ways the year before.
But by July, the COVID-19 Delta variant pushed its way into the U.S. pushing up figures of virus-infected people and by the end of the year new variant Omicron brought depleted supplies of self-testing kits for the virus.
Christmas came with warnings from health officials to once more limit who you gather with, do it only with those having been fully vaccinated and had a booster shot, and to be double safe wear a double mask!
Even Gov. Dan McKee, who just six months earlier championed a return to normal, was imposing modified restrictions regarding mask wearing and proof of vaccinations. This applied to nearly all indoor environments – restaurants, stores, supermarkets, theaters, gyms, churches – where people gather in South County and the rest of Rhode Island.
No redemption from the variant virus ghosts of Christmas Present and Christmas Past, but through the comments of many local residents, hope from Christmas Future glimmered.
“2021 started with the COVID pandemic on everyone’s mind. How it will affect their life and that of their loved ones, how it will affect our economy, and general quality of life. So people started out the year concerned and to a certain extent they still are. So when I think of 2021, I think of COVID,” said North Kingstown Town Council President Greg Mancini.
“Having said that, we will get through this,” he added, reflecting the thoughts of many people The Independent interviewed.
South Kingstown Town Council President Abel Collins echoed a similar view.
“As the seasons progressed, we were able to regain a sense of normalcy, and it seemed like most of us were able to relish some of the simpler acts of life that we may have taken for granted before,” Collins told The Independent.
He said, “Locally, we appeared to have weathered the storm and were enjoying life outdoors and in community. Unfortunately, the virus now has other plans, and our resolve will be tested again. Overall, I’m optimistic that we have the strength of spirit to meet the challenge, as we always do, but my heart aches for those who have not fared so well.”
Joe Viele, executive director of the Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, said, that 2021 started out with a feeling of fatigue and uncertainty, but that members from the business community were not deterred and forged ahead with working hard to keep their businesses thriving.
“More government control did not slow them down. The promise of a vaccine and potential progress on Covid gave them more hope. I do not mean to imply that was all they had to contend with. They are used to dealing with many challenges,” he said.
“As the year went on, they continued, as they always have, dealing with “the daily grind.” Heading toward year end, there is some optimism that there will be more control” of the affects the pandemic has on businesses, he said.
On the religious front, South County clergy said they were happy to finally have opportunity for indoor services as happened before the pandemic hit.
“I think the last year has been one of recovery, hope and even joy. The resilience of our people in our faith community is inspiring,” said Rev. Marcel Taillon, pastor of St. Thomas More Roman Catholic Church in Narragansett.
“Our houses of worship are full of people, our missions have resumed and we are safely back together. While a challenging year no doubt when we look back at a year of resurrection. That’s what we are all about,” he said.
Just a town over in North Kingstown is The Mill at Shady Lea. It is a sanctuary where scores of artists, protected from the daily hustle of selling work, can explore and experiment with the mystery of creativity.
This North Kingstown artists’ colony thrives in an old mill building found where a quiet tree-lined road ends just off busy Route 1. There are private workshops that keep away a daily parade of the public.
In the privacy of this 199-year-old mill — whose grand first days centered on making the wool used in blankets for Union soldiers in the Civil War — artists burrow in workshops.
For many years it has held an open house in the spring and at Christmas time, but COVID in 2020 put a clamp on those opportunities for the artists together to show their crafts and sell them to the public.
In 2021, though, a small and slow return to usual operations started to happen.
“The Shady Lea sort of folded into itself,” Lynn Krimm, owner of the mill building and sponsor of this colony, told The Independent this week.
“(It has) became very self-protective then slowly started to unfold as people quietly returned one at a time and went quietly into their private studios. Then just as slowly doors began to open and it became alive again,” she said.
However, COVID didn’t take away their private time to do what they do best.
For some, they can escape from judgment and criticism of an outside world, artists and crafts people have said. . Others pry loose from swirling chaos or blank minds. All are seeking creative inspiration. The public later sees this transformation in a cup, a painting, some jewelry or a refurbished 1800s clock.
“Here you have a haven,” said Trish Hurley once told The Independent. Her plein air paintings line her studio walls. Tools, paint and brushes lay on nearby tables.
“You close the door, listen to music and you are not being judged. You’re not going to have someone come in and say, “I don’t like that,’” she said.