By Tony Hooker
The ability of humans to improvise, adapt and overcome, as noted by that twentieth century philosopher Gunny Highway in Heartbreak Ridge, has always surprised and impressed me.
And in the bizarre landscape of pandemic stricken 2020, innovation continues to shine in myriad ways.
As an example, in February, the only ZOOM I knew of was the one on PBS when I was a kid. The catch phrase “Zoom, Z-double-O-M, Box 3-5-0, Boston, Mass 0-2-1-3-4: send it to Zoom!”, still resonates in my brain from all those years ago, though I much preferred Sesame Street and my bro’ was more of an Electric Company kind of guy.
Fast forward to today, and Zoom and its cousin Teams are seemingly irreplaceable tools of my chosen trade. From staff meetings to advising students, it’s all Zoom, all the time, and although it’s not the same, and I will always prefer direct human contact, at least it’s something, and something almost always beats nothing.
The Villa Grove Christmas Tree Lighting Festival also had a different feel to it, though we didn’t do a virtual rendition. There was no caroling. No vendor booths for early gift purchasing. The Reebster and Linda Moon weren’t there, selling the most delicious baked goods to be found. Even Conductor Bruce and the Chamber of Commerce fun train couldn’t carry passengers this year.
I missed all those things, to be sure, but what I came to realize as the evening progressed was that our sense of community was there in abundance. Miss Villa Grove, Ava Vollmer, Jr Miss Addy Wilson and Little Miss Paisley Miller were there to light the tree. Santa’s house, the tennis court fence and the tree itself had been lovingly decorated by those in our community who care. Derek the Christmas Tree Elf dutifully manned his post at the south end of Main, sharing the fine Fraser Firs with those who prefer live trees.
We improvised. Santa and Mrs. Claus were there too, and though the method of delivery was different than in past years, (no lap sitting, Santa and the Mrs. were perched on a flatbed, maintaining appropriate social distancing protocols) the kids were still awed by the opportunity to petition the big guy with a hand delivered letter, placed in his mailbox. To me, that renewal of hope and fellowship is what the night was all about. Of course, we wish we could have run the shuttle up and down main street to show off the new decorations the town’s businesses had on display. We wish that we could patronize them like on a normal day, but because we couldn’t, we improvised.
We adapted. Nearly everyone in attendance at the lighting festival wore a mask and tried to maintain safe social distance.
It would have been an easy decision to pull the plug on the whole celebration. People would have understood, and no one should have found fault if that decision had been made. Instead, we overcame. We brought hope and wonder to 100 kids and kids at heart. I’m looking forward to the 2021 lighting festival, to be held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Hopefully we’ll have more of the activities that we’ve had in the past, but even if we aren’t able to, we’ll still have the sense of community and love that I felt last night. And for that, I’m glad.