2020, for all of its heartbreak, gave a few things to smile about

Published 6:30 pm Tuesday, December 29, 2020

This year ended with Santa Claus smiling and waving at children from behind Plexiglass.

Carolers, if they gathered at all, tried to harmonize from six feet apart, and many families exchanged Christmas greetings by Zoom or other electronics rather than in person.

Those and other holiday changes were only a few of the many ways our world was turned on its head in 2020. It was a year we will always remember and wish fervently we could forget.

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While it was a tragically deadly year, we will be left with a few smiles, and that’s always a good thing.

Remember Mr. Whipple in the 1970s TV ad being scolded with, “Don’t squeeze the Charmin”? Last spring, we all would have liked to join him if we could just have found a roll of toilet paper to squeeze. Few things can cause panic more quickly than thinking you will run out of TP and not be able to replenish it.

Long gone are the days when the Sears Roebuck catalogue served the purpose, and corn cobs were banned when indoor plumbing replaced outhouses. So, today, we rely on rolls of toilet paper, and last spring, they were scarce — very scarce.

Toilet paper wasn’t the only thing in short supply, of course. Grocery store shelves were often as bare as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. Store owners rationed paper towels as well as that cherished toilet paper, and you had to know when the delivery trucks would arrive to stand a chance of finding some food supplies. Families with children out of school and parents working from home scarfed up hotdogs, bologna and every other meat in the case, along with spaghetti sauce, noodles and other necessities of American life.

We weren’t long into the shortages when we learned that part of the problem was hoarding. It seems that some folks corralled precious supplies whether they needed them or not.

Social habits changed quite a bit during the year and may never again be quite the same.

This was the year that the good guys wore masks. At least, as far as the believers in science were concerned, they were the good guys. Quite a few others concluded that wearing a mask was just being politically correct and thus, virus-blocking face covers became one more sign of a divided nation. Go figure.

Ironically, Virginia and many other states have laws of long standing that prohibit the wearing of masks in public. Suffice it to say you won’t be arrested for wearing one now, except possibly in Florida.

This was the year we stopped hugging and shaking hands. It was a hard lesson to learn because elbow bumps just don’t hold the same meaning for many of us.

Even more difficult to follow was the very strong advice against touching our faces. Many of us never accomplished that, to be honest, but most of us at least have far cleaner hands than ever before because hand washing and using hand sanitizers are much simpler than non-face touching.

If this has seemed a rather lighthearted way of reviewing this Year of the Pandemic, it is. Difficult times require that we recognize the ironies of our lives — and occasionally smile at them.

But make no mistake, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a catastrophic event in our nation’s history. More than 18 million Americans have contracted the virus since its onset and more than 330,000 have died from it. And it’s not just somewhere else. Well over 1,400 Isle of Wight residents have been confirmed to have had the virus at some point, and 29 have died.

Many survivors have been left with lingering, and potentially permanent, ill effects. Every community and most families have been touched in one way or another.

As we approach 2021, the potential for controlling the virus with vaccines has provided a degree of optimism at home and abroad, but it will take months to inoculate those willing to be inoculated, and to learn whether their numbers are sufficient to stop the spread of the killer.

Thus, 2021 approaches as a year of cautious hope. May that hope become a positive reality for all of us.

John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is j.branchedwards@gmail.com.