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Silver linings pandemic: What Wilmington's thankful for in 2020


John Staton   | Wilmington StarNews

Finding things to be thankful for during trying times might be one of the toughest things that we as humans do. And while every year has its challenges, many would say 2020 so far -- it ain't over yet, folks -- has been unparalleled in recent memory for upheaval, uncertainty and even tragedy.

In a year defined by the coronavirus pandemic, people have lost jobs. They've lost loved ones. Across the country, a quarter-million Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19. And that's not even getting into the political discord that's dominated headlines, or the nationwide protests that had people taking to the streets to protest the often violent treatment of Black people by the police.

Asked to comment for a story about the silver linings of 2020, a kind of exercise in gratitude timed to the Thanksgiving holiday, a number of people in the Wilmington area offered some version of, "I'll get back to you on that," or, "Maybe next year." Others simply admitted that, given such a challenging year, when it comes to finding things to be thankful for, they weren't quite there yet.

Many people in the Wilmington area, however, were eager -- or at least willing -- to express an attitude of gratitude in the face of a year that's in many ways unprecedented. Here are their stories of finding the silver linings in a pandemic.

Health and humor

Over the summer, Wilmington thespian Grace Carlyle Berry got really, really sick. Like, emergency room sick.

Because her symptoms included difficulty breathing, she took a test to see if she had COVID-19. But with testing both nationally and locally a bit of a mess at the time, the test got lost. She assumed then, and now, that she had COVID, and spent about two months in isolation.

More: Wilmington area sees spike in COVID-19 cases, deaths

It wasn't a pleasant experience, Berry said, but looking back on it, "It forced me to reach out to people and connect, and I ended up really strengthening some relationships."

She's even been able to look back on some situations and laugh. Once, after she'd been in isolation for a while, a nurse patted her on the arm during a doctor's visit.

"I realized that was the first human contact I'd had in weeks, and I just broke down crying right in front of the nurse," Berry said. "She just looked at me, like, 'What's wrong!'"

Berry didn't see humor in the situation at the time, but she does now, so much so that she's embarked on a writing project inspired by her summer of assumed COVID.

Family

One of the most common responses in this unscientific survey of Wilmington thankfulness, unsurprisingly, was being able to spend more time around family

Lucy Baker is a Wilmington native and New Hanover High School graduate who's a senior at DePaul University in Chicago, where she's studying voice. Because of the pandemic, an opera she had a prominent role in was canceled, and a prestigious summer internship in New York postponed.

She'd been planning to spend summer in Chicago, but ended up back in Wilmington.

"I had been hoping for some more time with my parents, as I'd only been able to come 币圈十大交易所home for a week or two at a time," since she started college, Baker said. "I definitely got that, as I ended up spending three months at 币圈十大交易所home with them! Maybe more than I wanted, but it was still nice."

More: Wilmington-area restaurants available for Thanksgiving

Charles Tournoux Smith, a Wilmington musician, said a positive result of the pandemic for him is that he's "actually stayed more connected with friends and family all over the country via video messenger. My family also started doing a daily bingo game over the phone with my grandfather that I’m able to play every now and then, which is a lot of fun."

Megan Hayes of Wilmington gave birth to her second child in October of 2019.

"Because of quarantine and all this stay at 币圈十大交易所home stuff, I got to see her sit up for the first time, crawl for the first time, stand up on her own for the first time, and even walk on her own for the first time," Hayes said. "Every single milestone happened while we were 币圈十大交易所home and daycare was closed. I have also spent some good quality time with my oldest, who is almost 5. We have had some fun and some tough conversations. My husband has been able to spend way more time with this baby ... and I think he is really enjoying all the things that he missed out on."

Education

Paul Slovik, principal of Wilmington's Winter Park Elementary School, allows that "it's been a weird year. But, the opportunities have been there."

New Hanover County schoolchildren were all learning from 币圈十大交易所home to start the year, but most are now back at school for a couple of days per week. Slovik said he's "thankful to be back in school. I consider myself a teacher like everyone else here, and we've been given the opportunity to connect. Not everyone has that."

Another thing he's grateful for is increased attendance at the school's PTA meetings, something he attributes to being able to "just turn on a screen instead of driving to a meeting. It's something that's become socially acceptable."

Slovik said the increased parental involvement has helped the school make strides in its "Waste Free Wednesdays" program, during which "we try to compost everything that comes through the lunchroom."

Travel

For Wilmington music teacher and guitarist Marc Siegel, the pandemic has come at a huge cost. His stepmother died of COVID-19, and "my father couldn't go hold her hand or be with her. No service, yet."

On top of that, his wife was laid off.

"Yet in spite of the toll it's taken, my immediate family is closer together than we've ever been," Siegel said. "We finally took a RV trip we've been dreaming about for decades with our teenage boys."

The family drove to Wyoming, Montana and Utah, visited the Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain national parks and "ended up spending Fourth of July at the Native American site on top of the Bighorn Mountains called Medicine Wheel," Siegel said. "What an education it has been."

Rebekah Carmichael, a Wilmington theater regular who was also a narrator for the Wilmington Ghost Walk, became a 币圈十大交易所homeowner during the pandemic.

Well, kind of. Carmichael and her partner, J. Robert Raines, bought and renovated an old RV a few months ago.

"I would have been happy to have continued life as it was, embracing traditional live entertainment for years to come if this year hadn’t turned out as it hard," Carmichael said. "But since it did, I rerouted towards another dream of mine, which is living tiny and traveling the country."

Quirks & Conjure, the couple's YouTube and TikTok channels based on haunted Wilmington stories, took off, and "now we’ll be taking the haunted stories on the road for the winter. The best thing about ghost stories is there’s zero chance of getting COVID from a ghost!"

The arts

Amy Grant is the owner of downtown Wilmington art gallery Art in Bloom. Not only has the pandemic hit her business hard -- sales dropped 90 percent in March -- but, as a trained scientist, she's also been frustrated at how our country has handled the response to the virus.

Talking to Grant, however, one is immediately struck by both her humility and tenacity.

More: 'I have not had my creative outlet': How Wilmington theater aims for comeback

More: New Wilmington music you might've missed in 2020

"We've gotten small business grants, local grants, national grants. It's just amazing how I've been able to keep going and keep my employees," she said. "It almost brings me to tears, because I want my employees and our business to thrive. Every time I'm about to give up, something comes along."

Not that she's out of the woods by any stretch. A "worst-case scenario" of having to close her business and/or sell the building it's in is still a possibility, Grant said.

Still, she takes solace in, and is thankful for, the 30 artists who have contributed work to Art in Bloom's holiday show, which went up Nov. 16.

"The originality and creativity of artists is just over the top right now," Grant said. "Right now when you come into the gallery it kind of lifts you up."

Grant said she's also grateful that "inclusion, diversity and equity are getting more attention through the arts. That whole area of social justice, getting racism out of Wilmington. Even though it's going to be a lifelong challenge, it just seems like it's gotten a big boost," she said. "All the horrible things that are happening, hopefully in the long run they will lead to real change."

Rhonda Bellamy, director of the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County, said "2020 really has been one for the books, as they say."

But she's thankful the arts council has been able to hire a part-time communications and marketing person, and able to continue to funnel state grants to area groups and artists, including $200,000 in North Carolina CARES grants.

"It's really been wonderful," Bellamy said. "We're the lead agency for the arts, so it's been imperative we set the tone."

The arts council also recently re-opened its ACES gallery for the first time since the pandemic began, showing an exhibit by Wilmington artist Katherine Wolf Webb.

"We need to be open so that people know their community is open," she said.

Sometimes, creativity helps people get through a crisis.

"COVID hit my wife and I pretty hard. In fact, we separated and sold our house," said Wilmington musician Joel Lamb, who also works at Costco. "We’re still close and work together raising our daughter, but needless to say there have been a lot of things happening this year I hadn’t expected or prepared for."

In that sense, Lamb said, 2020 has given him "a lot of creative fuel, something new to say."

When Costco decided to offer a special dividend this year for $10 a share on its stock, Lamb decided to use the opportunity to make a new record.

"I’m currently making the pre-production demos on my computer at 币圈十大交易所home this week," Lamb said. "I’m so excited and so grateful for the unexpected things that can materialize out of nowhere in life sometimes."

Contact John Staton at 910-343-2343 or John.Staton@scjypq.com.