As society reopens, Vernon seniors flock to the park, not restaurants, to see friends | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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As society reopens, Vernon seniors flock to the park, not restaurants, to see friends

Celebrating Tracy Lyons birthday at Lakeshore Park. From left: Lucille Graves, Lorraine Stephanson, Fran Lyons, Linda Graves and Tracy Lyons.

"I miss hugs," says one senior sitting in a camping chair with a group of friends in the park.

The others all agree. Socializing, hugs, travel, seeing their grandchildren, talking face-to-face, singing, going to the movies, bowling, playing bridge, they list off a multitude of things they've missed over the last three months under the lockdown.

And while the six of them laugh and joke and talk about the things they did before the pandemic, it always comes back to family and socializing as the thing they missed the most.

"There's a such a difference in how people communicate when they're together," Lorraine Stephanson says. "You get to see their expression, you get to see their demeanor, it makes such a difference."

Sat in the warm sunshine in Lakeshore Park, on the edge of Okanagan Lake in Vernon, the six seniors have got together to celebrate Tracy Lyons 65th birthday. It's the first time the six of them have gotten together in a group in three months, and they all look very happy.

They've brought their own camping chairs and sit two metres apart. They've spread a table cloth over a picnic table in the park and there are containers of fruit and cookies. They very politely offer a slice of birthday cake.

The group range in age from 61 to 88 years old and there are two sets of mothers and daughters in the group. Conversation flows and there's plenty of laughter.

"There's a new appreciation for how we have the opportunity to get out again," Linda Graves says. "(The pandemic) puts it in perspective, we're still very fortunate."

Linda says she was whining about the situation when a friend told her to think about spending five years in London during the Second World War or being Anne Frank "in a cupboard." They're very appreciative of what they have and try to feel optimistic about the future.

Linda's 84-year-old mother, Lucille Graves, cracks jokes about her "automatic drive" car always wanting to drive her to the casino, and they all laugh.

Fran Lyons, 88, says she used to walk two kilometres a day and spent the first month of the pandemic in total isolation. She jokes she'll be taken back to her cage later.

A kilometre away at Kin Beach, two seniors sit two metres apart in their own camping chairs chatting away. They're too shy to gives their names or pose for a photo, but they say they've been friends for 50 years.

"I talk to her differently than I talk to my husband," one lady says. "We just talk."

Prior to the pandemic, they'd see each other almost daily, and it's only recently they've started meeting up once a week.

"This is one of our favourite things to do," she says. "Us seniors, all we’ve got is socializing."

Across the park, another group of seniors sits in a circle chatting away. They're part of a quilting club and would normally see other once or twice a week. This is the first time meeting up since the pandemic.

What have they missed about not meeting up?

"The laughter," one lady says. "The social aspect," adds another. "You need to see people, not just hear their voices."

"You can sit and talk to people, the phone's fine but it's nice to look at people," Gloria Friesen says.

Again the seniors reiterate: friendship, socializing, laughter, and simply talking to each is what they have missed.

Driving around Vernon in the early afternoon the number of vehicles on the roads and people milling about shows that society is somewhat getting back to normal. There are long line-ups at drive-thru restaurants, parking lots are busier than normal and the number of stores now open seems to have doubled in just a week or so.

But back in the park, the seniors are keeping away. None of them are interested in going to a cafe or restaurant quite yet.

Friesen says her gym has reopened but she won't be going back yet. She used to go three times a week.

"Because we're older, it's too many people," Sandy Vandertas says.

Members of a Vernon quilting club. From left: Carol Berndsen, Sandy Vandertas, Gloria Friesen, and Marilyn Pasutto.
Members of a Vernon quilting club. From left: Carol Berndsen, Sandy Vandertas, Gloria Friesen, and Marilyn Pasutto.

They miss Sunday brunch after church and say they'd like to have a glass of wine in the park if they were allowed. Going on a wine tour is currently out of the question.

Many say there are positive things that have come out of the pandemic. They've noticed small things. There's less dust in the house and the air is cleaner. There's more wildlife in the backyard. There's a new sense of support.

"I hope it stays," Linda says.

Tracy Lyons says she likes the fact people have gone back to basics during the pandemic: Gardening, baking, bread making. All simple timeless pleasures.

And while the seniors won't be flocking back to the mall or to eat in restaurants, they have certainly embraced the thing they missed the most, socializing, friendship and laughter.

As the groups of women sit and chat and enjoy the sunshine and each others' company, it seems obvious that socializing is the one thing humans would do first after months of relative isolation.

However, it raises another question: where are all the men in this equation?

This story was originally published May 27.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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