I often tell people that one of the best things about living in a rural community is that everybody knows you, and one of the worst things about living in a rural community is that everybody knows you.
To clarify, people knowing you, and probably your parents and grandparents, too, is good because community members truly care about you and are quick to rally when you need help. On the downside, many minute details of your life, including some you would rather not have others know, are common knowledge. “News” about people can spread like wildfire and may end up being far from accurate.
I’ve been fortunate that my family and I have been the recipient of the positive side of the two-edged sword. From holding fundraisers when my daughter, Ellen, had cancer, to offering to let her brothers, Brendan and Thomas, stay overnight in their homes when she had to be hospitalized, to their latest demonstration of support -- a parade of family and friends wishing her happy birthday from their cars, we have been the recipient of kindness.
Ellen and many others who have had birthdays since the coronavirus pandemic, celebrated the day at home. Before the pandemic, her plans for Saturday, April 11, the day she turned 17, had been to go out to eat at a local restaurant and see a movie.
The plan was adjusted to simply picking up lunch and bringing it home to eat with her dad, Brian, and me. Ellen didn’t complain about the new plan, but I felt bad that she wouldn’t be able to have any social interaction on her special day. After brainstorming ideas, I came up with a parade, which, for full disclosure, was not original.
During the past month, I and other Herald reporters have written about several people who have been on parade. They include grateful community members honoring health care workers, school staff showing their appreciation for students and neighbors parading by neighbors' homes for birthdays.
After running my parade idea by Brian, I contacted one of Ellen’s classmates, Chloe, a junior girl who I knew was a good organizer and leader. Chloe was eager to help and immediately got the word out to the rest of the class of 2021.. Meanwhile, Brian and I contacted our family members.
We managed to keep the parade a secret from Ellen, and she didn’t have to feign surprise when cars and pickups, decorated with signs and balloons, started rolling around our driveway at 3:30 April 11 with horns honking. Men, women, children and at least one dog, were part of the parade.
Ellen stood on the front steps, a big smile across her face, waving back at her friends and family as they drove by the house, some two or three times, before heading back out to the road that led them to their homes.
Knowing people cared enough to drive a minimum of 9 miles and as many as 65 round-trip, for a two-minute trip around the driveway to say happy birthday to Ellen is a memory she will keep in her heart long after coronavirus fades. Chalk up another one on the plus side for rural communities.