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Simple gestures that mean a great deal

Remember when everyone used to wave at one another?

When I was small, I thought that drivers were obligated to acknowledge each other as they passed on the road. Wherever I went with my parents or my older brother, it seemed people knew us and wanted to say hello.

My dad even had a certain nod of his head that he used while driving, rather than taking his hands off the wheel. He would lift his chin and sort of tilt his head back. I always felt as if he was signaling a message like, “Howdy,” or “How are you doing today,” to those he met. Whatever he was thinking, in my mind that motion conveyed acceptance and good will toward those he passed along his way.

For whatever reason, it seems like as I grew older, most people stopped waving to others on the road. Maybe it was because we became more distracted, with cellphones and satellite radio options in our vehicles to occupy our minds. Or maybe it was just the increasingly hectic pace of life that caused folks to stop paying as much attention to one another.

Back before the natural gas and oil industry came to the region, Dad’s Dodge Ram was one of the only plain, white pick-up trucks around. Often when I was driving it around Belmont, Bethesda or Barnesville, men I didn’t recognize would wave enthusiastically and I knew that they had assumed Dad was the one behind the wheel.

All of this came to mind on Saturday morning while I was out and about looking for the Easter Bunny. With the coronavirus pandemic keeping most local residents at home, many area fire departments and community officials arranged for that cotton-tailed ambassador of good will to tour villages and cities in various vehicles, brightening the holiday weekend for children and their families.

The weather was gorgeous but cool as I drove along the ridges between Belmont and Centerville. The sky was blue, lawns were bright green and spring flowers including dandelions, daffodils, tulips and a variety of blooming trees could be seen all around.

Following those winding roads, I noticed that the people I passed were friendlier than usual. It seemed everyone wanted to wave at each other. I exchanged gestures of greetings with people in their cars and trucks, a FedEx driver, a fellow mowing his lawn aboard a small tractor and men working in their farm fields.

For whatever reason, people seemed eager to raise their hands and connect with one another from afar. Perhaps the relative isolation of abiding by stay-at-home orders has caused them to realize we all need each other.

My first stop Saturday morning was at CrossRoads Farm just outside Centerville, owned by my friend Eric Rubel and his dad, Neil. I parked in their driveway to get a good view of Dysart Road on the opposite side of Ohio 147. There I met some members of the Saunders family, who gathered on Dysart Road to wait for the Easter Bunny to come by. The adults and young children in that group were clearly happy to see each other, chatting, laughing and taking steps to amuse the children in their group. They also seemed happy to see me, thanking me for providing some news coverage of their tiny community.

After a parade of seven or eight Smith Township Volunteer Fire Department vehicles passed through the area, the truck hauling the bunny stopped to drop off some candy to the children. Volunteers wore masks and gloves in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 germs as they tossed clear plastic bags filled with treats to the kids (and to me — thanks, Easter Bunny!).

Everybody riding in or on those fire engines, ambulances and brush trucks waved to each person they passed. It was as if they were conveying a message like, “Hi! I’m glad we’re in this together.”

Despite the presence of the pandemic on everyone’s minds, the overall mood of the morning was upbeat and positive. It became clear that the people of our region have no intention of letting a new virus bring us down. Although things must be done differently right now, they are still going to get done.

That same spirit of community and determination prevailed in Belmont and Bethesda, a couple more of the areas the Easter Bunny was able to visit on Saturday. In both places, volunteers escorted the holiday hare through the streets and families kept a safe distance, waving and calling out as they passed by. And, in keeping with our Easter traditions, the bunny brought candy for the children.

The Easter holiday today will be different from those we remember. Most people will not put on their Sunday best or a new dress and go to a church service as we did when I was little. Some will watch a Catholic Mass or other service being broadcast on TV. Others may drive to parks or parking lots where religious music or a sermon is being shared via the radio. Many will not attend any sort of organized service and will simply stay at home.

Some families will still have special holiday meals and activities for children, but large gatherings of extended families are being discouraged as Ohio continues to practice social distancing. Relatives will call one another rather than getting together for a visit. FaceTime will be utilized by many, so that grandparents and grandchildren can safely see one another, even if not in person.

In some cases, people will find the changes depressing. Nobody wants to have their movements restricted. No one wants to avoid contact with the people they care about and enjoy. I am confident, though, that we are strong enough to do what must be done. With a little determination and ingenuity, we can weather this crisis and come out stronger on the other side.

Maybe this period of social distancing will have a profound impact on us. Perhaps we will reflect on the things we are missing out on and come to appreciate them all the more. There’s a chance that we will learn to take things a little slower and pay more attention to the people and places around us.

And maybe, just maybe, we will start to wave at one another again.

Happy Easter!

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