Despite coronavirus, the show must go on

For the first time in several years, I did not spend any portion of the last weekend of September in downtown Barnesville.

Covering the Barnesville Pumpkin Festival Weigh-Off has become an annual tradition for me. On the Wednesday evening before the festival officially gets underway, I join hundreds (probably thousands, actually) of other spectators at the intersection of Main and Chestnut streets and wait eagerly to see who has grown the heaviest pumpkin in the land.

It’s an activity many Americans might not understand.

I imagine that anyone from New York City or Los Angeles would think we are all crazy, spending hours on the street watching oversized gourds being lifted on and off a massive scale with a truck-mounted crane.

But agriculture and a sense of community are important to people in our region.

We know and can relate to the farmers and amateurs who labor for months to care first for their tender plants and then for the promising fruit that they single out and nurture carefully to promote its maximum growth.

A lot has changed this year, mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped growers near and far from raising some impressive crops. So, despite the fact that the nearly 60-year-old festival that attracts tens of thousands of people to the village of Barnesville over four days had to be canceled, organizers decided that the weigh-off would go on.

They didn’t make that decision lightly. In fact, they moved the contest from its usual spot to an “undisclosed location” in an effort to discourage onlookers from forming a crowd, which could be dangerous and provide an opportunity for the new coronavirus to spread. Weigh-off coordinator Tim Miller did share the location with me so that we could send a reporter to cover it, but I was unable to attend myself since I had other duties to complete on Friday night.

It saddens me that I wasn’t available to go. I truly enjoy the whole affair, from the anticipation that one of the pumpkins may be a state, national or world record setter to the simple interaction with friends and acquaintances who are usually present. Sometimes, I also enjoy a treat, such as a sausage sandwich or some pumpkin bread made by the students and staff at Olney Friends School.

I am glad, however, that weigh-off officials decided that the annual event would go on.

Actually, I believe we can learn some lessons from their choices. COVID-19 has been extremely disruptive. It closed all sorts of businesses, at least temporarily. It disrupted schools, interfered with all sorts of annual fairs and festivals and ruined plans for family gatherings, reunions, weddings, graduations and all sorts of other activities.

All of that can be frustrating and difficult to bear.

But it is something we must learn to cope with. I believe that with careful planning and a thoughtful approach governed by state, federal and local mandates and recommendations, we can return to some sense of normalcy when it some to a variety of events and activities.

The Belmont County Junior Fair is another good example. Although the full fair with carnival rides, games and a wide variety of vendors was not possible this year, 4-H members and other youth who raised animals and completed special projects still were able to have their shows and sales, using face coverings, hand sanitizer and social distancing to keep participants as safe as possible.

Obviously, we can’t all stay at home forever.

We can, however, limit the gatherings we choose to attend and take steps to protect ourselves and others when we do.

The same is true when it comes to shopping, dining out and finding recreational activities for ourselves and our families. While it might not be possible to safely visit a crowded movie theater for the premier of a new film, we can still take in a show at home or in theaters that have reopened while abiding by their rules for safety. We can shop for groceries that we need, wearing masks and keeping at least a 6-foot distance from others while we are there.

There is no guarantee that taking these steps will prevent us from contracting the virus, but doing so certainly improves everyone’s chances of remaining safe and healthy.

I urge everyone to make a habit of wearing a cloth mask in public and to find ways to stay apart from people who do not live with you. I also encourage you to keep hoping for a brighter tomorrow.

While we must observe some special safety practices now — and perhaps for many months into the future — in the end, the show must go on.


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