Summer of the Backyard by
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Prompted By Pandemic Summer

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Socially distance backyard dinners

We are five months into the pandemic. Massachusetts was one of the hardest-hit states and took a long time to reopen. That’s fine with us. Dan ends conversations saying,”Stay healthy, stay safe, stay sane”.  In a normal summer, we would have moved to Martha’s Vineyard for the season the week before Memorial Day, but nothing about this season is normal. Dan was on the Vineyard for about 10 days, setting up, supervising painting and other work, then came home (I had doctor appointments, delayed from March and April), so for the first time in 24 years, we did NOT spend Memorial Day on the Vineyard. Dan’s birthday is May 25, which is usually that weekend. We had a quiet weekend in Newton. He had already received his gift, but I got him a good chocolate cake. My last appointment was June 16 (our 46th wedding anniversary, also always celebrated on the Vineyard, but not this year), and we moved down the next day.

This year, every large gathering, fundraiser, parade, fireworks, EVERYTHING has been canceled. Restaurants opened for outdoor dining in mid-June and indoor dining in late June. We are only OK with outdoor dining. Barricades have been set up along Main Street and elsewhere to accommodate more tables for outdoor dining. Everything is socially distanced.

Sidewalk as dining.

We are doing a lot of take-out, from a few select restaurants. Our favorite café, where we even have the owners’ cell phone numbers, won’t be open for dinner at all this summer. They are too small to make it worth their while. They are only doing take-out breakfast and lunch. We bring in food before they close and eat it for dinner. I can still get my favorite “summer” salad, eat healthy and support them. They are working harder than ever; finding it difficult to get help, while up-ending their business model.

Our favorite cafe, take-out only

My workout routine was still my Zoom classes online when I first moved down. Just a different view. The house computer is in the kitchen, behind the table…I can’t move that aside, as I do the ottoman in my den in Newton, so I use my iPad in my bedroom. But the workout is just as good. Now our club is open. Classes are under a tent on the great lawn, a bit of a slope, but usually a pleasant breeze (not so pleasant with heat and humidity) and nice views of flower beds (and the thwack, thwack from the nearby tennis courts). the in-door gym reopened on July 6. Everything is reconfigured for social distancing and keeping us safe. Some machines (including my beloved recumbent bike) has been moved to the studio, since all classes are outdoors. There are shower curtains hung between each machine. Masks must be worn at all times, sanitize hands upon entering and leaving, wipe down machines before and after each use. Machines that could not be moved are roped off, and will be changed after a few days,  so they can be rotated for use. There are no mats, hand weights, bosa balls, stretching place. You come in, use your machine, leave. There are head counts to ensure low numbers of people at any given time. Lockers are taped off, not to be used. I feel perfectly safe just using the bike and leaving. I was given a small towel upon entering (we always had to sign in) and a small pack of sanitizing wipes of our own. Outdoor classes will be canceled in inclement weather. I will continue to do a mix of live and Zoom classes, but it is nice to see people again. Yesterday we learned a club member who participates in the tennis program tested positive for COVID-19, so the whole family is being tested and will quarantine. No one had used the Fitness Center. But still, this has come very close to me now.

New exercise location

We are die-hard mask-wearers, but are very concerned when we see too many people wandering around not wearing masks. Dan takes long walks as part of his exercise regime and says about 90% of the people he sees are NOT wearing masks! Perhaps because they feel they are outside and can be far enough away, but it makes him crazy. Most carry one, but don’t put it on, even as they pass him. He goes out of his way to avoid them, then asks, brusquely why they aren’t wearing a mask. This country has gone crazy. We have seen an influx of people since we came on June 17. Tourist season is upon us. We are afraid to go to the beach. We don’t want to see large crowds. We are happy in our own backyard with our swimming pool. As of July 10, Edgartown mandated that everyone in downtown (where we live) MUST wear a mask or pay an increasingly large fine.Since then, mask compliance has improved. We read in the local paper that COVID cases are increasing (slightly, two a day, hardly a spike, but still worrisome) as the tourists arrive. This is a small island with a 25 bed hospital and few of them are ICU beds. Real emergencies are flown off-island to Mass General, but we don’t want to be overwhelmed.

Nantucket Film Festival at Home.

In a normal year, in late June, we would go to the other island to attend the Nantucket Film Festival. We already bought our patrons passes months ago. We thoroughly enjoy it and always attend with close friends, usually run into friends who have homes over there, and see great films ahead of their release, accompanied by a Q&A with the director or producer, or sometimes even the leading actor. The producers of the festival do an excellent job and it has grown over its 25 years in existence. In April, we got a call from the Executive Director telling us they had to cancel; we could get our money back or roll it forward to next year, which we chose to do (hopeful there will be a vaccine by then). Then we find in our email in June, they are doing an online streaming “NFF Now: at Home” over the course of a week. We signed up, got the service and watched several good documentaries, each followed by a Q&A with the director, as well as a short subject series. They did a fine job and we thought it was well-worth the money.

Friends from out of state who have to get on a plane probably won’t come to the island at all, as cases around the country spike. It is strange and sad not to see them. I heard a Zoom lecture today and one couple was also on, stuck in Florida. We texted greetings to one another. I was on a Zoom camp reunion one Sunday night recently. I briefly saw my brother and several other Retrospect writers, but SO many people showed up that there was no way to manage it, and I couldn’t speak with the friends I really wanted to, so we have organized our own group’s reunion. Even that will be about 15 people, which could be difficult to manage, but at least we can try to say hello.

The only people we socialize with are close friends, in our backyard, theirs., or perhaps a beach picnic, after hours. We bring our own food, sit at different tables, but at least we can visit. Trying to make this a pleasant experience, we ordered new furniture; a larger table that can seat six, but, if sitting at opposite ends, we could probably seat two couples and still be far enough apart. It has a fire pit in the center, so as the days grow shorter, we can still be warm and comfortable with friends. We had to tear up our patio to run a gas line to the center. Lots more work in the backyard. The new furniture arrives today.

View of backyard, July 16.

We don’t know when we will be able to see our children, in London and St. Jose, CA, again, as the UK won’t let us in and we don’t feel safe getting on an airplane anyway. We don’t know when we will feel safe again. David has set up a few “Google Chats” for us. It is difficult, across eight time zones, to find a time that works for all of us, but at least we can all see one another and chat. The sound quality isn’t great, but we can be together and check in. Evidently Zoom doesn’t work well for David.

We are all trying to stay safe and healthy. We are not comfortable eating inside or going to a movie theater, no matter how many seats are roped off. This virus is spread by droplets in the air. We don’t want to tempt fate.

I heard an epidemiologist speak this week (of course via Zoom, like everything else in the world right now). He suspects COVID-19 may be endemic. It is not going away and the vaccine, whenever it surfaces, may will not be a panacea, but rather, as with the flu, it may mitigate the severity of the disease. We may just have to learn to live with this, continue to mask, wash, distance, even with a viable vaccine (and he readily admitted that many people will not try it at first, but wait to see how it impacts the early adopters – so there’s that too). Lots of questions, few answers, as scientists continue to research and expand their knowledge of the virus. The “new normal” is evolving, even as we learn more about this horrible disease, which he said absolutely crossed from a bat to a human. They definitively know that now that they’ve have the genome for COVID-19, just published last week.

This is, indeed, the summer of the backyard. Hoping everyone reading this stays safe as well.




Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Tags: friends in the backyard, take-out dining, masks, not everyone here
Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. It’s so interesting to read of your life on the Vineyard this summer of COVID-19. You seem to have adjusted well to the limitations imposed by safety concerns. It was so great to see you at our summer camp Zoom reunion, as limiting as that was. It’s great that you have a pool, exercise classes online, and that wonderful take-out Cafe, as they all must make your life more enjoyable. And how lovely that you’re able to have socially distanced social occasions!

    Your observation that COVID-19 gets “closer and closer” is true for many of us as the incidence rises to new record levels in many places. It’s scary, but it sounds as if you’re doing all you can to stay safe. I pray that you and your family stay healthy!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes, Steve, we are adapting and making the best of things. I know you lost a neighbor/close friend this past week to the virus, so it has come very close to you. And your dear doctor of 35 years has, hopefully, recovered by now. Stay safe, my friend. You are too compromised to think about venturing out. You are a long-term survivor of one pandemic on which Fauci made his bones. We can’t lose you to this one. Sending hugs!

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    It is so hard to try to comply with safe practices (mask wearing, social distancing, etc.) only to see many people not complying and endangering us. I think this is especially true when people are in vacation mode. I would not even attempt the beaches near us or indoor dining. It seems like younger folks don’t think they need to wear masks outside, even when they cannot (or don’t even attempt to) socially distance from others. But all of this pales when we can’t see our kids (and grandkids for me). It’s been a rough summer.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I agree, Laurie. Our governor just imposed very strict measures for people coming in from out of state (except for “safe” states in our region, where the virus is well-controlled). But young people have not been taking this seriously, at the expense of all of our health. I think, perhaps, the message is starting to seep in, as they see kids as young as 9 dying, and the average age of sickness dramatically decreasing.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    Being a MA resident myself, and having a brother-in-law and sister-in-law who are now full-time residents of Martha’s Vinyard, a great deal of your experiences and descriptions were very familiar and really resonated. This is very much the summer we are going through as well. And don’t get me started about the non-maskers, even in this supposedly sensible Blue State.

    Let’s hope for a vaccine soon — and a critical mass of people getting vaccinated and, in the meantime, continue safe practices. And not opening schools and businesses too damn soon.

    Also, your backyard looks beautiful and sounds as if it will be even more beautiful soon. Just one quibble. Your featured photo shows a man (not Dan) apparently wearing “Nantucket red” pants. How could you allow that on the Vinyard?

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Our backyard diner is a close friend, a brilliant doctor (and a Harvard grad – your year, I believe), who, with his wife, likes to dress nicely, even in Nantucket reds. We are having a beach picnic with them tonight (along with another couple). We will all sit far enough apart, but can enjoy the company.

      • Betsy, so glad you got to the Vineyard albeit later than usual this strange pandemic summer, but disturbing to hear so many there are not complying – you’d think most Vineyarders are not dummies!

        How these anti-maskers see this as an issue of infringement of rights rather than an imperative to save lives is beyond me.

        And not being able to see our kids is another worry. May we all come out of this trying time safe and sound!

        • Betsy Pfau says:

          The non-maskers are probably renters, or tourists, Dana. Perhaps only here for a few days and maybe in from out of state, so don’t know the state mandate. We’ve seen better compliance this past week. Friday, our governor decreed that anyone coming from a place with bad numbers (all but the Northeast and Hawaii) must either produce a negative COVID test, taken within the past 72 hours, or quarantine for 14 days, and they plan to trace this once you land at the airport with big fines for offenders. It will discourage the summer tourists, and I don’t know how it will affect the arriving college student population, but it should help keep our caseload from rising. We have seen steady rising numbers here on MV…only a few every day, but that’s a few too many!

          Yes, may we all come out of this safe and sound! Hope to see Danny on the Fellows call on Wednesday.

  4. Oh Betsy…
    I was reading your shifts and changes, your usuals and your newness….and I flashed on people who are in dire straights- so much suffering in the world right now…Sometimes I fail to see my own “difficulties” as on par.
    So from “family bubbles” and “Quarenteams” We humans strive for survival, control, and understanding, as well as the sweet comforts of our “regular” lives…Thank you for sharing this!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      January, you are right. Our struggles are minimal compared to many, who have lost their jobs and their day-to-day struggle is for existence. I shouldn’t lose sight of that. At least I am safe and can talk to my children, if not visit with them. Thank you for your reminder.

  5. Marian says:

    I enjoyed learning the details of Covid back east, Betsy, and how it is both the same as and different from what’s going on in California. I might try my first masked patio visit with a friend next week. We haven’t had gyms, indoor dining, etc anyway, and it will be a very long time before I go to the gym again. My home office room has been turned into a yoga/weight studio, so I loved the image of the mat and the weights! Enjoy the Vineyard as you can.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, Marian. Yes, we all make do as best we can. Last night three couples (including the one from my Featured photo) had a beach picnic at a beach we’d never been to. It was superb! Six good friends (all taking the same level of precautions), sitting apart, eating, sharing stories, watching the sunset. Unfortunately, it was a popular spot and we saw many large groups (in MA beach groups are supposed to be limited to 12) of unmasked visitors as well. But we all remarked how very lucky we were, and we knew it. One couple has a pregnant son and daughter-in-law in SF and does not know they can go to see them. They other’s (the man in the red pants) 93 year old mother is alone in FL and has been in and out of the hospital. So even here in Paradise, we can’t reach our loved ones and that is cause for great concern. I know you have that same concern, Marian. Wishing every Retrospect writer well.

  6. Suzy says:

    Thanks, Betsy, for this great description of life on the Vineyard during the pandemic. It sounds like you are managing to make it pretty pleasant. I love the idea of a table with a fire pit for when the nights are cool. My book club used to meet at a restaurant that had one on its patio, and we loved to sit there even on the coldest winter nights.

    I can relate to the difficulty with time zones. We have nine zones to contend with, not just eight, because Spain is an hour later than the UK (apparently because Franco wanted to be in the same zone as his friend Mussolini). We usually start at 11 am PDT so it won’t be too late for Sabrina. I haven’t tried Google Chats, and I wonder why zoom doesn’t work well for David. We have great sound quality on our zooms.

    Will email you about the brilliant Harvard doctor you refer to in your comment to John. You probably don’t want to mention his name here.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      As I just mentioned to Marian, things are different here, but not unpleasant, except for the increasing COVID cases, as the population rises, and the unmasked many. We certainly had a very nice night last night. We, and the places we go and use, are adapting, though prices are through the roof and it takes much longer to do any errand, but I try to take that into account.

      John S. is already on the Harvard case; we exchanged emails last night (I told him that his name came up over dinner; I told my friend I knew someone on the reunion committee. He said he’s already received email notices about it. Under normal circumstances, they would go. Now, I really don’t know. They are being very cautious.)

  7. Ah, Betsy…we might not know what the future looks like but, as you continue to demonstrate, we do know the strength and resilience of the human spirit. We will persevere by finding ways to stay connected — critical to our mental and emotional health — and together to oust the inhumane monster that has played such a pivotal role in this catastrophe. Do stay safe, and stay sane!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Barb. Just trying to live each day as it comes and not yell at the news too much. Praying for a good outcome in Nov and that this horrible man will do all of us a favor and slink away on Jan. 20, 2021, so we start to heal this country. You stay safe and sane too!

  8. Thanks for your account, Betsy. I’m struck by the variation in mask-wearing patterns and am beginning to suspect that a herd mentality could apply to precautions BEFORE we use it to play with the do-or-die stakes of herd immunity. “Herd” may apply to mask wearing — people see others wearing masks, they wear masks. I’m not talking about the libertarian “don’t-tread-on-me bullshit of the mask defiance movement, but as more casual “when in Rome” effect. Here in Los Angeles, on my hillside full of writers, actors, musicians, whatever, we have 90 to 95 percent mask wearage. Maybe it’s part gestalt. ¿Quien sabes?

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Interesting thought there, Chas. We have tourists/renters in town from everywhere (the local newspaper this morning has an angry comments section back and forth about out of state license plates at the beach from COVID hot spots, who pays taxes in state {some own homes here and quarantined when they first arrived}, etc).

      I walked past one woman this morning in the district where mask-wearing is mandatory, gayly swinging her mask from her hand (we were across the street from one another, perhaps she would have put it on, had we been on the same side). And the old old coot who owns half the commercial buildings in downtown Edgartown and sits on a bench all day almost NEVER wears a mask. Today was no exception, and he’s had the Health Inspector called on him (I know because we had a picnic Saturday night with the caller). He surely knows better and just doesn’t care. But as the mask-enforcement rule has been in place for a few weeks (and more signs are posted), compliance has gotten better. My Pilates friend (who is a nurse) said today, “don’t you think people would get that this is about EVERYONE staying safe?” Apparently not.

  9. Yeah, Betsy, Edgartown would pose the ideal enclosed community for observing group behavior around the issue of masking for the common good. Americans (crusty old Yankees or others) seem to have one leg missing when it comes to understanding the theory and practice of collective action. It’s humiliating. Europeans seem to understand it full well, as do people in plenty of other cultures. What children we Yanks are!

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