These are strange days, strung together with news of how many cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in our town, county, state, and nation, and with whole channels devoted to sharing how one should protect and spare oneself from this terrible pandemic. And it is terrible, but I would argue that it has not exactly brought us together as “one nation,” caring for one another like we never have before; working to help our neighbors and strangers in these times of trouble. The public service ads paint us as a group of adult Scouts lugging groceries and searching out toilet paper for those who cannot leave their little apartments in the city or their rural farmhouse a mile down a dirt road. Poor folks stuck up on the umpteenth floor with a view of a parking lot or worse yet, a brick wall. Or Old Dears who have cows crying to be milked or gardens to be planted. 

Let me tell you what I observed this weekend in Senoia, Georgia, the sweetest little town in all of Georgia with lots of kind neighbors ( I got them ALL), caring, friendly folk and plenty of small businesses who are probably in big trouble.  So, yes, most of them opened up on Friday.

Bill and I drove downtown on our golf cart Friday—just to get out of the house and get some of that wonderful warm sunshine and fresh air. Lots of folks still stirring around 4 p.m. on Friday. Not a crowd but people enjoying the outside dining at Ga Dawg, Katie Lou’s, Matt’s Pizza, and the new Crepe Shop. Browsing Ashley’s Garden. Not a mask in sight…except on the servers. (Still a few of the stores chose to remain closed.) 

I glanced quickly through the window of the new downtown Beauty Salon. Seemed like one customer was there. Good. No problem. I have agreed with the Governor’s decree to open small businesses earlier than most states. Some of my family and many of my friends think Gov. Kemp is a little nuts. I believe, however, that customers bear much of the responsibility for using the services of tattoo parlors, beauty salons, barber shops, nail shops, and whatever else was allowed to open. So, check the protocol used by the salon, make your appointment, wear a mask, bring hand disinfectants, and enjoy. And the small business owners and employees desperately need to work. But with caution and concern for their customers. And customers need to show the same concern for one another! 

Our daughter was with us Saturday as we enjoyed another afternoon drive. I embarrassed her because I decided to count the number of folks in masks or who were observing the 6-foot rule. I was driving and so I just held up my hand every time I saw someone without a mask. Zero I called, making an O with my thumb and first finger. Zero. Zero. Zero. Throughout the entire town, which was bustling with visitors and folks who live here, No One, I mean No…One was wearing a mask. Few were respecting the six-foot social boundary. I was surprised. I finally counted two masks, again on service people. We made a quick stop at the garden shop; all three of us masked like surgeons. Then we continued to drive and enjoy the afternoon. Our golf cart died somewhere on Clark Street. 

This is about three blocks from town and about a 25-minute walk to our home. Leslie volunteered to walk to the house, get the car, and come back for us. When she finally returned, Leslie cleverly brought the charger with her in the trunk of our car. The idea she suggested was to ask to plug into one of the outlets on the porch of one of the homes we were parked near. She was as stunned as we that none of the people on the street came out to ask if we were ok. Was there anything they might do to help? (We had now been sitting there for nearly an hour.) Could we use a cup of water? Perhaps we might come into their cool home instead of sitting on the side of the road in the sun?? 

I had been watchful to see if anyone was home in the neighborhood so that I might ask for help. They must have been downtown mixing with the crowds or they were all hiding. It was pretty obvious that we are “seniors” and that Bill has been ill (the cane might have been a clue). We were stunned when a woman finally came out of the house we were parked directly in front of, got in her car and drove past us (within a foot) without even lifting her hand in hello. 

My daughter mentioned that several golf carts passed her (she was not exactly dressed for afternoon jogging) without offering a lift; she even tried to wave someone down with no luck. How disappointing. The good news is that our next-door neighbor has a trailer. Within moments, this kind gentleman was pulling out of his drive and headed for the rescue of our little red cart. 

My point? We in the deep South have always been known for our hospitality and neighborliness. That trait still exists among my dear friends and neighbors, but I was surprised to see that caring for one another’s safety and health was not so obvious in these strange times. Where are those masks folks are sewing up and giving away by the hundreds? Is it too uncomfortable to follow the wise guidelines? I pray we will not see the folly of the carelessness I witnessed this weekend in this “sweetest little town in Georgia.” I will not blame our small businesses, but the customers who flocked from their homes without protection for themselves and for others.

Lynn Horton is a freelance writer and editor who in another lifetime taught English and Creative Writing at McIntosh High School and later worked in the Starr’s Mill High School Media Center.