LACONIA — When asked what he is grateful for, John-Paul Kehoe lights up – perhaps with more intensity than other downtown shoppers on a sunny Saturday afternoon before Thanksgiving. The object of his gratitude is something profoundly life-changing.
“I’m an addict in recovery for almost four years,” said Kehoe, standing with his 14-old companion, Jake, a cross between a schnauzer and a poodle with bright eyes and a short wagging tail. Neither are shy in the spotlight. “I’m grateful for that, and that I don’t have to hurt anyone to get a fix, and I still have a family to go and celebrate with,” Kehoe said.
This Thanksgiving, while a surge of new COVID-19 diagnoses puts Granite Staters on edge for another round of social distancing, mask-wearing and greater isolation that may make people feel stir-crazy and beleaguered – and a little too friendly with the fridge – the family day that brings groups together for dinner is experiencing a remake.
“It will be a small gathering with my family in Massachusetts,” said Kehoe. “I almost feel like I’m doing something wrong to be at my family’s house. Usually it’s pretty small." This year the gathering has shrunk further, he said. “We’re trimming the fat, so to speak.”
But with fewer seats at the table, and less social interaction because of COVID, many people are counting their blessings.
“The best thing this year? I became less reliant on everything,” said Kehoe, who until recently worked at Riverbank House, a recovery program in Laconia. “Financially, I’ve shifted my outlook to entrepreneurship and online business,” to an occupation that is both pandemic-proof and recession-resistant. His plan is to sell high-end, limited-run sneakers to wealthy, fashion-conscious consumers, and small-edition U.S. coins to avid collectors, he said.
Kehoe said the coronavirus and his drug-free life have made him more appreciative in general. “The only things that haven’t been taken away from me are my family, my girlfriend and my dog.”
Thanksgiving celebrations are shifting in size and happening closer to 永续合约交易所_永续合约怎么home, on a holiday that has traditionally peaked in travel to out-of-state destinations by car and plane. But the change seems to be bringing what matters in life into focus, and projecting life’s happy moments on a big mental screen.
Surrounded by a wall of guitars, sheet music and amplifiers, Peter Bissonnette, manager at Greenlaw’s Music, will miss having Thanksgiving with his mother and his oldest son. The latter relocated to Florida, while Bissonnette's mother moved into a nursing 永续合约交易所_永续合约怎么home. So he is channeling what is undoubtedly the highlight of his year: the birth of his first granddaughter.
“There’s a lot to be thankful for in this country,” said Bissonnette. “Taking just the COVID part, we’re blessed to be in a part of the country that has a fraction of what other parts of the country have seen. People see the dark side and sometimes they forget to count their blessings.”
Bissonette recently read accounts of the Spanish Flu in 1918 in the online archives of a San Francisco newspaper. “They said churches and bars should keep their windows open, and everyone should wear a mask. They were smart enough to know if you stand around in a group, you wear a face covering,” he said. “Here we are 100 years later, reiterating the same thing. We think things change with time, but they really don’t.”
Bissonnette said, “We’re lucky enough to have survived what I call ‘The Great Election.’ People thought everything would burn down and it didn’t.”
When asked what’s it’s like to work day-in and day-out surrounded by beautiful instruments, Bissonnette said, “These are luxury things. Nothing I sell in this place is a necessity” like food at a grocery store or medicine at a pharmacy. But for a lot of people, music “is there as an escape. I think people are finding solace in it.”
Melissa McCarthy, owner of The Studio gift shop and boutique on Main Street, said COVID morphed her traditional Thanksgiving with her grown children into something ambulatory and socially distanced: a drop-off pot luck. Her porch is the pickup point for individual dishes prepared by family members and packaged in separate containers for each household. Her oldest son, a chef, is making turkey and stuffing; her younger son, the pies. Her daughter is doing the mashed potatoes and vegetables, and McCarthy and her husband, who are vegetarian, are baking their holiday favorite: rice nut loaf with cheese. Once back at their respective 永续合约交易所_永续合约怎么homes, the tribe will convene for a group dinner by Zoom.
When asked what she is grateful for, McCarthy said, “Everything! I’m glad that my business is still open, my children are all safe and well, everyone in my circle is OK, and there’s hope for the future!”
Her best blessings all year: a baby on the way in her family, and the lessons she’s learned from the pandemic, including how supportive community can be and the importance of “not holding the wheel too tightly, learning to loosen your grip on the steering wheel.” It helps to have a business that is an extension of oneself. “We don’t buy anything we don’t love. We make sure everything we’re getting is fun,” she said. The store’s cloth COVID masks are emblazoned with the message, “Happy Up!”
On a rainy Monday, Nancy and Don MacArthur of Tilton, were doing their usual: Walking the Tanger Outlets mall for exercise. Neither are they changing their Thanksgiving plans, Nancy said. “Our family all lives local and there aren’t that many of us.”
The MacArthurs are thankful that no one in their family has contracted COVID. “We walk here every day,” she said. “We wear our masks. We’re thankful that it’s is open for people – and we’re thankful that we’re not that fearful. It doesn’t help anyone, or make it go away.”
“I thank God for my wife,” said Don. “If you listen to all the news, I’d be fearful and depressed, too. So I don’t listen as much as I used to.”
“We just turn on the music,” Nancy said.
Colleen Allard of Laconia decided the best way to save Thanksgiving was to hold two of them – and she had just completed cooking and holding one scaled-back version for part of her tribe. “It’s not the same with everyone not being together, but I suppose it’s what we have to do.”
Allard said she is grateful for life, family and being in good health – things that are often taken for granted. The highlight of her year came about because of COVID and school closings, she said. Instead of working in the bakery at Beans and Greens in Gilford, Allard 永续合约交易所_永续合约怎么home-schooled her grandchildren and got a chance to raise her grandson, age eight. “He likes being 永续合约交易所_永续合约怎么home. He just doesn’t want to do schoolwork at 永续合约交易所_永续合约怎么home,” she said. “One day in and one day out.”
Wendy Richter of Belmont was nursing a cup of coffee Monday morning at Café Déjà vu on Court Street. This year she’ll spend Thanksgiving with a couple who sticks close to 永续合约交易所_永续合约怎么home during the pandemic, and is bringing the pies and vegetables. “We’re not getting together as a family. Usually there are 10 of us, if siblings came, there’d be 18.”
But her face brightens instantly when she ponders what she is thankful for: “My family, they’re amazing. They’re just so kind – all of them. The phone calls, hugs – we’re great huggers, and the grandchildren text me all the time. They’re very insightful. They can see without being asked what needs to be done, or what someone might need.”
Richter owns Smith Orchard in Belmont, a traditional orchard with lots of space for safe distancing, she said. This fall brought her best-ever apple crop, she said, and a bounty of customers, including many who had never picked before. “People would come and have picnics,” she said. “People were looking for things to do outside, and they just loved it. I had a lot of families who had never picked apples and just decided this would be a good thing.”
Brenda Martel, owner of Café Déjà Vu, said she and her husband usually travel on Thanksgiving for a vacation where they won’t be tempted to work. Recent turkey day destinations have included Key West and Madeira Beach, Florida and New Orleans.
“I have a son in the military and my parents have passed,” Martel said. “We don’t travel to see relatives, we vacation. But we don’t want to travel and have to quarantine.” This year she and husband will cook a turkey and invite her aunt, who they see almost every day.
Others said Thanksgiving will be something to endure, act bravely for. Bill Riley of Tilton, finishing breakfast at Café Déjà Vu, said he will be visiting his wife’s sister at Elliot Hospital in Manchester, where she had undergone surgery. “We’ll fight through it,” he said. “These redheads are tough,” said Riley, who is 72 and lost his wife to cancer this time last year. “It’s November. Just take it off the calendar. I hate it.”
What was the best thing that happened last year? “I can’t think of anything that’s not been painful,” he said. “But I’m grateful for the years with my wife. We were married 53 years.”