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Walking Thru the Pandemic

By Lea Florentine l March 23, 2021


COVID-19 has changed life for everyone in ways large and small. One unexpected benefit for me and my three friends has been the opportunity to truly see our Rocky Hill neighborhood throughout the course of a year.


I used to be a regular at the gym, taking classes three days a week. When everything closed down last March, I did nothing. After two weeks, I knew I had to do something. Realizing that I couldn’t change the situation, I decided to change my routine. I set out for a walk one morning and ran into Anne Pate and Eileen Uhrik, two friends from the gym. Agreeing on our need to get out and see other people too, we decided to meet every weekday morning and walk.


A week later, we ran into Karen Ayrey, another gym buddy, who joined our group. Since then, the four of us have been walking through Rocky Hill nearly every weekday unless it’s raining, snowing, or below freezing.

A quaint Rocky Hill cottage with lattice windows on Crescent Avenue

Walking has allowed us to see things we’d never notice in a car, and maybe not even on a bicycle. Almost every day over the course of months, we watched the restoration of a Victorian house across from Borough Hall, painstakingly scraped down to bare wood and then repainted, and of the Rocky Hill Inn, which was re-sided and painted to better reflect its history. In nice weather, we’d greet the regulars chatting out front of Buy the Cup. If one of us was missing, they’d notice and ask about it. After a snowstorm, we watched four siblings on Princeton Avenue build a huge snowman.


We witnessed the impacts the pandemic has had on local businesses. We cheered for the Rocky Hill Inn when they first reopened for takeout and later set up outside dining, and listened as resident and Princeton Record Exchange owner Jon Lambert told of his struggles to pay Princeton rent and keep his business going.


We shared laughs during our walks; sorely needed as lock downs replaced the outings and family gatherings we had taken for granted pre-COVID-19. Looking in the window at Kiki D’s, we’d joke about which of us would buy the long blue gown cut way up the thigh, or whether I would buy that blacktiered fringe dress before Eileen did. Ultimately, we’d all agree that we had no reason to dress up.


Walking by the Bank of America one day, we saw a whirlwind of cash, driven by a strong wind. The four of us quickly grabbed all the runaway bills and gave them to the astonished armored car driver, who had been emptying the ATM. Many times after that, we’d laugh that our honesty had cost us a golden opportunity to be rich.

We found beauty in our own backyard. On one end of Crescent Avenue, we discovered a quaint cottage that had lattice windows and gingerbread. On the other end, we found a historic home with a carefully tended flower garden. On Princeton Avenue, we admired a postcard-worthy long driveway flanked by a white wooden fence and colorful fall foliage. Taking in the many Christmas decorations, we particularly enjoyed walking through a row of homemade arches, and admired a graceful Japanese maple tree decorated with elegant large ornaments, both on Montgomery Avenue.


Nature put on a show for us too. In Van Horne Park, we’d see a red-winged blackbird throughout the summer, and, in the winter, red tailed hawks. Hearing a distinctive call one morning, we looked up to see a huge pileated woodpecker on Montgomery Avenue. Unfortunately, we also watched the Bradford pear trees next to the meticulously restored Grange Hall disappear one by one as they splintered and were later removed.


On September 11, we stopped halfway through our walk at Panicaro Park. We listened to Eileen’s husband (and Rocky Hill mayor) Bob lead a service in remembrance of Brenda Fallon’s husband William, killed in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Afterwards, we took pictures at the memorial and continued on our way. We shared situations our families had never faced before.


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Eileen and I discussed the challenges our online and at home college students were dealing with. I related the dichotomy of my son Joseph donning a suit for job interviews in our study, while my daughter Sarah dressed up for social events and interviews with faculty in her room. We also shared frustrations. Early in the lockdown, it took Karen several weeks to successfully sign up for unemployment online. Anne relayed her disappointment in not seeing her grandchildren during the year, especially for Christmas. One day, I was walking on the curb to stay distant and also avoid an oncoming car. I landed face first in the street, dazed but also disturbed that I couldn’t keep my balance.


At times we discussed current events across the nation and around the world. Although we didn’t always see eye to eye, we tried to be respectful and sometimes would agree to disagree. Political discussions rarely change opinions; instead they often divide people. During our hour-plus walks, we cover about five miles, which works out to about 100 miles a month. It’s accomplished our need to exercise, but maybe more importantly, to get out and talk.


As Karen noted, “All we wanted was some exercise and a little human contact. Better, we found friends. That’s our real story.”

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