ESSAY: Finding community during quarantine in my hometown of Farmington

When I first started writing stories about Farmington for Metromode, late in 2018, WDET’s Jerome Vaughn asked me what defined our tiny town’s spirit.


“People who live there and spend time there really want to know each other and interact with each other,” I’d told him.


And it’s true. Whether we’re running into dog-walking friends downtown, or spontaneously clustering on the sidewalk, chatting with neighbors at dusk, Farmington’s residents are generally a hyper-social bunch.Photo by Jenn McKee


So how are we faring during this Coronavirus quarantine, when we can’t do one of the things we love and value most?


Well, it’s been hard, obviously. When I venture outdoors with my daughters each day, I can’t escape the sense that we’re all suddenly existing in adjacent, single-family ghost towns, like something out of a “Twilight Zone” episode.


But every now and then, thankfully, I’ll also be surprised by something lovely.


Photo by Jenn McKeeOn St. Patrick’s Day, for instance, the sun came out for a spell, and the three of us walked around our neighborhood and counted 80 shamrocks on doors and windows. Several had been made solely for the purpose of giving local kids a fun outdoor holiday activity. (People on localized social media pages had suggested the idea.) We crossed paths with others who were out for a stroll, and even though we all maintained a safe distance, it was wonderful to forget, even for just a while, that we’re in the middle of a scary global pandemic.


On another afternoon, for our outdoor excursion, we biked downtown to our beloved local bakery. These days, we’re going through loaves of Sunflour Bakehaus’ Old World bread even faster than usual, so I asked if there were any left. “We have two kinds of weirdly shaped loaves” was the answer. I didn’t care how they looked, so I said I’d take both; but then a woman entered the bakery while talking on her phone, and she started to report that it appeared the bakery was “all-out” of something. Figuring she was angling for a loaf of the Bakehaus’ signature bread, too, I told her she was welcome to have one of the loaves for which I was about to pay.

She happily accepted – and it felt reassuring to be able to do this small kindness, and thus remind myself that this is what we do in Farmington. We look out for each other.


Which is precisely why I’ve lately felt so torn between wanting to support local businesses through a challenging time and strictly observing public health advisories. We’ve cautiously, judiciously tried to thread the needle: over the weekend, we picked up lunch at Dagwood’s Deli, and we all sat in the sunshine by the pavilion to eat our sandwiches; I got one last haircut at Salon Legato last week, just before I was scheduled to have a two-hour online job interview (and before the state ordered salons to close); we purchased a couple of birthday gifts for relatives at Clothes Encounters, as well as a few cat- and hamster-related items at PetValu (hand sanitizing often along the way); and we’re walking to Fresh Thyme these days only as needed.

Sunflour Bakehaus. Photo by Jenn McKee.


Soon, of course, these kinds of fraught decisions will be rendered moot, as more and more businesses shut down for the quarantine’s duration. I’ll confess that I’m worried for our downtown because it is so central to our super-connected way of life here in Farmington. (If the town was a body, the neighborhoods would be its limbs, and the downtown would be its beating heart.)


Don’t get me wrong, though. Farmington is a terrific place to live primarily because of its people, and though we’re having to hunker down and do the whole “social distancing” thing just now, that fact won’t change.


I mean, one neighboring family who hosts an outdoor movie night a couple of times a year just organized, on Friday evening, a Netflix party so we could all watch “Incredibles 2” (and see each other online) while staying in our own homes. Locals are scrabbling like crazy to connect like old times in new (and safe) ways.


Photo by Jenn McKeeBut no matter how hard we try, the unavoidable truth is, it’s just not the same. And you can now palpably feel the yearning in Farmington’s emptied streets, sidewalks, and parking lots; on the Civic Theater’s darkened marquee that reads “closed until further notice”; and under the windswept pavilion at Riley Park – which would normally, at this time of year, be the star of our springtime daydreams about the farmers market’s imminent return, and summer concerts, and swing dancing on Thursday nights.


These are the places where we’ve always (quite intentionally) come together, so their current barrenness feels like grief.


Yes, we all must continue to stay home and do what’s asked of us, of course, for the greater good. No question. But in Farmington, I think we’re not only missing each other right now; we’re deeply missing our sense of being who we are as a tight-knit, unabashedly gabby little community.


To that end, my whole family responded to another localized social media call this past weekend – this time, creating sidewalk chalk art. My husband used bright colors to fill in a large cursive J (though to me, it looked like a butterfly in profile); my oldest daughter labored to fill in a giant, blushing smiley emoji; my younger daughter made a multi-color happy face; and I simply wrote “Hi, neighbors!” next to a heart.


It felt – as we worked on our individual contributions – like we were co-authoring a love letter.


Which I guess we were.


So stay safe out there, Farmington. While this prolonged isolation will inevitably re-shape us a bit as individuals, here’s hoping that our friendly, open-armed communal identity remains intact.

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