The Key West Mystique

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Key West and COVID-19 | Seven weeks in and thinking about Gone With the Wind

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

04/24/2020

“Gone With the Wind” might be all most folks know about the Civil War, the War Between the States or the War of Northern Aggression, depending on where one did elementary school years. That wretchedly sentimental book (1936) and blockbuster movie (1939) chock full of pro-Old-South points-of-view skewed the historical values and reinforced our collective, albeit, warped, perception of slavery in the United States.

I understand the enormous flaws and the cultural shadows of both. Still I enjoy a tale, so there is that. I’ve read the book and watched the movie a dozen times, enthralled by the plot line, the indomitable Scarlett O’Hara, who eventually breaks every Southern lady norm, the technicolor wonders of the film and the too-often two-dimensional characters. The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg does a superb job of synthesizing the dissonance in her 2014 analysis, “Why we should keep reading ‘Gone With the Wind’.” I needed to get all those disclaimers written down first, because I’ve been thinking about Gone With the Wind off and on all day. Here’s why.

Key West is in week seven-or-whatever of the Great Pause. I took that phase from something else I read; with apologies, I cannot remember its source. Isn’t it a perfect description of where we are?

Give or take a day or two, it was mid-March when Mayor Teri Johnston and the City Commission began the pincer movements that steadily shut down the things that attracted visitors (restaurants, bars, venues, beaches, places to stay); sent the tourists home; and two weeks later saw a road block in place, stay-at-home orders, empty streets and video conference happy hours.

Our tiny island was the vanguard followed closely by Monroe County. In concert, the other cities, the county and Key West have done an exceptional job of protecting the Keys from the worst of the novel coronavirus that results in Covid-19.

We’re a bit like Scarlett these days, as she, in the opening scenes, laments the dash to the front lines smack in the middle of her barbecue. It’s all just so exciting and surely it can’t last long. Certainly not through Fantasy Fest. We’ll make do and be fine. Let’s make a mask from a drapery; we’ll stock up on potatoes and bury the silver in the yard. God forbid we need not think ahead to bandages. Surely it can’t last that long. Scarlett’s four-year journey from callous, frivolous Southern belle to wounded, battered and, yes, still callous, survivor is an affirmation of human resilience — and one scary glimpse of our future.

We’ve been at this a month-give-or-take. What will it take for us to make it six months? A year? We’re doing pretty good managing the early days of the Great Pause. Scarlett did, too, in the beginning when things were much more a lark and not a new normal. Scarlett was a couple years into her war before it finally sunk in that the old world wasn’t coming back.

We’re making masks. Donating cash. Volunteering at the food distribution points. We’re teaching the kids at home. We’re learning how to do video conferences and virtual happy hours. And, we’re getting bored, irritable and cranky. I’ve done so many chores and projects around the house, including painting rooms, pool deck and porch, that there’s not much left to do. It’s the cleanest the house has been since we moved in. I have a new sewing machine, replacing the 52-year-old one my mother gave me when I was 18. (Yeah, go ahead, do the math.) I’m going to make masks for off-island family whose communities aren’t like ours.

We ride the Covid-19 roller coaster. We hurtle from the disaster of the unemployment system and the never-ending lines at the food pantry to a take-out dinner with good wine and a gym class via video conference three days a week.

I have a smartphone that uses facial recognition. It recognizes me on the worst hair days or with sunglasses on. It will not recognize me with a mask. I found myself whining about that First World inconvenience in the face of friends without jobs, strangers being beaten by household members and thousands of people waiting in line for food. I am embarrassed even to write that.

It’s just weird so we keep rolling.

We want an end-date, a time when we can get back to normal, when we can stop worrying about dying and not paying the bills; when we can go to the store without freaking out when someone sneezes. We want to know when, when, when, when, NOW. We aren’t going to get one.

So, what do we do as we go from giddy to survivor, whether it takes a month or a decade? Actually, I’m going to re-write that and say “What will I do.” You might want your own list, but feel free to borrow mine.

  • Accept that I have a path to walk even if it’s not of my choosing. Even though I stumble.
  • Learn how to navigate that path — when I need to learn; not before; not after. Open to learning and open to those in need.
  • Direct my anger. Don’t let the momentary surge of outrage adrenaline keep me from using its energy to do the right things to help others.
  • Feed my hope. Without hope we are paralyzed. I will look for joy and hope to sustain me as I walk this new path.
  • Seek peace. My inner turmoil will not vanish, so I seek moments of peace in the shape of a cloud, the purr of the Cat 5s.
  • And, I will laugh. Big, roiling, wonderful laughs that shake the fear and bring peace and hope.

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Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

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