Duckler: A return to normalcy? Pretty much 

View Photo Gallery
  • Brittany Pelkey hugs her daughter, Sawyer as Emmett sits in between them at the Allenstown Town Hall on Sunday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Candia-based country musican Nicole Knox Murphy sings to the crowd at the Allenstown Town Hall on Sunday afternoon. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Brittany Pelkey, sits with her friend, Melissa Demers, as she holds her son, Emmett at the Allenstown Town Hall on Sunday afternoon, May 23, 2021 GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Local country star Nicole Knox Murphy sings to the crowd at the Allenstown Town Hall on Sunday afternoon, May 23, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Singer Nicole Knox Murphy sings to the crowd of over 100 people at the Allenstown Town Hall on Sunday afternoon, May 23, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The crowd at the Allenstown Town Hall listens to singer Nicole Knox Murphy on Sunday afternoon, May 23, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Part of the crowd listens to singer Nicole Knox Murphy at the Allenstown Town Hall on Sunday afternoon, May 23, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The cornhole tournament was part of the gathering at the Allenstown Town Hall on Sunday afternoon, May 23, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The crowd listens to Nicole Knox Murphy at the Allenstown Town Hall on Sunday afternoon, May 23, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Gary Laflamme of Allenstown was able to play cornhole around other people during the tournament at the town hall on Sunday afternoon.

Monitor columnist
Published: 5/24/2021 4:13:30 PM

These days, the game of corn hole is a great indicator of how things are going.

So is country music. The strumming of an acoustic guitar and a sweet voice singing Johnny Cash, stretching from a gazebo in Allenstown, reaching more than 100 people across a field of sun-drenched grass.

The outdoor festival, hosted near town hall on Sunday, was a sign things are changing from the stay-at-home orders and and what became the new normal of mask wearing and social distancing. Sunday showed how things were changing back to normal, long before any of us had ever heard of COVID-19.

Families came to hear local country musician Nicole Knox Murphy. They planted their folding chairs into the ground, ate sausage sandwiches, changed diapers. There was an ice cream truck on a side street, near a stop sign. Kids ran, dogs ran, parents ran after their kids and dogs. Masks were not part of the attire, and fear was not part of the landscape.

“There was a time we were worried, but the cases are going down,” said Gary Laflamme of Allenstown. “There’s a good vibe here. No one is afraid of being close to someone else.”

Imagine that.

We’ve heard the stories about families unable to visit grandparents in hospitals or nursing facilities. About lives and jobs lost. About a changed world.

What better way to celebrate the waning days of the pandemic (knock on wood)?

“I’m loving it,” said Brittany Pelkey, sitting with her friend, Melissa Demers, who held Pelkey’s infant son, Emmett. “It’s nice to have social interactions with everybody.”

Pelkey’s year, beginning with statewide quarantining in March, 2020, left her weary. She learned of her pregnancy with Emmett two months before COVID shut us down.

That scenario had consequences. Brittany’s young daughter, Sawyer, grew excited with the news that she would have a baby brother to watch over. By Emmett’s birthday, however, the rules had been laid down, warning family to stay away from family.

Sawyer was looked after by friends. Visits to the hospital to see her brother had been part of the plan ... before COVID.

“When we were able to come home from the hospital, we went and picked her up, and she met him for the first time,” Pelkey said. “That’s not what we were hoping for. She was excited to see him in the hospital and hold him. She wasn’t part of that experience.”

Story after story shone a light on the truth, that, eventually, COVID’s effect would be like nothing experienced in our lifetimes. No one could have predicted shuttered cities, sudden deaths and isolation like never felt before. Not en masse like this.

“We went to the store if we needed something, but that was about it,” said Valerie Merrill, standing near the ice cream truck. “We drove on the Kancamagus Highway, but only when there were not a lot of people around. For a while, a lot of people were coming in from out of state.”

That caused tension. The messages heard and seen on TV the past year, showing unselfishness and concern for others, wasn’t totally accurate.

Granite Staters didn’t appreciate outsiders coming here to enjoy the lakes and trails. Passing motorists called the authorities to claim restaurant owners were not following proper protocols.

Elsewhere, grocery shoppers wanted nothing to do with fellow shoppers, choosing to take longer paths, different aisles, to find their toilet paper and boxes of mac and cheese.

Now, there’s a vaccine. That followed the slow-developing but effective habit of social distancing and mask-wearing. Hope is in the air. Certainly more than that ugly virus is.

That’s why a celebration was held on Sunday. That’s why country singer Murphy strummed her guitar and sang and mixed her own songs in with those of Cash and other stars.

She’s said she’s too old to make a major splash in the business at this stage of her life. That did nothing to dampen her spirit on Sunday. This was the perfect setting.

“I love getting out and playing for people,” Murphy said by phone. “Music is very healing and it changes your mood in your life.”

COVID, of course, destroyed concerts and ticket sales. Murphy said she lost between $12,000 and $15,000 due to her empty schedule last year and so far this year.

“I could not apply for grants because I’m self-employed,” Murphy told me. “Right now it’s like pulling teeth to book something. I’m just starting to fill up my summer schedule.”

She lost her annual gigs at the Hopkinton and Deerfield fairs last year. She’ll perform at both this summer.

“It’s fantastic,” Murphy said. “If I see people enjoying my music, it lifts me up. It was nice not seeing people wearing many asks.”

They left their masks in the car. Or perhaps they retired them, leaving them at home. No need to remove your mask to eat.

Richard G. Merrill, a 28-year Air Force veteran, leaned hard on his cane to return to his chair, precariously carrying a sausage sandwich on a paper plate. He made it back, but his plate went flying in a warm breeze once he’d eaten.

“I thought I had it anchored down,” Merrill said.

He said he was unafraid during the lockdown, despite being 88 years old. He felt boxed in.

“I got bored,” he said. “People who spend 28 years in the military, they always have something to do. Always activities.”

Activities, nearly in full gear, returned this month. Big-league stadiums and arenas were filled with fans after more than a year of silence. An Air Force veteran in Allenstown balanced his sausage sandwich on a plate and later ordered a cone at the ice cream truck.

And in that same area, near the stop sign and the ice cream, kids and adults were tossing bean bags in the air.

“I set it up here for cornhole,” Laflamme said. “It’s going well. It’s a great day.”




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