Hudspeth: Coping with COVID in a small town

Stephen Hudspeth

Stephen Hudspeth

Staff / Hearst Connecticut Media

This summer in Maine with our extended time with children and grandchildren has been a very special experience amidst all that is so unsettled and unsettling in COVID-19 circumstances. So for example, we get out and about with our grandchildren in our two-door ’88 Jeep Wrangler. We long ago took off those two doors as well as its hardtop, but its roll-bar cage is still very much intact and serves as a grandkid jungle gym.

With our half-century-old high-sided trailer attached, we take to the wooded lanes and logging roads on our property and adjoining it. The grandkids ride in the trailer when they’re not hanging onto the sides of the Jeep as we make our slow-speed passage through nearby parts of the mountains, woodlands and lakes of this gorgeous part of western Maine.

Our extended time together with children and grandchildren has ironically been enabled this summer by coronavirus-forced remote working. When we crossed the state line into Maine in late June, we were greeted by flashing highway warning signs that cautioned new arrivals to the state to quarantine for two weeks. Not the usual “Welcome to Vacationland!” greeting but very understandable. Maine, like our own Connecticut, definitely takes COVID-19 precautions very seriously, and that is certainly a good thing. That being said, we didn’t know how well received we’d be in our summer home of Andover, population 810.

However, we shouldn’t have worried: after our two-week at-home quarantine ended, we were greeted warmly, though still duly masked and socially distanced. And we were able to pick up where we left off last summer, for sure following precautions but also integrating back into a community we have known and loved for half a century of vacationing here. And what a community it is! From running its own school department and very successful town elementary school to having a really accomplished set of entrepreneurs in everything from retail hardware, market/restaurant, auto-servicing, rental cabins/Airbnbs, carpentry and home construction, and of course farming and forestry to statewide excavation and national ski-equipment-marketing businesses, it’s a vibrant town that accomplishes far more than one might expect given its population size. Yet Andover has suffered its share of traumas in business and personal impact from the COVID-19 crisis.

That being said, we’ve seen lots for the good happening here. There are appropriately sized and socially distanced outdoor concerts on the spacious town green with impressive country and folk instrumentalists and vocalists, featuring local professional-grade talent as well as exceptional regional performers. At Mills Market (food market plus restaurant), you can pick up meals inside and eat them under a large tent at tables where social distancing works well, and you can do the same outdoor dining on refreshing ice cream confections at Kate’s Kones. Over at Roxbury Pond, the water is fantastic for boating and swimming, and on the Fourth of July neighborhood fireworks were worthy of a major municipality!

This brief “travel log” really underscores community resiliency here in Andover similar to our own in Wilton that I wrote about earlier this summer. That resiliency has come from an extraordinary body of residents and has become even more apparent as the community has addressed the added stresses the coronavirus has imposed. With a ring of mountains encircling a verdant valley and the Ellis River coursing through it, the outdoors always beckons so that even as we do our business over Zoom, laptops and phone lines, we can always take a break and, by simply stepping outside for a while, experience a beautifully revitalizing scene.

It’s not easy to keep a town moving forward in such challenging times, but from our 50 years of summering here we appreciate that Andover knows how to get it done thanks to the work of the exceptional individuals who live here: from the professional hairdresser who led Andover through a successful school district withdrawal and has continued since then as chair of its school board and the young man who started his own excellent lawn-mowing business and now also this summer at 17 is driving an excavator’s truck, to the 80-plus-year-old senior citizens whose tremendously capable hands are volunteered for every major town rebuilding and improvement project.

It’s an honor to be a summer resident among them all, just as it is to be a Wilton resident for the rest of the year knowing how hard our own town of Wilton has been working to protect us and also move us forward safely on so many essential fronts.