by Sarah Squires, editor, Winona Post


I read something silly online, pondering the way that the time of the coronavirus will affect us years from now. It envisioned a grandchild asking his grandfather why, on earth, grandma was disinfecting the grocery bags and wiping down each item they’d gotten from the store. “Oh junior,” he said. “She lived during the coronavirus.”

Hopefully by the time I’m grandma aged there will be no need to hoard bleach or disinfect every item that comes into our homes, but if anything, at least we’ve all got our practice in. It seems as though nearly every part of our daily lives has been impacted by this pandemic, from the way we buy products to how we feed our families to even our vocabulary. Today, the word “essential” is charged with a new meaning.

Essential still means what it means: Something we can’t live without. But today, that word encapsulates people. It means our policemen and firemen, it means the drivers who truck food to our grocery stores and service people who fix our water heaters and keep the electricity running. It means the cashiers whose hands are cracked and dried from thousands of squirts of hand sanitizer as they clean up between customers there to buy baby formula and bread. It means the postal workers up at dawn to pass on our mail, pockets stuffed with dog treats.

And now that the term “essential” is so charged with meaning, with the faces of our neighbors who get up every day and do what’s needed to keep us fed and safe and healthy, we are confronted with the reality of what it takes to keep our community strong, the people whose work we cannot live without. I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I think about how life has so drastically changed in a matter of weeks, when I think about so many of the folks around me who I can’t live without, I’m simply overwhelmed with gratitude. While I, along with all of us, am anxious for things to go back to normal, for businesses to reopen, to get caught up on so many lost hugs, I never want to forget the things I’ve learned during this crisis. I never want to go through that grocery store line mindlessly without offering a heartfelt thank you to the person behind the register.

So how do we go about saying thank you to all the people in our lives who are essential? How do we give back, share with them our appreciation and recognition that we value and understand the way our lives are so intrinsically linked? To be honest, I don’t know the answer to that. But it’s a question that I’m going to keep trying to answer for the rest of my life, and I hope you will join me in it.

We at the Post have been working over the last several weeks to fill these pages with those thank-yous, and to tell some of the stories about the workers who are making life go on during this stressful time. We can’t tell all the stories, but you will find a lot of familiar faces on these pages, a lot of kindness, and it’s somewhere that each of us can start in celebrating our essential heroes.

A few weeks ago I was standing outside Lake Winona Manor looking for a pony. A strong breeze was coming off the lake and, camera in hand, I peered around the parking lot. There was no horse trailer, no one outside, and certainly no pony in sight. I’d gotten a tip that Violet the pony was going to visit the residents of Lake Winona Manor and peek into the windows to say hello. Since I couldn’t go inside and ask, I dug my phone from my purse and called. “Hi. This is Sarah from the Post. I’m outside looking for a pony,” I said. “Do you know where she is? Did I miss her? Is there a pony somewhere out here?” I circled around the building, eyes peeled, the trotted out on the hunt. I found Violet in the courtyard, snickering as she gazed into Anna’s window, and snapped some shots.

What a lovely idea, I thought. Well, the creativity in keeping the spirits of residents of area nursing homes has really been flowing in recent weeks, from socially distanced ice cream socials at Sugar Loaf to hallway happy hours. It got me thinking: Is there something I can do? I can’t possibly write enough letters to brighten the day of area nursing home residents, but I had an idea. Calling on my Scandinavian roots, I remembered a running joke I had with an old friend during my time as a nursing assistant. Really, it was more jokes, plural. He and I used to trade Ole and Lena jokes every day. He knew so many that to keep up I went to the library and checked out an entire book of the famed Ole and Lena jokes, but despite my research, he always knew more, and his were much better than the ones I’d stolen from those pages. So I started a project. I photocopied our little Winona Post cardstock (it’s a cute drawing of our storefront), and on the back of each little quarter-sheet of paper, I’ve been scrawling my best Ole and Lena jokes, sorting them into “PG” and “PG-13” categories to send off to area nursing homes. (Ole can sometimes have a little bit of a dirty sense of humor!) I’ve started mailing these little packets out, hoping that I can draw a few chuckles out of the folks stuck inside these days.

It’s not much, but it’s a start. It’s just one little way to brighten people’s days, a way to give back and say thank you. I’m amazed at all the creative ways that you all are stepping up to help out, to share your gratitude, and to make people feel special during these difficult times. And I’d love to hear your examples! The more we share these stories with one another, the more inspired we’ll all be. If you’ve got an interesting thank-you to share, send it my way. Email, or mail me at 64 East Second Street, Winona.

And, to all of you — thank you, from the bottom of my heart.