Portage County residents make the best of ‘Plaguesgiving’

Donna Wise poses for a portrait with her dog on the Headwaters Trail. Nov. 26, 2020.
Donna Wise poses for a portrait with her dog on the Headwaters Trail. Nov. 26, 2020.

Portage County residents make the best of ‘Plaguesgiving’

Thanksgiving looks a lot different this year because of the pandemic, but Portage County residents celebrated nonetheless.

The United States has recorded two million new coronavirus cases in the past two weeks, forcing families in Portage County and across the country to adapt their Thanksgiving plans.

Donna Wise poses for a portrait with her dog on the Headwaters Trail. Nov. 26, 2020.

Earl McFarland, of Kent, usually treks down to Florida to visit his daughter and grandchildren, but he held off this year. Instead, he and his Peekapoo, Henry, delivered home-cooked Thanksgiving meals to friends.

“It’s a reminder to them that things are different, but they’re not terribly different, that we still have closeness,” McFarland said. “Although physically, we’re limited, we still have emotional closeness.”

McFarland used to host his family’s Thanksgiving at his home in Kent. That tradition faded when he lost his wife in 2015. She suddenly fell gravely ill after cancer treatment deteriorated her immune system.

He said cooking food for friends this year allows him to express his gratitude and appreciation for them.

“Thanksgiving is thankfulness,” he said. “It’s thankfulness for people that you care about, people you love. A way of showing that, to me, a way of showing that gratitude is to give something of yourself. It’s not just going to the store and buying something, it’s actually making something and physically taking it to them.”

He stopped by his friend Emily Myers’ house in Kent on Thursday afternoon. Myers served as Kent State President Todd Diacon’s assistant when he was the university’s provost.

Donna Wise poses for a portrait with her dog on the Headwaters Trail. Nov. 26, 2020.
Donna Wise poses for a portrait with her dog on the Headwaters Trail. Nov. 26, 2020.
Donna Wise poses for a portrait with her dog on the Headwaters Trail. Nov. 26, 2020.

In a show of community, Advanced Rehabilitation and Health Specialists in Mantua hosted its annual Turkey Trot on Thursday morning. Dozens of runners and walkers hit the Headwaters Trail at staggered start times to minimize congregating groups. Participants donated canned goods to the Crestwood Coalition for Community Care’s food cupboard.

Donna Wise poses for a portrait with her dog on the Headwaters Trail. Nov. 26, 2020.
Donna Wise poses for a portrait with her dog on the Headwaters Trail. Nov. 26, 2020.
Donna Wise poses for a portrait with her dog on the Headwaters Trail. Nov. 26, 2020.
Donna Wise poses for a portrait with her dog on the Headwaters Trail. Nov. 26, 2020.
Donna Wise poses for a portrait with her dog on the Headwaters Trail. Nov. 26, 2020.

Cassie Pegg-Kirby, director of Kent State’s Women’s Center, spent Thanksgiving with her husband Marc Kirby and sons Patrick, Owen, Sean and Daniel in her Kent home. Pegg-Kirby said her family typically plays Thanksgiving by ear, but they’ve been taking temperatures and practicing other standard pandemic precautions going into this year’s dinner.

“What used to be a big tradition growing up has really become, as we’re a family of six, kind of a place for us to actually come together and enjoy each other’s company because we don’t always see each other that often,” she said.

After a house fire left her family “living out of a hotel” before Thanksgiving four years ago, Pegg-Kirby said her family has become pretty adaptable. She taught her 93-year-old grandmother to use Zoom, she said.

“What’s really most important is just maintaining those relationships and connections and finding ways to get creative in spite of some of the limitations we may have,” she said.

Donna Wise poses for a portrait with her dog on the Headwaters Trail. Nov. 26, 2020.
Donna Wise poses for a portrait with her dog on the Headwaters Trail. Nov. 26, 2020.
Donna Wise poses for a portrait with her dog on the Headwaters Trail. Nov. 26, 2020.

Sasha Gough and Brandon Pesicek spent Thanksgiving together in Gough’s Garrettsville home. Gough mulled over pans to eat dinner with her mother and sister, she said, but she’s been feeling sick for the past week and didn’t get her Covid-19 test results in time. Instead, she plans to drink and play games with friends over Zoom tonight.

“I understand the tradition and wanting to be close to people and your family,” she said. “My biggest thing is that there are other ways to make that happen in a way that’s safe, and making sure that your family’s not getting hurt in the process. … This is a Thanksgiving unlike anything we’ve ever known and may ever know. Let’s make some good memories, so when we think about the holidays of 2020, it’s something we get to tell our grandkids about, you know? Make it safe. Make sure there are grandkids.”

Donna Wise poses for a portrait with her dog on the Headwaters Trail. Nov. 26, 2020.

Editor’s note: To ensure the safety of sources, Michael Indriolo wore an N-95 mask, maintained social distance and minimized time spent inside homes while reporting for this piece.

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Michael Indriolo is a visual journalist based in Kent. He is a contributor at The Portager covering a range of topics, including local government and community.

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