Old Friends

After two years of Covid hiatus, retirees are back to monthly gatherings, seeing familiar faces and enjoying old friends.

In early 2020, as the world was first learning of a deadly virus spreading across the globe, all of society went into lockdown. Businesses closed their doors, working from home became the norm, and social gatherings were out of the question.

That loss of companionship has been especially hard for older people who have fewer opportunities to socialize and tend to live a more isolated life once their working days are over.

“You make very strong friendships here, so it’s been hard on everyone,” said Keith Cobb, president of Carpenters Retirees Club 21 in St. Louis. Like the rest of the world, members of the club cancelled plans, called off meetings and went into seclusion from the very beginning of the pandemic. That was more than two years ago.

But with the availability of vaccines and a drop in new infections, the club decided it was time to finally get back to normal. “I’ve been coming to these meetings for about 15 years,” said 78-year-old retiree Melvin Simpson. “We really enjoy getting together and look forward to coming here.”

Naturally, Simpson and the others are in the Covid high risk category – those over 65. If they have underlying health conditions, like diabetes or heart disease, the risk is even greater.

For this reason, Cobb said shutting down the club gatherings for two years was absolutely necessary. Coming from an older generation, the retirees take the virus seriously and don’t take chances. “You have to remember that we were part of the vaccination nation. We still remember polio and a time when we couldn’t go to school unless we had certain government-mandated vaccines.”

Three of the club’s members passed away during the shutdown, something the retirees would normally be able to grieve together as a group. Covid robbed them of that camaraderie. “It’s been hell,” lamented Simpson. “It’s taken away two years of our life and friends we haven’t seen in a long time.”

The turnout for April’s meeting was noticeably lighter than it had been pre-Covid. Those who did attend said they understood the hesitancy some of their fellow members may still be feeling but hope each month will see stronger showings as more people slowly get used to the idea of being in public again.

“Right now, we just want to celebrate and have a great party,” said Cobb. “We’re having a totally free meal, free bingo, multiple raffles – it’s like Christmas in April.”

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