The Journal Gazette
Sunday, April 05, 2020 1:00 am

Friends keep distance at driveway gathering

Seniors follow rules, aid local restaurants at lunch get-togethers

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

Lois Lovinger knows exactly what she wants when the coronavirus pandemic is behind us. 

“I'm looking for a big hug from my daughter,” Lovinger said Friday as she comfortably sat in a folding chair in the driveway of her friend, Esther Hansen. 

Lovinger was part of a group of a half-dozen people – all age 70 and older – who gathered for lunch on a sunny, 61-degree day, trying to beat the loneliness imposed by the COVID-19 scare and stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Eric Holcomb. 

They ate with the now-familiar container of disinfecting wipes nearby and honored the 6-foot social distancing recommended by health experts to reduce the potential for being infected with the serious respiratory illness coronavirus can cause.

The women are widows who keep socially active in the Encore Club of Fort Wayne and by playing cards. Lately, the most popular card game is Samba, they said.

On Friday, they didn't say no to the company of Larry Palmer and Howard Gudakuntz. Gudakuntz brought lunch from Arby's for Esther, the hostess, himself and Sally Schnitz, who came up with the idea for the lunch group. 

Schnitz, nearly 80, a retired court reporter assistant, laid down a few rules. Guests had to bring their own lawn chairs and lunch and come in their own vehicles.  

Schnitz is organizing two of these driveway lunches a week within a wider circle of friends, but said it's not as easy as you think. There's the worry about the weather, about keeping the lunch a surprise if the need arises, keeping the groups to no more than six and encouraging participants to patronize local restaurants offering pickup. 

“I love to cook,” he said, “but we can eat at home almost anytime.”  

Schnitz, who also brought daffodils to Friday's party, has her own birthday celebration coming up Wednesday and there will be another driveway lunch. If it rains, there's always Esther's garage, which is tidy and nearly empty, with plenty of room to sit the required six feet apart. 

Janet Meyers, a semi-retired cashier at a hospital cafeteria, said the lunch gave her something to look forward to. 

“I get to see and talk to a body today,” said Meyers, gesturing to her friends on the driveway. She is on the phone with her son and daughter almost daily. “I haven't seen anyone for three weeks.” 

Lovinger has kept busy sewing masks through her church, St. Joseph United Methodist, and included Palmer in the project. He cuts the ribbon and “burns the ends with a candle so it doesn't fray. 

“That's his job,” she said. 

Lovinger keeps up with her family through video chats, which allow her some reassurance that they are OK.

“It really helps me seeing their faces. I know they're well. In a text, they might not say anything,” said Meyers, who is retired from General Electric. 

Hansen, a retired office worker who has seven great-grandchildren and had been babysitting the 4- and 5-year-old a couple of times a week, said she was having “terrible withdrawals” from the loss of their company. She's been cleaning out closets, but said she'll have to find something else once that is done. 

Each person in Friday's lunch group said they limit their intake of news on the pandemic that has killed thousands – including dozens in Indiana.

But TV programs like classic movies and old Westerns help pass the time. Gudakuntz is specific on his favorite television fare: “M.A.S.H.,” game shows and “Swamp People” on History Channel. 

They've all had to cancel plans to visit family elsewhere and some have had trips to the Holy Land and cruises deferred. 

They all miss playing cards and being with their friends, but feel their habits will be forever changed once restrictions about gatherings are lifted. 

Gudakuntz, active with the Huntertown Lions Club, will continue to organize the club's fish fries, but missing his grandsons' now-canceled baseball games at Carroll High School just can't be replaced. 

Schnitz said the friends will treasure each other's companionship even more. 

“Well, I love to go out to eat, but personally I will be glad to share an evening with friends,” Schnitz said. “We totally depend on our friends for companionship and entertainment every single day.”

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