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Hugs, mask shedding seem normal again

It was May 14, just a few hours after Gov. Mike DeWine announced that Ohio was amending its remaining pandemic-era health orders and would be lifting the state’s mask mandate effective June 2. I stood outside the Niles McKinley Memorial where hundreds of other proud parents had gathered to take snapshots of their high school juniors and seniors dressed to the nines for prom that evening.

I recall glancing around and noting that I, quite literally, was the only person in this large expanse of people who remained masked. Perhaps that was because I always have been boringly obedient, or more likely, it was because I just didn’t have any lipstick. Frankly, most women probably will admit how much they’ve enjoyed the freedom from makeup over the past year-and-a-half. Certainly, those who worked remotely from home during that time also enjoyed freedom from business clothes, opting instead for the comfort of sweat pants or even pajama bottoms while dressed in business attire from the waist up for attendance at staff meetings via Zoom.

That’s all officially about to end.

Alas, last weekend, nary a face mask in sight, my family and a hundred or so of our closest friends and relatives adorned this time in appropriate dress and full makeup, gathered for an entire afternoon of food and fellowship to celebrate the accomplishments of my newly graduated son.

High school graduation parties are a rite of passage in Ohio. Growing up in Pennsylvania, we might have gone out to dinner after commencement or received a few greeting cards and some cash from our immediate family members. But there, it was nowhere near the undertaking that we experience here in the Mahoning Valley. Most families here reserve a hall or other large venue. If they are having the event at home, it means renting large outdoor tents and trucking in large quantities of folding tables and chairs. Caterers are selected, giant sheet cakes bear the graduate’s name, and dessert tables often rival any respectable Mahoning Valley bride’s cookie table.

Displays showcase awards, scholarships and, of course, the high school diploma, along with poster boards filled with snapshots of the guest of honor taken through the years. And let’s not forget videos set to music. Heck, the party of a friend that I attended last week had a six-piece live band!

Indeed, the amount of work is overwhelming.

In most cases, including mine, preparations began more than a year ago.

As I was reserving the hall and booking a caterer way back then, the thought truly never occurred to me that we might still have been in a phase of the pandemic that would have limited the size of our gathering or even still required face masks for our guests. That’s not to mention the possibility of social distancing. How on earth would one go about attempting to spread out by 6 feet at an 8-foot table?

So, I must say I never have been so happy to know that the end of the governor’s health orders were about to coincide with the party being planned since early 2020.

And frankly, it never felt so good to hug so many people without fear of germs.

The sight of so many smiles and cheeks and noses and chins was, in the words of our syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker, both jarring and joyous.

Indeed, it’s doubtful that every single person in attendance had been fully vaccinated. But the math was reassuring as we move toward “herd immunity,” and the hope is there that no one in attendance at any of this season’s graduation parties will suffer illness from this return to normal interaction.

The happiness at these parties has been palpable — for two reasons. It’s because of the pride we all hold for our kids who worked so hard to get here, and because once again everything seems normal.

blinert@tribtoday.com

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