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It’s Important to Reach Out to Other People”: A Retired Teacher Reflects on a Pandemic Year in Canton

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Image credit: Eli Newman / WDET

Nancy Anderson’s life was turned upside down when she lost access to Canton’s senior center, but the 78-year-old learned to adapt to a new reality.

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This story is part of WDET’s Crossing the Lines: Canton Battles COVID series, reconnecting listeners with the people they met and issues they discovered during WDET’s 2019 Crossing the Lines Canton. Now, two years later, explore how the township of Canton has fared during the coronavirus pandemic and examine how the lives of residents have changed over the past year. 

Courtesy of Stephanie Diago Berkeley, Canton Twp. - Club 55+
Courtesy of Stephanie Diago Berkeley, Canton Twp. - Club 55+

Nancy Anderson is a member of Canton’s senior center. At 78 years old, the retired teacher spends many of her days volunteering, organizing luncheons or playing cards with friends. But the pandemic stopped a lot of her normal activities.  

WDET’s Eli Newman spoke with Nancy Anderson about her life over the last year. Read excerpts, edited for clarity, below:

Newman: What were you thinking at the beginning of the pandemic when everything was changing?

Nancy Anderson: At first I thought oh my gosh, what’s going to be happening here? Everything was closing up. All the restaurants, everything that I like to do, especially at the Canton Senior Center, all of a sudden was not available. One of my favorite activities at the Senior Center is playing cards. And I learned to play pinochle when I was maybe 13 years old. I met some wonderful people here too because we were playing every Tuesday and Friday. And all of a sudden I had nothing planned for those days.

I kind of became very family-centered. I’ll do more cooking and get to all those household chores you kind of let go of when you’re working full time. And I did that for about a couple of weeks, but all of a sudden, gosh, there’s nothing else to do.

You had all of these social gatherings that were in person, these card games that were in person. How were you able to keep up that communication?

I have a very good friend, his name is Fred. He kind of steered me in the right direction. He says it would be a good idea and call a couple of people every couple of days just to establish some communication and that would help us to help them. It also helped me to stay involved and I think just connecting with other people was so important.

I started to get on the walking every day, all my exercise programs are all gone. I do play the piano, so I had practice and I had that as an outlet. I love you know listening to good music too, so I set the radio station on, either in my car or at home. And that’s helped take away some of the loneliness.

Did you feel really lonely over the last couple of months?

Oh definitely yes. My husband was perfectly comfortable with it. Like right now I think “Gunsmoke” has become one of his favorites [on television.] I think we’ve got “Gunsmoke” on maybe half the day. I love Scrabble too, and we played Scrabble. I also found out there was an app on my smartphone called Scrabble GO and I got into that and I got kind of addicted to it. I met some wonderful people because when you play, you also connect with people through a chat line. We would text each other and kind of egg each other on, whether or not we’re going to beat somebody. Kind of razz each other a little bit. And that’s helped too because I get on Scrabble Go maybe two, three times a day, 10 minutes at a time. That has helped tremendously.

Courtesy of Stephanie Diago Berkeley, Canton Twp. - Club 55+
Courtesy of Stephanie Diago Berkeley, Canton Twp. - Club 55+

Was that a new thing for you, connecting with people in the digital world online?

Yes definitely, because I just got my smartphone about two years ago and I didn’t really think I’d be able to adapt because of my age. I have some wonderful people here at the Senior Center that helped me too to make that transition from going back from a flip phone to a smartphone. I don’t know how I ever lived without it before! That was my greatest asset that I had. And then the Senior Center started these Zoom classes, and we had classes in making crafts, we would have a travel adventure every week at a certain time. We also started fitness classes and that helped me quite a bit.

It sounds like you’ve done a pretty good job of staying connected with people, with your neighbors, with family members. In your experience, do you find that to be the case for other people who were taking advantage of the Senior Center?

It’s just been a panacea, it’s been like therapy for me to stay connected with others by phone. Some of us who’ve gotten the vaccinations are getting together, like four people at different people’s homes. We’re starting that.

Seniors are very, very isolated. Many don’t even go to any recreation centers. I think the movies are starting to open up a little bit. Restaurants more. We have a lot of people that just don’t drive anymore. I find I get a lot of self-satisfaction if I can offer a ride to somebody. I have one neighbor, she’s 92 years old. Very, very active, she’s really alert. She has so much wisdom to share with me. She recently had an accident and she’s recuperating, but she needs a ride to love the activities so I do provide transportation for her on a regular basis.

I do want to ask one last question. I think just broadly speaking, this year has been very isolating for a lot of people, and we tend not to hear from people outside of our own bubble sometimes. And I’m wondering if there’s anything that you feel that people should know about how older residents are doing, how retirees are doing at this time where there are all these changes that are happening and all these adjustments that need to be made.

I think it’s important to reach out to other people. I’ve gotten phone calls from friends that are living all over the United States. I have also reciprocated with people that I haven’t seen or heard from, sometimes in years. And I have really, really made an effort to connect with those people that I haven’t seen for a while. I think that I’ve always, you know, my reason for living really to be able to help other people. I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody here that I disliked. And I think I’m just so blessed to live in the community of Canton.

Listen: Nancy Anderson on finding new ways to connect during the pandemic.

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Eli Newman, Reporter/Producer

Eli Newman is a Reporter/Producer for 101.9 WDET, covering breaking news, politics and community affairs. His favorite Motown track is “It’s The Same Old Song” by the Four Tops.

eli.newman@wdet.org Follow @other_eli

Crossing the Lines

This post is a part of Crossing the Lines.

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