The pandemic in the rearview mirror


I did something this summer that I hadn’t done in four years: I took an honest-to-goodness vacation out of town.

In fact, my wife, Lynne, and I not only left the state and region, but we traveled out of the country – to southern Ontario, in Canada, to visit relatives whom we hadn’t seen in more than a decade. We had been mulling taking a trip there years ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic quashed those plans.

Now, more than three years after COVID-19 forever changed the way we look at life, we finally felt comfortable enough to visit my relatives, including my uncle and aunt, both of whom are 92.

Marcia and Harold are both in relatively good health, and my uncle still drives and works in the family’s clothing store, which my cousin Dave now runs. They live in St. Catharines, Ontario, a short drive from Niagara Falls.

During our journey, we stopped overnight in Utica, New York, about the halfway point, and then spent a little more than three days visiting my relatives.

My aunt is my mother’s youngest sibling, and while I was growing up in the Dorchester and Mattapan sections of Boston, she and my uncle and their sons used to visit us most summers. While visiting, my cousins became diehard Red Sox fans (there was no Major League Baseball team in Toronto in the ’60s), and my father, Ike, would buy tickets for us to a few Sox games at Fenway Park.

Those games were always one of the highlights of their trips, and one of the most memorable ones occurred on Aug. 18, 1967, a balmy Friday night during the unforgettable Impossible Dream season, when the Vegas odds’ 100-1 Red Sox won the American League pennant in dramatic fashion (that was back in the days before the MLB instituted post-season playoffs).

This particular game was a key matchup against the California Angels (now called the Los Angeles Angels, even though they play in Anaheim). We were sitting in the first-base grandstand when a fastball slammed into the left cheekbone of Red Sox superstar and teen idol Tony Conigliaro, the right fielder who was known as “Tony C.”

I can still hear the thud when Angels pitcher Jack Hamilton’s ball smashed into Tony C’s helmet and sent him sprawling on the ground in the bottom of the fourth inning. The Sox won that game, but when the picture of Tony C in his hospital bed with his black eye was splashed across the front pages of Boston’s newspapers on Saturday morning, it was clear that not only was Conigliaro done for the year, but his professional future was in jeopardy.

Fifty-six years later, my cousins are parents, and one, Dave, is a grandparent, which gave us another good reason to visit this year. His grandson, River, is a cute 18 month old, and we cemented his Red Sox fan status by giving him a Sox cap.

Besides visiting my relatives, we also met up with an old friend who lives in Toronto. We were grateful that Howard agreed to take the bus from Toronto to St. Catharines because we were told that the commute by car to Ontario’s capital city, which used to be about an hour, is now closer to two.

We met him on a Friday, and we then did the only true tourist thing of the trip, driving to Niagara Falls, where we strolled along the scenic overlook and took some spectacular photos.

During our two hours at the falls, I kept thinking that it wasn’t too long ago that I wondered if I’d ever be able to travel again to a popular tourist spot, due to the pandemic and its aftermath. But there we were, walking around – and, for perhaps the first time, the pandemic seemed like a distant memory. We dined at restaurants without wearing masks or social distancing, and it was a most joyous vacation.

Now, with fall and winter on the horizon, I’m hoping that the country doesn’t get complacent and that the government fast-tracks a new round of COVID-19 vaccines. I hope those latest shots will be ready for distribution by the fall, because we can’t afford to repeat the pandemic’s hellish days.

The pandemic brought us Zoom, but little else that was positive. Those dark times took years off everyone’s lives, killed more than 1.1 million Americans (to date) and wreaked havoc on many aspects of our lives, including:

Exacerbating the mental health of people of all ages, especially teens and young adults.

Forcing students to learn remotely, which irreparably harmed them and set back learning in the United States for years.

Harming the economic viability of downtowns, which led to the closing of hundreds of restaurants and businesses.

Sending rents in cities and towns to ludicrously high levels that few people can afford.

Turning millions of Americans into selfish people who forgot how to get along with others and who lack either empathy or tolerance for anyone with different views or beliefs.

Pushing our politics, already on a downhill spiral, irrevocably out of control and perhaps forever blurring the lines between truth and fiction.

Emboldening millions to embrace hate of all kinds toward minorities, with the result that Blacks, Jews, Asians, Hispanics, Muslims and the LGBTQ+ community have been increasingly targeted by hate speech and violence just because of who they are.

So, while I felt blessed to be able to take a normal vacation again, I still worry for the country’s future.

LARRY KESSLER ( is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro. He blogs at

Larry Kessler, Speaking Out