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JOHN DeMONT: How COVID-19 brought a Halifax street together


It's a little past 10 a.m. on a Wednesday, which means that Susan Marmaroff has poured her French press coffee and frothed milk into her green Milford House mug. She has grabbed her Chronicle Herald, her cereal, and her fruit. She has stepped through the glass door out onto the porch, taken a short right, and lowered herself into a neon green wicker chair.

By the time I arrived, the usual suspects had also assembled on the wooden entrance to Marmaroff's house: Lesley Griffiths, for four decades her next-door neighbour, Kit Waters from somewhere down Duncan Street, and Kathy Moggridge, who arrived on bicycle from nearby Allan Street.

In a few minutes, Maggie Banfield, with her boys, Owen, who is three, and Henry, soon to be one year old and not yet a free-standing structure, will venture over from across the street.

By now it is an established ritual. Soon after the COVID-19 lockdown began, Waters suggested everyone go outside on Duncan Street at 10 a.m. and dance, as people were doing during the worrisome early days of the pandemic.

“That only happened for a day or two,” said Marmaroff.

Instead, it was replaced by another rite: at the appointed hour the former continuing care director for the Nova Scotia Health Authority stepped out onto her porch, where she was joined by her neighbour Griffiths, who pulled up a chair. It didn't take long for the others to start to join them.

Their commitment was such that Marmaroff's diary notes a call she made to Griffiths one morning not long after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic.


Every morning, pretty much since the pandemic hit, Susan Marmaroff, Lesley Griffiths, Kathy Moggridge and Kit Waters have met on the porch of Marmadoff's home on Duncan Street in Halifax. - John DeMont
Every morning, pretty much since the pandemic hit, Susan Marmaroff, Lesley Griffiths, Kathy Moggridge and Kit Waters have met on the porch of Marmadoff's home on Duncan Street in Halifax. - John DeMont

 


“It's miserable outside, and it's raining and cold, are we going to go out?” she asked.

“Of course, we are,” replied Griffiths, whose idea of fun is rowing on the Northwest Arm. “We aren't going to be stopped by any weather.”

The date on that exchange was March 24, 2020. Since then, other than Christmas, Boxing Day and Easter, the Duncan Street porch crew, in one form or another, has convened at 10 a.m. every single day.

If it rains, Marmaroff towels off the chairs. If it snows, they hunker down under heavy blankets, and a powdering of the white stuff.

The personnel, I am told, can change from day to day. On Owen's birthday, a dozen people huddled around the porch.

Sometimes, passersby just join in the conversation from the sidewalk, which is helped by the fact that those on the porch know most every dogwalker, stroller-pusher and walker who happens by.

Usually, most of the aforementioned core group, along with Chris Swift, another Duncan Street resident, who was absent when I visited on Wednesday, are there, sitting in one of the three chairs, or maybe on the steps leading up to the porch, although Owen seems to go where he chooses in search of snacks and toys.

There, fuelled by coffee and perhaps a muffin or cookie, they talk of many things: the news, what they are reading, the pros and cons of bitcoin, what it is like to be older — three of the core group are in their 70s — their grandchildren, and, in the case of Banfield, how to parent during the pandemic.

“The normal conversations that friends have,” said Marmaroff. Except of course, during the past 12 months there has been lots of talk about COVID-19, and the pros and cons of the various vaccines. (Waters was off to get her first shot on Wednesday.)

The gatherings are mutually beneficial. “In those early months I think we were all anxious,” said Griffiths, who calls the morning sessions, “a very dependable thing in the day.”

Waters explained, “People went through some ups and downs through the year and some of us faced some very difficult times.” Marmaroff's porch, she said, has been “a safe place where we could go and just be with our friends. “

For Marmaroff, who is on the list for a knee replacement, the gatherings help replace the early morning walks she used to take with her Britany spaniel Dixie Rose, who has passed away.

For Banfield, a mother of two young children, “being able to get outside and talk to another adult has been a huge thing.”

For the grandparents in the crowd, her boys, Owen and Henry, fill the void of the grandchildren they have been unable to see during the lockdown.

For the nature lovers, it is just nice some days to sit there and watch the squirrels and birds flit along the branches of the maple and elm trees out by the street.

Everybody seems to get something on the Duncan Street porch, where, on Wednesday, Owen played with a vintage toy once used by Marmaroff's offspring, Henry gnawed on a banana, and Waters was sent off to her vaccine appointment with a rousing “V-day” cheer.

They looked and sounded just like old friends up there, which I guess they surely were.

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