Lately, I have been thinking of “Our Town.”
I have always been a sucker for Thornton Wilder’s beloved play. In fact, it’s my favorite. I love the tale of Grover’s Corners. I love the way it memorializes life in a small town. I love even more the way it flags to us that life goes too fast. We don’t spend enough time loving the smell of fresh laundry, of waking up, of just being alive. (Well, some do. Poets maybe.) I cannot see “Our Town” without crying. In a good way. And nowadays, I cannot think of some people in our town of Vashon without crying. Also in a good way.
The heroes of our little town that I find myself thinking about lately are those who own the Vashon Pharmacy, as well as the cadre of volunteers who have been putting shots in arms for the last several months.
There are many heroes in this play. Every volunteer out there in the wind and rain helping our neighbors get vaccinated is a hero to me. Heck, Craig Beles and his pal Truman O’Brien were back on the volunteer lines within days of their recent plane crash — even though Craig looked as if he had gone a couple of rounds and Truman was sporting two bright-purple shiners. Why were they there? It’s what they do.
Cece Reoux is a hero to me. As an employee of Vashon Pharmacy and a registered nurse, she has been at the vaccination site constantly. Of course, I see her and remember watching our kids play basketball or sitting next to her while our kids graduated at the same time. But you blink and the kids are gone. Cece is still out there in the wind and rain, putting vaccines in a lot of arms.
Eileen Wolcott and her family are heroes to me. They own the Vashon Theatre and have made their parking lot available as a staging center, so people can line up safely. I’m sure Eileen would never imagine a situation where people would stop lining up for popcorn for so long at her theatre, but even now, she’s making sure they line up for shots.
All of the employees of Vashon Pharmacy are heroes to me. I think about the amount of tension, complaints, frustration and emotion they must have encountered during this entire experience. We are worried about our relatives and ourselves in this life-and-death situation. I know I was frustrated when I was trying to get an appointment. I keep thinking of all of the people who called, all of the people who were scared, frustrated. But the employees of the pharmacy are our friends and neighbors. They were doing the best they could here in our town. It must have been exhausting (and it is not over).
Most importantly, Tyler Young and Amy Young are heroes to me. They bought the pharmacy in 2017 — and then this happened. What a tough time to take over. But my, how they have. Tyler set up a trailer and created a staging area that has been flawless. I hear horror stories from my “mainland” friends about the exhaustion and frustration of getting their vaccine. At Vashon Pharmacy, they made it look easy. More importantly, you were met by neighbors, by people who knew you and cared. It felt like a place of safety in a scary time.
They were not insubstantial costs to the Youngs in setting all this up — not only direct expenses but the more intangible costs of the time they had to devote to this public health crisis, during which they couldn’t grow their business in ways they might have previously imagined.
Sea Mar Clinic — established a mere six months ago on Vashon — has also distributed vaccines in a remarkable way, offering no-appointment-necessary walk-up appointments. This no-fuss system has greatly helped our island reach such a high percentage of vaccinated people.
The Pharmacy and Sea Mar have received us and treated us with care. It has been a wonderful demonstration of the power of community.
And of course, none of it would have happened without the VashonBePrepared and all its affiliated groups, including the Medical Reserve Corps and CERT volunteers. Under the leadership of Rick Wallace and others, they have helped us again and again throughout the pandemic.
But wait, there’s more. I lost my vaccination card and had to go to the tent today to get a replacement so I can get my second shot. Again, I was treated with care and kindness by people I have seen my whole life. At first, I didn’t even recognize Mary Langland behind her mask. All of a sudden, I realized it. There she is, volunteering. Mary’s husband Tom and Dave Willingham sold the pharmacy to Tyler and Amy. Mary could have moved on. But there she is on a blustery day, volunteering for the Pharmacy. Tom helped build the stairs to the trailer. They are still there.
I have so many memories of the Vashon Pharmacy. My kids grew up there in the toy section. For a period of time, it was “the place” for parents to run into each other as our kids played with the trains. Every town has a pharmacy, I suppose. But ours is still family-owned and special.
These are all part of the cast of characters of our town. It’s not Grover’s Corners, but I love Vashon Island.
And I won’t forget how lucky I am. How lucky we all are.
A 20-year Vashon resident, Lauri Hennessey is the CEO of League of Education Voters.