Sometimes you run into just the right people who put things into perspective in short order.

Such was the case for me Wednesday as I drove through and around downtown Waterville, surveying the results of what a worldwide pandemic looks like.

Jessica Verrill. left, and Emily Coates, friends and coworkers from Maurices clothing in Elm Plaza, discussed Wednesday how they were weathering the pandemic while shopping for a friend. Morning Sentinel photo by Amy Calder

A normally busy Main Street had a few cars coming and going, a lone couple pushed a stroller across the Ticonic Bridge and, in the South End of the city, the streets were barren.

I drove east on Silver Street and entered The Concourse where a few cars were parked here and there. The only sign of activity was a handful of people wearing masks, standing 6 feet apart and waiting to get into the Dollar Tree store. Every few minutes, the door would open, a customer would leave, and a clerk escorted another one in.

A black sport utility vehicle pulled into the parking lot and two young, dark-haired women wearing masks got out and stood in line.

I approached them to ask if they’d be willing to talk to me about how they are doing in the pandemic. They were happy to oblige.

Jessica Verrill, 42, of Belgrade, and Emily Coates, 20, of Augusta, good friends and co-workers at Maurices clothing store at Elm Plaza, were out for the first time since the pandemic shutdown. Verrill, Maurices’ store manager, said she hired Coates in 2017 — the first person she hired for the store — and they have been friends ever since.

They were furloughed March 15, applied for unemployment right away and quickly received their checks, they said. They said they were seven days out from the date they were supposed to go back to work and had not heard if the store would be opening then.

Verrill also works at The Home Depot as a head cashier, but now is taking online orders three days a week. She can not work more hours than that or she would lose her unemployment funding. Coates also has another job at a salon center and is furloughed from that job, too.

The women count themselves among the lucky ones, because they were on top of things and applied for and received their unemployment benefits right away, they said.

“I haven’t had to call, once,” Coates said, to which Verrill added, “Mine went through immediately.”

Neither woman has children, so they don’t have the responsibility of supporting others during a tough time.

“I’m lucky — I have no bills,” Coates said. “I’m so lucky. I definitely feel for people that do have bills. I think it’s the ‘not-knowing’ that’s the most difficult part of the whole situation.”

Verrill has always worked between 50 and 60 hours a week and it was difficult at first, adjusting to having so much free time, she said.

“I’m 42 and I’ve never filed for unemployment — this is the first time in my life,” she said. “I’m an essential worker because I work for Home Depot. I’m on both ends of it, so I see customers coming in, and Home Depot is doing everything they can to take care of them.”

Coates and Verrill are practical and thoughtful when talking about when and how stores and other businesses should open again. They said they defer to, and rely on, the expert advice of Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention director, to guide the state in that regard.

“I don’t want businesses to open too soon,” Verrill said. “I feel like it’s too crazy to open yet. I feel that that gets scary, and it’s a bad thing to do.”

Coates agreed: “Life is precious and you shouldn’t take it for granted, especially for a couple of bucks.”

They said they think the state is handling the pandemic well, and it is heartening to see people coming together to help those less fortunate with food and other necessities.

I thanked them for their time and was about to say good-bye when I realized I had forgotten to ask them why they were going to the Dollar Tree that particular day.

They  said they were going to buy decorations for their “senior” who works with them at Maurices. At first I thought they were talking about an older employee, but they clarified that they were referring to a Lawrence High School senior who won’t get to graduate in a typical ceremony this year because of the pandemic.

“I feel for her,” Coates said. “She is definitely upset about it. She is super sad. I can’t imagine not being able to walk at graduation.”

Verrill said the young woman’s name is Miranda Lambert, just like the singer.

“We’re going to decorate our storefront windows for her,” she said. “She’s so smart. She’s in the top of her class. She’s smart and she’s beautiful. We just want her to know she’s special to us and we want to do something special for her.”

And on that inspiring note, the women got back in line, determined to fulfill their mission of making someone else’s life happier during a rough time.

And that, my friends, is what life is all about.

 

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 32 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

 


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