How Montclair family found joy even in pandemic: Friends, fun outdoors
By ANDREW GARDA
Montclair’s first coronavirus case was announced on March 12, 2020. To mark a year of coronavirus in the township, Montclair Local is looking to tell the stories of families and individuals adjusting to life in the pandemic. Contact reporter Andrew Garda at email@example.com.
When COVID-19 shut the world down in March of 2020, Amy Schulman Uhlfelder, Evan Joseph and their two children did what most people did — they went into quarantine.
Remote learning, remote working and isolation weren’t easy for the Montclair family. But they found a respite from the strains and stress. They learned their usual summer destination – Rosmarins Bungalow Colony in Monroe, N.Y. — would be open for business, albeit with a few changes.
“We went there knowing that we weren’t going to be able to go into anybody’s bungalows, but as long as we were outside talking to people, it should be fine,” Schulman Uhlfelder said. “And that’s really how it worked.”
While escaping the confines of their house was the goal, the family didn’t know how much more they would get out of it.
“We realized over the summer that a little interaction with friends goes such a long way,” Schulman Uhlfelder said. “We didn’t need to go out to dinners. We didn’t need to go to concerts. But we needed that ability to be with people and just laugh.”
That came about because while the colony was open for business, social distancing was still necessary, which meant that things like big group dinners involving the whole colony, Fourth of July concerts and team sports were off the table.
Because visitors couldn’t congregate in large groups, they had to gather outside in smaller ones. The family began to appreciate how little effort it took to gather people together.
“Just being people in this time and not isolated completely, but being outside with people was like, literally all we needed,” Schulman Uhlfelder said.
It’s a lesson the family brought home — making the most of its outdoor space.
“All year we’ve been doing bonfires, and if it’s above 40 degrees, we’ll have somebody come over and sit 6 feet away from us at the fire pit. Just make sure we can keep those connections.”
While the adults were discovering how easy but important remaining connected with friends was, their kids were discovering how to create their own opportunities.
Ginger, 15, had always wanted to direct a play. Last summer, that didn’t seem likely, because of the pandemic.
Then, while at the colony, Ginger decided to put her own play on — using an outdoor space, with cast members spaced apart for safety.
“She was seeing all the grown-ups, like a lot of super-talented musicians and singers, you know, just kind of like performing on people’s porches and always a little bit jealous of the kids that got to do like the camp show,” Schulman Uhlfelder said. “So she was like, ‘I want to do a show for grown-ups.’”
Ginger chose “Grease” as her play and set about working out how different groups of people, most of whom could not be up close with one another, were going to perform.
“She was really careful with the cast,” Joseph said. “Cha-Cha and Danny were a married couple, because that way they could dance the dance at the prom. Danny and Sandy, you can almost have them 6 feet apart. Danny and Sandy don’t ever like embrace necessarily, but Danny and Cha-Cha have to dance together.”
Ginger also cast sisters as Sandy and Rizzo so they could sing and speak to each other while being in close proximity.
While Ginger was directing adults, her 14-year-old brother Rex and many other kids were working to put on the rest of the show. They turned a basketball court into a makeshift stage.
Over the course of the summer, Ginger managed more than 30 adults and caught a taste for directing. She’d like to take on another play in Montclair in the spring, as well as another this year at the colony.
“The fact that the world was broken, you know, created an opportunity to be bold,” Joseph said.
The family members have been back in Montclair, doing remote learning and — like many people — working hard to deal with the problems that a year of the pandemic brought. But they also look back on last summer and appreciate the new experiences they had, the new opportunities they created for themselves and the new friends they made.
“Sometimes under the strangest circumstances, when new people come into your life, like they’re kind of like extra-special, right?” Schulman Uhlfelder said.