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Aug. 7, 2020 | Friday
Editorials and Opinions
Op-ed: No more smiles in aisles, but let's not lose the love

Ross Robinson 

Special to The Lake Report

So much more than well-stocked and always clean grocery stores and wonderful staff, Hendriks Valu-mart and Phil’s Valu-mart are the unofficial social hubs of our special hometown. NOTL is truly special.

Good-feel stores and full of smiles. It was so easy to slip in to buy corn flakes, cinnamon raisin bread, or a box of Chapman’s Super Ice Cream Drumsticks.  Four vanilla, four chocolate, all with a caramel centre. My daughter Carrie, son Scott and I devour three each week watching the perfect host, Alex Trebek, on Jeopardy. 

The Valu-marts were a place to find smiles and friendly faces. 

Shelves are always so well and neatly stocked, labels facing out, prices easy to see, the aisles usually bustling with fun and smiling neighbours, most ready for a catch-up chat.

Too many types of milk confused me and a foo-foo variety of cheeses. The deli counter always has so many meats, including my fave, PC Natural Choice Black Forest Ham, at $3.20 per 100 grams.  And such efficient, patient and smiling young people behind the counter.  ("Ring bell for service.")  The welcoming smiles were always free. Go Abby.

Since March, though, the mood in town has gradually changed. The ambience has slipped away from small town newsy to physically distanced “don’t get it my space.” In the Valu-marts and on the sidewalks, our COVID-fighting town seems a bit chilly, a little less friendly.

For all the right reasons, most of us are now donning face masks when we enter a store. We hide our teeth and partial plates. Very little chatter at our busy and friendly post office. (And, yes Ward, most of us are keeping the place cleaner. Thanks for the not-so-subtle slap a while ago.)  

An increasing number of us are obeying Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief medical officer, and my main man, Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN. We physically distance and we wash our hands.

May I nominate B.C.’s Dr. Bonnie Henry for prime minister?

Now, how can we revive the smiles?  At an early age, we were taught to be positive and greet people with a smile.  “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” was on a sign above our sink in the kitchen.  

“Every man is entitled to his own troubles.” Sometimes, we had to fake it, but we smiled so often.

Late yesterday afternoon at  Valu-mart, I was fortunate to bump into three of the "smiley-est" of my NOTL pals. None of them could smile at me, due to the fashionista face masks they were wearing. Maureen Dickson’s enthusiastic smile, and she always has a positive comment about my shirt or an optimistic loss of a few pounds. Such an enthusiastic neighbour and now her ready smile is concealed. But she still makes me feel happier.

For over 20 years, since our parenting days at the Niagara Nursery School and Parliament Oak, Derek Schaaf has been a Smiler-in- Chief. Yesterday in the produce section, though, I could only see his eyes and very cool haircut.  This man and his family truly love Niagara-on-the-Lake, always smiling and with a positive vibe. “Live where you like to be,” he says, but now we can only exchange muffled words.  No hugs. And smiles are concealed.

Tennis pal Robert McCaughey, another world class smiler, was in my face by the meat section before I recognized his toujours well-coiffed hair and good posture. His grin was lurking behind a very sharp black mask.

Here in our wee village, our issues are unique. Up by the cash registers, I checked out the newspaper front pages.  The Toronto Star headline blared, “Premier Ford scolds young partygoers.”  The New York Times (All the news that’s fit to print) headline read,”Trump Reverses Position on Covid-19 Masking.” Jolting me back to our local reality, was The Lake Report headline, “Masks mandatory as town enters Phase 3.” 

Yes, my friends, our worries are often small worries. Smile. None of us own all the problems in the world. Please permit me to suggest a good book that will bring many smiles to your faces. “The Day the World Came to Town," by Jim DeFede provides a heartwarming, smile-inducing collection of stories from Sept. 9 to 14, 2001, when 6,132 travellers from 38 jetliners were forced to land in Gander, Nfld. 

The 5,000 residents did what they do best. They opened their hearts and homes, spreading the love and the smiles.  Oh, the spoken and silent smiles saying, “It’s going to be alright. We are here with you. Feel welcome on our rock.”

Down East, as they call everyone Darlin’ or Hon or My Dear, they are always smiling.  

And, listen to Stuart McLean limn his precious experiences in many small Canadian towns. From Nelson to Tofino to Medicine Hat to Drummondville (hometown of Marcel Dionne) to Niagara Falls to Keswick to Halifax, he scratched under the surface, and makes everyone smile and feel good. You will smile often. 

Can we replace our hidden smiles here in our magnificent hometown? Perhaps a friendly wave, a few louder than normal nice words, or a shaky shaky of our tail feathers?

Read, listen, smile and love.