From Country Roads to COVID Woes: How one musical family is sheltering in place

Lucy, our self-appointed canine guardian against anything that moves a millimeter outside the front window, is barking like the future of the world is at stake. Come to think of it, maybe she has a point.

In normal times, the racket caused by our overly protective pooch over a mail carrier or squirrel would be no big deal. I would be 30 minutes away at my communications job at the Pinellas Education Foundation and happily unaware of her howling. 

But as we all know too well, these are not normal times -- not by a long shot. At the moment, I’m in Week 4 and counting at home in St. Petersburg on one of many Zoom video conference calls with work colleagues. We’re making plans to move the annual Next Generation Tech awards for technologically talented students into a virtual event. I lunge to mute my mic, hoping one of my fellow social-distancing, safe-at-homers will hurry to the living room and convince Lucy everything is OK.

Like so many Americans, that’s what my family and I are hoping will be the case -- that everything will be OK again in a month or two, or whatever it takes to flatten the curve and return to the pre-COVID-19 life we all enjoyed. And like all of us throughout the country, we find ourselves glued daily to the television news. We are saddened by the lives lost and families shattered, while inspired by the heroism of the doctors, nurses, and first-responders selflessly putting their health and lives on the line. 

Like so many of us, going to work these days means grabbing your cup of coffee and walking 30 feet from a couch or chair in one room to desk or table in another -- resisting the urge to check for snacks in the refrigerator before lunch, and relying on email, cell phones, and video chats to stay connected and do our jobs.

“Luccceeeey, knock it off!!” I yell across the house, momentarily ducking out of sight of my desktop webcam. Clearly, even her life has been disrupted – no more barking to her heart’s content with me around.

By and large, our five-person familial contingent has managed well during this time and readily embraced the stay-at-home, wear-a-mask-in-public guidelines. My wife Janie, a teacher’s aide at St. Paul’s Church school, has been home since mid-March. We’ve ventured out together on grocery runs, always doing our best to keep six feet apart from other shoppers. One morning, I set off for Publix around 6:30 a.m., liking my chances to snag toilet paper -- only to see a line outside stretching the length of a football field to distant CVS. So much for getting on a roll with the T-P.

Then there are the younger three of our six children -- Julia, a recent graphic arts graduate of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, who heads off to work for her graphic arts job in Largo (by logging on in her bedroom); Emma, a current USFSP graphic arts student, has been busy taking online classes; and Davey, a senior at St. Petersburg High School, is juggling his final-semester classes to prepare for graduation -- whether it’ll take place online or at Tropicana Field.

He’s had it the toughest as a high school senior, of course, missing out on his final band concert, at which he would have performed a trombone solo, and not getting to celebrate the final months of his Pinellas County Schools education with his pals. 

But we’re not complaining. We have enough food, unlike the families in the heart-wrenching TV scenes around the country of long carlines for donated groceries. In the big scheme of things, staying at home is a minor inconvenience if it means saving lives, lessening the unfathomable load on healthcare workers, and surviving the virus. So we wash hands constantly, disinfect groceries before putting them away, do our work at home, and make our own entertainment, which includes making music. 

We’ve done plenty of that these past five weeks. I’ve put my home-recording gear to good use at night and on weekends. Janie and I have had our own classic-rock dance band, Ocean Road, for many years, and she also leads the contemporary music group at the weekly St. Paul’s Church 6 p.m. mass. With services moved online last month, we teamed with several group members to create remotely recorded songs for the Easter season and beyond. Janie and I recorded vocal and instrumental tracks and e-mailed them to other group members. They recorded their parts, emailed them back, and I made a final mix.

But our most ambitious undertaking has been a parody and family music video, involving all of our children, including our three older kids (Valerie in Orlando, and Laura and Mollie, both in St. Petersburg) and six grandchildren. Set to the tune of John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads, our version entitled Stuck at Home, COVID Woes -- including a lively cameo from Lucy -- seems to have created some extra smiles on Facebook and YouTube the past week. 

Stay safe everybody.

Dave Scheiber is Vice President of Communications and Advocacy for the Pinellas Education Foundation, an author, and a longtime Tampa Bay area musician.

If you would like to share the story of your new normal under COVID-19 or want to recommend a story idea for coping in the time of coronavirus in the Tampa Bay Area, reach out to 83 Degrees via email. We too are sheltering in place at home but doing our best to carry on by producing and sharing stories that you may find helpful -- even if it's just to lift your spirits -- in these surreal times.
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