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West Ky. families ready for second pandemic Thanksgiving

Some people just aren't into the big Thanksgiving Day extravaganza.
Stuart Monk
Some people just aren't into the big Thanksgiving Day extravaganza.

As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its second holiday season, millions of Americans are expected to travel to see their families this Thanksgiving. Many traveled in 2020, when case counts were reaching an all-time high and now holiday travel is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels, according to projections from the American Automobile Association.

For some, last holiday season wasn’t that different from years prior. While the Center for Disease Control suggested individuals only celebrate with those in their household, it didn't stop some families from getting out of the house.

Fulton County native George McCain wasn’t able to celebrate Thanksgiving in a traditional way for most of the last decade when he was working overseas, instead having to use Skype to communicate on the holiday.

Last Thanksgiving, McCain said his family traveled to Kansas City, Missouri. But, when he came back to Kentucky, McCain said that he was never contacted by the state or local health department to quarantine due to his travel.

“They had the mandatory thing, but there was no way for them to check if you came in or out of state. They didn’t have roadblocks or anything like that set-up”

This year, McCain said he is hosting Thanksgiving at his house for both his family and his in-laws.

Other families were not in the same position to be as unrestricted in seeing family members last Thanksgiving.

Carlisle County native Mary Jo McKee said that a large part of her family’s Thanksgiving tradition was seeing her mother during the holiday at her sister’s house. Her mother being admitted to a nursing home before the pandemic made seeing her for the Thanksgiving holiday difficult due to visitor restrictions.

“We weren’t able to take her out or go see her. And you had to make appointments to even go see her at the window,” McKee told WKMS. “They had a lot of restrictions. So, it was really hard on me and my sisters. It was really depressing not being able to spend time with our mother.”

McKee’s mother passed away in April 2021 due to non-COVID-19 related reasons, and McKee said the absence of her mother will make this Thanksgiving a somber one.

“It’s definitely sad because we lost her this year, so that’s the one definitely different thing, not having her here, but everything else is back to normal.”

Some families gained a new appreciation for the holiday by turning it into a more intimate celebration, making a return to normal more impactful.

Daviess County native Michelle Calhoun said her mother-in-law would host a traditional turkey dinner for her husband, three daughters and everyone in the extended family. However, Calhoun’s family decided not to gather during the pandemic, deciding instead to celebrate only with those in their own household.

“It was kind of nice that we just slowed down, and it was just the five of us and the dog. But at the same time, I’m really excited about this year, about us getting together.”

Calhoun said she assumes she’ll see everyone once again in a large family gathering this Thanksgiving.

For one family, this Thanksgiving will be made better by not having to be in quarantine.

Graves County native Stephanie Duke and her family had to quarantine before Thanksgiving holiday when her youngest son, a 9-year-old at the time, tested positive for COVID-19.

Duke said friends and family cooked Thanksgiving food and delivered it to their doorstep.

“We did miss being with family, of course, because we missed having a good time. But at the same time, we had a good time in quarantine too,” Duke said. “My youngest got so stir crazy that, at one point, he was running around the house in his underwear with goggles on.”

Now her two boys are excited to return to a pre-pandemic Thanksgiving with a visit to their grandmother’s house.

Families are redefining what it means to celebrate Thanksgiving. With the pandemic having interrupted many previous holiday plans, families have gained a new perspective for the future when it comes to spending time with family.

Graves County native Maddie Beck said that having endured a holiday with those just in her household has given her peace of mind when it comes to knowing that no matter what the future holds there are still ways for families to stay connected.

“With Zoom and phone calls, it’s so much easier now to look in the future and say ‘oh no’ if anything else goes wrong just like this, then we always have an option to stay connected with each other,” she said. “It’s an at peace feeling. So now matter what happens in the world, there’s always a way you can stay connected to the ones you love.”

Beck’s family is planning to celebrate Thanksgiving with a weekend trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Beck said her family is relieved at the current state of the pandemic to not have a no-travel advisory this holiday, as the plan to travel has been in place since before the pandemic.

The CDC has an updated policy on advising for celebrating the holidays this year. The new recommendations emphasize any eligible family and friends should receive the vaccine as the best way to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Those who are unvaccinated are encouraged to continue wearing masks in public indoor spaces and to avoid crowded, poorly ventilated areas.

Zacharie Lamb is a music major at Murray State University and is a Graves County native.
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