How my parents maintained a steady diet of simple pleasures during COVID

By Georgianna Penn

“It’s the little things that mean a lot, just like the song,” says my mom, who, as a teenager in Gretna, Va., sang that song a dozen times on her radio show in the mid-1950s. For my parents, who have been married for more than 63 years, it has been the little things that have kept their love alive.

During COVID lockdown, I got a brief glimpse through that lens of love my parents so cherish.

My mom remembers the Alta Vista Rotary Club recommending her as a singer for the Russ Carlton Orchestra. Sax player met young jazz singer, and the rest is history.

Remember the saying, “Those who play together stay together”? Dad courted Mom by writing arrangements for her. “In My Solitude” was the first tune. And when they did not have a gig, they danced in the living room on Saturday night. “You Send Me” by Sam Cook was their favorite for non-gig date nights. “We never went to prom because we always played proms,” Mom says. Performing at places like Virginia’s Hotel Roanoke and riding home in the back of the band’s station wagon holding hands was date night for them.

On their first Valentine’s together, George gave Dixie a huge heart-shaped box of chocolates. Because of a massive snowstorm, Dad was unable to drive from Danville to Gretna in his 1941 turtle-back Mercury Coupe for weeks, so Dixie made that box of chocolates last an entire month by eating one piece a day. Fast forward 60 years, George and Dixie, who live in Madison, still eat one piece of chocolate a day — after dinner but before the TV show Suits.

Dad’s biggest accomplishment during COVID has been having his 1935 Conn Naked Lady baritone sax worked on by Greensboro’s saxophone whisperer, Evan Raines, at Moore Music. He also patched the toe hole in his New Balance sneakers during COVID. That’s a trick he learned from his dad, who patched the innertube tires on his 1936 Ford sedan during World War II when rubber was rationed.

If the sweater fits, buy eight of them. With a December birthday, four daughters and Christmas, Mom racked up turtlenecks from Chico’s. One for each day of the week and an extra one for non-gig date nights in the basement.

Watching daily rituals of meal planning or choosing what to wear for Rotary Zoom meetings have been special.

I often catch them holding hands in their matching recliners with their matching Maine Coon cats and matching Timex watches. Each year for New Year’s, they somehow manage to give each other the same gift, a Timex Indiglo watch. Mom has so many, she keeps extras as backup. During lockdown, gig night has turned into basement jazz. Mom and Dad’s most treasured gigs, however, are playing with their four daughters for the O. Henry Hotel’s Jazz Series before COVID.

Their biggest little thing, however, during this time of less-is-more, is their 3 p.m. Bake Me Happy parking lot cupcake dates in Madison, which has taken their romance full circle for sure — while, yes, holding hands. But this time, in the front seat, not the back.  OH

Madison native and Greensboro College graduate, Georgianna Penn loves sharing stories of hope and finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Performing the music of the Great American Songbook with her family at O. Henry Hotel’s Jazz Series is what she has missed most during the pandemic.

Illustration by Harry Blair

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