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Everything was suddenly domestic. With the arrival of the coronavirus and a stay-at-home order in effect, the important milestones of life in Cleveland became living-room affairs. Life, all of it, was lived in home offices and dens, on lawns and porches, in gardens and backyards.

Over three unusually balmy spring days, Cleveland Magazine caravaned around Northeast Ohio’s residential neighborhoods, collecting stories of how the lives of everyday Clevelanders had changed due to the coronavirus. We met them in their yards, on their porches, while mulching flowerbeds, or playing on the grass. 

In Lakewood, the Gilliland kids, 14-year-old Turner and 11-year-old Porter, occupied their time by taking digital school lessons and playing Fortnite. But they not-so-secretly longed for everything to return to normal. “I miss seeing my friends at school,” said Turner.

In Little Italy, Shaleah Feinstein, a Cleveland Institute of Music violin student, played her final performance for her teachers through Zoom. She was heading to graduate school and wondered when orchestra performances would be possible again. 

The Partridge family, in Chagrin Falls, called off their annual joint-birthday celebration. Instead, outside their century home, they held a socially distanced gathering for close family only. They sat on chairs on the driveway, six feet apart, while their extended family sang
“Happy Birthday” from their cars. 

A few essential workers continued to work, but most people stayed inside. Like Denece Praeger, in Westlake, they sewed masks. Or like her husband, Chuck, they strayed out only as far as their lawns. 

There were small joys, along with the worry. Pleasure was found in reconnecting with family or Zooming with friends. Like the Gillilands, who took to baking pineapple upside-down cakes, many Clevelanders took up new activities and hobbies. Lawns got greener, hedges were trimmed, flowers were planted. Dogs were walked with increasing frequency, even in the middle of the day.

This was a different life, surely, than the one before the virus. This was an uncertain life, a life sometimes tinged with tragedy, a life where victories were small and hard-won. But it was a life nonetheless. 

And Clevelanders, as resolute a bunch as ever, were intent to get on enjoying it.

Glenda Mays and Swede Peters, Larchmere

On a Saturday afternoon, Glenda Mays’ boyfriend, Swede Peters, came over to help her install a new mailbox. She sat on the porch steps as he got to work digging a hole. They chitchatted and enjoyed the breeze. Peters’ visits have been rarer, and Mays has missed him. “He can’t visit as much,” she sighed. Mays, a bookkeeper for a candy trade magazine, still goes into work a few days per week. Swede, a Cleveland Metropolitan School District custodian, has been working his usual schedule, since his school is being used as a food distribution site. Every day, he sanitizes and disinfects, then retreats to his office so as not to inadvertently expose any families to the virus. But for Mays, seeing less of Swede hasn’t even been the biggest change in her life. On March 16, Mays welcomed a set of beautiful new grandchildren — twins — into this world. They were born under strict quarantine at University Hospitals. “It’s put some joy in this time,” says Mays. “With everything, so much bad news, it’s put some joy, given me something to look forward to.”

Nick, Emily, Luke and Allison Partridge, Chagrin Falls

Most of the Partridge family celebrates their birthdays during a single month of the year. One problem: In a world infected by the coronavirus, that month might be the worst one imaginable for a birthday party. Father Nick, mother Emily and daughter Allison all have birthdays that fall during the week of April 7-14 (Son Luke’s birthday is Christmas Eve.) In past years, that has meant large family gatherings, and even inviting classmates over for Allison. But with social distancing measures in effect for the whole month, the normal parties and cakes had to be put on hold. The family gathered to celebrate Allison turning 6, Nick turning 41 and Emily turning 39, but they kept the festivities socially distant for the well-being of Nick’s sister-in-law, who is pregnant, and his senior-citizen parents. Nick’s extended family made a banner that said: “Happy April Birthdays,” pulled their cars into the driveway and sang “Happy Birthday” out of their windows. The driveway party was over in about 10 minutes. “It was so weird. Everyone was on the driveway, far apart, and everyone was nervous,” says Nick. “At the end of the day, you just don’t want to get anyone else sick.” 

Chuck and Denece Praeger, Westlake

The weather was finally nice, so Chuck Praeger decided for the first time in what felt like a long time to venture outside. He had hired two teenage family friends, Logan and Finley, to help with the yardwork, and stood supervising as they planted new boxwood hedges. The retired trade association manager had been reading David Baldacci novels and watching news of the coronavirus for so long that it felt like an entire season had passed. “I have a lung condition and a heart condition, so I feel like if I got it, it would kill me,” he says. The weather that day was breezy, and so he had left off his mask, but his wife, Denece, emerged. “Put your mask on,” she insisted. An experienced seamstress, Denece and her fellow sisters from the local PEO International chapter have sewn more than 400 masks and donated them to Rae-Ann Westlake rehab center and to other PEO sisters. Denece has shipped them all over the country, including the 100 completed masks and 200 sew-your-own kits that she sent to Austin, Texas, where her sister lives. “I haven’t made a dent in my fabric,” she says.

Heather Pincoe, Gretchen and Frank Cantelmo, Mike Fisher, Streetsboro

If it’s quitting time, you’ll find Gretchen and Frank Cantelmo hanging out on their porch or driveway. The ritual began before the coronavirus, with Frank and Gretchen unwinding after a hard day’s work and playing with their rescue pit bull mix, Fitz. Then, their neighbors, Heather Pincoe and Mike Fisher, became frequent visitors. But now the ritual — hanging out, smoking cigars, waving at cars, drinking Fisher’s homebrew from red cups or wine from a Wine with DeWine glass — became an impromptu neighborhood happy hour, a homebound cure for the work-from-home blues. The only change has been between the chairs, which are farther apart than before. “If it’s nice out, we’re out here. Usually Gretchen and I sit there, and this is our kingdom,” Frank jokes, pointing to his porch and the lawn. “I was watching Gran Torino, and I said, ‘All I need is a cooler, and I could be Clint Eastwood.’ ”

Delaney, Turner and Porter Gilliland, Lakewood

When 14-year-old Turner and 11-year-old Porter Gilliland were sent home from school in March, their mom Delaney was surprised at how smoothly they transitioned. “They’re doing all these online classes,” she says, “but it’s not phasing them at all.” Between their school assignments, playing Fortnite, reading adventure novels and playing with their cat, Monty, Turner and Porter were at first able to while away the hours easily. But as the days have turned into weeks, isolation and boredom has taken its toll. “I miss seeing my friends at school,” says Turner. “I never thought I’d say that.” They miss trips to the library too, but in place of new books, they have taken up baking, filling their kitchen, and their stomachs, with bagels, pineapple upside-down cake, coconut cream pie and what Porter refers to as “every kind of cookie.” They share their baking accomplishments with their grandma, who is immunocompromised and quarantined, by calling her on FaceTime every other day, and on the phone every day. It all feels like a new normal, and Delaney, Turner and Porter could see themselves following this routine until the winter. “We can make it as long as we have to,” says Delaney. “We’ve adapted to this.

Shaleah Feinstein and Natasha Kubit, Little Italy 

While they sat on Natasha Kubit’s porch, basking in the afternoon sun, Shaleah Feinstein and Kubit, both Cleveland Institute of Music violin students, talked graduation, finals and the future. Normally at this time of year, they would give a final solo performance. Kubit was lucky enough to perform hers before the stay-at-home order went into effect. But Feinstein’s was canceled. She had to play in the less vaunted concert hall of her Little Italy living room, via Zoom. Kubit’s mother and brother, an airport employee back in Denver, both contracted the coronavirus, and self-quarantined for two weeks with fevers. “I was calling them every day, making sure nothing was getting worse,” Kubit says. Both recovered, but the close brush showed her danger of COVID-19. Feinstein and Kubit plan to attend graduate school in the fall — Feinstein at Julliard and Kubit at CIM — and they don’t know if the large-scale orchestra concerts that they are training to perform will even be possible. “Everything’s been canceled,” says Kubit. “We’re watching the news like everybody else.”

Anthony, Sonja, Kamara and Cortas Carson, Glenville

The coronavirus has brought on a load of worry for Anthony and Sonja Carson. But a brief reprieve came from a weeklong visit from their rambunctious grandkids, 7-year-old Kamara and 10-year-old Cortas. The couple tried to keep them on-task with the work packets their school mailed home. “We really don’t go nowhere,” says Sonja. “We’re in the house most of the time.” But the worry rises when they make trips to the grocery store. The kids stay in the car or at home. “I don’t want them around that environment,” says Anthony. Another source of worry are their jobs, which were classified as essential. Sonja, a home health aide, frets for her primary patient, a single man who is 89 years old. His occasional senior group lunches have been canceled, and Sonja senses his loneliness. “I’m the only person who goes into his house, other than his son,” Sonja says. Anthony works at the National Container Group plant and has continued to report for his usual shifts. He has to wear a mask and gloves and get his temperature checked. A diabetic, he is especially worried about catching the virus. Every night before bed, Anthony takes a dose of cold medicine. “Just to be on the safe side,” he says.

Darlene Zbinovec, Larchmere

Bloody Mary in hand, Darlene Zbinovec was doing her best to transform her porch into a beach. A recreation therapist at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, she had been working her normal hours, even under the stay-at-home order, helping service members who have been injured recover their mobility. “It’s very rewarding,” says Zbinovec, who is a U.S. Army veteran herself. But the coronavirus has added an extra layer of stress to an already tough job. Every day, she is temperature-checked and screened before she starts work. She spends all day wearing a mask, and her patients’ group activities and family visits have all been canceled. And her every-May getaway to rest and recharge on the beaches of South Carolina? That had to be canceled too. “When this is all over, we’ll have to do another one,” she says.

Diann and John Yambor, Larchmere

Larchmere is a constant in Diann and John Yambor’s lives. They have lived here, in a dark-red brick house, for 37 years. Their family roots reach deep here, through four generations on Diann’s side and three on John’s. They raised three daughters here. They advocate for local causes, like keeping Shaker Boulevard open to cars, here. They could have moved to the suburbs long ago, but they chose to stay here. “Everything’s too convenient,” jokes John. But the coronavirus has cut them off from enjoying those conveniences in person. Usually so close, their neighborhood was suddenly distant. Their son-in-law or an Instacart driver delivers their groceries, or they get a meal delivered from Edwins. Their prescriptions, from the Shaker Square CVS Pharmacy, are delivered too. In February, they both came down with terrible flu-like symptoms. They were sick for two weeks, and Diann was in bed for five days. But they both recovered. “Now we look at each other and say, ‘maybe we should get that test,’” says Diann. But for the foreseeable future they’re playing it safe. Visits with neighbors will still be a no-no — “Our kids would kill us if we go out,” laughs Diann — so the Yambors are connecting however they can, waving from their lawn or porch, taking socially distanced walks or driving around the neighborhood they love. “We’ve been on the same tank of gas for two months,” says Diann.

Clare, Nora, Ben, Audrey and Julia Martin, Old Brooklyn

The Martin family — mom Clare, 11-year-old Nora, 13-year-old Ben, 8-year-old Audrey and 5-year-old Julia — had been keeping entertained with projects. They made M&M ice cream in a new ice cream machine. Ben, an Boy Scout, learned to code an Arduino microcomputer. Nora read the entire Harry Potter series in two weeks. Clare, a children’s minister at Christ Church, took a furlough from her job to coordinate the constructive chaos. They had stayed inside most of the time — “Nora’s best friend lives next door. They haven’t seen each other in six weeks,” says Clare — but one day the yard was looking awfully good. In the garage, they had built a stand-alone hammock with spare lumber and parts, and the Martins dragged it out onto their front yard. They took turns basking in the sun, reading books and played with their dog, Winston. It was April, but with the kids out of school and Julia running around without a coat, it felt like July. “We have been trying to convince her all day that it’s not summer,” says Clare. “She was not having it.” With in-person church services on hold for the foreseeable future, Clare wasn’t sure when she’d go back to work. “People keep saying, ‘oh, when it gets back to normal,’” she says. “There isn’t going to be a ‘normal.”

Kassity Moore and Jordan Simmons, Ohio City

Call them the bunny ladies of Ohio City. In the tiny patch of front yard outside their home, partners Kassity Moore and Jordan Simmons keep their bunnies, Little Guy (he’s the big one) and Little Angel (she’s the angelic one). Simmons and Moore have been spending a lot more time on their porch since the stay-at-home order went into effect, and Little Guy and Little Angel are a wonderful conversation starter. “We’ve met a lot of neighbors,” says Moore. The pair were caught off guard by the order. In fact, they were in South Lake Tahoe, California, skiing for a day after a climate conference Simmons was set to attend was canceled because of COVID-19. With the slopes shut down, Simmons and Moore decided to rent a car and drive home to Cleveland instead of risking a plane ride. Worried that state borders could get shut down, they found an app that listed free campgrounds and slept in the car. They arrived safely back home March 23, the day Ohio’s stay-at-home order went into effect. Since then Moore, a house painter, and Simmons, a writer for the news website Front Page Live, have both been able to continue working, live-streaming church services from their church, First Lutheran Church in Lorain, and spending evenings on the porch with Little Guy and Little Angel. “We’re very blessed,” says Simmons.

Antonia Marinucci and Lorenzo Green, Ohio City

It was chilly, but that didn’t stop Antonia Marinucci from putting on a coat and taking her laptop out on the porch. While her son, Lorenzo, played with Tonka trucks, the architect tried to squeeze in some work. Antonia normally works from home while her husband, Jeff Green, is at the office and the children are in day care. But the coronavirus has upended that routine. Watching the kids while she works has been a transition. “They’re 1 and 3 [years old],” Antonia says, “which isn’t the most productive age for work. We’re doing our best.” A truck drove past. “Oh look, the mail truck is coming by!” said Lorenzo. He dropped his Tonka to wave. Another way 3-year-old Lorenzo has stayed occupied has been a neighborhood drawing project. Every week, an email goes out to the neighborhood email list selecting a theme. The kids color pictures and post them in their front windows, so they can be seen by people walking by. This week’s theme was Disney and Lorenzo colored pictures from Cars. Lorenzo and Antonia posed in front of them. “Cheeeeeeese,” said Lorenzo.