Focus On: Arlene Yolles

Arlene Yolles has lived in Westport since 1979. A retired math teacher, Arlene writes a blog of amusing anecdotes called (A)musings by Arlene at A long-time supporter and volunteer at the Westport Museum, Arlene is also an avid walker and bicyclist who works part time as a math tutor.

“It’s hard to believe we are more than a year into this pandemic. In February, 2020, my husband and I were on a cruise ship from Florida, and I don’t remember hearing anything about Covid-19. A week later, the very same cruise ship was quarantined for 2 weeks with passengers since many of them were infected! A couple of days after we returned we started hearing about it, but it wasn’t critical. Then, of course the whole town began to isolate from March 13, following the schools.   

The biggest change for me, like for most people, is that I’m used to seeing people every day. I am not one to stay in my house. I’m not an early riser but I used to be out of the house by one o’clock and didn’t come back until five. I used to spend a lot of time at the Y—not just for exercise and yoga classes but because there were so many people I spoke to: my Y friends. You get a lot of good advice in the women’s locker room, just standing and talking! I miss the camaraderie.   

I still go out every day for a walk around the neighborhood or I will take my car to Compo and walk around the beach. People are very considerate. When this began, you know, back in March, 2020, if somebody was coming towards me on the sidewalk, I would cross over to the other side. Or if I couldn’t, I would go six feet out into the road where no car was coming. And now I find people are doing that as a matter of course as well as wearing masks. I am grateful for the help and friendliness of our neighbors and people who live in Westport.  

Nothing in my life really prepared me for this because I’ve been fortunate — there have been no dreadful illnesses in my family. Plus, I am not a forward thinker. I like to mull over things in the past rather than think about the future. So, I couldn’t imagine something like this. Did my personal life prepare me for this? Not really, but I think I’m coping well considering that this is totally different from my usual life.   

Everything is a new experience. The good thing is that we’re in touch with everybody from everywhere, it doesn’t matter where the person is, you can be connected online. My background as Math teacher serves me well with computer literacy.  I’m 76 years old and I know a lot of people my age who have trouble with stuff like this but I’ve learned what I need to learn about Zoom, WhatsApp, etc.  

My husband, Marty, knows so much about technology and electronics as an electronics engineer that we’re never at a loss.  We enjoy many cultural activities online from places we used to buy tickets from like the 92nd Street Y and The Music Theater of Connecticut. Lifetime Learners offers us classes. We also take advantage of local theater productions, library programs, and of course the Westport Museum’s activities, all remotely. We’ve attended a virtual Bas Mitzvah, Thanksgiving, a Seder, Sabbath services and, sadly, a funeral.  My Thursday night poker game has gone virtual so that’s something I look forward to each week! 

I’m not tutoring online — it wouldn’t be the same experience and I feel sorry for teachers and parents of school children during the pandemic. Both my daughter and step-daughter are teachers and find this a very challenging time.  A friend of mine teaches pre-school and that’s a nightmare!  How do you teach little ones how to tie their shoes, take care of bathroom activities, etc. without getting close to them?  

I’m personally more afraid of getting sick with COVID than of dying from it.  I have a pretty good immune system. I’m very healthy.  I am a biker and a swimmer and look forward to going back to the Y when I feel it’s safe enough. Maybe after my second vaccination!  My other fear is that people I love may get sick. My hope is that we look at things a little bit differently in the future and realize how much we owe to neighbors, friends, relatives, loved ones. My hope is that we should learn from and keep some of the things we’ve adopted such as being considerate, caring, and helping people who are less fortunate, like elderly or sick people.

 I hear good stories about people helping others but I’m disappointed that the numbers are increasing, although it was predicted with colder weather and schools opening up.  I think Westport is doing well; I see people being responsible, wearing masks and socially distancing.  What I don’t see, however, is what happens in their homes. I fear that here, as well as in cities across our nation, people are exhausted from restrictions and yearn for company (as I do) and invite friends and family into their homes without sufficient caution to not spread the virus.  When I see large crowds on the news – many people not wearing masks – it’s worrisome.

If we are ever faced with another pandemic, I hope we’re better prepared. And I hope that our nation’s leaders prepare us earlier, not say it’s a hoax or it’s not happening. And take a real hard look at how we are set up in our hospitals. It’s easy to say eh we don’t need this, nothing like this has ever happened in 50 years. But when it happens, you need it. And so don’t be so fast to get rid of it. You know? Equipment or a committee or whatever.

We have to take care of ourselves and our planet.  This isn’t the first virus we have encountered and it won’t be the last.  We have to listen to the scientists and doctors who give us advice and procedures to follow. We all need to pull together to combat such devastating medical emergencies as this and those that will arise.” 

We have to listen to the scientists and doctors who give us advice and procedures to follow

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