Focus On: Lindsay Bilchik & Family

This has been a special time for our family of 3 to be together before baby number 2 arrives in mid-May. We are getting creative with ways to entertain our two-year-old son Harley, while both trying to work from home. We’re doing lots of cooking together, playing outside, watching movies and cuddles! 

I am an Interior Designer and I own my own business, L. Kate Interiors LLC. I normally work from home and have clients in the local CT and NY area. Currently there is very little work that I can do since venders are temporarily closed across the nation and contractors cannot go inside homes to finish up projects. I am able to do some design work for future projects but cannot get anything completed for current jobs. Luckily my clients have been very understanding during this time and I hope to get things moving again as soon as we can! I’ve enjoyed seeing how past clients are enjoying spending so much time in their homes that have been fully furnished and designed by LKI. My husband Zach, is a Sales Director for a digital ad tech company. Given the effects of COVID-19 he is now working at home full time vs his normal commute into New York four days a week. Business has definitely been affected, but with all of the advancements in virtual conference calls, he’s still been able to keep up with all of his normal responsibilities from the comfort of his home office (our dining room!). 

I started hearing about it at the end of January but didn’t understand the impact. Now, the biggest change in my daily life is the lack of work that I am able to do at this time. I am used to dropping off my son at daycare every morning and filling my entire day with work until I pick him up. Normally, my days go by fast but I accomplish a lot and that feels good! The things that make me feel accomplished now have completely switched and the days are longer but I am able to have time with my family which is a wonderful silver lining to all this. 

I am very proud of our community. I think we all jumped into Social Distancing very quickly for something that seemed so surreal and foreign to us. Places we all love to go to in town and look forward to visiting are empty, streets are quiet but people are still smiling and friendly. For such a scary time, I am impressed with how we have all handled this. 

Growing up Jewish and learning about the history of our culture and the hardships that were endured has given me a unique perspective on life. Nothing can prepare you to live through what we are experiencing now, but understanding that difficult times have occurred throughout history allows you to look beyond the immediate effect on daily life and see the bigger picture that we’ll make it through okay. 

My hope is that this ends soon but that we don’t forget what we learned. I think this has the potential to change us for the better and how we are as a society and how we treat the planet. Although this is difficult and every single day is hard, I have learned to be much more patient and accepting. I’ve learned to slow down and appreciate the little moments and beauty around me. Thus far I have been very lucky as this virus hasn’t hit anyone in my close inner circle but it does put our lives into perspective. No one is invincible, no one is safe and the true heroes are shining through. We need to celebrate the heroes during and well after this ends, they need to remain the highly respected people we all look up to and appreciate. They should be the people our children want to grow up to be. 

We need to celebrate the heroes during and well after this ends, they need to remain the highly respected people we all look up to

Being a teacher is hard, being a mother is hard, being pregnant is hard, running a business is hard, but being everything at the same time is near impossible. I’m trying to stay positive everyday and giving it my best! 

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To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.

Focus On: Dawn Collins

Dawn Collins has lived in Westport for 20 years although she originally hails from Maine. She lives with her daughter, a high school freshman, their dog and cat. 

My best friend’s daughter is a NICU [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit] nurse and she emphasized the seriousness of Corona Virus from the beginning. I am an elementary school special education paraprofessional and from the minute they sent us home from school, I didn’t go out without mask and hand sanitizer. People told me I was fool and that I looked like an idiot, and that masks do nothing but I didn’t care. I keep my groceries on my porch then I wash them and bring them in. I’m keeping us safe—my child, and myself.  

I wasn’t as scared in the beginning but I am more scared now. It’s the dribs and drabs of information coming in and the arrogant people who continue to cluster and think it’s not going to happen to them. I wonder is it because they feel they are that important or that they can afford the best doctors? I’m not sure what the thinking is and it scares me. I do think it’s harder on other people than on me because they haven’t learned to live without.  Before this we didn’t go out to dinner, we weren’t shopping to keep ourselves busy. So, on that end, I’m good. 

 In the morning on the last day of school we were told to help out making packets for what we hoped was a temporary closure and literally by the end of day it was “all hands on deck” making packets because we weren’t coming back. It went from 0 to 60 right away. We were hopeful it would be only a couple of weeks but anyone at that time who read news or was following international stories knew it was going to be much longer and was doubtful we’d return to school this year. Now teachers have an incredible amount of work. I’m stunned about how much they have to do. They’re working so much harder now while having to take care of their own kids at home. 

…teachers have an incredible amount of work. I’m stunned about how much they have to do.

I’ve been very busy, supporting my teachers by helping to provide activities that special education students can do at home and resources for parents to help them.  I’m also making masks for my friend’s daughter and the nurses she knows. So far, I’ve made 50 for her and her friends. It is good because I’m a person who needs a purpose. 

My hope coming out of this is that we will all continue to be good neighbors. People have shown me such kindness, I can’t even believe it. My fear is that so many people will lose their jobs. I don’t fear for myself–I’ve been poor, I’ve been needy, I know how to do it. I’m scared for the people in our community who work in hospitality or retail. What’s going to happen to them? I hope that people will take note. There are still people who think this is a hoax. I can’t wrap my head around that, that’s worrisome. I just want people to continue to be nice to each other.  

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To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.

Focus On: Larry Untermeyer

At 91 years old, Larry Untermeyer is still very much the international jet-setting man-about-town he was back in his days as an original “mad man” in the heady golden era of Manhattan’s advertising scene. A 58-year resident of Westport, Larry moved here with wife, Nikki, and raised two children. He is known to most about Westport as the gentleman with the camera—a second career born out of a hobby from his advertising days. The adopted son of the celebrated poet, Louis Untermeyer, Larry’s life reads like an adventure novel: He’s been on the stage, served in the Army during the Korean War both entertaining troops and as a special service agent, worked as a producer in television, radio, motion pictures and documentaries. He continues his world travels—58 countries and counting– including, recently, a photo-safari to Africa.  

“Being cooped up is hardest for me. I feel like a caged lion but I think we’re all handling it. The town is handling it. It’s a great town, by the way, I wouldn’t have lived anywhere else and I could have. I stayed here because of the beautiful town and great people.  

I could go crazy if I wanted to but I don’t want to. I do wish I was a few years younger to be running around. I have another great-grandchild on the way in August, in Germany. My first great grandchild—Luna—is 1 ½. I wanted to go to Germany and Italy this year, but that’s all blown up now. Of course, I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again. I’m here waiting to see if I can travel. I still take pictures from my window—a lot of them. And I have a lot of pictures to organize, so I’m pretty busy here.

I can’t complain—I’ve been lucky in my life in many respects. I’ve twisted through the forest and made it through. A lot of my friends didn’t. If I can hang in for a few more years until we get out of this mess than I can get back to doing what I was doing. 

I’ve been lucky in my life in many respects. I’ve twisted through the forest and made it through.

I am very fearful about the fact that I don’t think this country will be the same again. I think we are in for terrible times for the next generation. It will depend on the next president. If it’s Trump for another four years I wouldn’t want to be here, he is a horrible man who has done horrible things. I have no respect for anyone in the Congress, even Democrats, who didn’t scream enough and didn’t do enough to fight. The little TV that I watch is so full of disinformation that it’s disheartening. I am afraid this country is going to be a dictatorship soon –it’s all being made up as they go along and nobody stops them. 

For now, I’ll stay in my house and behave. I can do it. I get angry but I can do it. When the weather turns better, I’ll be on the porch. Of course, there’s a number of things I worry about– I can’t get cleaners in or house maintenance done.  But hey, if my yard grows to be a big field, I might have to plant oats and alfalfa. When I was young, I grew up on a farm in upstate New York so I’m very familiar with that sort of thing. I just remind myself, I have a beautiful house, and a beautiful property. I still have a few dollars in the bank. I’m luckier than 99% of the people in the world. 

Explore More of “Westport In Focus”

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.

Focus On: Liz Britten & Family

I was aware of COVID in January because of what was happening in China. In February, we were in Costa Rica on winter break and things started getting serious. Our airline sent out an email saying like that they were shutting down flights from certain places. In that moment I knew we had to get home right away. 

We’ve lived in Westport six and half years, and I have seven-year-old twins who are in second grade at Kings Highway. I’m always grateful that I have kids but especially now because they give me direction during the day. We wake up, we have breakfast, we get ready for school, just like we would on a regular day. Then we have stuff to get through — reading, writing math, word work, science, Spanish.  

I don’t live in a big house so everybody’s home. And that’s great because we like each other. But you know, all day now I’m mom and teacher and wife and I need to exercise and need to make meals for everybody and still need to clean the house and take care of myself and it’s just nonstop. Of course, when you have young kids when you’re in the throes of it, you feel like you’re not tearing your hair out. But I try and remind myself that this has been amazing family time because I think my most common complaint about life before quarantine, especially in Westport, was just how intense it is with playdates and practices and activities at homework and school and it’s very busy all the time. I don’t remember it being like that when I was kid. I remember being honestly a little bit more like this where we had family dinners every night and we watched Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune together every night.  

Nobody’s been sick I’m super thankful for that and super grateful that we’ve all been healthy. If this is the worst of it than I made out okay. People like my parents who are elderly and in their 80s, they’re just home and they can’t go anywhere and they can’t go to the supermarket. They can’t see anybody and we can’t see them and they have nothing but time on their hands and that I think must be tricky  

I feel like my twins have bonded a lot over this because they just have each other and nobody else. And that’s been a really positive thing that’s come out of it. I’m amazed at how well they’ve adapted. And they seem like they’re getting a lot of sleep and they’re just chilled out which is nice. A couple of times, both of them have just been off like a little bit emotionally. And then my daughter said yesterday — they just don’t feel like themselves and they can’t put their finger on it. I tell them “I think it’s just because it’s such a crazy time. Dad and I don’t feel like ourselves. Nobody feels like themselves right now because this is a totally new way of life and we’ve never gone through anything like this but the most important thing is that we stay home and we stay healthy. We stay together and we don’t go anywhere and put ourselves at risk or put other people at risk. Eventually life will return to some kind of normal.”

Nobody feels like themselves right now because this is a totally new way of life…but the most important thing is that we stay home and we stay healthy…We stay together

Their biggest question really is when do we get to go back to school? I tell them I wish I knew, but I don’t have any answers. I don’t think that they grasp how big it really is. They do understand that it’s not normal.  The day that they closed school, my daughter’s teacher filled each child’s backpack with books and activities and homework and gave them like, two hours to go to the library and get whatever books they wanted out, and take home anything that they want to take home.  

I emailed our principal and both of my kid’s teachers that night, after I’d gone through the packets that they put together for the kids. I was amazed at the organization of it, the amount of information in it. I felt the next day we were going to hit the ground running with the schoolwork they gave to us. I commend them on that because they had very little time– they had hours to put that all together.  

Their classrooms have been left exactly the way they were when they left that day. Those classrooms are just frozen in time. I don’t think they’ll go back to school this year, but even if they get like one day or two before June 12 just to have some closure on the year– I feel like that would go a long way, especially for my daughter who is always excited about the last day of school, but comes home in tears because it’s so hard for her to say goodbye to her teachers.  

The town is really special and they’ve done an amazing job. Our numbers [of cases] have obviously gone up but I don’t think they’ve gone up in huge increments. I think that is a testament to how serious Westport took it from the beginning. You know, there’s that infamous party where it stemmed from, which was controversial. But I said, and I stand by it: I think that that party ultimately saved lives because if it hadn’t been for that party, and if it hadn’t been for that person getting sick from that party, we would have been dealing with it two weeks later. More people would have gotten sick and more people would have died. Westport got it right in a crazy, unheard of situation. It’s tricky in the US, because of how we live our lives–obviously we move from state to state, and we like our freedoms so I can’t say that it’s been handled as well across the board across the country. But I do feel like in Westport, they did it right. 

My hope is that this summer has a semblance of normalcy like that we can swim in a swimming pool and we can go to the beach and my kids might go to a camp and we can go see my family in Cape Cod and visit our family in the UK, which I don’t think we’ll be able to. I just hope life returns to normal a little bit by then, whatever that looks like.  

I don’t know what this looks like next school year because until they have a vaccine, I don’t think this completely goes away and then if they have a vaccine, some people might opt not to get it, so I think we’ll always– until they have a vaccine– be kind of playing that whack a mole game where you’re just squashing the hotspots as they pop up. In the fall as we transition into flu season again will we have to transition back to homeschooling? Maybe. And I just don’t know what that long term looks like. I’m not afraid of it. I don’t really have any fears. I just obviously don’t want to get sick first of all. 

I was terrified in the beginning, like when that email came out that schools were closing because Westport had its first positive case I broke down into tears and was terrified. I called my mom in tears, and said, I no longer know how to keep my children safe from diseases, from guns– any of it. I follow all the rules and I still can’t do it. But I don’t feel that way anymore. I wear a mask when I go in the grocery store. The kids haven’t really left the house. We wash our hands like maniacs, but we were always supposed to be doing that. And we just stay away from people right now. That’s the best we can do. 

I don’t know what the future looks like. I just hope that come summer that things are a little bit put back together so that we can start having fun again. We’re doing the best that we can. And I know everybody is. We remain hopeful and optimistic and follow the rules so that this will soon be behind us. I hope we can go back to living life the way that– I don’t even want to say go back to living it how we did before because this dial down this has been nice–but just so that we can resume some sense of normalcy.  

Explore More of “Westport In Focus”

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.

Focus On: Navida Greifenberger & Family

Navida Greifenberger has lived in Westport with her husband and almost-9-year-old daughter for 8 years. She is the founder of the Facebook Group Westport Coronavirus Info, a page that provides information to members about all aspects of the pandemic here in town. 

“I have a nine-year-old– almost nine-year-old– and have been busy with homeschooling. I wanted to be part of this project because I felt it would be nice for my daughter because she’s raised in Westport. I thought it would be nice for her to have her family at the History Museum.  

Between homeschooling, and making masks and managing the Facebook group I set up, I’ve been keeping very busy. The days are flying by. 

On Westport Coronavirus Info people discuss basically anything related to how it’s affecting the town, their lives. Social distancing was a major topic. There’s lots and lots of people seeking information on testing and where to get tested and how to get tested. Lots of people are looking at just the numbers and there is a fear factor. 

More recently, which is really sad, we’re seeing more posts of people who actually have loved ones who are sick and seeking donors for plasma donations. And then other assistance from people who have loved ones in hospitals, and they’re seeking PPE equipment. Today we had someone asking for wipes and bleach from Norwalk hospital. It’s really just a bulletin board that people are coming for help, to air their concerns, to find out information, because everything’s changing all the time. Yes, I’ve definitely seen some trends around what things are being posted as time has gone by.  

Through Facebook, I’ve also been taking requests, to make masks and I’m trying to get them to people who are exposed and in exposed positions, but not necessarily at the top of priority list at the moment. I’m actually sitting in front of my sewing machine right now. I’m making a batch for CLASP, which is the organization that takes care of disabled people. I also have a bunch that I’ve been making for a nursing home. And then I’ve been making them for various medical professionals who have reached out to me. They’re all in exposed positions but they’re not really in a position to be able to be on the top of the priority list. I think it just helps you mentally get through this, you know, feeling like you’re contributing in some way, even if it is a small way.  

…it just helps you mentally get through this…feeling like you’re contributing in some way

What I miss is going outside and not being able to work anymore. I do a little bit of freelance work, working with small companies helping them with their marketing and operational type issues. It’s definitely reduced the amount of work I have. I have a lot less work than I had previously. I initially provided some advice to my clients from ways in which they could take their business more online, but now they’re all just hunkering down trying to get through this. And I’ve just accepted that I’m not going to be working much through this period. I’m one of the lucky ones who doesn’t rely on my particular income to pay the bills, so I’m not too worried about it in the short term. 

I do like to see my friends fairly regularly and not being able to see them has been a big blow. I’ve been doing everything and anything to stay in touch with people. Zoom, and the Houseparty [app] that I’ve never even heard of before but mostly Google Hangouts, FaceTime, you know, anything and everything that anybody wants to use to get connected.  

I think people are understandably very worried, and you see a lot of fear and uncertainty. And I think that’s just the same as it is all over the country and all over the world. I think the one thing about this community– I’m sure it’s in other communities too– but I really did notice in this community, is that immediately as soon as things became apparent that the community had been affected, you immediately saw people stepping up and wanting to find ways to help and reaching out to people and setting up various types of support mechanisms. I’m always amazed by that in Westport. I think that whenever there’s any kind of untoward happening, everybody steps up and tries to find ways to help everybody else. 

I think in my personal life, I’ve experienced a lot of different environments and a lot of change so change doesn’t frighten me, change of circumstances doesn’t worry me. I’ve also gone through some strange experiences. I don’t really want to go into them in detail, but I’ve experienced bomb blasts and you know, listened to bomb blasts as a child and having missiles flying over my head. And I feel like those sorts of experiences kind of make you feel that when in times of crisis, you know that you’ll probably get through and you just look for ways to move forward. I think I’m more of the mindset of “okay– this has happened, and now what do we do about it?” rather than just getting into panic about it. 

My greatest hope is that it’s going to be over as soon as possible without too much disruption, which I think is everybody’s hope. And my greatest fear is just how much havoc it’s going to wreak and how long lasting of an impact is going to have. Is it that we just have to bear the brunt of it for a few months and then everything goes back to normal and the economy recovers and, people go back to their lives? Or is this just going to be a cycle that goes on for a longer period that leaves devastation in terms of unemployment and people losing their livelihood and people dying? And that’s my biggest fear is that this goes on for a lot longer than we’re hoping. “ 

Explore More of “Westport In Focus”

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.