This weekend is the one-year anniversary of The Last Normal Weekend, which as I pat myself on the back, I would say makes a pretty good title for any kind of movie someone wants to make about, well, The Last Normal Weekend.
It was this weekend one year ago before the world really changed, well, for good, it seems. Yes, COVID-19 was among us. But it had yet to make its way to Tulare County. On this weekend a year ago, we had no idea what was about to come. All you know what was about to break loose.
This weekend was the last weekend a year ago in which we were still pretty much living a normal life. Not that our normal lives in Porterville had already been upended.
In Porterville everything really changed on February 18, 2020 when a fire destroyed our beloved Porterville Public Library and killed two of our firefighters, Captain Ray Figueroa and Patrick Jones.
After that nothing was really normal, would never really be normal and eventually we would be wondering if our lives would ever be normal again.
How many times have I already used the word normal in this column? I guess that shows how much I yearn for normalcy.
But after The Last Normal Weekend came the first case in Tulare County on March 11. Then came March 12 — The Day After — when all of a sudden we were told pretty much we can't hold events with large gatherings. Thus, the second weekend of March became the first weekend of “The New Normal.”
We had no idea how long this would be going on. We thought maybe we would start holding events again in April. But then those events got canceled. Then in May events got canceled.
The hope that some kind of normalcy would return again in the summer was dashed. Now on the one-year anniversary of The Last Normal Weekend, we're still waiting.
We had no idea what was to come. We had already dealt with the Porterville Library Fire. Then came COVID-19. Then came the summer of reckoning over racial justice after George Floyd's death, which hit home, too. Then came the Sequoia Complex. Then came Charlie's Bar and Grill burning down to the ground.
February 15, 2020. That's another date I remember because that's the date the first article I wrote on COVID-19 appeared in The Recorder. If there's one lead I could go back and rewrite, it's the lead to that article. But it's there for posterity.
“More than 8,000 people have died from the flu this season so far in the United States, so the flu remains a greater threat to Americans than the coronavirus.”
So I can imagine on the 50th anniversary of COVID-19 in 2070, whoever the editor of the Recorder is will write something like “No one at the time would no how bad the COVID-19 pandemic would be as demonstrated by this lead written by then-Porterville Recorder Editor Charles Whisnand.”
I interviewed Sierra View Medical Center Vice President Dr. Jeffrey Hudson-Covolo about how Sierra View was planning to deal with COVID-19. I kept trying to direct him to say how the flu was still more serious than COVID-19, because you know, I'm a responsible journalist and all that, and I didn't want to panic people.
But he stayed laser focused on how serious COVID-19 could be. He wouldn't even shake my hand, instead opting for a fist bump. I kept thinking, “man this guy is really overreacting.” How I wished I would have, you know, really listened to him. Because you know, he knew what he was doing, and he certainly knew a lot more about the situation than me, which obviously, was nothing.
August 19, 2020. I remember on that day I checked the Sequoia National Forest Facebook page which posted something about a fire that was 5 acres. Nothing to worry about, I thought to myself. Will I ever learn? Of course that was the fire that turned into the Sequoia Complex
After that February 15 article three weeks later came The Last Normal Weekend. After that our lives were changed forever. And as it turned out in many more ways than one.
Charles Whisnand is The Porterville Recorder Editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 784-5000, extension 1048.