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Community rallies to support seniors on lockdown with classic car parade

Submitted by Leslie Gilliam • Jul 4, 2020 at 6:15 PM

NORTON — Mac Collier donned his 1956 high school letterman sweater from the former J.J. Kelly High School in Wise, Virginia. “It still fits. Well, maybe it’s a bit snugger,” Collier said, with a smile. Then, placing a “Limited Edition 1939” baseball cap on his head, he moved to his seat joining other residents of The Laurels Retirement and Assisted Living Home in Norton for a classic car parade and Fifties’ Day celebration in late June.

Residents sat outside, lining the driveway, tapping their toes and nodding their heads to songs they remembered from sock hops and drive-ins.

Coming up the driveway in the lead car was Dave Williams, vice-president of Kingsport’s Dan’l Boone Region Antique Automobile Club of America, sounding the horn of his black 2001 Mustang Saleen convertible.

“Classic cars always make people smile,” he said. “We’re honored to bring some cheer to our most valuable resource: our seniors.”

And smiles are what these residents need as they enter their fourth month of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For many of the men and women who call The Laurels home, parades are one of the few opportunities they have to see anyone other than residents or staff.

“Self-isolation for this long is challenging for our seniors,” said Cheryl Henry, executive director of The Laurels. “We are always looking for ways to engage them in fun and meaningful activities beyond our current offerings.”

Residents waved to drivers as they circled through the driveway, sun glinting off the hoods of models like a bright red Studebaker truck, a silver Ford Thunderbird, and an orange El Camino. Families of the residents joined the parade waving mini American flags or holding signs wishing loved ones “Happy Father’s Day.”

The residents voted Curtis Martin’s larkspur blue, 1957 Chevy 4-door 210 their favorite. The Wise resident was happy he attended. “It’s all for the seniors,” he said, motioning to the crowd behind him.

Following the parade, residents enjoyed a true soda shop style meal of hamburgers, French fries, milkshakes, ice cream and glass-bottled cokes donated by area businesses including Wendy’s, Pals, McDonalds, Sonic, Burger King, Dairy Queen and Food City. Sturgill Funeral Home provided tents to keep family members dry and at an appropriate social distance from their loved ones.

“This is tremendous,” said Garnett Gilliam, The Laurel’s resident, area historian and founder of the Lonesome Pine School and Heritage Center which helped sponsor the event. “We’ve been looking forward to this for weeks. These cars are top-notch.”

People of this generation know what it’s like to wait. Whether it was staying inside when polio was raging or waiting for word from an overseas sweetheart or relative during wartime, they are no stranger to biding their time. But having the community show their support makes the time go by faster.

And a chocolate milkshake never hurts either.

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