MaryLou Roels is used to moving.
In 35 years of marriage the Chicago native has lived in Dallas, back to Chicago, Phoenix and — from 2000 to 2020 — Seattle.
Her husband Chuck manages assets for computer resales. She’s taught psychology, sociology and classical flute; been a realtor; started a non-profit that provides clothes for people entering the job market, and served as Washington director for the Sarcoma Foundation of America.
Along the way, she raised 3 children. They’re now scattered around the country.
So when a recruiter called Chuck and offered him a job with an East Coast hedge fund, he and MaryLou said “sure!”
They figured theirs would be a normal goodbye, to friends and colleagues they’d grown close to over their 20 years in the Pacific Northwest.
But they lived in Redmond. They bordered Kirkland: ground zero for the first coronavirus outbreak in the US. When MaryLou, Chuck and their cat got in their car to drive east, they left in the midst of a pandemic.
Of course, the full crisis had not yet hit much of America. By Montana, MaryLou says, most people said, “Wear a mask? What are you talking about?!” She went to the gym for the first time in a month.
It was the same all across the country.
By the time the couple reached their new home though — Westport — “it was like the first day in Seattle.” Our town was in the throes of COVID-19. Dozens of Westporters had been infected. Twenty or so had died.
MaryLou and Chuck had brought plenty of masks and hand sanitizers. They were in short supply.
The couple was used to moving to a new, unfamiliar place. Yet they’d never done it when that new place was unfamiliar even to longtime residents. Everything here was shut down.
“We read ‘06880’ to get a sense of the town,” MaryLou says. “But every story was about what used to be.”
She walked Compo Beach alone. She loved it. But she had the place to herself.
Slowly though, the town has been opening up. Just as slowly, MaryLou is discovering what Westport really is like. She likens it to a child making sense of the world.
She enjoys learning the town’s history. She marvels at the stone walls, deer and foxes (and was fascinated to find the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald connection. She looks forward to going to Italian restaurants.
She and Chuck meet neighbors on walks. They ask if they’re “the new people. Everyone is so nice. They say hello. It’s nothing like the ‘Seattle freeze.'”
That’s as far as it goes, however. “We can’t really do much socializing,” MaryLou observes. “There are not really any barbecues.”
Still, MaryLou says, “I love Westport! I know that’s odd, because I don’t have anything to do yet. I’m sure I’ll have a project soon.”
That was our conversation last week. The next day, she emailed me with news.
MaryLou had already landed a job. She joins an educational firm, discussing the online K-12 model with superintendents, curriculum directors and other personnel.
She’ll work from home. So she’ll still have plenty of time to walk at the beach and around her neighborhood. She’ll watch the wildlife, and sample our restaurants.
Welcome to Westport, MaryLou and Chuck! There really is a lot going on here — even with the pandemic. Enjoy!