90-year-old ready to get back to life of service, waiting on first COVID vaccine dose

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Her knitting needles looking like natural projections of her still-nimble hands, 90-year-old Jarrett checked in on one of her proteges via Zoom recently.

“Well, I tried the double stockinette stitch, but that was really hard,” 10-year-old Anna Delong said as she stitched away on a split screen.

That’s the closest Jarrett is getting right now to Delong, other children from Grandview Christian Church and the people she loves to visit with the church’s “calling group” when those folks are unable to get out themselves.

The Johnson City woman’s rich and active lifestyle — in normal times, anyway — is one reason she’s been eagerly seeking an avenue to her first dose of the COVID vaccine. Two daughters live locally and have been helping, but a trip to Bristol Motor Speedway Jan. 19 ended in disappointment.

“We tried to get it, and I haven’t gotten it yet, but it’ll come — it’ll come,” Jarrett said.

Alice Jarrett, center, teaches a knitting class at Grandview Christian Church pre-COVID.

She’s approaching the wait she shares with many other older Tennesseans philosophically, as is daughter Cindy Schade. Schade said when the Sullivan County Health Department offered another mass, first-come, first-served vaccination event Jan. 22 the family took a pass.

“We didn’t think we wanted to be out at six in the morning or whatever it would take to get it,” Schade said.

The wait is trying for Jarrett, though. She’s very involved in intergenerational activities at Grandview, including teaching knitting to children for two 10-week courses each year during the church’s Wednesday night “Two4Two” series.

“It’ll be awhile before we can all get together, I’m sure, but if I can help young people learn to knit, that’s fabulous to me,” Jarrett said.

Their mother’s eagerness to serve and interact is what’s driving Schade and her sister, Becky Allsop, to leave no stone unturned in the quest for a vaccine appointment.

They’ve called an urgent care center, Ballad Health and tried the mass event. Jarrett’s also on a waiting list with the Washington County Health Department. “We might hear from them as well next week,” Schade said hopefully.

A COVID-weary congregation

Heather Lawson is Grandview’s children’s minister and said elders like Jarrett are an integral part of Grandview’s strong focus on intergenerational community. She said developing meaningful relationships with adults who aren’t in a person’s own family is a pathway to a fuller life.

“It makes us all healthier as people,” Lawson said. “Our children are not only blessed but taught and nurtured by people who are older than them who have had life experiences that they can’t necessarily relate to.” 

Lawson said the benefits run both ways.

“I think it means a lot for Alice to be able to take those life experiences and pour them into other people in a beneficial and meaningful way,” Lawson said.

She said the church remains hopeful that the rollout of a vaccine and declining case numbers will open the door to much more in-person interaction soon.

“We are fatigued,” Lawson said. “We miss one another deeply. We’ve been able to maybe bridge some gaps through virtual means, but it’s not the same.” 

Stuck mostly in her condominium just a block from the church — an easy walk for the spry nonagenarian — Jarrett is making the best of it all.

“I don’t go calling,” she said of visits to shut-ins, “I call people and I send cards but I can’t go into their places yet and see them.”

She also can’t help Anna Delong and a host of other kids who’ve gotten interested in a fading craft thanks to her deft hands and big heart. At least not in person.

But the woman who lived through the Great Depression and World War II is taking it in stride, even after a recent exposure at her complex.

“As long as I’m not exposed anymore I think we’ll be fine — and when they get it, I’ll be ready to take it.”

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