Liz Perone | Lac Du Flambeau, WI
When the Covid started in March, and people started getting sick, I wanted to go back to nursing. But I have a bad back, so I couldn’t do it. I wanted to be able to do something to give back, so I started to sew masks. First, I had to learn how to thread my sewing machine, and then I started to sew.
My husband was off work on hazard pay, so I enlisted him to help me which he wasn’t very happy about, but he did it and we started making masks together. This actually helped us get along better. When I was doing it on my own, I was getting kind of crabby and short, but when he started helping me, we joked. We talked. We got along better.
So that went on for a few months and when he went back to work, we had already made over six hundred masks. We had kind of like a two-person assembly line. And we would hand them out. Whenever we saw somebody without a mask, we’d offer ‘em one. I even stopped on the road one time and there was an elderly non-tribal couple that were stopped on that road. I just got out of my truck and they looked at me like, “Wow! What’s going on?” And I handed them two masks and they said, “Thank you.”
From the get-go, the tribal community has worked together to keep people safe. I read somewhere that there is a disproportionate toll on the tribe’s health and economy. We closed down the community center, the casino. They have partially opened up again with precautions: masks, no smoking in the casino anymore, distance, and sanitizing.
People started to ask me for masks. I’d get texts from people and they’d stop over at the house. Or, with an elderly person or somebody that couldn’t get around, I would drive out to their house to give them some. I’m continuing to make masks, but I can’t afford the supplies much more on my own. I told people, if they bring over the supplies or any kind of material, I’d be happy to do it for ‘em.
Making the masks kept me busy while sheltering in place. It kept me less anxious. I enjoyed handing out the masks. It made me feel like I was doing some part in the medical field. And I was helping people to protect themselves and other people to protect each other in some capacity. I’ve seen it from the beginning, you know, being home. A lot of people were coming over and bringing me things. And I thought maybe it was because I’m old. But I think it was because we were hibernating for a while. They’d bring fish, or food, sweet grass, sage …. our traditional medicines. I thought it was me. I thought, “Wow. I’m finally a real elder.” But I think it was more our tribal way of caring about and for people.
This young lady next door to me has underlying conditions. I thought, “I’ve got to go over and take her some masks.” I offered her the masks because I knew she had young teenagers. I gave her like four masks and she just said, “Oh, thank you!” And she looked up at the sky and she said, “Thank God.” It was unbelievable that a mask could mean that much.
Hopefully with COVID we get some kind of cure. It’s not going to just go away, I believe. We have to keep safe distance and wash our hands. Keep your loved ones close and safe …. and your friends. I think it’s really important to be sure you tell everybody you love them.
I asked my husband what is the first thing he would do after we get the immunizations or whatever and he said he would like to go to Red Lobster. And I said, “well the first thing I’m going to do, if anybody gets within arm’s reach, they’re getting a hug.” I miss that. I’m a hugger.
Liz’s story is part of Love Wisconsin’s Covid-19 series. Through this series we are featuring shorter stories to offer a time capsule into life in Wisconsin during this extraordinary time.