Home alone: Pandemic style

Chuck Platt lost his wife, his dog and his cat last summer. This summer, he's staying home because of the coronavirus pandemic. He's a little bit reclusive, though, so he doesn't mind the alone time.

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September 8, 2020 - 9:55 AM

Iolan Chuck Platt considers himself somewhat of a social recluse anyway, so he’s adapted rather well to the social distancing restrictions and isolation required by the COVID-19 pandemic. He does miss playing in community bands and orchestras, though. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

Chuck Platt will debate with anyone the risks of COVID-19, knowing full well it’s a lost cause.

“You’re not going to convince some people,” he said.

For now, he has bigger worries.

“They’ve been saying we’re going to get these big rains,” he muttered Wednesday afternoon. “And then, nothing.”

The lack of moisture has done a number on his lawn.

“My poor lawn,” he said. “It smells like fried chicken.”

Keeping a manicured lawn has always been more than a hobby.

At first, it was his outlet, a way to keep busy when not at work. 

Then, when he opened Coast to Coast Hardware in Iola in 1986, a pristine lawn became part of his business strategy.

“I could say, ‘Hey, go look at my place. I use this product,’” Platt noted. 

Now more than a decade after retiring, Platt still takes pride in his neatly cut grass, trimmed trees and bushes. “I mowed this section in anticipation of you coming here,” he told a Register reporter.

But more than that, yard work remains a vital outlet for Platt, 81, who is leery of venturing out because of the coronavirus threat.

“I’m still scared to death of it,” he said. “Call me a nerd, but I really do not want to take any chances.”

PLATT recalled a recent debate with a younger fellow, a skeptic of the dangers of COVID-19.

“If I get sick, it’ll be just like getting a cold,” the man told Platt. “I’ll put up with it, and then I’ll get back to work.”

“First of all, I don’t think you’re right,” Platt countered. “Secondly, what you’re going to do is make me sick. It is going to make a difference with me.”

In addition to his advanced years, Platt cites his medical history, which makes him more susceptible to an adverse reaction to the virus. He had a kidney removed about two years ago, and then suffered a stroke while recovering from surgery. (He’s since largely recovered, aside from difficulty with remembering names and, and on occasion, specific words.)

On top of his health issues, life has taken its toll. Last year, Emy, his wife of 58 years passed away. Platt had served as her primary caretaker for the last several years of her life. 

“She was so low physically and mentally, it was starting to drag me down. It was not fun while she was sick. I’m sure it’s like that for anybody who’s gone through the same thing. 

“And now, it’s not the same without her.”

Soon after Emy’s passing, his dog, and then his cat, died.

“Everything piled up at once,” he said, attempting to give a half-hearted laugh at the absurdity of his life becoming a proverbial country music ballad.

“Just when you think it can’t get any worse, this virus comes in.”

Yet Platt refuses to mope.

“I’m adjusting,” he said. “I’ve had to do a lot of adjusting on a lot of fronts.”

“I’m fixing most of my meals, although I use mostly frozen stuff. I can do the basics, like mac and cheese. I’m getting by pretty well without having to go out.”

PLATT admits a secret. He’s never been that fond of large crowds to begin with.

It was always Emy who dragged him to public functions. 

“She was the PR person,” he said.

Being deaf in one ear has always hindered his social skills, he maintains.

And, for someone who was never good at recalling names of casual acquaintances, avoiding folks altogether seemed the easier route.

“I stick to the Howard Hughes playbook,” he said of the famous recluse and germaphobe. “I really am trying not to associate too closely with too many people. I still think that’s the key to avoiding this virus.”

So, what’s life like in a pandemic?

“Every day is Saturday for me,” he says in an effort to paint a cheery picture.

Platt limits his excursions to two a week. 

He does his grocery shopping first thing in the morning one day a week. And the other day he visits a local restaurant also first thing in the morning, though he’s rethinking that outing because its management does not require employees to wear face masks.

The other big adjustment to his life this summer was pulling out from the band program.

Almost from the time he and Emy arrived in Iola in 1986, Platt became a fixture with the Iola Municipal Band, and the Iola Area Community Orchestra. “It really became my hobby, and my entertainment.” Once the pandemic was declared, Platt put his clarinet away.

“You can’t mask up with a clarinet,” he said.

Platt ventured to one of the outdoor band concerts this summer as a spectator. There, he was greeted by several of his old bandmates, and others happy to see him in the audience.

They were almost too happy to see him.

“Everybody was wanting to shake hands,” he noted, which again started to make him uncomfortable with being so social amid a pandemic.

He’s hopeful the pandemic will be largely eradicated by next year so he can return to the band, “even though I’m not that good at it. My mother was a piano teacher for 50 years.I grew up with her teaching piano, but it never rubbed off on me.”

And, Platt notes, most of the musicians his age have hung up their horns and drumsticks.

“I don’t do stairs very well, and there are stairs at the bandstand,” he said. “Buf if I can, I’m probably going to try to play with them again because I really miss it.”

PLATT grew up in the Bartlesville area, but left after high school, first to college, next for a jaunt in the Air Force, then with his career selling John Hancock Insurance.

That job took him across the country, from Boston to Cleveland, Los Angeles to Indianapolis.

It was when he was transferred to Minneapolis that Chuck met Emy.

After marriage, “it became harder to move around, so we decided to stay in one place.”

He remained in the insurance business for 22 years, but eventually realized another vocation may be a better fit.

John Hancock merged with another company “and you could see where they started cutting back on offices. I wasn’t smart enough to figure out everything that was going on, but I knew I really ought to be looking for something else.”

Platt hearkened back to his college days, when he worked briefly for Montgomery Ward, and thought a career in retail would be a good fit.

“My (educational) background is in business administration,” he noted. “That’s what I wanted to do, run a good, well-managed business.”

Hardware carried a special appeal as well.

He looked for opportunities closer to his native Baxter Springs. “My father was from the Ozarks, and it’s such a beautiful place to live.”

He made an offer to buy a franchise in Missouri, but that deal fell through.

“Then, this location in Iola opened up,” he recalled. “I thought it was an ideal location, in a good community.”

The Platts opened Coast to Coast in the fall of 1986.

They were a team in every sense. Emy manned the store front, greeting customers, while Chuck worked in the background, doing books, ordering merchandise, etc.

“She was such a people person,” he said.

Coast to Coast eventually became Ace Hardware. Combined, they ran the store for 20 years before selling it and retiring in 2006.

Platt becomes wistful, thinking of Emy — known as Iola’s “Hat Lady” for her extravagant collection of hats of all sorts and colors.

PLATT has adjusted well to his not-quite-recluse lifestyle.

He has a housekeeper come by once a week, “so I can focus on staying retired,” he laughs.

And he’ll gladly accept visitors, provided they’re either wearing masks or keeping their distance. His covered backyard patio is a perfect gathering point for relaxing conversations — as long as neighboring motorists aren’t zooming by.

A nearby water fountain has proven an idyllic watering spot for a covey of neighborhood robins and blackbirds.

“I’ve got my routine down,” he notes. “I’m getting by pretty good.”

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