WESTBOROUGH – Showering and laundry 10 times a day. Barriers and face masks and sanitizers. PPEs and remote learning and social distancing.
As the COVID-19 pandemic eases into history, a resident with an extensive background in education and research wants to ensure that this episode of Westborough’s history is chronicled thoroughly.
Mary Botticelli Christensen sat down with most of the town’s movers and shakers to record their stories on how Westborough was affected by, and how they responded to, the pandemic.
The result – “When the Pandemic Came to Town: How a small New England town survived with resilience and kindness,” a 14-episode podcast, is now available on Apple, Amazon Music and Spotify.
“This multi-episode podcast is really an amazing piece of oral history,” said Karen Henderson, general manager for Westborough TV.
A memoir of the pandemic
Christiansen moved to Westborough from Connecticut a few years ago to be closer to her grown children.
Shortly after she moved, Christensen, a former high school teacher and college professor who holds a doctorate in education, started Christensen’s Educational Consultants. She teaches clients English as a second language and study skills.
In an interview with Shannon Cardellina on Westborough TV, Christensen said the project began when Kathy Ferrecchia asked her to write a foreword for a book on the pandemic.
Before long, Christensen found herself involved with the project. Then, given the size of the project, and the expense with publishing a book, she decided to switch to a podcast.
The project has taken two-and-a-half years, said Christensen, from the time the lockdown was lifted to the present. Throughout the process, Christensen said the best part has been meeting so many people.
“It’s a nice evolution to get to know the town,” she said.
Interviewing one person would lead to additional sources. For example, her first interview was with Dr. Alan Ehrlich and the Board of Health. In gathering information about the medical impact of the pandemic on the town, she began asking more questions.
“He would mention people … it was really just pulling strings of information people gave me to lead me to the next interview,” she said.
After she realized that a book would be too expensive to publish, Christensen approached Westborough TV.
“I asked ‘do you folks do podcasts?’ They were so gracious and so welcoming,” said Christensen.
Westborough TV arranged to have Christensen use studio space and what they called “these NPR microphones” to record her interviews.
Through the 14 chapters of the podcast, Christensen explored how the pandemic impacted all aspects of community life – first responders, schools, worship – and the way the community responded.
This is where the “resiliency” came in.
There’s a middle school student reciting a poem she had written. A high school graduate describing how his junior and senior years were changed. Faith-based groups, and how they helped their congregations through the pandemic.
Other episodes include how the fire department had to wash and sanitize themselves and equipment after every ambulance run; and how the public schools used remote learning and other technology to keep students in class; how a parent had a chance to have lunch with his children during the school day.
Christensen not only chronicled the present pandemic; she devoted her first chapter of the podcast to the “Spanish flu” pandemic 100 years ago.
“I got interested with what happened with the first pandemic. You can’t find information about it,” she said.
That information, as well as all the interviews, are currently in podcast format. According to Christensen, a transcript is being created; once completed, it will be given to the Westborough Public Library.
When she was gathering interviews, Christensen said she was impressed by the number of residents who submitted poems and other literary works about their experiences during the pandemic. This had led to creating a literary magazine.
Christensen said that students from Assabet Valley are helping with the project. She will start asking for submissions this fall.
How to watch the podcasts
The interview about the podcasts may be found at https://youtu.be/b8hy9bZ0fd4
The actual podcasts may be found on Amazon at tinyurl.com/bdfwjkrh, Spotify at tinyurl.com/4cnzsaem and Apple at tinyurl.com/kt74w32s.