Tela Karadin perched herself at Kildonan Park in a lawn chair next to pink, purple and blue balloons hanging on an orange pylon. A wide grin pushed up her rosy apple cheeks as she and a small group of friends chatted in Polish and laughed.
"We celebrate today my birthday," she said. "I have very nice friends."
After restrictions eased Saturday morning to allow for groups of five from different households to meet outdoors, Karadin and her friends jumped at the chance to reconnect and ring in her 82nd birthday.
"We were waiting for this day because my birthday is May 30. We wait, so we celebrate" — Karadin searched for the expression — "in style," she said, with a bubbling laugh.
"It’s a very good feeling," said Karadin. She said it’s been difficult to be separated from her friends the last few weeks.
"This lady," she said, gesturing to a friend standing a couple metres away, "is my best friend since ’74."
On the golf course neighbouring the park, others were seizing the chance to see friends again and get the most of the game they love.
"Best day ever!" said Peter Mykytiuk with an enthusiastic burst. "After the COVID scares, it’s just getting to be a little bit much. It’s nice to get out here and be normal again."
Mykytiuk, with his robust, salt-and-pepper moustache, waited to tee off in a line of nine golf carts. Eight of them belonged to Mykytiuk and his friends, each of whom took one to themselves, rather than the usual two to a cart, to prevent close contacts. They’d be going out four carts at a time.
"It’s nice to get back together," he said. "Golfing by yourself is like cooking by yourself — it’s no fun."
The group got up to the tee and looked out over the green of close-cut fairways and the trees bending in a powerful wind that, on a day less marked by anxious camaraderie, may have kept a golfer home. But nothing was going to stop these golfers on this otherwise perfect day. They had too many jokes stored up to tell, too many friendly ribbings to deal out for mis-hit shots.
During the pandemic, when outdoor gatherings have been allowed, Munson Park on Wellington Crescent has become a hot spot for a crowd usually in its 20s and 30s. On Saturday, the park regained its youthful vigour in short order.
Groups of friends in tank tops, shorts and sundresses laid down woven blankets in wide circles. They sat in clutters of bags filled with books and snacks, often surrounded by bicycles propped up on kickstands or simply flopped on their sides like lazy dogs.
Joyous giggles floated on an air freshly cleansed by the week’s rains and scented with the bloom of lilacs and white blossoms.
Heather Thomas sat in the mottled shade of the park’s canopy with her two "besties," Jessina Cheffins and Ava Darrach-Gannon.
Thomas said she’s ecstatic to see them again.
"I live alone, so I’ve been kind of cooped up in my house for a long time, trying to be good," she said. "It’s been really lonely and sad. But I have to find joy in the small things that normally I would just take for granted."
But it took no effort for Thomas to find joy in sitting with her friends, losing the world around them in their voices and the rustling of the leaves.
She said they made plans to see each other almost immediately after learning about the relaxed restrictions. But she intends to go about it in a measured way.
"You obviously have to make sure that you’re not going overboard and making plans with every single friend that you have in your life," she said. "But the ability to see pals and not feel so alone has been huge for my mental health, just having something to look forward to."
Her friends agreed and mused a while on balancing seeing friends and social responsibility. Darrach-Gannon added with zeal: "That second vaccine can’t come soon enough."