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Home from college, Claremonter rings in 21st birthday

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Last week Claremont native Max McGuire reached one of life’s milestones, his 21st birthday. In normal times, literally a month ago, this would have been an occasion for a big celebration, or perhaps a trip to the local bar with friends.

But as Claremont, along with the rest of the nation, settles into the new normal of social distancing and closed gathering places, celebrations have changed, too. So, when Mr. McGuire’s big day arrived last Thursday, instead of a party he settled in for a quiet night at home with his girlfriend, Alex Macdonald, and parents Cynthia Cervantes McGuire and Tom McGuire. Or so he thought.

As a ruse to get the younger Mr. McGuire out in front of the family’s Eleventh Street home, his parents called him to come see the beautiful sunset. As he left the house he saw a few people he knew, neighbors for the most part, and thought, “it must really be a great sunset.” But as he entered the street, he saw more and more people he knew, his uncles and aunts, family friends and his cousins from across the street.

Then they all lit sparklers, raised glasses, and sang “Happy Birthday.”

“It was very unexpected, I was so surprised,” Mr. McGuire said. “I did not think that many people would think of me with everything that’s going on. I guess the 21st birthday is a bigger deal than I realized.”

Before the governor’s “stay at home” order, the birthday plan was to have a blackjack poker night party a week in advance. Those plans were hatched about three weeks earlier. As the virus spread and it looked like gatherings were going to be discouraged, they decided to push the plans back one week. But, of course, the situation just got worse and as the date approached no one was comfortable with a party.

That is not the only adjustment the family has made recently.

A third year film major at UCLA, Mr. McGuire was sharing an apartment in Los Angeles and had landed several gigs as a production assistant on film shoots.

However, the coronavirus changed all of that. Officials at UCLA cancelled classes earlier in the month and all Hollywood productions went on a six-month hiatus. Without a job or school to attend, Mr. McGuire elected to return home.

The family also made room for Ms. Macdonald, who was instructed to go home by Pitzer College. She is from Rhode Island and would have to fly through Boston to get there, both hotbeds of the virus. With the approval of her parents she is now renting a room in the McGuire household.

The arrangement has worked out well as the younger couple take care of the family’s shopping and other errands, allowing Ms. Cervantes McGuire, 66, and Tom McGuire, 78, to shelter in place. Max and Alex also have been disinfecting the home’s kitchen and main floor rooms where workers have been repairing damage from a recent flood. 

Ms. Cervantes McGuire broke her foot in January, but last week got the news that she no longer had to wear the corrective boot. To celebrate, she visited her friend’s small grocery, Plaza Produce, in Glendora. Upon her return she received a heartfelt but stern lecture from her son, who told her that it was not okay for her to go out right now and that he would do the shopping.

“Max has been very focused on taking care of us,” Ms. Cervantes McGuire said. “They [he and Alex] will help anyone out.”

The terrorist attacks on September 11th and the Great Recession forever affected the young people who lived through those times, and the same will likely be true of the coronavirus. With the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States climbing every day along with the death toll, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. It seems to be everywhere one ventures including in our conversations and, of course, the news.

“This is a defining moment in their young lives,” Ms. Cervantes McGuire said. “I know we will get used to it [staying inside,] but keeping up on the news creates a lot of stress. This [birthday greeting] made us feel like we could exhale.”

Since the birthday get-together, neighbors have commented about how great it felt to get out of the house, even briefly, and commune with others. There is talk of another group toast or something similar.

All over Claremont, people are walking and getting more exercise these days, in pairs and small family units.

“There may be some good sides to this,” Ms. Cervantes McGuire said. “I have never seen so many people out walking around. Everyone is friendly, waving and greeting each other. Maybe we will all learn from this and be better to one another.”

Looking back on the events of last Thursday the younger Mr. McGuire said, “I definitely will never forget this birthday.”

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