Smiling with our eyes | Mayerthorpe Freelancer

All my friends are diligent about wearing masks during the pandemic, in both our countries. Each morning, I pray that we’ve been able to develop tolerance, fortitude and strength as I venture out into the world. 

Masks have become crucial daily accessories as we move through a structural change in how we behave and greet each other. Winking doesn’t work. Even eyebrows are the fashion topic now, expressing strength, power and wisdom. I look into the mirror to see if my eyebrows can pass the new test.

In NYC, the Wall Street Journal recently featured an entire page of masks, with the headline Let the Mask Olympics Begin! Cited were playful, whimsical masks, including best fitting, best material, best breathability, and best new styles. 

Bonnie Kogos’s sister Nancy finds a mask to go with her blouse for a lunch date with friends.


Between the the masks I’ve seen being worn in the street and those displayed in newspaper stories, I’ve seen 50 styles. There are also awful masks: macabre black with a skeleton, a mask showing false teeth. Happily, on Facebook, I saw an exquisitely designed Anishinabek mask, with accompanying earrings.

Gratefully, in my neighbourhood, I walk by 98 per cent of people who honour this task. In normal times, we take in an entire face at one time; now I have to figure out with whom I’m talking. 

As an outgoing soul, I’ve never been socially distant. As a former travel agent and travel writer, and these days — daze — as an author and newspaper columnist, I’m used to saying hello asking questions, and listening carefully. 

Here in NYC no one talks on the busy streets. It’s tough to show camaraderie, respect and acceptance in the right way. Smiles are contagious, lifting the mood of both the smiler and the “smilee.”

Where did the laughter go behind the mask? The other day, at my local grocery store, I received a big hello from a tall friendly woman. No clue. Then I “got” her. 

“Why, hello Hazel, you’ve cut your hair, dyed it blonde.”

“We’re such social creatures,” author Elizabeth Preston writes. “Relying on each other for so much, and when we’re without masks, we can look and take in an entire face at one glance. When half our face is covered, it’s hard to say hello, or give a cheery greeting, or to read another’s expression.”

There’s even a word for the inability to recognize facial expressions: prosopagnosia. In general populations, it can affect one in 50 people.

Author Richard Cook, a psychologist from the University of London, wrote: “A lot of information is conveyed by the eye region. These days, we’ve still got access to that information. But we do rely on eyes?”

Seeking harmless frivolity and fashion, during these difficult times, I took a walk on Park Avenue. Why was I surprised to see a well-dressed young lady, walking two small fancy poodles, carrying a designer pocketbook, wearing a snooty French-designer mask? Too much? Her makeup showed dark-lined cat’s eyes and long lashes. And dang, she smiled at me with her eyes.

Debby Turner of Little Current models a locally made mask.


“I’ve taken the fashion plunge into creating stylish masks,” my wonderful sister Nancy told me from her home in Florida. “Masks exude personality and fun. We all seek beauty, and we need cheery masks, which make this process of wearing them more acceptable. When I wear a fashion mask, I’m not flaunting it, just engaging with people on a friendlier level.”

Nancy laughed, saying, “When I look in my closet, I realize it’s six months ago that I wore a dress and high heels out for dinner. We celebrated a friend’s birthday just before the pandemic. Even my husband looked great. Then it all happened; where have those days gone? I swear, Bon, my dresses are talking to me. Telling me they miss going out into the world. Now the first thing people notice is our face masks.”

In my closet, I peered at sleepy dresses, pants, business jackets, blouses and shoes. Yet it’s autumn; are we destined to clean our closets? We’re urged to liberate ourselves, psychologically, in “responsible wardrobe cleansing.” Not yet. My clothes don’t want to leave.

Still packed in my small suitcase, ready to come north when the Canadian border opens, are my Manitoulin clothes; jackets by Ursula Hettman, shirts by Dreamer’s Cove and jackets by Turner’s. A Manitoulin pal send me a gift in the mail from My Ol’ Blues in Gore Bay, a fabulous perky red bandana, simply created by Kathy Antonia to be comfortable. I add to my growing collection. When I think about driving to Manitoulin, I must stop in Espanola at GT Boutique and Northern Reflections. I bet they have masks.

My friend Almaz, in Gore Bay, not only wears masks, all the time, but sells them at Central Drug Store. In Providence Bay, Auntie Em has a collection of masks, even wearing one while walking on the beach with her dogs. In Little Current, Debby Turner sells all kinds, four sizes from toddlers to seniors, all locally made. This week, she’s wearing one designed with anchors.

Every few days I put my tight jeans on just to make sure they fit. Like the famous joke, I’ve learned to practise social distancing from the refrigerator. Another joke a pal sent: “Never in a million years could I have imagined I would go up to a bank teller wearing a mask and ask for money.”

Morning chores are done. I get dressed in my walking gear, put on hearty sneakers and face mask, to go for my daily three-mile-to-stay-sane walk around our large leaves-changing Central Park, trying to pretend I’m on Manitoulin. 

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