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Vancouver family creates memorial to state’s COVID-19 deaths

A house on Franklin Street in Vancouver known for elaborate holiday displays has taken on a more somber appearance during the pandemic.

Every day, Jim Mains and his 4-year-old son Remington have tied a green ribbon on their wrought iron fence at 4616 N.W. Franklin St. to commemorate each life lost to COVID-19 in Washington. Mains said the memorial serves as a way to express gratitude to emergency workers, and also advocate for mask usage while serving as a reminder of the times we’re in.

“Lots of people drive by and say how much it means to them,” Mains said. “Some of them are in health care or have sons and daughters in health care.”

When Mains started the memorial in March, he expected the project to come to a close in a few months, he said. Projections at the time estimated the state would see around 700 deaths with a drop in cases as summer began.

“It’s been really overwhelming. It just kept growing and growing,” Mains said.

Now the fence has more than 1,600 green ribbons, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. But Mains said the reminder has taken a toll, and the memorial will be coming down at the end of August.

“It’s getting really emotional, so we’ve decided to take it down and try to go back to some form of normalcy,” Mains said.

According to Mains, the memorial was inspired by displays of Christmas lights that started going up across the country at the beginning of March in an effort to brighten spirits amidst the pandemic. Mains thought the ribbon memorial would be more impactful and a moving visual.

The memorial has undergone some changes as the months have gone by. It also overlapped with the Mains’ Easter display, he said.

Remington, who has helped his dad every day with cutting and tying the ribbons, came up with the idea of placing flags from around the world on the fence as a show of solidarity. For the Fourth of July, they were replaced with American flags, and quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. were displayed on signs and banners. The ribbons themselves are neon green when they go up but fade rather quickly in the summer sun.

For those who liken the COVID-19 pandemic to the flu, Mains has a visual rebuttal: He placed 91 of the more-than 1,600 ribbons on one section of the fence, the total number of Washington deaths due to the flu since September. The section pales in comparison to the rest of the fence covered with ribbons.

Neighbor Marty Katkansky said she’s enjoyed the display as well as having Mains as a neighbor. Around Christmas, Mains’ holiday display often sprawls onto her lawn, as well as several other neighbors.

“He’s very civic-minded and a great neighbor,” Katkansky said. “It’s a great reminder of what it’s all about.”

Mains said he’s excited to get back to his usual holiday displays, although they’re going to look a little different. His Halloween display is well known in the county, complete with live actors and plenty of candy for trick-or-treaters. Last year it attracted around about 3,000 people, according to Mains.

This fall he plans on continuing the tradition but will be splitting up the celebration to two nights to help mitigate crowd size.

The first night will be a drive-up experience, followed by a traditional experience on Halloween night with social-distancing measures in place.

Mains said some sort of ribbon memorial will continue on his property until the pandemic comes to a resolution. Visitors can still drive by and see the ribbon memorial up until Aug. 31.

Mains said Remington, like many young children, is doing his best to understand the pandemic and death itself. The family cat recently died, so Remington has some familiarity with death, Mains said. He uses that experience to help Remington understand what thousands of families experience when their loved ones die from the virus.

Mains remembers a walk last week, when the two came across a dead squirrel on the side of the road. Remington asked, “Did he die of the virus?”

Mains explained that probably wasn’t the case, and instead used it as a teaching moment.

“No. That squirrel didn’t look both ways,” Mains responded.



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