ARANSAS PASS, Texas — They call themselves Winter Texans.
This group of friends comes to the Coastal Bend from Illinois ever year leaving the bone-chilling winters behind in exchange for a mild Texas winter.
But this year? One of the friends is not at their regular table at the Butter Churn in Aransas County.
“We lost a very dear friend yesterday,” said Jolene Poole, a winter Texan.
Their close friend Ernie Radar died last Wednesday at the age of 76.
His life was full of friends, fishing and farming. He was married for 29 years, losing his wife to cancer just months ago and leaving six children behind.
“He used to come here every Thursday, every Friday, every Sunday,” Poole said. “He loved it here.” They all did. They all do.
Back in March, it was the last time they all gathered here around the table.
“He did have COVID and when he was undergoing his dialysis, his heart just started slowing down,” said his friend Vickie Carlton.
Ernie’s friends say he had lots of health problems. And COVID-19, they say, was just too much.
It is leaving them to wonder what will happen next.
“It’s just, uh, it’s just scary,” Carlton said.
“We just have to get smarter,” Poole added.
But their friend Bob Carlton adds that COVID-19 can’t dictate how they live.
“I think everyone just needs to live their life,” he said. “If you're living in fear, you're not really living.”
But when it comes to dealing with the pandemic, one of the biggest questions that so many people are grappling with, should the economy be closed down or opened back up and let things flow again?
"People who are afraid to wear masks who are not social distancing, who are not following the guidelines, is promoting this,” Poole said.
But Carlton says that the pandemic can’t stop us from living our lives.
“I think we really need to weigh what it's costing the nation versus what it's doing to the public,” he said.
Poole said she hopes to see more direction in how we should live our lives.
“But there needs to be leadership from the top,” she said. “One good plan.”
She embraces federal leadership to help get us there.
“Yes,” she says. “Listen to the science. They are all smarter than all the rest of us. It's going to take that.”
But Carlton says we can’t let that interfere with how we do things.
“I think everyone just needs to live their lives,” he said. “If you're living in fear, you're not really living.
“I don't think this economy can survive with a pullback back.”
Poole says the pandemic must be managed to get there.
“We have to get the pandemic under control to get the economy under control,” she says.
And as the debate rages on about balancing peoples' lives and the nation's economy - there's one thing these winter Texans can all agree on.
Ernie was a friend - through and through.
“He treated everybody very very well,” Poole said. “He was just a very generous person and we loved him dearly. We are going to miss him.”
A group of friends - torn apart by the coronavirus - now left to wonder what the government will do next to ensure their safety and not only their livelihoods, but the livelihoods of others.
Next week: Paul takes us to San Patricio County to a family-owned operation known for its barbecue and brisket.
So what's the word around the tables there? Find out next Tuesday on KRIS 6 Sunrise.