Sunday, November 29, 2020

Little House on the Florida frontier, revisited

partial cover of booklet about Laura Ingalls Wilder's brief stay in Florida
This 30-page booklet sheds light on the
Wilder family's brief stay in frontier Florida
A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about how Laura Ingalls Wilder lived on the Florida frontier for about a year in the early 1890s. 

I'd been surprised to learn that she, Almanzo, and their daughter, Rose, had settled briefly in the backwoods of rural Florida. And unsurprised to learn they'd left rather quickly.

Yankees and Old South residents didn't mix well in that time and place. The Wilders' short residency in Westville, FL, wasn't a happy one.

I wanted to learn more than I could glean from the Internet. Thanks to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association, I have. 

The association has long overseen production and distribution of a 30-page booklet about the Westville years. First published in 1979, Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Westville Florida Years is in its 7th printing. I purchased it via the association's online store (along with a couple of quilt patterns Laura was known to have followed).

An even bigger thanks goes to author Alene M. Warnock and her husband, James M. Warnock. Her curiosity and perserverence uncovered gems of information about descendents and the Ingalls-Wilder legacy in Florida. His photographs provide additional context and his essay about Westville "today"  - meaning the late 1970s - depicts a time as distant to us in 2020 as the 1890s are. 

Westville in the 1970s was smaller than it had been in the 1890s. I've never been to the community, but I expect it's smaller now than even in the 1970s. It hugs the Florida-Alabama border in the middle of nowhere. I did visit the region, though, a number of years ago. The countryside is beautiful.

I don't know if either of the Warnocks is still alive. If they are, I hope they know of my and many Wilder fans' appreciation of their efforts. But I suspect they have passed. I found a legacy.com obituary for an Alene M. Warnock who died in 2011 and whose husband, James, had predeceased her. 

I won't provide a lot of details about what's in their booklet. It only costs $3.50 and your purchase would help support a nonprofit. In fact, the little book would make a great stocking stuffer for your favorite Wilder fan or for yourself! 

Why should you read it? Because you'll find - among other treats -  that the Warnocks met and interviewed Laura's - niece? cousin once-removed? The woman, named Emma, was elderly in the 1970s and an important link to the past and to Laura's life story.

I'm not exactly sure how to term the relationship between Laura and "Miss Emma." The woman was the daughter of Laura's cousin Peter Ingalls, the person on whose homestead the Wilders probably settled for their year in Florida. The Warnocks found no evidence that Laura and Almanzo filed a homestead claim of their own. That the Warnocks found such a close relative of Laura's in the 1970s is a wonderful thing. 

The Warnocks did a lot of diligent searching and interviewing and traveling on their own time and dime. They shed needed light on the Wilder family's Westville detour. For that, this Wilder fan salutes them. As I hope many other Wilder fans have done and will do.



Here's a link to the 2017 post I wrote about the family's sojourn in Florida. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Cassadaga, Spiritualism, and Purgatory

1920s image of Cassadaga
This early image of Cassadaga was taken 
 before the pictured hotel burned down in 1926.
(Credit: West Volusia Historical Society)
This is a perfect time to write about the early days of the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp. The trio of Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day - Oct. 31, Nov. 1, and Nov. 2 - brings close the world beyond. 

Halloween reminds us of hauntings and otherworldly beings. All Saints and All Souls days are when Catholics formally remember, honor, and pray for those who've left this world. Many non-Catholics are familiar with those two days because they know of Dias de los Muertos (Day of the Dead, Nov. 1-2) observances. 

As a Catholic, I believe in an afterlife. Spiritualists do, too, but their faith's tenets include belief in the ability to communicate with the dead. 

This belief has opened the faith to ridicule and charlatans. But it also has attracted true believers and casual interactors who find comfort in contacts channeled by mediums. The Cassadaga website defines a medium as a person "who is capable of receiving communication from people who were once living on the earth and have passed into the spirit world."

The now-famous Spiritualist camp in Cassadaga has its roots in both otherwordly guidance and regular old American ingenuity. First, the otherwordly. A Wisconsin-based medium named George Colby is said to have fallen into a trance and been led by a spirit guide to a spot in the wilderness of frontier Florida in the early 1870s.

There was nothing there - not even historic, adjacent Lake Helen had been founded yet. The entire county in 1870 was populated by only about 3,000 people. (It's 500,000 today.) We're talking total isolation. But Colby filed a homestead claim for 75 acres in 1880 and proved up on his land. 

Colby was prescient about his choice. He had immediately discerned a distinct aura hovering over the land. In 1895, he donated 34 of his acres to the nonprofit Southern Cassadaga Camp Spiritualist Association, the legal name of the spiritualist camp. It was the birth of what would become "a mecca for Spiritualists," writes John J. Guthrie Jr. in Cassadaga: The South's Oldest Spiritualist Community (University Press of Florida, 2000). 

The ingenuity part is explained in Guthrie's essay. In the early 1890s, Spiritualists from upstate New York organized winter camp meetings in the Florida community of DeLeon Springs. These proved popular. And - also somewhat surprisingly to me - the locals embraced the Spiritualists. 

Locals flocked to the special events and lectures presented at the winter meetings by speakers who included Colby. Guthrie writes that one Sunday, 300 DeLand residents hopped an excursion train to travel the 8 miles to DeLeon Springs and attend a meeting.

DeLeon Springs leaders offered economic incentives to entice the Spiritualist association to establish a permanent Southern branch. Spiritualist leaders didn't choose their permanent winter site rashly. They checked out many Florida locations including Daytona Beach, New Smyrna, Tampa, and St. Petersburg. An offer of 25 acres and municipal bonds helped them select DeLeon Springs. Until. 

For some reason, Colby - an active member of the Spiritualist community - waited until association board members had considered all other options for a permanent winter location. Then he invited them to visit his land, about 15 miles south of DeLeon Springs. Two important Spiritualist women leaders, Emma J. Huff and Marion Skidmore, toured his property. Guthrie writes that both believed the site "radiated spiritual harmony." 

Colby's location had all the right ingredients for the association. In 1895, he donated the 34 acres to the nonprofit Southern Cassadaga Camp Spiritualist Association. The settlement grew from that seed, as its online history explains. Today, the 57-acre camp is a major tourist destination and also a quiet year-round community where believers live and practice their faith.

I've been to Cassadaga more than a few times. Early during my newspaper reporting years, I went there to write articles about the camp, the religion, and its enduring appeal to tourists. I also covered a dispute among community members over the settlement's water system. From reading Cassadaga, I've learned that internal warfare is nothing new to the Spiritualists. Infighting is as alive and well in that religion as in every other one.

Another time, I went on a historic walking tour of the settlement, which is a rural hamlet with a quaint atmosphere. The walking tour was at dusk and the quiet of evening was settling on the houses and community buildings. (Residents own their houses but the association owns all the land.) 

A sense of calm serenity surrounded the group. The tour guide pointed out architectural details and shared historical details. He also said members of the spirit world are always near at hand in the community.

As we climbed a slight incline and stopped in front of one of the historic houses, a wave of sadness came over me. I had a distinct sense that someone - something? - was associated with this particular house. Perhaps a person who once lived there, or who had been contacted by a medium who lived there. I wondered if it was more than one person, or spirit. I felt sad for whatever or whomever was sending out this emotion.

I didn't dwell on the incident afterward. I shelved it and went on with my life. Then, recently, I read the short novel Tortured Soul, by Theresa Linden. It's about souls in Purgatory, in particular one lost soul and his interaction with the living. Like the proverbial light bulb going off, I immediately thought of my encounter with sadness at the house on the Cassadaga walking tour. 

Without getting into theology, Catholics believe Purgatory is a purification of souls who need to atone for earthly sins before reaching Heaven. I imagine it's like an abyss of sadness because of the absence of God. Prayer is how those of us on earth help souls in Purgatory move closer to the eternal light. 

You don't hear much about Purgatory today. It was an important part of my religious education  in my youth. Over the years, I let it slide to the corners of my faith. But now I make it a regular habit to keep the souls in Purgatory in my prayers.

Was that sadness I noted in Cassadaga a brief link with a soul or souls in need? I'll never know. But I pray that their sadness soon turns to joy. 

Screengrab from Google Streetview of Cassadaga main entrance
This Google StreetView image shows how much
Cassadaga retains a historical quaintness.



Monday, September 28, 2020

Bone garden represented dignity

This photo of Aggie Jones in her bone yard is
from about 1908. (Credit: Florida Memory)

If I were one of those celebrity or political billionaires who toss around their money, I'd buy people DNA tests so they could trace their ancestry.

DNA results allow testers to understand some of their own behaviors and preferences and to feel pride in being part of a tribe. At least that's how DNA results make me feel.

DNA tests didn't exist at the turn of the 20th century, when a woman named Aggie Jones presided over one of the most popular locations in Lake City in north Florida. There, she was known as Aunt Aggie. Elderly African-Americans were often called aunt and uncle in the Old South. Not sure why. 

Aggie was a former slave who was part Seminole and part African-American. She created a bone-garden landscape that made her famous. She collected and arranged animal bones in artistic, structured patterns that caused people to marvel. Shrubs, vines, and flowers grew in an among the bones. Aggie also grew vegetables and sold the produce. She gave away bouquets in hopes of receiving tips from visitors.

Tourists and locals apparently wandered the garden at will, relaxed in chairs Aggie had set up, and took photos of one another as one does at tourist attractions. Local youth borrowed or rented bones to use on Halloween. Aggie's bone yard was a topic of talk near and far. 

Aggie was a fortune-teller and she also had a museum of sorts within her house. I had the impression people dropped by as they saw fit, not even trying to set up an appointment. It was like Aggie's house and garden existed for others to enjoy at will. She was always a gracious hostess. But did she have a choice?

I learned about Aggie and her garden in May Vinzant Perkins' 15-page book, Aunt Aggie's Bone Yard: A Historic Old Garden in Lake City, Florida. Perkins was a poet and gardener in Lake City. She appears to have written her book in 1952 but the material refers to the early 1900s. Aggie was in her 90s when she died in 1918. 

You can read the entire book online via the link attached to the title. More information is available in a 2003 Orlando Sentinel newspaper interview with one of Aggie's descendants. The article is also available online: "Search for Family Roots Leads to Special Garden."

What made me start this post with a DNA comment was an article I read recently in a history/archaeology magazine that I have now misplaced, to my great annoyance. The article discussed archaeological finds in an ancient settlement in - to the best of my recollection - Nubia, which is the modern-day Sudan region. 

Unearthed among other findings were animal bones aggregated in a way that reminded me of Aggie's collection of bones. They seemed to have been arranged in what might have been a structured pattern, as Aggie's were.

I wondered if Aggie were descended from the Nubians. And if so, if she retained a cultural consciousness about her heritage. I wondered if the voices of her ancestors stayed with her in some way. Or if homeland traditions were handed down orally, from elder to child. And I wondered if she also learned traditions associated with her Seminole heritage.

I have no answers, just a vivid imagination. But I'd like to think the answers are yes. Such self-knowledge would have given Aggie agency, dignity, and identity. Those strengths were normally hard to come by for a former slave at that time and place.

Today, a DNA test could trace the threads between Aggie and her heritage. She didn't have that option. But even long before such validation was possible, Aggie was strong enough to carve out a distinct identity. And it was very much at variance with the cultural norms that surrounded her. She and her story deserve to be remembered.

POSTSCRIPT: On a side note, I'd like to share this photo of a beautiful quilt of Aggie, created by artist Teddy Pruitt. Click on the photo to be taken to the artist's website, which shows a larger image.



Saturday, August 29, 2020

First diocese in Florida marks 150 years

1886 image of outside of St. Augustine Catholic Church
View of the exterior of the Cathedral of St. Augustine
is from 1886. (Photo credit: Library of Congress)
The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the creation of the Diocese of St. Augustine. It was Florida's first Catholic diocese when established in 1870.

For nearly 100 years, it was Florida's only diocese, too. The state was mission territory for a long time, despite the fact that the first Europeans to settle here were Catholics who arrived 450 years ago.

The diocese's sesquicentennial was observed Aug. 28, 2020 on the feast day of St. Augustine of Hippo. The Algerian priest is one of the church's most important early fathers and the diocese's namesake. A Vespers observance at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine was followed by a talk by Dr. Susan Parker. The whole thing was live-streamed and I've embedded the link at the bottom of this post. Stick with or skip the audio problems of the introduction. The audio of her actual talk is clear. 

Dr. Parker is executive director of the St. Augustine Historical Society. She spoke about what St. Augustine was like in 1870. What a different time it was, in ways beyond the obvious. 

Her research material for the talk included vintage guidebooks, the excellent book, Beyond the Call: The Legacy of the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine, and period newspapers. However, local newspapers from 1870 were inaccessible, so she used earlier issues from about 1865 to 1867. What emerged were details of a city in the defeated Confederacy scrambling to find itself after the Civil War ended. 

The City of St. Augustine's Civil Rights record from the mid-20th century is, overall, dismal. Some of the city's earlier history is also unacceptable. It pains me that Fr. Augustin Verot, who became the Diocese of St. Augustine's first bishop, spent much of the Civil War supporting slavery. 

Yet - and here's where we realize how much redemption is possible for everyone - that same bishop jumped to provide education for the newly freed slaves. He raced to his home country, France, and persuaded the Sisters of St. Joseph to come to St. Augustine specificially to start schools for newly emancipated African-Americans. He pivoted quickly from his wartime views. 

Parker said that the St. Augustine diocese was "created at an unsettled time in St. Augustine, the state and nation's history. Bishop Verot was a great help to all St. Augustine residents as they tried to work their way through problems of the time." The bishop was a complicated figure. After I read his biography, I may delve into him in future posts. 

The Sisters of St. Joseph arrived in town in 1866, the same year St. Mary's Academy reopened presumably for white children. Also in 1866, the church's newly free black parishioners "worked to demonstrate religious fervor and claim their new status," Parker said. She also noted that blacks had been part of the parish since its founding in 1565. 

A "Freedman's Fair" took place at St. Mary's Convent the day after Christmas 1866. Its goal was to raise money for improvements to the section of the church where the black parishioners sat. The fair raised $336, Parker said. The internet tells me that's the equivalent of almost $5,500 today. And that tells me local people in St. Augustine took this fundraiser seriously. At that particular place and time, cash was hard to come by for many people.

What else marked daily life in St. Augustine in the latter half of the 1860s? Some tidbits from Parker's talk:

  • A ferry pulled by ropes provided transporation over the San Sebastian River.
  • Maria Sanchez Creek wasn't yet filled in.
  • The town's population was about 2,000 - half black, half white
  • Tourists started returning almost immediately after the war, using guidebooks that sometimes embellished or falsified facts. Some guidebooks were derogatory about the city's Spanish and Catholic roots. 
  • The city spent almost two years under federal martial law.
  • Refugees from Cuba arrived. They were fleeing years of warfare in their home country.
  • In 1867, mail started being delivered a full five times a week.
  • Leisure activities for tourists including sailing in the bay and horseback riding in the countryside.
  • The Sisters of St. Joseph reached out to blacks of all ages for educational purposes.
The Sisters who arrived in 1866 opened their first school for African Americans in 1867 on St. George Street. By the early 20th century, they and other Catholic religious orders and non-Catholics teaching blacks throughout Florida faced resistance and legal maneuvers designed to stop their endeavors. 

They perservered. An interesting comment is in researcher and former teacher Patrick Gibbons' online article on the redefinEd website about one of those maneuvers: "Their struggles reveal how new and alternative educational options have always had to fight for their survival."  So, yes, many things are different now than in 1870. But some things don't seem to change at all.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Arson or natural causes?

1924 image of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Tallahassee
This image of Blessed Sacrament Catholic
Church is from 1924. The building was used
until 1952, when a larger church was built.
An earlier, wood church burned in the late
1800s. (Photo credit: Florida Memory)
I'm writing this in July 2020. Earlier this month,seven Catholic churches were attacked in less than a week. Six in the United States and one in Canada. The incidents were varied. Fires, vandalism, and general destruction. None of the damage was of natural causes.

I learned all that from an article in Aleteia. I've linked it, although I don't know how long it'll stay active. 

Shortly before reading the article, I'd been scrolling through WPA records of Catholic churches in Florida. Fires were mentioned enough for me to notice.  

The WPA church records were compiled mainly in the late 1930s. They were done as part of the Works Project Administration federal program. Little personality shows through. The records provide basic information, usually on a form. A brief history is sometimes included. You can find these records online at Florida Memory.

Fire was a real and common problem in pioneer settlements here. The annual dry season, flammable wood structures, and lack of firefighting equipment often spelled disaster. Many people built kitchens in separate buildings. That way the rest of the house would escape damage if the cookstove went up in flames.

Yet, evil exists in all times and places. Could some of those early Catholic church fires have been set deliberately? Especially in the 1920s and early 1930s? Some Florida politicians in that era ran campaigns that included bold anti-Catholic platforms.

My second novel,Stitching A Life in Persimmon Hollow, features an antagonist who is anti-Catholic and secretly sets fire to a newly built Catholic church. But that's fiction. Or so I thought while writing the story. Perhaps such things really did occur. 

Some readers complained that the antagonist didn't receive his full due at the end of the novel. But he was a man of wealth and connections. Then, as now, such people often escape justice. 

I don't like to think such people existed in the real frontier world in Florida. But the church records make me re-think some things. The cooperation that existed among denominations here in the late 1800s seems to have vanished by the 1920s and 1930s. Suspicions and dislikes may have grown, stoked by people who like to inflame division and hatred.

We'll likely never know if the Catholic church fires mentioned in the WPA records were caused by lightning, a lit candle, or a human hand. But, considering what's going on in modern times, it's definitely something to think about.

Here are some snippets the WPA documents record about fires:
  • Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary - This Jacksonville church suffered more than one fire: "Constituted 1913. Services in old stable ... until present white, rectangular, Modified Colonial frame building erected and dedicated in 1914, damaged by fire 1923, 1924, additions1923, then services in school auditorium while repairs and remodeling done,1925. 

  • Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church (The Mother of Sorrows) - The church in Tallahassee was “Constituted 1877. Services in building. E. Park Ave., until burned, then in chapel of convent, Monroe and Virginia Sts., until present." (Present being 1936- 1937). The records say a brick structure was built in 1898 and dedicated on Dec. 18 of that year.

  • All Soul's Catholic Church - This church was established in 1885: "... first frame building, pres. site, erected 1887 and used until destroyed by fire in 1932." For the next five years, the congregation attended Mass in the parish school building. During that time, parishioners funded and physically built a new church, which was dedicated in 1937. 

  • Church of St. James - This church never rose from the ashes. The WPA records give its location as Bay County. That's in the Panhandle, in the Panama City region. The WPA says: "Constituted in 1917 ... Services in a white, rectangular, frame structure, with steeple, erected 1917, first services in July, dedicated June 9, 1918, burned May 3, 1936." It seems to have been a mission church of the Church of St. Dominic in Panama City. Records show the St. James church no longer had a pastor after 1935. The parish may have dissolved, as the records indicate it functioned from 1917 to 1935. If so, the building was an unused church when it burned in 1936. 

The Florida Memory onlines archives contain 78 WPA records about Catholic churches in the state. I haven't gone through them all. Not even close. Of the ones I did, I'd guess fire was mentioned in about 30 percent. So, not a majority. Just enough to notice.

I did look twice at the record for St. Alfred's in Perry. It said the church was "blown down" in 1926. Did that happen with help, I wondered. No. A hurricane indeed struck the town in 1926.  

The church seemed to struggle, though. St. Alfred's was downsized to mission status and became known as Perry Roman Catholic Church. It served Perry, Madison, Live Oak, and Lake City. That was tough territory for Catholics at that time. 

Reading about these churches, scant though the information is, makes me think about the people who perservered in their faith here. And the good non-Catholics who stood by them, for they did exist. Yes, there's evil in the world. But the good outweighs it. Always.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Helping invalids in pre-tech era

photo of historic adult cradle
This adult cradle is on display at the Ward House
Museum
at Harvard University. Photo credit:
Ward House Museum
I'm still processing the loss of my father. Still thinking about how taking care of him in my home changed my life.

I first wrote about the overall challenges of caring for an elderly loved one who had Alzheimer's. This time, I'm focusing on the physical aspects of caring for an adult whose mobility is impaired. 

My Dad had lost his balance and the strength of his legs. He needed help moving from chair to bed to bathroom to wheelchair and back. At first, he could shuffle along with the person who held him up and guided him. At the end, he couldn't even manage that. 

Even with 21st century aids, physically lifting, guiding, shifting and settling an adult is hard work. It requires use of mobility aids. What did people do before they had in-home Hospice beds adjustable at the click of a button? Or wheelchairs with easily removable and interchangable parts? I assume people in the past were ahead of us in innovations regarding chamber pot chairs. Many pioneer households lacked indoor water closets and/or plumbing.

I came across an interesting online lecture about mobility aids in the late 18th and 19th centuries. It's worth a watch if you're intrigued about these things. "The Material Culture of Living With Disability at Home, 1700-1900" focused on times slightly earlier than the late 19th-early 20th century I write about in this blog. But I figure that, for monetary and accessibility reasons, many settlers in pioneer Florida still relied on time-tested aids. There wasn't any Amazon shipping to the backwoods. And fancy mobility aids were out of reach financially for the average person. Just as they often are today. A top-of-the-line motorized wheelchair today can cost more than $20,000. 

Innovation was demanded of people settling a new location such as the Florida frontier. Based on what I learned in the lecture, settlers would have applied that imagination to help incapacitated loved ones. 

Invalids usually lived at home with immediate or extended family. Wealthy pioneers could and would hire outside help to handle the heavy lifting. But the onus of providing support usually rested on family members. They did things like add wheels to regular chairs. 

Adult cradles are one of the more intriguing adaptations mentioned in the lecture. They allowed an invalid to be part of family life instead of lying in bed all day in a back bedroom. A cradle was more easily moved to a parlor or porch than a bed was. And the cradle provided necessary comfort and support to the disabled person. 

Lecturer Nicole Belolan, Ph.D., said the popularity of the cradles declined in the mid-1800s. She also noted they were used primarily along the Eastern Seaboard, from Maine to the Carolinas. 

But, then and now, most people in Florida came from somewhere else. I can imagine an early Florida settler keeping a loved one close in an adult cradle long after the furniture's popularity declined. Settling a frontier was often a lonely business. Every human connection counted. As it still does today. Would that we'd remember that.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Time to revive and revise art of calling


1887 photo depicts people in young citrus grove with farmhouse in background
Social distancing, pioneer style?
Calling on friends and relatives was a way of
life in frontier Florida, where many people
lived on isolated homesteads. The citrus grove
in this 1887 photo was in Seminole County.
(Photographer Frank Nelson; Florida Memory photo)

We need to revive and revise the lost art of calling. It was a regular part of life for people in 19th century Florida. Actually, for people across the United States and beyond. Everyone went visiting to see relatives, friends, and neighbors. In uptown society, calling evolved into a highly specialized form of etiquette. Detailed rules governed how, when, and upon whom one called or received callers. Each person even had a calling card, kind of like a business card.

The rules of calling were so elaborate they even dictated who sat where during a visit, depending on  social status. Woe to the person who failed to give up her seat to a social superior. For more on these arcane rules, listen to the Dressed - The History of Fashion podcast episode of Feb. 25, 2020, titled "Call Me: The Perils of 19th Century Etiquette." 

I'm promoting the more relaxed form of the art, the kind my husband and I found ourselves doing during the height of the coronavirus lockdown. Informal and rules be darned, except for keeping one's distance.

Back in the day, people in rural areas, farms, and citrus groves welcomed callers who rode out to say hello. The visits were welcome breaks in the daily routine for people who, as a rule, spent most of their time isolated on their homesteads. As we've been doing these past months.

Depending on time and place, a call could last from minutes to hours. Upper class people following the etiquette rules in towns sometimes made a number of calls within a single afternoon.

I thought about the art of calling when my husband and I made the rounds of two homes of friends one after another, the same day we ventured out to the supermarket for supplies.

At the first stop, I picked up sour-orange seedlings my friend had potted for me from cuttings taken from a tree in her yard. The original tree froze years ago and regrew from its tough, sturdy rootstock. It seems to be resistant to citrus greening, a menace in Florida, and I definitely want to try establishing it in my yard. The tree produces what we call Seville oranges, which are sour and used like lemons. 

My friend and I walked through her veggie garden and chatted about oranges, muscadines, and other gardening things while our hubbies waited patiently for us to finish. It was a friendly visit that lasted about half an hour, and we all practiced social distancing. 

Then my husband and I drove over to another house to check on friends we hadn't heard from recently. They had made an impromptu call on us some weeks back. We went outside when we saw them pull in the driveway and had a friendly chat. We expected the same when we arrived at their place. Only half the couple emerged, though. Turns out, the husband had a bad sinus infection, which was why he'd been out of touch. Keeping our distance, we had a cheery few minutes of talk and then were on our way. The final stop was the grocery store.

Not much, but you know, the mini-visits were bright spots. I'm a homebody. I love to stay home. But even I occasionally felt the weight of the lockdown before restrictions started to ease. Things are opening up gradually here. Baby steps are fine with me. I keep my mask, wipes, and hand sanitizer near and use them when venturing into stores. I'm in the high-risk group and so is my husband.

For young or old, calling could find a niche even now that things are starting to get back to normal. Whatever normal ends up to be. Brief personal calls would be like quick conversations on social media, only done in fresh air and in person. Because there truly is something special about the human connection, even when done from six feet away.