Image from https://www.freeimages.com/photo/solitary-photographer-1171571
It’s been over a week since I started serious social distancing. I am spending most of my time at home or walking the dog and getting up close and personal with online shopping – if that can be considered an “up close and personal” experience.
By the way, regarding my dog Vida, who if you read the previous blog will remember that she had managed to eat a pile of chocolate-covered Easter egg candies with the expected explosive results. I am happy to report that my doggie is fully recovered now and is doing what she does best: enjoying walks, tummy rubs, toys, treats, and naps.
Obviously, this pandemic is causing major disruptions for us all, whether we were early adopters of social distancing or not. That’s because in New Jersey the places where we used to gather are all closed. We have a curfew from 8:00 pm-5:30 am, “non-essential” businesses must close (only supermarkets, pharmacies, pet supply stores, hospitals, and so on may stay open), and we are not to leave our houses except to get groceries, visit the doctor or hospital, visit family, go to work if we are involved in an essential service to the community, or take a walk (but no outside activities in groups).
I’m adjusting to the current “new normal,” and I have to say it hasn’t been too hard. Even though years of working in ministry have taught me how to be social, deep inside I’m still an introvert deep inside.
That said, I do miss seeing my family members in person. I haven’t visited Dan, the love of my life, for almost two weeks. His daughter Kristina and I got together on Zoom last week while she was at Dan’s house delivering groceries and giving him appropriately distanced father-daughter time. So I was able to see and chat with both of them. (Note: I do call Dan every day!) Meanwhile, Kris promised me that she’d get her sons to Zoom with me next. She tells me to expect them to aim the camera so I can look up their noses. Pretty much what I’d expect at their age. Love those crazy guys! am going to take her up on the nasal-gazing.
I also am talking and texting with my sister regularly. If I can get Diane and her partner, Sarah, to do either Zoom or Facetime with me, I’ll be a happy self-isolated camper.
Don’t know about you, but I find I am appreciating my loved ones so much more right now. I think my biggest take away is the sudden change in the way people are relating to each other. We can’t get physically close, but we do talk. I’ve had a number of conversations – short and long – with people from my neighborhood as we talk our many daily walks outside.
I live in a what used to be called a “bedroom community.” In other words, people sleep here but go out to work and play elsewhere. Suddenly we’re all home at the same time. Now we’re seeing each other. We’re talking and laughing and sharing. We’re asking, “how are you” and saying, “Stay well.”
I now know the name of the neighbor whose backyard abuts my backyard. Her name is Joan. She and her husband are retired. They used to have a cat. She asked me what happened to my other dog and noted that Tippy had had three legs.
Today I met a woman named Linda. I’ve seen her walking around the park. We had a longish chat and she told me was going crazy from the solitude. She loves to read and used to go to the library, but it’s closed right now. She rents a house and can’t have a pet. She has a pile of books she had been saving to read in the summer, but thinks she’ll have to read them now.
I guess what I’m saying is I’ve learned a lot about the people I see but haven’t taken the time to get to know. Everyone has a story. Everyone has hopes and dreams and struggles. We all share that in common.
So, be kind to one another. Listen. Help. Love. Pray.
Stay safe and be well, friends.
Image: my dog, Vida, demanding my attention as I write this blog. I told her I'll take her for a walk when I'm done She bought it..
While we all have been re-learning how to live our lives, thanks to the COVID-19 crisis, I have had a mini-crisis of my own right in my home, one that required cleaning. I’m writing this rather silly blog because it’s light, we can all use a laugh, and the initiated are welcome to chuckle at life with a dog while those without dogs are free to cringe in horror.
So, I adopted my dog Vida (pictured above) in late September. As you can see from the photo, she’s a hound dog, part coonhound and (probably) beagle. She was picked up as a stray in Tennessee and sent to a shelter. That shelter then sent her to another shelter, one which is partners with SAVE Animal Shelter in Montgomery, NJ. SAVE is where I met her.
I feel fortunate to have Vida. She’s is the world’s friendliest dog. She seems to love everyone and has no aggression issues with other dogs when on the leash. She does not appear to have been traumatized by human beings and, we suspect, must have had a family once because she loves children.
Her biggest issue is that, having been a stray, she had experienced hunger and thirst. During her first few months with me, she would drink tons of water and then have little accidents because her bladder couldn’t handle it. Vida also most likely rooted through trash cans and bags for food. I know this because she rooted through trash cans at home and the church office.
For those of you who don’t know, I am an assistant pastor at a United Methodist church. Our office has a lovely position called “Church Dog.” Vida is the third pooch to hold that title.
Having experienced Vida’s predilection for rooting, all my open trash cans are now off the floor, except for the one in the kitchen. That one has a cover over it. We’ll see how long that lasts.
Sadly, I overlooked one little thing. Every year for Easter, our church makes chocolate-covered candy Easter eggs. The team had a bunch made before production stopped due to the coronavirus. Naturally, I bought some, brought them home, and put them on the dining table, which I thought was a safe place.
You can see where this is going.
I left the house on Wednesday to do some essential things. When I returned, I discovered that Vida had gotten into the bag of Easter eggs and eaten them all. I semi-panicked. Dogs and chocolate don’t mix. However, my terrier, Gremlin, had eaten some chocolate candies back in the day and we got through it. I knew that Vida had probably eaten far worse as a stray and would handle this situation in a predictable manner.
What followed that evening is what I like to call “The Great Dog Puke of 2020.”
Now, every dog has a different style of vomiting. My aforementioned terrier mix, Gremlin, did a series of silent yaks before she let go. Tippy, my miniature Australian shepherd, who passed away in May 2019, would produce an exaggerated smile and then “knock” (make noisier yaks) before spewing. Vida, on the other hand, is not prone to giving much warning, if any at all.
Some people may cry a river, but Vida barfs a river, especially when she has consumed a great deal of water. That river landed on the carpet in the TV room. As you can imagine, it was the color of milk chocolate with bits in it. Erghhh…
I hope you’re not eating while you read this.
So, after cleaning the mess up, I pulled out the sofa bed, anticipating that it would be a long night. I figured it would be more efficient to spend the night downstairs rather than make a useless race from the second floor to the back door. Turns out the sofa thing was a bad idea. Vida, the no-warning dog, barfed on the hide-a-bed's mattress.
The third time we made it out to the deck behind my parsonage. (In case you don't know, "parsonage" is a term for "place where the pastor lives.") The situation made for a much easier clean up. I threw pans of water on the mess until it washed off the edge of the deck.
The fourth and fifth times I actually managed to get her completely outside.
Another complication lay in the fact that, because she is a dog, Vida wanted to eat what she had just barfed up. This fact has been noted by folks living as early as biblical times: “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who reverts to his folly.” (Proverbs 26:11, New Revised Standard Version of the Bible) There. You’ve had a Bible lesson for the day. Go forth and use it on fools when they return to their folly.
Did I mention that I got next to no sleep that night and also did a lot of cleaning? The next time I go out, which will be for supplies on Monday, I’ll be sure to grab more pet spot and odor cleaner at the pet store. I think I’m running out. I just hope the pet store still will be open.
I believe Vida has purged her system. She’s acting like her old self. In fact, we’re going to take a walk once I’m done with this blog.
So that’s how my social-distancing-shelter-in-place life has been going. Hope yours is less eventful and way-less yucky.
Stay safe and healthy. Wash your hands. And hang in there.
Janet R. Stafford
Images from North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association, Clinton County, Page 1. https://northcountryundergroundrailroad.com/clinton-county.php
The images above are from the home of Quaker UGRR agent, Stephen Keese Smith, who lived in Clinton County, NY. He wrote about his activity in 1887. It is believed that he hid self-emancipators in his barn (first photo) in a room (photo on the right) behind a false wall (photo on left). The quote below is from Smith and should give you an idea about agents and station masters did to move freedom seekers north to Canada:
“I first became acquainted with the “Under Ground Rail Road” twenty years or more before the [Civil] War … Samuel Keese was the head of the depot in Peru. His son, John Keese – myself, and Wendell Lansing at Keeseville were actors. I had large buildings and concealed the Negroes in them. I kept them, fed them, often gave them shoes and clothing. I presume I have spent a thousand dollars for them in one-way and another. There were stations at Albany, Troy, Glens Falls and then here in Peru. The Negroes would come through the woods and be nearly famished. We kept them and fed them for one or two days and then ran them along to Noadiah Moore’s in Champlain… He went with the Negroes to Canada and looked out places for them to work.”
The final segment in the short story, “The Newcomer,” is finally here. My conclusion is short (only about 1 page), so I tacked it onto the bottom of Part 5 so you can re-enter the flow of the story. I also did some editing to Part 5. That’s how it works when you write. What you’ve been reading is only a second or third draft. Authors do a great deal of revision and polishing – and then get other folks to read and edit, so the finished projects are as good as they can get.
Thank you for reading this and I apologize for getting this out late. I had a sick doggie yesterday, and it just wasn’t possible to post. Vida is much better today (she ate a whole bunch of something that didn't agree with her and that I did not want her to eat).
I may be doing other online early-draft writing “for the duration” while we are social distancing. Maybe I’ll write a wedding story next. Who will be getting married? Wait and see.
Take care all, stay safe and well, and help those who need it.
(Image: Biohazard symbol)
A number of epidemics struck the population of the United States during the first 60 years of the nineteenth century: Yellow Fever (1803, 1847, 1850,1852, & 1855), Cholera (1833, 1834, 1848-49, 1851), Typhus (1837 & 1847), and Influenza (1847-48,1850-51), 1858-59), There also was a Small Pox epidemic among the Native Peoples of the Great Plains, brought on in 1837 with the arrival of infected goods and people of European descent on the steamboat S.S. St. Peter. The disease killed more than 17,000 indigenous people. The disease did not abate until 1840, nearly wiping out some of the tribes.
It is important for us to remember that people living in the first half of the nineteenth century in America did not have antibiotics, nor did they have a clear understanding of what caused most diseases or how to treat them. Germ theory was embryonic and personal standards of cleanliness were low. People would wash their face and hands in the morning, of course, but bathing was generally a weekly thing. Flush toilets, running water, and bathrooms were still in the future. My point is many diseases spread easily and readily.
During the Civil War, typhoid fever was a common disease within most communities, but especially within military regiments and camps. According to the Mayo Clinic, typhoid fever is caused by Salmonella typhi bacteria. “Typhoid fever spreads through contaminated food and water or through close contact with someone who's infected. Signs and symptoms usually include a high fever, headache, abdominal pain, and either constipation or diarrhea.” Without treatment, the disease can be life-threatening. Here’s the crucial thing: “Salmonella typhi is passed in the feces and sometimes in the urine of infected people. You can contract the infection if you eat food handled by someone with typhoid fever who hasn't washed carefully after using the toilet. You can also become infected by drinking water contaminated with the bacteria.”
When I did research for Walk by Faith and A Time to Heal, I learned that army camps were petri dishes for all kinds of disease. In fact, character Patrick McCoy, who works with the ambulance corps, comments that the fallow times were as dangerous the times the men were in battle. Typhoid fever was just one of the diseases fighting men encountered.
But because it was not routine for nineteenth-century food handlers to wash their hands – and they certainly did not have protective gloves – it was possible for an asymptomatic carrier like cook Mary Mallon (“Typhoid Mary,” 1869-1938) to spread the disease later in the century to 51 people, three of whom died. And Mallon was not alone in transmitting the typhoid fever through food handling. She was just the most publicized case.
In the Saint Maggie series, several diseases have shown up. Most notably, rheumatic fever, which Maggie says claimed the life of her husband John and their son Gideon. Rheumatic fever develops from a throat infection caused by group A streptococcus. Today we treat the infection with antibiotics. No such luck in for people in 1850. Actually, no such luck in the 1920s, either. Little Guy L. Stafford, who later became my dad, contracted the disease back then.
Obviously, my father didn’t die, because I’m here today. But many years later, when he was in his 60s, we learned that the disease had damaged a mitral valve in his heart. He underwent surgery for a valve replacement –but the damage turned out to be not as severe as the physicians had thought and they only needed to make a few repairs. Needless to say, my dad, who probably should have been a doctor instead of an engineer, was a bit ticked off. He really wanted that new valve!
I have since learned that my dad was part of a national outbreak of rheumatic fever. According to an editorial in the AHA Journals, “In the 1920s, rheumatic fever was the leading cause of death in individuals between 5 and 20 years of age and was second only to tuberculosis in those between 20 and 30.” In addition, in an era before the advent of antibiotics, “The only treatment was salicylates and bed rest. The majority remained at home for weeks, more often for months, with a smoldering illness while the sicker children were managed in foster homes. In several large cities, special institutions took over the care of the chronically ill…”
So now we can see how Maggie’s son Gideon Blaine could have died from rheumatic fever. I suspect that his father, John, probably experienced complications, most likely due to undiagnosed, pre-existing heart disease.
Another disease mentioned in Walk by Faith is puerperal fever or childbed fever, a uterine infection after childbirth. It is caused by a bacterial infection. Cleanliness on the part of the person delivering the child as well as in the birthing environment dramatically reduces the incidence of this fatal disease. Germ theory was starting to come into the awareness of doctors in Europe but would blossom later in the century thanks to Joseph Lister. However, certain practices were starting to be considered helpful. In Walk by Faith, Maggie’s daughter, midwife and aspiring doctor, Lydia Lape, is fortunate to work in Gettysburg with a German midwife, Adela Edler. Adela reads medical publications from her native land and these advised her that washing hands with a chloride of lime solution before attending a woman in labor would reduce cases of puerperal fever. Adela follows these directions and most of the mothers in her care survive. Lydia then takes these practices with her when she returns to Blaineton.
The mysterious fever that grips the boarding house family’s children in The Christmas Eve Visitor could be anything, since childhood fevers were not uncommon. It most likely was a strain of influenza to which the adults had been exposed and had developed an immunity, but the children had not. Still, who knows? Some diseases were unidentified and classified simply as “contagions.”
If I decide to write about a disease hitting the town of Blaineton, it most likely will be typhoid fever. In fact, I even know where and from whom it will come! Spoilers? Maybe. But right now I’ve got two short stories that I have published online. These need to be polished and re-edited and put out in a more professional format. So a new, full-length novel might take a while.
Speaking of short stories, the conclusion to “The Newcomer” will be up on Wednesday!
Meanwhile, stay safe, my friends. Wash those hands, buy only what you need (no hoarding, please), and be healthy.
 “Typhoid Fever,” Patient Care & Health Information, Diseases & Conditions, Mayo Clinic, 31 July 2018.
 Bland, Edward F., MD, “Rheumatic fever: the way it was,” AHA Journals, Vol. 76, No. 6, December 1987, 1190.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder