For as long as I can remember, Mom insisted that tacking up a new calendar before the first day of the New Year was bad luck. Since we don’t need any of that, Emil and I waited until today to take down our dog-eared record of 2020.

Flipping through the months, we reflect on the COVID-laced apprehension, isolation and disruption of plans.

Our hearts go out to those who lost a loved one or suffered from this terrible virus. We recognize that many businesses and their loyal employees were stressed and stretched to the breaking point. Those on the front lines worked miracles. We also realize jobs were lost and the pandemic has taken a toll on many families.

We hope better days are ahead.

Rays of sunshine

Blessed to have stayed healthy, Emil and I also are grateful to those who brightened our days in 2020, whether in-person at appropriate social distances, online or over the phone.

If we gathered all their smiles together, we are convinced they’d stretch for miles. Let me introduce just a few of them.

Emily (yellow hat) and Lila (pink hat) enjoyed Texas bluebonnets in early March.

Canadians Emily and Lila, along with their parents Lisa and Rick, were visiting us in Texas just as COVID-19 took over the headlines. After a few idyllic days of fishing and wandering through the bluebonnets with them, it was hard to comprehend that the family would be required to self-isolate upon their return to Alberta.  

However, shortly after their arrival home, Canada and the U.S. shut down the longest undefended border in the world to slow the pandemic’s spread. We realized then that COVID was a severe worldwide threat.

That made the memories of the time we spent together last spring even more precious.

Keeping local folks informed

Jeff works surrounded by his newspaper awards.

The Fayette County Record’s affable editor and his staff remained positive and upbeat despite the challenges presented by canceled events, anxious readers and a polarizing federal election in 2020.

After facing COVID himself, Jeff Wick shared his experience with readers to explain and educate rather than to dramatize his encounter.

Jeff has earned our trust.

I’m proud to be one of the columnists of this award-winning bi-weekly community newspaper.  

Rocks to the “there’s nothing to do” rescue

Selecting big buckets of flat rocks for a noble purpose,
the Michalkes were on a mission.
Painted stones featuring upbeat messages and artwork
like this still can be found in La Grange’s public spaces.

An envoy from our “La Grange Rocks” Facebook group gathered stones in our creek to use in their artwork campaign to promote positive, uplifting messages. The effort challenged the (primarily) young painters’ creativity and ingenuity while delighting the public.

While most of the clever and beautiful creations were hidden around town in open sight, one of these gems appeared at the foot of the hackberry tree at our gate. Even though we will hate to part with this rock, we promise to hide it in town one day soon for someone else to find.

Perhaps we’ll come across a new one to take its place.

Mail service never faltered

Although we rarely caught sight of Pollyanna in 2020, she and our other local rural mail carriers worked extraordinarily hard to maintain this invaluable link to the outside world. There were so many parcels to deliver in addition to their regular workload!

Over the years, we’ve never seen Pollyanna without a smile. In fact, we’re confident if you don’t have one, she will gladly lend you one of hers.

Pollyanna and all our local postal employees delivered outstanding customer service in 2020.
While much of our routine had to be rethought, we could always depend on efficient mail delivery.

Just being friendly

Our friend and neighbor, animal rescue activist Denise Winter, is a knitting pro and home canning whiz. Emil and I benefited from both of her creative pastimes during 2020.

Imagine my pleasure at finding a headband tucked in an envelope she left with some groceries she’d picked up for us.

Our neighbor Denise made the most of her COVID-forced isolation.

We also taste-tested Denise’s wide-ranging canning efforts. Although there was no Fayette County Fair in 2020, Emil and I would have awarded the grand championship rosette to Denise’s shimmering peach amaretto jam.

However, her mango chutney and spicy rum cranberry sauce certainly would have outdistanced most of the competition, too.   

We looked forward to Denise’s delicious home canning deliveries.

Paper, ink and such? No problem!

During the early days of COVID-19, much of the world was frantically rushing to hoard rolls of toilet paper. I was on the phone to the owners of my friendly office supply store in Weimar, Texas.

Glen and Karen Dornak at Prestige Office Products saw to it that I was equipped with an ample stock of printer ink cartridges and reams and reams of paper, plus a wide range of other products that I positively had to have. They never so much as batted an eye when I put in an order for 800 sheet protectors for a project I was working on. Prestige’s timely in-store delivery of catalog items outshone Amazon!

These supplies kept this writer feeling secure, plus every time we stopped by the store, Glen entertained us with another memorable cat story.

Thanks to Glen and Karen, I had an ample supply of the tools of my trade.

Across the miles

Since the U.S.-Canada border was closed, I was unable to visit my family there last summer. I especially missed spending time with my sister Shirley who doubles as my proofreader extraordinaire. Thanks to email and the telephone, though, we didn’t leave much unsaid.

In 2021, I hope to have an opportunity to hug Shirley and shake the wonder-dog’s paw. I might even tuck a Texas treat for Molly in my carry-on luggage to make a good first impression.

Shirley and Molly continue to see eye-to-eye.

Behind the scenes of this blog

In addition to being a devoted mom, Klazina Stanwick is my talented and patient webmaster. While she ensures my website is safe, secure and up-to-date, Klazina’s technical expertise truly shines when she takes the stories and the pictures I send her and creates posts like the one you are reading.

Thanks to Klazina’s TLC, Stories from the Slow Lane will celebrate its first birthday in February.  

Klazina and her son, Bobby, waited patiently for a Santa drive-by in December.

Inspired artists add imaginative touch

A picture is worth 1,000 words. Therefore, an ingenious illustration for my blog posts must be worth at least double that value! 

Julia Feingold of Brooklyn, New York; Mady Thiel-Kopstein of Turner Valley, Alberta; and Rabbit Janecka of Weimar, Texas; did a marvelous job of visually interpreting my stories with charming artwork. Not only are these talented artists fun and easy to work with, but their creativity helped grab the attention of readers like you.

I can’t wait to see what stories and illustrations we’ll put our heads together on in 2021.

Meanwhile back in the pasture

Our farm animals detected nothing out of the ordinary or off-kilter in 2020. The sun came up in the east and went down in the west. Despite limited rainfall, there was ample grass all summer and inviting mineral lick buckets appeared like clockwork. The first bale of hay showed up on schedule in late November.

Batman stared at the stranger in the water trough.

Armadillos snuck into the yard at night to work their mischief. Birds built nests. Wildflowers bloomed.

A butterfly visiting a wild purple coneflower
reminded us that COVID-19 eventually will go away.

All was well, so Emil and I took our cue from observing our farm animals and Mother Nature; hang in there!

Words of gratitude

To those who participated in various blogs by sharing their personal stories and photos, thank you. I loved hearing your memories of holiday traditions ranging from Valentine’s Day to Easter and Father’s Day to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Your recollections about what brings joy to your lives were heartwarming. Sharing your memories in my posts was an honor.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you, my readers, how much I appreciate you. Thank you for reading and passing along the stories on my blog to your friends and family. Your interest and kind comments inspire me to write more stories that otherwise might be lost.

Emil and I are very grateful to those who I’ve highlighted in this post and so many other folks whose positive attitudes, thoughtfulness and, yes, genuine smiles, made 2020 less discouraging.

In the rearview mirror

Now it’s time to hang the pristine new calendar and get on with 2021. May the New Year bring you peace, good health and much happiness. All the best!

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Elaine Thomas
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