Grief and Community in the Time of Corona

Am I going to laugh or am I going to cry?  I know what to do.  Sit back.  Breathe.  Be still.  I purse my lips together.  You know how you do that when you are thinking.  Trying to discern what is happening with your emotions.  Do you give into them or do you take a deep breath and forge on?

When you read this and look at the date, 30th March 2020, you will be reminded of the era find ourselves.  The days of the Coronavirus Pandemic.  COVID-19.  The common ground of vocabulary.  Stay at home.  Quarantine.  Work from home.  We all know the symptoms.  We have even had some of them on a daily basis.  Oh good.  I can smell now.  I don’t think I have it.  Do I feel hot?  Do you think I have a fever?  Some of our responses are even comical.  Are you short of breath?  Of course I am, but is it a panic attack or is it the Corona?  By the way,  I gave in.  I cried.

Social media is full of memes that make us laugh at ourselves and society as we face this together.  Are we really in this together?  The answer is, yes we are, whether we like it or not.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to this virus.  People across the board are getting sick and some are even dying.  Of course, we hear the narrative on different survivors or those who have succumbed to this virus.  We feel somewhat comforted that maybe that person who died was not as healthy as we are or as healthy as we think we are.  That’s what we don’t genuinely know.  We actually don’t know how it will affect each of us physically.  So, maybe in that regard we aren’t in this together.  But, I will tell you how we are in this together.  We are all scared in our own way.  Be it bravado or acceptance.  There is an unknown for all of us.  For each of us.  How are we all going to make it?

I ventured out to the grocery yesterday for a few items.  I sanitized. I wore protective gloves. I took an extra pair for after I finished my shopping.  I kept my distance.  It was Sunday about 6:45 p.m., usually a busy time at our local Kroger.  At first, I felt some relief that there were not many people around so I could zoom through and get home.  1. Because I never enjoy grocery shopping when I have to do it.  2. I did not want to be around a lot of people.

Then, the contradiction came through tears right there in the dairy aisle of the Kroger.  Grief.  I felt grief.  There were no people at all.  A meeting place in this small town where for as long as I’ve been shopping, I always see at least 3 or 4 people I know.  “Hi there! How are you? How are the children?  How is your family?  Are the children home from school?  What you cooking tonight?”  Nothing.  There was none of that and it grieved me.  The very task that I would have normally rushed so I could get home on a Sunday night, now took a sorrowful turn.  I went in with an attitude of get in and get out so we all stay safe.  We were all guarded.  There was no sense of community.  There was a sense of respectfully distancing six feet apart as well as let’s stay the hell away from each other.  I paid for my groceries.  Discarded my gloves in the trash. I sanitized again.  The few people, store employees and customers, were mindful of what we could not see.

As I approached my car I heard, “Well, hello!  It is nice to see you again!”  And there he was stopping and standing six feet away from me, a new friend I met in the grocery last week when we kept trying to do a dance six feet apart on several of the same aisles.  A young man about my children’s age named Marvin who is a flight attendant with American Airlines.  We talked for a moment about how things have changed since last week when we first met in a much more crowded Kroger.  We talked of how concerning and distressing each day brings new information and deaths.  We talked about how we are both healthy and will probably be ok, but that this will most likely be our last trip inside the store instead we both agreed the curbside service is a wise choice until the curve is flattened.  We laughed that every time we cough we automatically think we are sick.  The last thing we said to each other was that we were meant to be friends and maybe when this is all over we will see each other on a flight to somewhere fun or perhaps we will just see each other in the produce aisle and say, “There is my friend. Part of my community.  Here we all are again.  Packed in this Kroger together buying food for a gathering of friends or for a party.  For a wedding shower.  For an office luncheon.” For all of those things we miss. Those things we are now grieving.  Our community in the time of Corona.


This essay is another tribute to a strong influence in my life.  CDS

Kitty Hortense Morris Davis was my paternal grandmother. Granny Davis.
She was born in Mt. Pleasant, Alabama in Monroe County on January 23rd, 1911. She married my Granddaddy in 1927. Grandaddy was a sharecropper. They moved from farm to farm to work in the fields. Granny always worked alongside Granddaddy.

In 1946 they purchased a farm. The farm was theirs-Granny and Granddaddy’s.
They raised cotton, corn and, of course, spent harvest time picking the crops by hand.Granny also helped take care of the hogs and cows they raised. They sold the farm in 1951. Granddaddy said he sold the farm because he couldn’t get Granny out of the fields. She was such a hardworking woman and working in the fields was backbreaking work.

In 1957 they moved to Mobile, Alabama-an area called Chickasaw. My daddy describes this change as culture shock leaving rural Alabama where they had a community of family and friends to this bustling port city where there were so many people. It all seemed quite chaotic to the quiet farm family from Monroe County.

My grandparents were determined and courageous people to make such a bold move.
They settled into the next phase of their lives. Granddaddy worked on a tugboat and Granny worked at home alone while he was gone. They had seven children one of whom died when he was nine years old.

When describing Granny it could be perceived that she was a submissive woman. She did not give her opinion. In most situations she yielded to other people. She was
quiet. Granny spoke when spoken to and exuded a meek demeanor. I only heard her raise her voice one time. She was about 5′ 4” and probably weighed 110 pounds. She appeared almost frail. If you didn’t know her you would think she needed extra care. But, I did know Granny and she had a spirit and a will as strong as steel. She had a stoicism about her. Emotions could not get in the way of life’s obligations. When her son died in 1937 Granny grieved, but she quickly retreated into the manual labor on the farm. When she moved to Mobile she took care of the children and their home while Granddaddy was away for weeks at a time. Neither Granddaddy nor Granny ever owned a car and neither of them ever learned to drive. Granny walked or took the bus when she needed to go to the grocery store or run errands. Friends and community were made through the church which was situated out the back gate behind their new home in Chickasaw and they soon became friendly with their neighbors.

The only time I ever heard Granny raise her voice or yell is when my Daddy and my uncle told her that my Granddaddy had a serious heart attack on the tugboat and was being transferred to the hospital in Dothan. She soon regained her composure. Granddaddy did not recover and he soon died. This was 1969. Granny continued being strong and resilient.

When my cousin, Les, and I were little Granny would keep us and cook delicious meals for us. At different times my other cousins and my little sister would stay with her. She had nine grandchildren as well as great-grandchildren. I always felt safe with Granny. Despite her stature, her attitude of strength surrounded us. Everything Granny did she did well. Her flowers always thrived. She embroidered and sewed pieces that exhibited the work of a skilled artisan. Cooking. Granny was an excellent cook. She could create a meal out of a few dull items. My favorite she always made for me was macaroni and tomatoes. This sounds ordinary, but Granny’s cooking was extraordinary. I still make a version of it today, though it never tastes like hers.

Some of my favorite memories are when Granny would come to visit us. She would let us sleep late and she always did our chores for us. She had a servant’s heart. She was not particularly affectionate, but doing these chores for us was her way of showing love to us. We watched TV shows together. Perry Mason, I Love Lucy and The Carol Burnett Show. She was always stitching something as she watched TV. She also read a lot. Mostly novels and romances, but she did occupy her mind.

What I learned from Granny is that being alone does not mean being lonely. I also learned that if I wanted something I could walk or use my resources to get it. She was a resourceful and self-sufficient woman. Even though her children would ensure her needs were met, Granny did not wait around for anyone. She did not wring her hands waiting.

My daddy would help her with projects around her house as would my aunts and uncles. But, Granny often liked to change her decor and where her furniture was in her house. She did not call anyone to help her move a bed or a chest. She did it herself! There were many times we would return on a visit and the entire furnishings in her house would be moved. Even after she moved into a senior living apartment we would show up and her chest of drawers would be moved to a different wall in her bedroom. Granny believed in the notion if you didn’t work hard you would be weak. I learned this from her.


Granny loved to shop and she wore suits and skirts with blazers. She loved a blazer! I think this was where I get my love of blazers. She had her hair done weekly and she always smelled so fresh. She would talk of coming from a poor farm family, but she said they knew how to use soap and water. They were always clean. Granny’s home and appearance were always in place and spotless.

Granny Davis was a strong woman who despite humble beginnings raised 6 children some of whom were college- educated and all were successful in their careers and business. Her legacy was a quiet strength, strong work ethic, and courage to move to a new place knowing no one and thriving while doing so. These were just a few of the values Granny Davis taught me.

15th March 2020 CDS


Author’s note (I am writing a series of essays about strong women who are or have been an important part of my life.  In honor of Women’s History Month I want to celebrate women who have pushed the limits and worked hard to make things happen.)
My maternal grandmother, Helen Louise Smith Brewer, was born 98 years ago today on March 10, 1922 in Chicora, Mississippi.  Grandnana was loving, kind, willful, and determined.  Nana was a force.
In the 1970s, when she was in her 50’s Paw Paw worked for a while in Texas.  Nana thought nothing of driving the 12 to 14-hour drive from Mobile, Alabama alone to visit him.  My mother used to say, “Your nana drives like a bat outta hell!” That’s was Nana. A dynamo.
One of my favorite memories is a road trip with Nana and Paw Paw.   Nana loved to travel and road trips were her favorite.  This trip was in 1978. I was 16 years. Nana and Paw Paw took my cousins, Jay, 17 years, and Kathy, 15 years, and me on a trip out west. We started in Texas then to New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado where we visited popular tourist destinations like White Sands National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns, The Painted Desert, The Petrified Forest, The Grand Canyon, The Mormon Tabernacle, Big Sky, and Yellowstone National Park. We ate dinner in Denver at a restaurant with people on stilts. We even went to church in Pocatello, Idaho because Nana never missed church.  She had a perfect attendance record and traveling did not get in the way of this. She even got a church bulletin to prove it.
Nana and Paw Paw took turns driving and we three lounged in the back of the new custom van watching in awe as we traveled the roads of the great American west. We sang songs. Nana led us in her favorites. This Land is Your Land, America the Beautiful, and God Bless America. We always ended with Amazing Grace. No sing-along is complete without Amazing Grace. Jay, Kathy, and I also sang all the songs from the movie Grease which had been released that year.  At other times we took turns sitting in the front seat so we could see what was in store for us ahead. Mountains. There were lots of mountains. I can still hear Nana say, “Children, LOOK, LOOK at the mountains!” At her funeral in 2014, my cousin, Jay,  opened his eulogy of Nana with this statement, “Mountains! Children, look at the mountains!  ” We all laughed.
Nana was always full of wonder. She was also brimming with wisdom. Driving through The Painted Desert at the beginning of our trip, I was amazed because it looked like we were riding in a painting. It took my breath away and stirred my sense of awe. I exclaimed, “Can you imagine living here and seeing this all of the time?!” Nana responded, “Do you realize that when people who live in a desert like this visit us in Alabama they are astonished by the green trees and foliage where we live. This simple moment taught me to think not just in terms of how I see things, but process my thoughts from the viewpoint of others. It was so simple, but it was a monumental lesson for me.

Nana and Paw Paw had 8 children. 6 daughters and 2 sons. My mother was their oldest daughter.  When one of my aunts was in her preteens her best friend’s parents died. Nana and Paw Paw became legal guardians of my Aunt Debra and her her teenage brother, Rodney.  Nana loved them and treated them like they were her biological children.  We all did.  This was Nana’s example.

In the late 1950’s, when a woman became pregnant most businesses required women to quit their jobs. There was no maternity leave and employers did not want pregnant women to work in that “condition.” Nana worked at a ladies’ clothing store. She loved fashion and she was a talented salesperson. When she got pregnant she did not quit. She hid her pregnancy for as long as she could and worked until it was showing.  She enjoyed working and wanted to work.  Nana was devout in her faith, never missed church, was a good citizen, she obeyed the law, but pushed the rules if she believed they were unjust. This was one of those rules.

Nana became a licensed insurance agent in the 1970s.  She owned and operated Miss Helen’s Insurance Agency until she retired when she 70 years old in 1992. Nana was an independent woman.  An involved mother, grandmother of nineteen, as well as a great-grandmother. Nana taught us all that she could work and take care of her family. It was not so much what she said, it was her example.
Politics were important to her. I remember many discussions during elections concerning the candidates as well as conversations about elected officials. Nana owned her own property. She and Paw Paw were partners who made business decisions together. They were equals. They each brought their strengths to the decision making process.
Nana cooked. She picked vegetables they grew on their farm. She canned foods. She loved being social. Her church was important to her, but she was also involved in clubs and organizations. Nana was a Yellow Dog Democrat and a Baptist.
Nana loved her family. As early as I can remember she hosted the Brewer/Smith Family Reunion. Everyone helped, but there was no question who was in charge. Nana.
As she approached her late 80’s it was determined that Nana should not drive anymore.  She would drive her Lincoln Town Car to the end of the driveway to her mailbox and back. She loved her cars. Around this time she began to be a little bit forgetful. One day she drove to the mailbox and got stuck in a culvert. Trying to get out she continued to press the accelerator which caused the engine to overheat and catch fire. Someone ran out to the car to extinguish the blaze. Later that evening my aunt said to her, “Mother, maybe this was God’s way of letting you know that you don’t need to drive anymore. Nana’s reply was, “Maybe it’s God’s way of telling me I need a new car.”
She didn’t get a new car, but she did keep driving to the mailbox in Paw Paw’s old truck she had kept since his death in 1990.
This was my Nana. A woman always thinking beyond the limits set for her. Setting the example that a woman can do anything she chooses to do.