When Everything Changed - Pt 1

Dana Lemaster

“We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm.”

Damien Barr

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It’s been a few years and forever since lockdown. You see reminders of it-an occasional “dirty pen” container, faded foot decals marking where people need to stand. I don’t think anyone who survived that time is anxious to recall it. But looking back, I realize it’s impossible to tell my journey to A Death In Hartsend without mentioning this period.


The first hints of what would come started showing up after New Year’s in 2020. I remember being stunned by comments about lockdowns from someone who had family in Asia. It sounded like something out of a science fiction thriller. I told myself that stories could be exaggerated. Even if they turned out to be true, Asia was quite a distance from our home in Maryland

My husband and I celebrated our forty-fourth wedding anniversary early in 2020 by going to our favorite restaurant. We lingered over dessert, tossing out ideas for our next anniversary. Looking back, I shake my head.

The Beginning

After our romantic dinner, the news got bad in a hurry. Case numbers began to increase. We learned new words- asymptomatic, isolation, quarantine. We learned PPE stood for personal protective equipment, and learned it was hard to come by because everyone suddenly wanted it. Most people I knew adopted the attitude that they would continue with their daily routines until told otherwise.

One day in March, I went to my regular exercise class. At one point, a gym employee motioned to the instructor. She stepped away for a moment and resumed class. After it ended, she told us to take all belongings when we left. The gym would close as part of a lockdown for the state of Maryland. We were told to get whatever supplies we needed, go home, and stay there.

I remember going to the stores and seeing people just like myself-confused, trying to figure what to buy that would last them until lockdown ended. I also remember thinking about family and friends, what all this would mean for them. Most of all, I remember it seemed forever until my husband got home.

Over the next couple of days, more changes occurred. Two schools near us closed. The management of our apartment building sent a flyer that everyone needed to wear a mask when they left their apartment. We learned that, due to specialized equipment his work required, my husband could not work from home. Due to fewer people in the office, it would be harder for him to miss work.

Not long after that, we had a late snow. I remember looking out my window at the balcony above us. Two young boys came out. Although there wasn’t much snow, they did their best to have a snowball fight. It made me smile to think kids would find a way to be kids, even in a pandemic.

Holding Vigil

We learned my sister, who lived in Georgia, needed heart surgery. Because of lockdown restrictions, I couldn’t go to be with her. Neither could our mother, who lived in Kentucky. We could only pray, and hope for the best.

My sister had suffered complications from heart surgery and was placed on a ventilator. Although I tried to be strong for Mom, that wasn’t how I felt. At the end of five very long days, I received a jubilant call from Mom. “She’s off the ventilator!” I still remember my gratitude upon hearing this. Everything else about those five days is a blur.

Reflection/Carrying On

Work on A Death In Hartsend took a different turn in the first quarter of 2020. For various reasons, I was in a somber mood. I’d come very close to losing my sister without having a chance to say goodbye. It seemed the entire world had fast-forwarded into a cycle of change I didn’t recognize. I needed time to reflect and gather strength.

Mom and I talked quite often during this period. She felt at loose ends being in quarantine, so I asked her to tell me stories from her 1930s childhood in Oklahoma. She grew up in a small town, the kind where everyone was on a first-name bases. Sometimes, I’d mention names of Baptist hymns and ask if she knew them. It amazed me how many Mom could sing from memory. She told me about meeting my father after World War II and how the two of them fought to get through college. They wanted better for their kids, she said. You don’t give up on the things that matter.

Those talks with Mom were exactly the spur I needed to resume work on my novel. But  she’d also made me realize something. In the early drafts of my novel, I’d written a story about loss and how it affected one person.  Loss in a small community doesn’t work that way. It touches many lives, and in unexpected ways. For my story to reach its full potential, I needed to convey this about Hartsend, Kentucky. Memory alone wouldn’t get me there. I had to broaden my understanding of the history and the area. With that, my reading journey and a new phase of the story began.

In Part II, I’ll discuss my reading and how it impacted the development of A Death In Hartsend. I’ll also talk about networks of family and friends that provided encouragement through the remainder of lockdown.