By Jonathan Owens

My daughter, Clara Jane, is not the most outgoing 7-year-old in Sanford.

She gets that from me. Her mom is the most extroverted person I’ve ever seen outside of my dad. Clara and I, well, we didn’t get those genes. We’re friendly enough and even silly at times. But we’re not ones to go up to strangers and strike up conversations.

And yet, in all this coronavirus mess that has turned the whole world into a shy person’s dream, Clara has actually managed to make a couple of friends in our Quail Ridge neighborhood.

One is our next door neighbor, Mrs. Green. I call her that because before all this began, that’s how we knew her. We’d spot her in the yard occasionally and speak to her. She’d come over to pet the dogs, or we’d exchange cordialities in the yard while the kids were playing. That’s about it.

Early on in this quarantine, though, Clara spotted Mrs. Green eating lunch on her back porch and asked if she could go over to keep her company. The two became fast friends and visit with each other almost daily now.

They do puzzles and play games like Racko and SkipBo. Mostly they just sit and talk about nothing in particular, according to Clara. We discussed with Clara about the importance of washing her hands often and keeping a safe distance at all times.

We’ve learned so much about Mrs. Green in this time. Her first name is Marilyn, and she’s 84. After a career as a pharmacist, she retired with her late husband Lloyd to the Sanford area around 20 years ago from Upstate New York. When she got down here, she began volunteering in the Helping Hands clinic that helps provide medical, dental, vision and pharmaceutical services to low income Lee County residents. Eventually she became the executive director of the clinic and ran it for about 16 years before retiring again two years ago. She feels like “the Lord led us here” and has found a great church family at Grace Chapel.

Mrs. Green may be a saint, and we never would have known it if it weren’t for this crazy quarantine and a curious little girl who overcame her shyness to make a friend.

I asked Mrs. Green, er, Marilyn, about the current crisis. Given her age, her obvious high intelligence and medical background, she would certainly have some insight, I thought. She responded that she remembers small outbreaks of diseases like polio or typhoid, but the worldwide impact of COVID-19 is unparalleled.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said. “We’ve had outbreaks in spots in the past, but nothing worldwide like this. It’s scary.”

It’s scary for all of us. When you wonder why we’re staying home, why we’re afraid, it’s not so much we’re worried about ourselves, although there are no guarantees we would survive a bout with COVID-19. We have to think about folks like Mrs. Green, and about our parents, and about our friends with underlying health concerns as well.

There’s also a lot of concern about how this will affect the kids. Some, like my 14-year-old, may not be learning as much from Call of Duty as he would in the classroom. But Clara has definitely learned a lot from Mrs. Green that she otherwise would not have.

There are silver linings in this crisis. As a family, we’ve spent more time than ever fishing and watching movies and laughing at the dogs. We’ve gotten to know some really great neighbors better, including Mrs. Green.

I hope we won’t lose that when the hustle and bustle of normal life returns.


Jonathan Owens is a co-founder of The Rant. Email him at