Culture Spotlight

Quarantine perspectives

|Karen Farrell Langevin|

My great grandfather, Samuel Billington, took this portrait of his family in 1919 on the lawn of their home in Brooklyn, NY.

Billington family 1919. Photo by Samuel Billington, 1919. Courtesy of Karen Farrell Langevin

As the story has been passed down through the years, it is a photo of joy and reunion – a story we can now all relate to in a much deeper way.  For you see, this was the first time Samuel had seen, hugged and kissed his family in over a year.

My paternal Grandmother, Martha Billington Farrell, is the baby in this photo sitting on the lap of my great, great grandmother Catherine Stone and surrounded by her siblings and her mother – my great grandmother – Minnie Billington.  Martha was born in 1917 just before the Spanish Influenza Outbreak in March of 1918.

Samuel made a choice to “socially distance” and moved into the attic of the home – delivering only food and necessities to the family through a window each evening after returning home from work.  He would come and go through a separate entrance so as to not expose anyone in the family.

Perhaps if Samuel had made different choices – I would not be here to share this story.  I can only imagine how difficult it was to stay separated and the fear Minnie must have felt waiting for Samuel to return each day.

Samual Billington. Photo courtesy of Karen Farrell Langevin

 Martha lived just shy of her 97th birthday and called all of us “dear ones”. 

One of my cousins, who still lives in New York, said it best recently – “Staying home during the current pandemic protects all that we must hold dear – as we all have “dear ones” in our lives.” 

There will be a time when we are all back on the lawn having our reunions – for now it is a luxury to be safely nestled at home because there are many who cannot and need, like Samuel, to continue to provide for their families.