I read the email from Ralph. He was inviting my family and me to his farm for the weekend. I felt reasonably confident that Julie would want to go, but I was less sure of my kids. To my surprise, they were eager as they had fond memories of outings there when they were younger. Our invitation was at the beginnings of the lifting of shelter-in-place restrictions in Illinois; I knew that both Ralph and Anne had been carefully isolating.
Ralph is my former business partner, and his wife Anne is my dentist. They live in a nearby suburb, and the farm is their get-away place. To call it a farm isn’t exactly accurate, but that descriptor is about as good as any other.
Ralph’s father was a famous researcher who was a professor at a prominent university. Along with his pediatrician wife, he decided to purchase the farm in the 1960s. This move was stimulated by several factors, including the fact that a few of his colleagues had bought vacation cottages on the nearby Rock River. However, his father had bigger plans and eventually obtained 650 acres of land that included fields, forests, and a former rodeo. The rodeo’s site had a main house, nine log-style cabins, a two-story barn, and various other outbuildings. It was situated on an idyllic pond and became the family’s weekend home. In the 1970s, Ralph’s parents built a new home on a ridge overlooking their lake. This is the place that I have visited over the years. The first time that I saw the old homestead was last year as it is about a mile walk from the “new” house.
Visiting the farm is a unique experience; in reality, it is a private preserve. There are expansive open fields, densely wooded forests, ponds, creeks, and a lake. The site also contains a helicopter landing field, an abandoned caboose, and a 7-foot plaster-cast statue of Cleopatra. Edmonia Lewis sculpted the original sculpture (The Death of Cleopatra). Ralph’s dad donated it to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. but had a cast made to keep for himself.
The property’s most unusual feature is a buried, multi-room bomb shelter that even includes a garage to store a car. Under a hill, the shelter has several entrances, including a secret tunnel to the main house. That opening was located in one of the bedrooms, and to reach it you had to propel yourself down a hidden slide.
Current observers would likely view the building of a massive bomb shelter as eccentric or possibly even a little crazy. However, I would disagree with both descriptors. To understand why someone would go to great effort and expense, you need to understand the era when the shelter was built. The Cold War was in full swing in the 1960s, and the treat of a nuclear attack from Russia was a genuine fear. Many people had makeshift bomb shelters in their basements, and students practiced “duck and cover” exercises in school. In fact, in 1962, it was revealed that Russia was building missile launching pads in Cuba, only 91 miles away from the U.S. mainland.
Ralph’s father’s actions were consistent with the fears of the time, except he had the financial means to protect his family on a grander scale than most. Thankfully, for all of us, the family never had to use their hidden bunker.
I am also trying to protect my family, not from a nuclear blast, but a novel coronavirus. I have instilled in them the need to socially distance, and they know the importance of handwashing. I have laid in some extra food and supplies so they would be safe and fed if, for some reason, I couldn’t go to the grocery store. I have kept abreast of the latest news and medical research since knowledge is often the most potent weapon against any adversary.
Now that the country is opening up, it is important to know what situations are safer and what situations are more dangerous.
Most research has shown that the best practice is to stay far away from others, as individuals can be infected while exhibiting no physical symptoms. The 6-foot rule is an excellent place to start. The more open the setting, the safer the environment. The more confined the setting, the more dangerous. The more talking, singing, coughing, laughing, sneezing, the worse the setting. Short periods spent in places offer less viral exposure than extended periods. To put this in practical English:
-Outdoor open spaces with few people are relatively safe.
-As outdoor spaces become more crowded, they become less safe.
-When you can’t maintain at least 6 feet of distance, wear a mask. Even a homemade mask offers some protection to the wearer and benefits those around the wearer.
-If possible, avoid closed spaces with poor air circulation (bars, churches, movie theaters). Such places are even more dangerous when people are singing, shouting, or doing other activities that move a lot of air.
-Eye protection may be useful in “trapped” spaces, such as an airplane.
-Washing your hands regularly is one of the most important things that you can do to stay healthy. Do this often, and every time you return home, even in situations where you think you haven’t touched anything.
-Use an appropriate hand sanitizer when you can’t properly wash your hands.
– The amount of time that you spend in a given place counts. The chance of getting coronavirus from a short visit to the grocery is relatively low. If you work in a grocery store for 8 hours a day, being infected by a coworker is higher.
As the country opens up, it is essential to choose your activities wisely. You don’t need an elaborate bomb shelter to protect you and your family, just some masks, a little soap, and a heavy dose of common sense.
BTW, we had a great time at the farm. Instead of writing a narrative about it, I thought I would end today’s post with some photos.