Christmas News

A Coronavirus Christmas Story

(Special to – America can be a place of fences. Not so much “back East” (as they call it). But “out west” (as they also call it) where the suburbs that sprawled during the 1940s through the 1980s it is not uncommon to find what they call “tract homes” on quarter acre lots — all fenced in.

Such is the case in a neighborhood in Fontana, California where a fence is shared between Shannon Hinkle, a 38-year old divorced mother of three, and Bill and Natalie Preston, who have two children.

In fact, that fence once caused some tension between the Hinkles and the Prestons.

The utility company needed to tear up a section near the street of their houses and that fence was kind of in the way. The question arose of who was going to pay for taking that portion of the fence out and then replace it. Nobody could agree who was responsible.

“It was a terrible time for me,” Shannon explains. “I was in the middle of my divorce, my Mom was really sick and I was just overloaded. I wasn’t very nice to Bill or Natalie, I think”.

Those fences can cause a lot of problems. For the 8 years the Prestons have lived there the fence has been a barrier to getting to know their neighbors.

“We never really see the Hinkles,” Natalie says. “Their kids go to a Catholic school and she works nights. We just never had the chance to really connect.”

Then Coronavirus came around.

The Prestons took a February cruise which ended up a nightmare. “We had a good time until they locked us down in quarantine on the ship.” Bill said. “What was a one week cruise turned into this month long odyssey.” They were quarantined on a military base after they finally got back to the USA and then found themselves in quarantine again under doctor’s orders when they returned home.

“We were bored to death,” Bill said. “I read where some people were hanging their Christmas lights and having nothing better to do I did the same thing.”

For Shannon, who works nights as a nurse, she really appreciated the glow of Christmas lights next door. As a healthcare worker the whole virus situation is a high-stress thing.

“Bill and Natalie always decorate their home so nicely for every holiday,” Shannon says. “She does Halloween and he always does Christmas. But it is never the over the top stuff, you know? Bill just knows what he is doing and their home is always so cute.”

Shannon was happy to see it back in March.

Bill runs a landscaping company. During the months of October and November one of their main businesses is the hanging of Christmas lights. “It’s California!” Bill chuckles. “People do that here. Getting up on ladders and doing their own lights is hard to do and they have money and we benefit from it. It’s my favorite time of year and it is the best part of my job.”

Shannon says every Christmas is magic in their neighborhood thanks to Bill and Natalie. The best she can do is get her tree up every Thanksgiving weekend. Her time and budget does not include Christmas lights or decorations outside.

“We never get snow here,” Shannon says. “But we take many walks in December starting right next door. We really enjoy them.”

Shannon says she had no clue the Prestons were even gone during the month of February 2020. Such is the case for someone who works graveyards.

So she was shocked when Bill was brought in to the hospital where she works one night in mid-March. He was having great difficulty breathing.

Bill is a big guy. He’s nearly 50 years old and while he is active in his work and his off time his doctor later told him he was high risk for the virus. Ironically, as they later figured, Bill’s exposure to the virus likely came long after his cruise when he returned home.

Bill was tested and admitted.

Within 24 hours his case became severe. He was sedated and put on a ventilator.

That night is when Shannon ran into Natalie as she was returning home from work. Natalie was on the way to the hospital and she was in tears.

For the first time ever Shannon walked passed that fence and hugged her neighbor.

“I couldn’t not talk to her,” Shannon said. “It disturbed me to see this thing affect someone so close to home. Honestly, we haven’t had a lot of cases yet. So to have it happen to my neighbor was kind of shocking. Can you imagine how horrifying it must have been for Natalie and their kids?”

In all, Bill was on the ventilator for 16 days.

As the days progressed Shannon was there by night and Natalie was there by day. Their hugs became a daily routine and they shared information and updates.

For a good ten days or so it was a very scary time for Bill. The conversations between Natalie and Shannon were increasingly emotional. Shannon was desperate to find a way to give them all some hope.

It came when Bill was able to get off the ventilator and out of intensive care. Shannon could not believe how simple the idea was.

With the help of her children and with the Preston’s kids, Shannon stayed a little later after her shift and set up Christmas lights and a Christmas tree in Bill’s room. When he opened his eyes after sleeping he said, “Man, how long have I been in here?”

But the bigger reaction came from Natalie.

“They turned that drab, dark and depressing place into a wonderland,” Natalie said. “It was medicine for all of us – for Bill, for me, for all the kids. Everything turned when those lights went up.”

Bill is still recovering but at home now. His Christmas lights are up and on outside – and up and on inside.

Everyone, thanks to Bill’s condition, are still in quarantine – both families, except for Shannon who has to continue to work. They play games, make meals together and watch Christmas movies. The families have now become very close – thanks to Coronavirus and Christmas.

“That fence,” Bill said, “either comes down or we’re going to hang lights on it together this fall. Shannon’s house too, doggone it. We’re family.”

Editor’s Note: This true story was shared with us by Natalie, a long-time member (but infrequent poster) of the Merry Forums. Names have been changed to protect their identity. This story is too good to keep just on the forums.   


Father of 7, Grandfather of 7, husband of 1. Freelance writer, Major League baseball geek, aspiring Family Historian.
  • T
    Tim Storey
  • April 27, 2020
Beautiful story!

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