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Anne Jones, from left, Joan Dransfield and Karen Manigold belong to Belmont Belles, who gather outside due to COVID-19 and fellowship in lively rounds of conversation. CONTRIBUTED

Belmont Belles’ driveway gatherings cover gamut of conversations

MADISON – A group of friends in Madison have defied 2020’s constraints and have found a silver lining in the gray gloom of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Back in March, Roberta ‘Bert’ Malcolm gathered a group of female neighbors on her driveway. Now, they met practically every afternoon. “During these endless days of COVID-19 isolation, we have provided support to one another,” Malcolm said.

Calling themselves the ‘Belmont Belles,’ most members live in the Belmont Place neighborhood and meet in each other’s driveways. While fellowship is their main goal, they have shared humor, knowledge and emotional support during stressful isolation.

They limit membership to less than 10 to comply with social distance requirements from Alabama Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“All of our group are retired from various careers. The majority are widowed and live alone,” Malcolm said. Several continue to volunteer for Broadway Theater League, Madison Women’s Club, Huntsville Botanical Garden, AARP Tax Service and churches.

Members are Roberta Malcolm, Inga Davis, Joan Dransfield, Anne Jones, Miriam Jobb, Dorothy Kaliszak, Karen Manigold, Sandy Schwarz, Kathy Skibinski and Donna Skinner. Ages range from 60 to 90 years old.

“Sadly, one of our group passed away in July unexpectedly. She is sorely missed,” Malcolm said.

Each person brings a folding rocking chair and quilts. They don’t meet if the temperature is below 50 degrees or in inclement weather.

“We’ve discussed everything from babies to politics. We accept others’ opinions and political beliefs without judgement,” Malcolm said. “One topic that’s absolutely a no-no is health. Too many senior citizens discuss medication and conditions ad nauseam.”

Answering “The New York Times” news quiz on Fridays is a weekly pastime to focus on world events. Travel is a favorite topic because most “have seen much of the world. We discuss books, movies, cost of cable and gasoline,” she said.

To conquer technology, Belmont Belles often pursue iPhone/Android lessons. “Needless to say, outside observers would die laughing at the shenanigans with our technology,” Malcolm said.

Many neighbors drive by and wave. Some folks have ‘dropped in,’ ridden by on bikes and teased them and introduced family dogs on their walks. “We’ve enjoyed canapes and wine. The walk-by neighbors usually are envious,” Malcolm said.

At their ‘block party,’ extended family visited. The belles said, “Hello,” to one member’s daughter living in Italy.

“We’ve had ‘spirited’ discussions on several occasions. The recent national elections became a hot topic, almost too hot to handle,” Malcolm said. “Out of respect, politics are rarely brought up these days.”

COVID-19 also stirred emotions. Opinions varied on visiting/traveling with relatives outside the immediate household.

“We voted together, survived isolation together and will probably get vaccinated together,” Malcolm said. “Strong bonds have developed over these nine months and will keep us friends for life. Our meetings will change as life does, but we expect to always be there for one another.”

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