Like so many of the other veterans and residents living in CalVet’s eight Veterans Homes of California, the folks at the Barstow Home found the pandemic and its safety protocols to be, well, restricting.

Charlie and Jill, veteran and staff, both read a copy of the Eagle Falls Gazette.
Charlie and Jill, veteran and staff, enjoy reading the Eagle Falls Gazette.

It meant spending lots of time in their rooms, unable to visit with family and friends because the Homes were in lockdown in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. The socialization—the laughter, the stories, the face-to-face daily banter—has been limited for more than a year.

Lawrence Pangilinan, the Home’s administrator, knew they needed to be back together, closer again in spirit, if not face to face.

The answer? The return of the Barstow Home’s long-defunct newsletter, named for the “Eagle Falls” fountain in front of the Home. It became an in-house source of information soon after the Home opened in 1996, but ceased publication in 2001. A few attempts to resurrect it fizzled. Now, spurred by the need to reconnect, the monthly paper has returned as the “Eagle Falls Gazette.”

Pangilinan said the newsletter has become very important to the residents: offering them a way to participate, keeping up their morale, regaling others with their stories, and providing better communication within the Home.

“Some of the most memorable people that I have met in my life, I have met right here in the Barstow Home,” Pangilinan said. “Everyone has a story to tell, a lesson to share, or a joke to tell. Our residents do that right here, every month with our Eagle Falls Gazette.”

Barstow staff member, Tracy, reads the Eagle Falls Gazette.
Barstow staff member, Tracy, is all eyes on the Eagle Falls Gazette.

The writers are veterans, residents, and staff. Many are members of the Eagle Falls Writers Group. Pangilinan pens an Administrator’s Message. Other pieces might be from the Home’s chaplain or to introduce new staff members. The residents submit personal stories, recipes, and accounts of events. Some submit original poems while others submit the works of others.

“I am always amazed at the poetry our residents write,” said Phil, a veteran and member of the newsletter’s staff.

In the January edition, resident Patsy D. told about her aunt’s labor-intensive green tomato relish recipe and how as children she and her cousin JoJo escaped having to help make it. She wrote it in a homespun style that should be, well, relished.

“During one of the times when I was grinding (ingredients), he (JoJo) slipped out to the garden and gathered a bunch of bugs and spiders in one of the glass jars. Then when she wasn’t looking, he’d put them, one by one, on the kitchen screen door. They didn’t all hang on but enough did so that she could see them,” Pasty wrote. “My job was to scream, point to the bugs on the door, and get out of her way. Because wherever she was in that kitchen, the minute she saw those bugs, she became a hurricane getting out of that kitchen.”

Veteran Paul enjoys communicating with Home residents through the Eagle Falls Gazette.
Veteran Paul enjoys communicating with Home residents through the Eagle Falls Gazette.

Other writers submit fiction, history, and humor pieces. The key is that it connects residents who might have found themselves disconnected throughout the pandemic. Now, each month generates anticipation at the Home and what the next Eagle Falls Gazette will bring.

“It’s great how the residents inquire about it and look forward to the new edition each month,” said Tracy, a member of the Gazette staff.

“We love everything about it,” said residents Charlie and Jill.

Indeed, the rejuvenated Eagle Falls Gazette won’t prevent or cure COVID-19. But within the Barstow Veterans Home, you might say it’s gone viral.

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