CHARLOTTE – Gayle Somervell felt isolated in the early months of COVID-19. She missed her friends and family and was struggling to have real connections without face-to-face interaction.
“You can call them, but today there isn’t a lot to say,” Somervell said.
Creative at heart and unable to sit still at home, the 76-year-old decided to busy herself by making cards. For the first one, she drew a hot air balloon and a butterfly, wrote “Up, Up + Away,” “Follow your Dreams” and signed it “Love, Gayle.”
Since then, Somervell has sent dozens of cards featuring angels, bears, flowers, seashells, butterflies and snowmen to friends and family across the country. She uses blank cards from the dollar store or craft store and embellishes them with scrapbooking stickers, drawings, gemstones and designs from wrapping paper and notepads.
No matter what Somervell creates, she always includes a funny message or uplifting saying and signs the card “Love, Gayle.”
“It lets people know you’re thinking about them and maybe give them a laugh,” she said.
Somervell, who has lived in the Heritage Woods East neighborhood in Charlotte for 41 years, started sending cards to a handful of people once or twice a month. Her list of recipients grew as she thought of more friends and family – like her sisters-in-law in California and Washington – who would enjoy a card.
A few recipients also suggested more people and now Somervell sends 35 cards a week.
Marie Ball, 78, of Matthews, has been friends with Somervell for years after meeting at the Levine Senior Center. Ball said she felt immediate joy the first time she got one of Somervell’s cards.
It wasn’t long before she got another one and another one. Now, they come regularly and without fail, she said.
“Everybody is finding so much joy in getting them because here we are stuck in the house and we can’t go anywhere,” Ball said. “It feels special because you know someone took it upon themselves to do this and it came from the heart. It’s a gift from the heart.”
Ball looks forward to getting Somervell’s cards each week. She likes them so much she displays them around her house and uses them as bookmarks. One of her favorite cards has a frowning face on the front and says, “I’ve had it with COVID-19!” The inside says, “I’ve gone fishing!”
“They are the cutest cards,” Ball said. “I wouldn’t get rid of one of them for anything.”
“She’s a talented lady who is always helping someone else and wants to make other people feel good,” Ball added. “I’m telling you, I can’t wait to get my next card because they’re all different and they’re all stuff she just makes up out of her head.”
Iris Devore, 91, of Matthews, said she’s been “shut in” during the pandemic, so she’s grateful when she gets one of Somervell’s cards in the mail.
“They’re beautiful and very uniquely made,” Devore said. “I’m saving them for my children to see because I think it’s a different way to remember people and it’s special because you’re the only one this is for.”
One of Devore’s favorite cards compares a caterpillar to a butterfly. She likes the colors and the meaning behind the message.
“We can start from nothing almost and you don’t know what’s possible through the years,” she said.
Somervell wasn’t expecting such a positive reaction from her cards. She thinks people like them because they know the effort that goes into sending something through the mail. Many recipients call or text when they get one and some even send her something back.
“There’s something special about mailing a card. Somebody took the time to sit down and write you a message and write down your address,” Somervell said. “Texts are nice and sometimes they take effort, but a card you can hold onto.”
In addition to the cards, Somervell also knits hats for the Boys and Girls Club and makes jewelry. She used to teach a jewelry-making class at the Levine Senior Center and some of her pieces can be found at Matthews HELP Center’s Backporch Treasures.
But she gives most of what she makes away to people she meets – store clerks, restaurant workers, nurses and cancer patients – to brighten their day.
“If I can connect with someone on a friendly basis, then that person might reach out to someone else,” Somervell said.
She said it’s important to reach out and build kindness because you never know what it might do for somebody, especially those working in the midst of the pandemic.
“Maybe they go home and instead of thinking, ‘I’ve been on my feet all day’ they think, ‘Oh, maybe I am appreciated,’” Somervell said. “I think all the kindness and appreciation we can show is what’s going to get us through.