Archive | December, 2013

You’re Only Old Once

30 Dec

I remember my mom telling me to ENJOY being young. She said that youth is like a song that’s sung too quickly & that we’re old for a very long time if we allow ourselves to be. She looked at me, smiled & said, “Remember … old is just some poop in our heads.”

I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about & I never remembered to ask her about all that… until just now, on the eve of my birthday, & it’s too late because she’s gone. I wish I’d asked. But I don’t remember her ever seeming “old;” not until she became very ill & that illness robbed her of her youth & eventually her life. But until then, I believed she would remain forever young & she almost did.

As with many monumental occasions in our lives, we suddenly have a moment of clarity … that “Ah Ha” moment when we see clearly what someone was talking about & are at a loss to understand why we didn’t’ see it sooner. I think maybe that is part of the wisdom that comes with maturity &, although this isn’t’ one of those significant birthdays, I’m becoming even more mature tomorrow & I suddenly  know exactly what my mother was talking about.

I breezed through life without much concern until my 30th. birthday. Shortly after the presents were opened & the cake was mostly crumbs in the cake box I found my first gray hair. And shortly after that I looked in the mirror … one of those “magnification 30X” mirrors … & came face-to-face with the beginnings of a crow’s foot. How could I have gotten old overnight?

By 40 I’d begun worrying about all the things I hadn’t accomplished in my life. I’d wanted to be a mom & an artist & an author & a journalist & I wasn’t any of those things, although I was, by then, a step mom, which filled that empty spot in my life. I wrote silly poems for my step son & drew cartoons to accompany them. Sometimes my poems turned serious & I called that self-expression. I had a rewarding career as an OR nurse so I was far from being a failure. But I hadn’t done some stuff that I was interested in doing and…I dreaded turning 50.  

But I did it anyway… that turning 50 thing.

I was ushered into that decade riding the crest of a powerful hot flash that turned into a very long “personal tropical moment” that defies definition.

Shortly after that I took an early retirement because I wanted time to enjoy my life while I was still young enough to & shortly after that I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

While going through almost a year of treatment I remembered what my mom had told me … we’re old for a very long time if we allow ourselves to be. Since my “time” had suddenly become one of the greatest uncertainties I’d had an occasion to face, I started making adjustments. I was determined that NOTHING, not age or cancer was going to rob me of the youth I’d seen fleeting since finding that first gray hair. In light of my chemo-induced baldness, gray hair seemed a moot point.

I put forth a very conscious effort to enjoy every day … to pursue the things I wanted to do in this life because I realized we aren’t promised second chances. Getting old seemed the least of my concerns, right up there on the list with gray hair & crow’s feet. Getting old was just some poop in my head.

Without hesitation I began a second career with a local cable television channel as a talk show host (me – the kid who dreaded giving oral book reports in school). I wrote a book & worked for 2 years to get it published. I included 6 original illustrations. Now I’m writing a BLOG, which is a form of journalism & self-expression – an unexplored avenue until now.

I’ve accomplished all those things I felt were lacking in my life when I turned 40 primarily because cancer made me realize that I’d been threatening to make myself old for a very long time (echoes of my mom’s warning). Our “time” is precious & I didn’t want to spend mine worrying about getting old. I found I simply didn’t have “time” for that.

So on the eve of this birthday I have finally realized exactly what my mom was talking about when she said we’re old a very long time if we allow ourselves to be. She knew that somewhere in the back of all our heads we just can’t help mentally marking off birthdays… doing a mental count-down to oblivion. She knew that worrying about it can bury our youth & make us old for many years when we’re still very young & just too dumb to realize it. She also knew that “young” is mostly a state of mind … how we approach life … how we enjoy it & what we make it. She said, in her wisdom, “Old is just some poop in our heads.”

Tomorrow night is New Year’s Eve … my birthday … & I’m celebrating with people I care about who make me happy because they are in my life. I won’t be just going through the motions because, after cancer, no one is happier to see another birthday on their calendar.

There’s something else my mom always told me from the very beginning when I started being aware of my birthdays. She told me that all the horns, bells & whistles that are such a big part of New Year’s Eve really had nothing to do with the New Year at all. She told me that all those bells & whistles were for ME. And you know what? I believe her … especially tonight after realizing that she has given me an absentee birthday gift … the gift of youth all over again.

We’re only old ONCE & tonight I realize, for me anyway, that’s a long, long way away. I believe my mom would be proud of my sudden burst of clarity.

Happy New Year! It’s my birthday & I’m planning to dance (if I can just get these arthritic knees moving ……..)




Exchanging It: The Day after Christmas

26 Dec

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. We did … with family & just spending time at home together. This was the very first Christmas Eve that we haven’t gone somewhere &, while we always enjoy getting together with friends & family, it was nice to stay home. We wrapped those last few gifts & enjoyed the family room by the fire saying we were going to watch all those TV shows we’ve recorded but never had time to watch. Instead, we just dozed off. Even the cat stayed stretched out on the floor in front of the fire. I’m sorry it’s over.

So today Willy is back at work, I’m attempting to get stuff put away from under the tree & the cat is still stretched out in front of the fire.

I don’t have even one present that needs exchanging but if I did, NO WAY would I jump into that EXCHANGING FRENZY that’s likely going on at the mall right now. Even if I HAD something to exchange, I wouldn’t be in the middle of that mall madness. I don’t believe in taking my life into my own hands because a pair of shoes is the wrong color or because I received a pair of “dainties” 3 sizes too big … which I didn’t.

It’s like Black Friday … there’s NO WAY I’d jump into that buying frenzy. Every year we hear of people getting injured, getting trampled or ending up in physical altercations with other people because one got the last $2000 TV that, for that day only, was on sale for a buck fifty. It’s just not worth it to me to risk life, limbs, eye jabs & nostril lacerations for that when there really are only 6 of those discounted TVs available … which is what they DON’T tell you in the pre-sale advertisements.

But I do know people who LOVE Black Friday & love getting into the “Exchange Wars” the day after Christmas because stuff at the stores (what’s left) is reduced even more than it was on Black Friday. Somehow, getting a deal is the most important thing.

I wonder how we got this way … people camping out in tents for days in sub-zero temperatures waiting for Black Friday or waiting to exchange something they got but never really wanted. What happened to the days when we got stuff & were pleased to have gotten it – pleased to have been remembered?

Every time I see people on the “News at Six” fighting & clawing to be first through the doors at WalMart or Best Buy on Black Friday or the day after Christmas fighting to be first in line at the exchange counter I remember a simpler time; Christmases when we were so fortunate to be together as a family & so happy with the presents we got, even if we sometimes didn’t get something we wanted. I think something is truly lost with the way things are now & because of that, I just avoid those occasions when people go nuts & attempt to rip each other apart for a discounted blender or boots made in China.

Today I am happy … almost serene … to be here at home, looking at the gifts I received yesterday while wondering where I’m going to put them. And I’m thankful that where to put them is my only concern.

My heart goes out to those people involved in the after Christmas frenzy at the malls today, even if that’s where they want to be. My heart also goes out to my nurse sisters & brothers manning emergency rooms today & tonight who will be attempting to treat severed ears & limbs & to remove portions of store displays & left over Christmas decorations from orifices violated in today’s Exchange Frenzy.





Fruitcakes and Umbrella Christmas Trees

20 Dec

Every year right before the holidays Willy starts stressing over fruit cake.  He says there’s really only ONE fruitcake in the whole wide world & because people (he) generally hate fruitcakes, we all just keep sending the doggone thing from person to person during the holidays & getting rid of it the best way we know how. That thing surely has been around the world tens of thousands of times & must be super moldy by now.

His idea is that every now & then we drag that old moldy fruitcake from the back of the freezer when we have unexpected drop-in visitors & nothing in the house to offer them in the way of refreshments.  When they find out we’re offering them fruitcake they decline, claiming they’ve just eaten or have recently been to iHop & sampled about four dozen pancakes of various flavors & simply can’t eat another thing.

While the fruitcake is out of the freezer, we box it up & send it on its way to Aunt Nellie in Paducah…to do with as she sees fit, even though we know in 2023 we’ll be getting it back again in a package loaded with stamps from all over the world, delivered during the holidays by a UPS guy dressed like an elf.

But … I have had a fruit cake or two that I really liked.

My friend use to make her fruit cakes in August or April or sometime that was a long time from being Thanksgiving or Christmas. She’d wrap them up in cheesecloth & stick them in the darkest part of the darkest closet in the house. Once or twice a month she’d put on night vision goggles, take a bottle of rum or bourbon into the recesses of the closet & douse those fruitcakes with a quart or two of the spirits. She’d stagger out of the closet a half hour or so later all smiley & when she brought out those fruitcakes at Thanksgiving & Christmas, they were the BEST fruitcakes this side of an illegal West Virginia mountain still. So some fruitcakes DO have redeeming qualities.

Not so an 8’ artificial Christmas tree with individually removable limbs.

Karen was going to bring a Christmas tree for our club to use on our float for the Amherst Christmas Parade until she realized that “assembly required” meant a bunch of us would have to stand on the side of the street on the parade route in fading light attempting to get all the red-labeled limbs into the red-labeled slots on the trunk of the tree, the green-labeled branches into the green-labeled slots on the trunk & so on. Far too labor intensive & challenging, we decided to go another route. In the end, our float was rained out of the parade but this example got me thinking …

Why hasn’t someone invented an Umbrella Christmas Tree? It should come fully decorated (with non-breakable lights & balls & ornaments, of course) & should work on that mechanism Totes Umbrellas uses. The tree would be pencil thin & all folded up so it looked like an umbrella, no matter how big or tall. Hit that button on the trunk down near the stand & the tree would instantly spring open & to life just like the Totes Umbrella it was mimicking. And there it would be … full in size, ready to stand in front of the picture window & just waiting for gifts underneath. It’s a perfect plan. We could have used one of those Umbrella Trees on our parade float (if we’d had a float).

I haven’t really figured it all out yet … the mechanism, the flawless, unbreakable decorations… but I DO know it is the perfect design. And STORAGE? Well, it goes without saying, an Umbrella Tree would just close up, all nice, neat & tight & stand in the attic or basement closet or in a corner until next year when it would be brought back into the living room, popped open like an umbrella, ready for gifts.

I’m applying for a patent right now & I’m sure Totes will cut me a sweet deal. If not …… there’s always Shark Tank.

I hope all our friends, relatives & even people we aren’t all that crazy about have a wonderful Holiday – Christmas & New Year’s Eve & Day. It’s the time for family & friends (even those who aren’t too cool) & good food, fellowship & cheer. It’s also the time for magic … an opportunity to BELIEVE all over again & to embrace our inner child without fear of ridicule (because we should ALL be doing that embracing thing, really).

Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year!

Wooddruff’s Store Café and Pie Shop

14 Dec

    At 11:30 a.m. on a blustery November Tuesday my friend, Sarah and I walked through the door of Woodruff’s Store Café and Pie Shop on Amelon Road in Amherst County. Not only did the sign on the door say, “Open,” it also said, “Welcome.” Stepping through the door of that ancient white clapboard building was like being in a science fiction novel … Sarah and I took a step back in time.

   The last time I’d seen Sarah she had asked me if I’d been to Woodruff’s. She said the food was superb, although the menu was limited and September’s Southern Living Magazine had featured Woodruff’s fabulous pies. So I did some research and decided Woodruff’s owner, Angela Scott would be an excellent guest for my cable television talk show, “Lynchburg Live.” I called and invited Angela to be my guest and she graciously accepted my invitation.

   Always on the look-out for an interesting talk show guest AND a fabulous pie, I invited Sarah to go along with me to Woodruff’s to do a little pre-show research and to sample the pies that Southern Living had actually sent a representative to the store to sample earlier in the year. The Southern Living woman came away with a deep appreciation of Woodruff’s pies and a delightful piece for the magazine.

   It’s not often that we have celebrity pies in our area so Sarah and I went to meet the owner, her staff and sample some of that magazine-worthy pie.

   I went with the intention of making Woodruff’s pies the focus of my television show segment. I left with, don’t get me wrong, a deep and satisfying appreciation for not only the caramel apple pie but the coconut cream pie, too, but my focus took an unexpected turn and became the rich Amherst County history of Woodruff’s Store and the Woodruff family.

   Woodruffs began as a blacksmith’s shop in the late 1800s. Owner Angela Scott’s great grandfather, a freed slave who fought in the Civil War opened the shop with his pension. As a prominent part of Amherst County’s rich history, the blacksmith shop was Amherst County’s first black-owned business.

   Later, Scott’s father built a shelter for school children on the side of the road to protect them from weather. Eventually a second story was added to the shelter and in 1951, Scott’s parents, James and Mary opened a general store in what once was the children’s shelter.

   According to history, the store became a haven for those needing assistance; a woman suffering abuse at the hands of her husband and numerous families hit by hard times who were never turned away and received food from the store when they were in need.

   Today pictures from that rich history…pictures from a gentler time… adorn the walls of the one-room store. There are also four tables with chairs and a display case filled with pies, potato salad and angel eggs (the opposite, we were told, of deviled eggs) that add to the charm and atmosphere.

   At the back table you will find Mary Woodruff … matriarch of the family who, at 96 (she’ll be 97 next week) is bright, witty and in full command of her faculties. Mingling with the aroma of steaming vegetable soup and the warm scent of pie, Mary is the heartbeat of the store. She invites visitors to sit at her table and talk with her while they have a brief lunch or pie and coffee. Her company and her stories make it difficult to want to leave the warmth of the store and the aroma, not only of pies, but of history that permeates the walls, hangs quietly among the vintage photos and embraces those who stop just to rest a while.

   The store was a grocery store from 1951 – 1982.  In 1998 Angela Scott, who owns Woodruffs now, reopened it as a café and pie shop. She is assisted by her twin sisters and a cousin who, while keeping the books and running the business end of the store, all make those fabulous pies from scratch, using two residential-size ovens that accommodate four pies at a time. .

   Since our visit to Woodruff’s Store Café and Pie Shop I’ve learned that Johnny Woodruff, the athlete who won the 800 meter run in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin alongside notable Olympians like Jesse Owens, has a tie-in to Woodruff’s rich family history. I have to remember to ask Angela about that when she is my guest on “Lynchburg Live.”

   Feeling well-fed and warm all over after spending an afternoon among the warmth and charm of Woodruff’s Store Café and Pie Shop, I was vaguely concerned about the number of calories I’d consumed with one slice of warm caramel apple pie. Angela Scott knowingly assured me that pie sampled for research has no calories.

Photo is of me with my arm around Mary, the founder & matriarch of Woodruff’s. Daughter Angela in the back at far right is the current owner & is standing with her twin sisters who also run the business end of the store. Everybody bakes, even Mary who recently turned 97