Arkansas: The Middle

Photo Arkansas Middle 1A

Our store, Mountain View Mercantile (originally he O.R. Case Building) by Granny Chicken

The old pickup truck stopped to let me cross the street. The two passengers smiled and waved to me. Though I had never met these two men, I returned the wave and the smile, as I heard the driver yell out his window “Hey, Linda- If you need anything while your hubby is out of town next week, you just holler at us.” Feeling as if I was living on the movie set of Mayberry, along with Andy, Opie and Aunt Bee, I had officially settled into small town living.

I can honestly say that I never once was afraid to stay in that large building all by myself. Even on dark, rainy nights, I felt as if someone had their arms around me. Granny Chicken said that was probably Mr. O.R. Case, the building’s owner, who was glad it was being looked after.

Named by her grandson since she was the grandma with the chickens, Granny Chicken was a local artist who painted in the primitive style. A bit eccentric and dressed in her signature print dress and straw hat, she wandered into the store one afternoon. Having just read about her in a tourism publication, we struck up a conversation and made a date to meet for lunch. Soon after, I took a crash course in primitive art, started carrying her art on consignment in the store and became her agent.

Together, we traveled to events sponsored by the Department of Parks and Tourism to promote the Ozarks and Mountain View. Granny turned out to be more connected than I had imagined. She introduced me to then Governor Clinton and his family at the Governor’s mansion. At Winrock Farms, the Rockefeller estate, we clapped along as Winthrop Rockefeller sat on a bale of hay and played the spoons, but not before he had welcomed her personally. I remember thinking that the folks back home will never believe this.

It seemed that whatever I needed would just appear. Pouring over old books in the local library, I found just the right logo for the store. Hoping to find some original recordings back from the building’s era, I was surprised to find a collector of vintage music sitting against the building playing just such music and happy to sell me some tapes. Complete with that authentic tinny sound, it made for wonderful background music in the store. I was surprised when, out of the blue, a packaging salesman walked into the store asking if I needed any supplies. Keeping with the theme and my budget, I stamped my logo on brown bags and used bright colored tissue paper and rope as gift wrap.

Between the local cast of characters dropping in (my favorite was the local baker, a New York transplant, who resembled Woody Allen) and the tourists visiting, every day was an adventure. Students from the Soviet Union and China, soil and conservation experts from Morocco, Africa and South America and groups of senior RVers; you never knew what to expect.

Living in a tourist town did have its benefits. Visitors were upbeat, the small community supported each other and, together, worked hard to put their best foot forward. Somewhere between the advice of the other store owners (open when you want, close when you’ve had enough) and my methodical personality, I found my rhythm and enjoyed the ride.

Photo Arkansas Middle 2

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Arkansas: The Beginning

Photo Arkansas Beginning

Mountain View, Arkansas, (population: two thousand one hundred forty seven) was not on the way to anywhere else. You must travel into the winding mountains of the Ozarks to get there. The small town with its historic buildings, built of Arkansas stone and clustered around the Courthouse Square appeared to be frozen in time. Yet, there was a pulse and vitality you could feel.

Most every day, you’d hear music; mandolins, fiddles, dulcimers, guitars. It’s a long-standing tradition that musicians gathered anytime, day or night, and played together on the square. Known as the “Folk Music Capital of the World,” Mountain View was home to musical events such as the National Fiddler’s Competition.

My eyes shut tightly, Mr. Wiz* excitedly escorted me out of the car. I opened my eyes to find him standing in front of a large decrepit stone building, as he explained that the almost eight thousand square feet was once home to a car dealership. Since the wood furniture company Mr. Wiz was running was renting it as a warehouse, he wondered what I would think of trying a little experiment.

What if we cleaned up the first floor and displayed some of the wood products to sell during the upcoming festival? Based on the sales, we might consider buying the building and creating a retail store. What the heck; we had already moved there from Chicago and back then, we were ready for an adventure.

We got right to work, scraping off the black paint that covered the front picture windows and sweeping up the dirt and dust. Just as I was worrying what we might do to hide the large holes in the walls, a shy woman peeked in to say that she was looking for a place to display her handmade quilts during the festival. We made a deal, strung them up on clotheslines, put together some samples of the outdoor furniture (porch swings, Adirondack chairs, etc.) and were open for business.

The three-day Bean Festival brought over fifty thousand visitors to the little town to enjoy the famous outhouse parade, to taste the beans simmering in the big black cauldrons over an open fire in order to judge the best recipe and to play music on the courthouse square. Our cash and carry experiment was an overwhelming success and soon after, we became the proud owners of the O.R. Case building.

Built in 1928, we were excited to return this National Historic Register building to its original glory days. Even the old dust and dirt that stuck to our clothes, as we did some prep work before the construction crew started, couldn’t dampen our spirits.

It is said that because Arkansas rests on diamond mines there is a mystical aura around it. This not only explained the quilter showing up at just at the right time, but also a continuing series of events that to this day, still has me scratching my head in disbelief.

To be continued…

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

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What Would Rosie the Riveter Do?

Photo Rosie the Riveter 1Photo Rosie the Riveter 2Photo Rosie the Riveter 2

Crossing the days off the calendar, not knowing when my hairdresser and I would be able to resume our relationship again left me frustrated. Well into quarantining, I arose one morning and started the day laughing, as I glanced at myself in the mirror. With uncontrollable curls now standing high all over my head, all I could think of was that I looked like Bozo the Clown’s illegitimate daughter. Thinking quickly, I gathered up my hair and harnessed those stubborn ringlets with a red bandana. “Good morning, Rosie the Riveter,” Mr. Wiz* said with a smile, as he kissed me.

During World War II, Rosie the Riveter was the star of a campaign to recruit female workers for male jobs in the defense industry, as men went off to war. In May 1943, Norman Rockwell celebrated those heroic women with his iconic painting on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post and people hummed the catchy tune of a popular song dedicated to Rosie.

One of Westinghouse Electric’s wartime posters coined the phrase “We can do it!” along with Rosie’s picture to encourage women to join the labor force. The poster was only displayed for two weeks, until another replaced it. Rosie enjoyed a resurgence in the 1980s due to the 40thanniversary of World War II, the National Archives allowing licensing rights and the push for women’s rights.

Who was Rosie the Riveter? According to history.com, she was 20-year-old Naomi Parker, whose photo was snapped by a photographer as she worked in a machine shop at the Naval Air Station in Alameda, California. Naomi’s secret identity was finally revealed when she was 94 years old and she was able to enjoy the recognition until she died two years later.

Lately I’ve been thinking: what would Rosie do? If she were here now, she would make the best of her situation, just as she always had. She would help any way she could. She would be grateful for what she had during this difficult time, rather than gripe about what she was missing. She would look at the gift of time as a blessing.

I am riveted by Rosie, her story and her moxie.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

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Thank Those Lemons, Then Make Limoncello    

Photo Lemons Limoncllo

I spent most of my 13th year of life in our family bathroom, crying. Back then, things just never seemed to work out as I had planned. Boyfriend angst, girlfriend drama, body issues, academic concerns, shyness, lack of confidence; I had no idea how to deal with my struggles.

JC* and my Dad took turns talking to me out of earshot of my three young siblings, for my sake and probably for the sake of the family, since that house only had one bathroom. JC would regale me with stories of her childhood and how she and her independent streak would band together and seem to overcome any obstacles. My Dad would remind me how the army had built him back up, giving him the determination to set goals that might have seemed out of reach to others and one by one, accomplish them.

Hoping I had inherited the best of my parents’ personalities, it was in my 16th year that I ventured entirely out of my comfort zone and entered a modeling contest at the local upscale teen fashion shop. Excited to be able to choose my wardrobe, it turned out that my first and second choices were not in my size. When the knowledgeable saleslady steered me over to my correct size, which was a bit larger, I thought it must be a mistake; it wasn’t.

I didn’t win, but I remember the owner telling me I had a nice smile. So, the next day when I went shopping for boots and the salesman told JC that I had large calves (I was sitting right there), I realized I had a big decision to make; I could see myself with large calves or a nice smile and I chose the latter. As it turned out, the fruit didn’t fall far from the tree. I had succeeded in taking my first step toward Lemonade 101.

A love lost that steered me toward my true partner. A career change that sparked my creativity. A move that landed me where I belonged. Tears that made me appreciate every smile. Maladies that helped me to celebrate life. When I think back to the disappointments that have engulfed me over the years, I can reflect and see clearly how the increasingly positive attitude I was developing, encouraged me to squeeze all I could out of a situation and then mix it with what new possibilities lie ahead.

As I mature, I like to think that in the big lemonade stand of life, I have graduated to Limoncello and created a more sophisticated version of myself, drinking in experiences, with pinky up, sipping at an outdoor café and confident in the knowledge that the end is usually just a new beginning.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

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Sole Searching

Photo HIking Boots

Me and my Merrell Moab Ventilators in Villafranca del Bierzo, Spain

Let’s just say that I am not known for my sports prowess and leave it at that. It wasn’t until 2016 that I finally found my sport; walking! Standing at the top of that mountain, after trying on my first hiking boots gave me a wonderful sense of exhilaration. And as I stepped down from the four-foot, plaster mountain in the shoe department of the REI store, I felt downright giddy.

Thus, began an intimate relationship with my hiking boots. I remember those first few awkward days as we got to know each other. I’d tie them over and over, trying for a not too tight, but not too loose a fit. I broke them in, walking the city streets of Chicago. Little did they know that they were soon destined to walk 500 miles through Spain on the Camino de Santiago, the 1000- year-old route to the Shrine of the Apostle St. James in northern Spain’s medieval city of Santiago de Compostela.

Skittish at first of the uphills, downhills, rocky terrain and water crossings, I finally settled into a rhythm whereby my boots seemed to be leading me. They helped me to define my comfort zone. I likened this to a car with new tires and the confidence you feel as their traction assists you in navigating the road.

If those boots could talk! They’ve staggered through rainstorms, forced to listen to us taking turns singing Broadway show tunes to pass the time, then left overnight, stuffed fat with newspaper. They’ve been caked in mud and sat alone, not allowed entry into our hotel room. Regardless, they always know that once they arrive home, they will be well scrubbed and placed on their side in their original shoebox, toe to heel, until their next adventure.

Lately, circumstances have dictated that those boots become a basic necessity, once again, as I walk miles each day. Whatever the weather (or my temperament), as soon as I fit my foot snugly into each one, I feel a sudden sense of exhilaration. It’s amazing what can go on while your feet are moving. The recurring sound of my boots hitting the pavement, crunching leaves or trudging through dirt paths, creates a Zen backdrop.

Ever the shoe lover, I must confess that even the pride and joy of my collection, my Allen Edmonds brown and white spectators, don’t give me the lift that my boots do. My hiking boots may seem like the ugly duckling compared to their classic elegance, but they serve their purpose and serve it well.

Thankful that I have finally outgrown my 30 years of clumsiness, I welcome this new phase of my life, resigned to let my feet lead the way and take one step at a time.

 

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Guatemala, Hypnosis and My Lost Wedding Ring

Photo Lost Wedding Ring

At first, new friends thought we were one of those cool couples that never married (like Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell). It only took 10 minutes into a Happy Hour for me to blurt out that I had misplaced my wedding ring. Not taking it on a hiking trip was a good idea; not remembering where I had hidden it was not.

Soon neighbors (some I had never met) were chiming in. When out walking, I’d receive a friendly wave and a comment such as “Did you check behind the washer and dryer?” Friends that entered my home asked if they could take a quick look around for me. Unfortunately, I remained anxious and the ring remained lost.

A lovely woman insisted I borrow her Guatemalan worry dolls. Apparently, there is a legend that if you have a problem, you share it with the worry dolls, place them under your pillow and when you awake, the dolls will have taken your worries away. In the morning, I awoke in a panic to find them missing. After removing the bedding and crawling around, I found them nestled together under the bed. Hoping that their mojo would still work through a mini zip-close bag, those one-inch tall little devils were sealed up from then on.

“How about a hypnotist?” suggested another woman. A friend of hers would soon be performing locally and maybe she could assist. Unfortunately, the hypnotist was not available, but steered me to a colleague. New at the hypnosis game and eager for the practice, the young gentleman was eager to work with me over the phone at no charge.

With a silken voice, he instructed me to get comfortable in a quiet space and relax (hard to do with Mr. Wiz* curiously peering in at me every few minutes). With eyes closed and headphones on, I listened to him softly directing me to think of myself looking down onto a map of my home. “The map is white and there is a blue dot where you are standing. Is the blue dot moving anywhere?” he quietly asked, repeatedly. Hard as I tried that darn dot wouldn’t budge. The session ended and though disappointed, I thanked him profusely for his time.

If only I had a metal detector; was that my thought or was I still a bit woozy? I decided to put an announcement on the community bulletin board, asking if someone could BYOMD (bring your own metal detector) and help me find my ring for a reward. Not more than an hour later, a neighbor (whom I had not yet met) texted me to say he would gladly assist. Mr. Wiz was taken a bit by surprise when he asked what that noise was and I said it was just my good friend, Harry (not his real name), in my closet. As hard as he tried, Harry had no luck, but he did compliment me on my closet organizational skills.

At this point, months had gone by. Still ringless, I now found myself with a new problem to focus on; an itch that just wouldn’t go away. It arrived out of nowhere and commanded my full attention. Out of the blue, Epsom salts came to mind and relentlessly stayed there. Let me just interject here that Epsom salts and I have no history. Confused as I was, I finally acquiesced and decided a bath might do me some good.

As I pulled the zip-close bag out from under the sink in the guest bathroom, something in a smaller zip-close bag sparkled in the light. It was my ring! I slinked down the wall and sat on the floor, lovingly hugging the bag and scolding it at the same time, just as you might when you’ve found a missing child. I tenderly gave it a bath in jewelry cleaner, placed it back on my finger and ran to find Mr. Wiz. Little did I know then, that the itch would vanish just as quickly as it had presented itself.

Guatemala, hypnosis, metal detectors, Epsom salts and many zip-close bags later, I have no idea what the moral of this story is, but the next time I decide to hide any jewelry I’ll be sure to let you all know first.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

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Spring Didn’t Get the Memo

Photo Coronavirus 1

Texas Bluebonnets welcome us each morning, as we begin our hike

Spring didn’t get the memo today
Flowers bloomed while birds blissfully sang
Quarantined within these lovely surroundings
Making sense of the yin and the yang

There’s a long grocery line and I imagine
The cart handle is a ballet bar
I can use it to exercise, but one yoga downward dog
And my husband says he’s headed to the car

I’ve come to appreciate simple pleasures
Like a six-foot visit with a neighbor on the street
Or ordering local takeout
Always good, but now delicious to eat

Some neighborhoods open their windows nightly
And in unison they happily sing
Parents and children spend precious time together
Something only hunkering down can bring

Be comforted that we’ll be well read, well fed
And most probably binge watched out
Remember there’s always a beginning, a middle and an end
This too shall pass, there’s absolutely no doubt

And, when we open our doors and reenter the world
Heads held high, though needing a hairdresser’s touch
We’ll be thankful that spring reminded us to be grateful
For our country, state and city that mean so much

Photo Coronavirus 2

Nothing like a message in a tree to start the day right

 

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Here’s to Life; All 190 Years of it!

Photo 190 Years

I would like to introduce you to two of my friends. At 95 years of age, they are each so full of energy and have such a zest for life, that I thought you would enjoy meeting them.

When she closes her eyes, she can still see herself singing with her sister, while her father accompanied them on the mandolin. She attributes her love of opera to her father, who would close his shoemaker business early on Saturdays to listen to the Metropolitan Opera on the radio.

After befriending the nuns at her local parish, she decided to enter the convent. She trained as a nurse and received her BSN and Masters in Nursing Administration. Tireless and fun loving, everyone knew her in the large hospital. She worked as a surgical nurse, pediatric nurse and in nursing administration, but her heart was always with the children.

Small in stature, but with a big personality, it is no wonder that when a travel agent friend of one of the nuns was looking for two sisters to accompany groups on pilgrimages to pray on the buses as they traveled from city to city, off she went to see the world.

With missions in Brooklyn, California, Chicago, Montreal and Seattle, she now makes her home in New York City where she lives with 24 other nuns in a senior residence that is near to her family. One of her favorite pastimes is sending weekly emails filled with jokes, interesting photos and stories to her large mailing list. Each time we speak on the phone I marvel at how she corrects me at least once, with details I had forgotten. She always makes me laugh.

He is one good storyteller. He had me on the edge of my seat as he regaled me with his naval adventures from World War II, recalling every detail as if it were yesterday. Stationed in Honolulu and Saipan, it was where he wasn’t sent that he still remembers all these years later. Drawing straws to see who would be headed to Iwo Jima was the only way his medical group could come to a decision. That he wasn’t chosen and lived to mourn his fellow corpsmen, who were all killed instantly as they approached the island, had a lasting effect on him.

After the war he attended college, proud of the 1937 Ford he had purchased that finally replaced his bicycle. He was content with his job as a high school teacher, but with a wife and a growing family, he couldn’t resist an offer from the Atomic Energy Commission that doubled his salary. Only when he remembered to use laymen’s terms was I able to follow his career from there to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Still trim and standing tall and straight, he attributes his independence and positive attitude (he’s survived three wives and two of his four children) to his naval career and does not let the fact that he has some vision issues deter him. Lately, he’s been thinking of becoming a motivational speaker in schools and connecting with the children.

If 85 is the new 95 and 70 is the new 80, etc., etc., then do the math and follow my friends’ advice: get out there and make the best of the time you have!

 

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It’s Never Too Late for Fate

She ripped the letter open while still standing in her driveway. Her old college boyfriend had written to those he’d had past friendships with, explaining that since his wife had died, he was looking to rekindle relationships to fill the void. Her life passed in front of her, as she remembered the fun they’d had together, how their lives had veered off in different directions, how her marriage wasn’t the fairy tale she had envisioned.

She walked into the house and called him, the letter still in her hand. She could tell by his voice that he was overjoyed to hear from her. Before she knew it, she had accepted an invitation to visit him. By their second meeting, he told her that he’d lost her once, and was not about to let it happen again. No one had given her those butterflies in her stomach for a very long time. As she sat on the plane, heading to her new home, she knew that moving in with him was her destiny, never having envisioned another chance for true love.

Single and living in the same community, they seemed to have a lot in common. The two women soon became exercise buddies and prodded each other into attending more neighborhood events together.

When a close family relation died, she knew she would be there for her new friend. She politely made small talk as she was introduced to the other guests at the funeral. When she met her friend’s cousin, she was taken aback. He was so charming and easy to talk to. They made plans to meet for dinner the next day and a romance blossomed from there. Little did she know what fate was awaiting her and what an interesting story of their meeting she would have.

Enough! After years of laboring on match.com as if it were a part time job and with no success, she was ready to exit the online dating world, except for one thing: she had forgotten that her account self-renewed, since she hadn’t canceled it ahead of time. Annoyed, she took a friend’s advice and went on a few “last” dates, just to get her money’s worth.

They lived so far apart that they planned to meet half way. She was already telling herself that this was a mistake. He had a nice smile and seemed like an interesting person. What she couldn’t get over was how he seemed to listen to her every word. In time, the distance didn’t seem to matter.

This wasn’t their first rodeo; they knew what they wanted out of life, so they went for it, but not in the traditional way. They bought a house together, went on a European honeymoon and then got married. Her terrible divorce, her cancer; it all seemed like someone else’s life. Now it was her time to shine.

What makes these stories even sweeter is that the heroines range in age from 55 – 69 years young. They never expected to find love, but said it found them. Sometimes we need to hop into the back seat and let the universe steer us to exactly where we belong.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Rats, Another Chinese New Year!

Photo Chinese New Year 1

It was a typical Friday evening (or so I thought). I had made a dinner reservation at one of JC’s* favorite restaurants after she had experienced a particularly trying week. It seems that the bird watching club she was so excited to join was too far to travel to. On top of that, she was just told that she was now on the waitlist for free ukulele lessons. In the spirit of the upcoming Lunar New Year celebration, I made a reservation for the three of us (me, JC and Mr. Wiz*) to dine at Lin Asian Bar.

I didn’t realize the cup was full of water. The interesting metal cup looked vintage and when I picked it up to get a better look, it spilled all over me. As our waiter, Kanye, ran over to help clean it up, I said: “And, I didn’t even have a glass of wine yet.” His reply: “It should be interesting when you do” immediately endeared me to him.

Kanye asked if I knew that spilling water meant good luck in Chinese tradition. He told us that while helping his stern grandmother move to a new home, he accidently spilled some water on her floor. Rather than being chastised, she hugged him and thanked him for the blessing. The evening was starting out better than I’d thought.

This is the Year of the Rat. In Chinese culture, the rat symbolizes wealth and because of its reproduction rate, couples pray to them for children. Also known as Lunar New Year, this holiday marks the start of the Chinese lunar calendar and was originally a time to pray to the gods for a good harvest. It’s the longest Chinese holiday and celebrates with the most fireworks set off in the world. Because the elderly Chinese live in rural areas and most of their children live in cities, the country experiences the largest human migration in the world during this holiday period. Singles actually go to the extreme of hiring fake boyfriends or girlfriends to bring home to family festivities, rather than be interrogated about their personal lives.

In order to not wash away any good luck, showering is not recommended on new year’s day and no sweeping or trash pickup is allowed for a few days. Red decorations adorn homes, people dress in red and children receive monetary gifts in red envelopes to signify good fortune.

After a couple of restaurant visits, I am now able to master the Shanghai Soup Dumplings: lift the broth filled dumpling carefully into the small cup without breaking it, prick it with your chopsticks, pour the sauce over it, eat the dumpling then drink the broth. We ate slowly, enjoying our wine pairing and hoping that our Orange Peel Beef and Seafood Delight with Birds Nest (assorted seafood in a crispy potato shaped nest) might last longer.

By the time we sipped our usual hot sake instead of dessert, Kanye had explained the custom of kissing each others’ foreheads for good fortune. As we left and thanked him for a wonderful evening, he shared with us that his name was actually not Kanye, but he liked the sound of it, so found no need to correct us.

We walked home, arm in arm, laughing as we recounted the interesting evening. Giddy, still damp and with a kiss from Kanye on my forehead, I could only speculate how this good fortune might present itself in the coming year.

Photo Chinese New Year 2

Me and Kanye (who’s not really Kanye)

 

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

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