The Union County Courthouse tower, a constant in my life for these 60 years. I took this photo five years ago this weekend. Thirty years ago this weekend, we were ready to launch into a new era, one we're in today, still living in Madison County. This has been home half my life. But parts of my heart remain in both Fountain and Union counties.
Thirty years ago this week, Brian, nearly-three-year-old Sam and I left behind one era of life and set out on a new one. On July 3, 1989, I completed my last day as managing editor of a small newspaper in Attica, Indiana.
Brian had just wrapped up his nine years as a school administrator at Fountain Central Junior-Senior High School.
We would spend the rest of July transitioning to the new home we had bought in Madison County and by August, Brian would be working at his new administrative post in the Hamilton Southeastern School Corp.
The number of mixed feelings about this uncharted new territory was extraordinary. I was more than ready to leave my former job, but knew I would miss certain aspects of my work and I would miss my work peers. I won’t go into what I would not miss!
I would miss Fountain County friends, our wonderful babysitter and her family and our landlord—all who had become like family.
I would be happy to move to a town much closer to my folks who were still living on the farm, although my dad’s dementia was worsening. And it would be a welcome change not to drive 15 miles to a nice-sized grocery store or McDonald’s.
On a daily basis, I was excited about taking a brief time-out from the busy world of community journalism and spend my days with Sam playing, going to the park, pool, and just hanging out. I needed time to settle us into our new nest.
I hoped that a call would come from someone at the New Castle paper asking me if I wanted a job. It did, I did, and early this fall, I’ll celebrate 30 years with The Courier-Times.
Along the way, after a couple attempts, we found “our” church; a variety of friends in a variety of communities; we had a second baby, and now both boys are all grown up and long-since on their own. How can it be, I still ask-that we're empty nesters? I can’t even call Brian a “recent retiree” because he’s been that for four years already!
What I do know is the time passes with brea kneck speed. And we're no longer so inclined to put things off like we used to do for years or decades. Just yesterday I looked up and remarked that our living room could use a paint job. "Do it!" Brian said.
Madison County has been home for three decades. That’s longer than I’ve lived in any other community in my entire life. In fact, I’ve spent exactly half of my life in Madison County, Indiana, and gone to work in New Castle!
I’m grateful to everyone who has touched our lives here, back in Fountain County, or back home in Union County. Some people touch our lives for reasons or seasons and many of you are in and out of it on a regular basis.
Where do we belong? It’s been said that home is where your heart is. I promise you that my heart is in all three locations at once! And I am grateful for so many people, places and things. Thank you most of all to the good Lord for this journey.
Which, Lord willing, and like a good story in a newspaper, is to be continued on another page. Hope you’ll stick with me as the page turns.
Where have YOU called home so far for your life's journey?
Built into our garage ceiling is a set of pull-down attic stairs. When we moved into the house 21 years ago, stashing things up there that we don't routinely use sounded like a great idea.
Into the rafters went the boys' special baby clothes joined by my prom dresses and Brian's childhood accordion. It seemed an ideal spot for our Christmas decorations, not to mention other off-season decor of fall garlands and spring floral wreaths.
Once Brian's folks were no longer with us, his dad's fishing tackle and keepsakes went up the stairs along with old framed photos and painting prints that his mom hung on their walls.
There were my college papers, a set of dishes and related matching pieces that we bought in the 1970s and I added onto throughout the 1980s, but have been out of style since the early 2000s.
Like interest that accumulates on an investment, time compounded what went up, but rarely came down.
When we moved in, I was under 40. Now I'm over 60. I have no interest in hauling Christmas decorations down stairs, nor in hoisting them back up. I've decided that since I haven't used those dishes in 20 years, it's highly unlikely that I will start in the next 20.
Also, I'm re-evaluating some silly assumptions that caused me to keep certain things. I kept the prom dresses thinking future granddaughters might play dress up with them. Well, I've gotten a clue from friends who actually have granddaughters. Today's little girls like Disney princess dresses that fit—not 1970s attire that doesn't.
About those college papers. Surely a kernel of crazy made me keep them, thinking someone somewhere sometime might enjoy my 1981 essay about the national press covered Skylab. No line has formed. No one has asked to review the hard copy of my college degree.
We're making progress. The Christmas decorations have been sorted and relocated to an indoor closet. The empty, sturdy boxes we've saved that would alone qualify us for an episode of Hoarders are gone.
Yet the attic remains full of landmines. When I lift a lid of an unidentified tub, I might get my breath taken away. That happened the other day when I was met by tiny baby outfits and shoes not seen in a quarter century. The item that got me most was not the itty-bitty blue sweater but the preschool T-shirt. How was it that once the boys reached preschool I thought of them as "big boys" when now I look at that T-shirt and realize they were still so little. But wake up, Donna. The actual, real-life boys are men now.
I'm keeping that lid shut.
There's another tub I'm avoiding. It has a label indicating that it's full of correspondence. These date back decades. If I open that can of worms, as one might also call it, I could be there for days, perched at the top of those steps, lost in the pre-email years, rereading letters about a friend's toddler issues, cards wishing me a happy 30th birthday, or weekly letters from my mother about what was new on the farm, back before the Alzheimer's took her away.
I'm not going to deal with the boys' childhood things. What's there, from Batman memorabilia to special school papers and trophies, will keep until they are ready to decide the fate of their artifacts. Why move things Ben doesn't yet want to his apartment when the ones who will move them to his next place will likely be us? It would defeat the purpose of purging if I had to deal with those containers again and maybe again after that. They can stay where they are.
The attic is a work in progress. It's not a stairway to heaven. Yet for a sentimental fool like me, it has its moments.
This column by Donna Cronk appears in the June 15 New Castle Courier-Times. It is reprinted here.
So what if no one ever accused the Ovid Midlife Moms of traveling light? We need a few, ahem, supplies, for a weekend at Terri's lake house on Cordry Lake. And this is not counting what the eighth member of our weekend crew brought on Saturday morning.
We went Friday after everyone got off work. We couldn't wait to get there, gather the evening's menu offerings, and enjoy a picnic on the lake. We had eight of our 12 present.
Dinner onboard included Sharon's homemade ham salad sandwiches, Terri's pea salad, party mix, an assortment of fruit and I see some celery sticks in there. There were yummy, ooey-gooey chocolate bar cookies as well.
The weather was perfect and some of us headed back out on the boat shortly before bedtime to see God's moon show.
What a beautiful scene from the water. A cellphone camera doesn't do it justice, but yes, the moon was THAT bright.
Still, I was the first to bed around 10:30 p.m., and I slept well as I dozed off thankful for this weekend that so many of us look so forward to all year long.
That's why I couldn't believe it when I didn't get up until 9 the next morning!
When it's not your turn to cook, the scent is all the sweeter coming from the stove.
Delaine make the best egg casserole, and we enjoyed it with biscuits, fresh fruit and zuchinni bread by Patty. Delicious.
All but Karen, who came Saturday morning, are the gals who made it this summer weekend.
Such fun, including tubing, swimming, boating, moon-gazing, movie night watching "The Greatest Showman," and a beautiful Bible study on the boat Sunday morning, courtesy of Karen, taken from the book of Joel. Oh, and some crafts, including some bookmarks made from this and that.
Thank you Terri, for the wonderful, relaxing, laughter-filled weekend. And thank You, Lord, for your creation, your abundance, and for providing such sweet friends.
It's a snowy Saturday in that no-man's land between Christmas and New Year's. I think of this week as an extended snow day.
Historically, it's a hard time to get hold of people for feature stories. Government entities take a break, and lots of people are off work due to end-of-year vacation time or their workplaces are closed.
It's kind of nice; a break in the action before Tuesday arrives and we're thrust, ready or not, into a new working year.
I like today. It's 1:30 p.m. and I'm still in my pajamas! It's cold and snowy outside and other than taking the dog out, there is no reason to leave the house. There's no reason, even, to put on real clothes, but I may. Or I may not.
What I will do when I finish this final 2017 post is to clock some time for my newspaper job. Several January projects involve getting a head start, and permission to work on the clock from home for a few hours will help me greet Tuesday better prepared to tackle January.
I don't do politics on social media. Sometimes I have to hog-tie my fingers, but I don't go there. I don't argue or preach or add to the divisiveness I see and feel around me. I have many friends and family, not to mention readers, acquaintances and colleagues whom I love, admire, respect and maybe even on occasion simply tolerate, who disagree mightily on such topics.
In the online political realm, I am Switzerland.
What I will share is my Christian faith in the Living Trinity, the three-in-one of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit -- the only hope for humanity.
When I review 2017, I think of moments. There is my career high of covering the presidential inauguration and women's march from the aspect of what it was like to be there. It was an intense few days full of experiences, then back to the hotel to write and transmit everything to quite a few Hoosier newspapers. I will treasure the experience for the rest of my life.
I am grateful for yet another year of this ride as a regional author. To every book club, social or literary club, church banquet and program organizer, library staffer and author fair organizer who sought me out in some way, I am in debt. Going into each year, I think perhaps the ride is about over. So far, the surprise is that it hasn't been. So if you need a program or presentation or speaker, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are many friends and author friends to thank for your help. I think of how Janis Thornton showed up at the Fishers Library last March simply to support me in my program on self-publishing, and how she would like to work with me further in developing a workshop-styled program on the topic. That same night, son Sam and DIL Allison surprised me by arriving at the end of the program to help me carry everything to the car and deliver a refreshing hot tea!
I think of Sandy Moore and our mutual support society with marketing ideas and cluing each other in on opportunities. There is Annette Goggin who I only got to know through the author ride, but who I think of as a friend and admire greatly. Plus, I am grateful for her asking me to her old-fashioned hymn sing! I loved it! (Let's do it again?)
I thank those -- and I'm thinking of writer friend Cheryl Bennett -- who posted reviews of my second book on Goodreads and Amazon. And I am grateful for the number of people I don't know whose reviews pop up.
Oh, the list above goes on and on to include, but not limited to Mary Wilkinson, my bestie Gay Kirkton, her parents, my boss Katie Clontz, and I know I am in trouble because I'm leaving out some people but I'm trying to hurry this along!
Other precious moments include the trip Gay and I took to Galena, Illinois, and to Miss Effie's flower farm near Donahue, Iowa, and the new friend I have now in Cathy, the entrepreneur and Gay's college friend who founded the flower farm and crafts-filled Summer Kitchen there.
I think of walking with John and Debby Williams and loved ones in their fight against Cystic Fibrosis.
I am surrounded by inspiring, creative, resourceful, fierce, sweet, empowered, wonderful women!
Brian and I took a pretty-much perfect trip to D.C. in September and by writing ahead for tickets and clearance, got insider looks inside The White House, Congress, Capitol, Pentagon and FBI Building. The Newseum was outstanding, as was hearing a lecture in the Supreme Court courtroom.
I'm so grateful to Kids at Heart Publisher Shelley Davis for accepting my books into her bookshop at the Warm Glow Candle Co. complex.
I'm grateful to my husband for his love and support. Grateful to spend time with extended family -- wonderful trips visiting Tim and Jeannie in Liberty, Brian's annual trip to see his brother and SIL Steve and Linda in Florida, hosting a master's degree grad party for our DIL Allison, attending a great-niece's wedding and a great-great niece's birthday party. I think of seeing our friend Coach Rick's football team, Trine University, win a playoff game in its undefeated-season year.
I think of the Midlife Mom sisters of Ovid Community Church, and the Bible Study Fellowship folks who help guide as the Holy Scriptures come alive to me each time I'm in them. I. think of my sons Sam and Ben and wonderful daughter-in-law Allison. Oh, and I'm grateful that Brian's McClellan clan continues to get together every Fourth of July weekend and for cousin Beth for starting a periodic cousins get-together.
I think of everyone who said yes when I asked if I could write about some aspect of their lives. I think of Steve Dicken, the English teacher I wish I had had in school, and of whom I am proud to have as a writing colleague now. I think of our dear friend Barb Clark. I think of my encourager and confidante Debbie McCray.
I have probably left out so much about this year that brought joy and sweetness. Life is short. We have to embrace every opportunity, love one another, care about one another. And if you are a writer, you probably have to write about it all.
I plan to keep doing just that. So bring it on! 2018, what do you have for me? Thank you God, for another year on this planet!
Happy New Year to you, whomever and wherever you are reading this.
So today I feel overwhelmed by gratitude. That’s a good place to be. It's been such a fast-paced week, I'm only now getting this posted.
After last Saturday in Indy at the newspaper conference, Sunday it was off to Centerville where I visited with shoppers, colleagues and friends in the new Artisans and Java building at the Kids at Heart Publishing mini-bookstore.
Monday night was a speaking engagement at Fishers United Methodist Church’s United Methodist Women’s Christmas gathering. I am grateful to Linda Shimer who served this year as co-president of the UMW and is also active in the church’s book club. I appreciate her support and encouragement so much.
She also wows me! In addition to her leadership role, she went and picked up and returned home a friend who couldn't get there on her own. In fact, she left so quickly following the program that I was unable to get a photo with her. Not only that but I found out that Linda and her husband MOVED last week!
Even though my connection to the church’s book club had nothing to do with my husband’s 26 years working in Fishers schools, ironically, Linda told me that several were coming who knew him. It was such a delight to see these wonderful former co-workers of Brian’s – and look up to find their smiling faces near the front of the sanctuary as I spoke.
I took their photos and texted them to Brian. He was pretty pumped about their attendance and when I got home, he took a trip down Fishers Memory Lane, reflecting on all the wonderful people he worked with during those years.
Last summer, a surprise invite came from town library director Carrie Watson to give the opening program to children in the summer reading program. I spoke on the topic, “What’s Your Clue?” about looking for our gifts and talents – even as young kids, and then later in the afternoon, I gave a second talk to the adults in a program on our bucket lists.
Carrie told me she would invite me back during the annual town Christmas walk and library open house. She even gave me the date but I didn’t put it on my calendar. I thought I should wait and see if the invite came through and guess what? It did!
I got there at 5 and enjoyed delicious hot soup samples prepared by members of the library board, and hot cocoa, served by Carrie’s adorable daughter, visited with many of the more than 100 people (probably closer to 150) who came through the library to warm up and chat with their neighbors. What a bunch of truly nice people with friendly smiles and were interested enough to stop and chat.
Carrie’s mentor, Iraida Davis, even visited the library! At age 90, it’s been a while since she directed the place but I found it touching when the two librarians posed together. Carrie says Iraida was her idol. I think she still is.
Carrie is a woman of many talents. Not only is she library director in Farmland, she is the Union Modoc library director and teaches Title 1 reading. She is a mom, a quilter, and – I kid you not – a drag racer who shows her skills all over the country.
I tried to think of how to describe Farmland, an artsy farm community with something special. The best I can do is to call out two old-time TV shows. I think Farmland is something of a blend of the two: Northern Exposure meets Mayberry.
Carrie agreed to let me write about her in a future issue of her magazine for women. Yippee!
On the ride home, the moon was huge and bright, showcasing the lovely, peaceful Hoosier farms I passed as I made my way south and west through Randolph County, then continued straight west through Henry County, and home to Madison County on U.S. 36 most of the way.
By 9:30 when I landed home, I was so tired I could hardly get from my favorite chair to draw my steaming-hot bath. But I did, then headed for bed.
It's supposed to snow this weekend; just a Christmas Chamber-of-Commerce type dusting of a couple inches.
I hope so.
Joyce and Jim exchanged vows on Fourth of July weekend 2013 on a New Hampshire hilltop. In this moment, Joyce told everyone to get comfortable because she had something to read to Jim and it would take a while. We would have expected nothing less. What we didn't expect was that they wouldn't have long together before they battled the demon of cancer that took Jim.
I’ve been a fan of author Joyce Maynard for 30 years. When I discovered her, she was knee-deep in raising kids and tomatoes, making pies, and beautiful Christmases. In the midst of all that, life got messy, and she didn’t shy away from sharing those parts, either.
There came the illness, then death of her beloved mother, a painful divorce; dating and relationships. And who happened to be in New York City on 9/11? Joyce, of course, as though sent to chronicle another moment that we needed to see through her first-person lens.
I would learn that Joyce had gained national fame as a teen with a New York Times magazine-cover essay whereby she rocketed to the description of "the voice" of her generation, and that led to a relationship with a famous man, her first heartbreak.
But what interested me most was not the fame part, but the ordinary part of her life – the kids-and-tomatoes part.
Add that homey side to the community-columnist and small-town-newspaper-reporter side of me, and I was hooked on her writing – and let her know.
Joyce came off the page when she invited me to stay with her during her epic New Hampshire yard sale before her move to California in the late 1990s. Who could guess there would be a second invite to New Hampshire, this time to see her marry Jim, the eventual love of her life, the dashing California attorney? Yet there my friend Gay and I stood on a New Hampshire hilltop, watching the ceremony in July 2013.
What nationally-acclaimed author gets that personal with her readers?
While she has always detailed the life and times of her generation, as well as shared personal details from her life, as though each reader is really her close friend visiting over coffee, The Best of Us is one we all wish she didn’t have to write.
She lost her love too soon. She tells us everything; things we don’t want to hear, but know she must say, about cancer and what you do when the person you love most is dying. Or before you know he is dying and you are frantically trying to find what will save him, and save you. But her fans have been around a day or two. We’ve seen cancer, and death, and pain, and disappointments along with our own hilltop moments. We understand.
At the end of almost every chapter, there is a simple, but profoundly poignant point offered by Joyce, a takeaway even, for us all. For example, while addressing a frustration over an inconvenience due to her husband losing his car keys, she writes, “In the old days, I would have made some sharp remark. How could he? I didn’t do those things anymore. ‘If only,’ I often said, ‘you could learn the lessons of cancer without having cancer.’”
She writes with candor, her signature, of course, in ways that sometimes make you wince and want to look away from plenty of ugly situations, not only of the cancer journey that we know won’t end well, but of heart-rending situations before the two found each other. We’re reminded of our own, personal, look-away moments. We're prone to hide them away rather than put them out there.
The joy that sparkles in this book is that Joyce and Jim found each other, and got to experience travel and life and love in a condensed form that I would call blessings.
Joyce and I are two different women in more obvious ways than we are alike. Yet perhaps at the heart of our curious connection is this shared core belief: That it isn’t real until it’s written. And that we don’t get to choose our life stories. They choose us. Then we tell them.
She spent a year after Jim’s death writing this book, and now she’s touring with it, something she revels in, and finds energy from. Writing a book is necessarily a solo experience with quiet and isolation. Joyce recharges by meeting her readers, hearing how they identify with her words, and how she identifies with them.
She will survive this. Jim had said he only wanted to be her good husband. He regretted, perhaps more than anything, the burden he would say he became to her, the pain his pain caused her. The way she can honor him now, I believe, is to press on and have a wonderful life, find new love and joy and, (I would add, most of all) faith.
She told me once to “Keep telling stories.”
I will stay tuned to hear hers. There will be new ones to find and I know she will write about them all. I hope that the next chapter will be one that makes her heart sing. Life is full of so much. Love, laughter, people we love and lose, relationships, sadness, disappointment, and moments that surprise and soar. She’s not done, this woman who chronicles life for the Baby Boomer generation.
I still see the two of them, Joyce and Jim, on that New Hampshire hilltop four years ago. They had it all.
From them, let us remember that our days are likewise numbered. And to cherish each and every one we get.
Connect with her at www.joycemaynard.com. Her book is available in bookstores, on Amazon.com, and if you are fortunate enough to catch her on tour, from Joyce personally.
Career community journalist Donna Cronk is author of two novels, Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast, and That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland.
In one way, it's hard to believe the Midlife Moms have been together for ten-and-a-half years. In another way, haven't we known each other forever? It's true that as an adult, a decade passes quickly. Just imagine: If we had started first grade together, we'd be halfway through high school junior year.
Yes, by now we all know each other and our casts of characters pretty well.
While we haven't seen each other through elementary school, first dates, and proms, we've lived a lot of life together this past decade, whispered a good many prayers for each other and our life circumstances, laughed at a lot of silliness, cried some tears, studied the Bible, taken on projects, and eaten some fantastic food.
We are a life group at Ovid Community Church. We do life together. And I thank the Good Lord that it works, that as group co-founder Delaine Wooden says, "We're more than a group. We're friends."
One of my favorite weekends of the year took place last weekend. Terri generously shares her beautiful lake home and water toys with us several times a year, times we have always referred to as retreats.
But of all the lovely weekends reminiscent of girlhood sleepovers, the summer ones are my favorite. You can't beat the ever-changing blues of the sky and water, along with the wind on our faces as we push through the water on Terri's boat, with the warm breeze brushing back our hair. We play in the water like the young dolphins we are not.
Sunday mornings we have a special Bible study out on the water. And in between, we feast on the bountiful menus that come together so easily with a crew of seasoned moms who know their way around the kitchen. We listen to each other's insights and tell stories.
For one summer weekend a year, we haven't a care in the world. Thank you Father for this refreshment. Thank you Terri for being the best hostess ever, and thank you to each of my MLM sistas, past and present, and Lord willing, future.
It's traditional that before we head back to our regular lives, we take some photos. Terri has a stack of pictures depicting lake memories from our ten years at Cordry Lake.
Above is one on the deck from last weekend. Some of the girls mentioned their lack of make-up and abundance of lake hair. They don't know they are beautiful. Inside and out.
A magnet from Terri's fridge. I'd have to agree.
This weekend I was awestruck anew by the incredible variety, color, nutrition, and beauty -- not even to mention creativity -- of God's food supply.
Friday night on the boat we enjoyed a picnic-type meal of Sharon's homemade ham salad sandwiches, artisan chips and dip, and Donna Shields' cole slaw, along with Delaine's summer Greek vegetable salad of tomatoes, corn, cukes, and herbs. It all hit the spot!
Then, because sometimes we bring so much delicious food, and have to hurry up and eat one meal so we can get to the next, we decided this weekend to do a daily brunch and dinner -- a two-meal day. Terri whipped up the above breakfast skillet with yellow squash, mushrooms, eggs and cheese. Fantastic.
Karen prepared this wonderful vegetable lasagne:
It was delicious, as was Delaine's fried zucchini with Parm and bread crumbs.
By the way, we have a signature scripture passage. Here's the NIV, Hebrews 10:23-25:
"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
Not a bad motto for doing life together. Happy first ten years, my sistas.
This was the Fountain Central table at the Friendship Circle Center in Covington Friday. With Brian and me, are, standing, Barb Clark, and seated, from left, Lynette Rusk, Lynnette McMahan, and Ron Colson. It was great to see everyone and feel as though, if only for a few hours, I was in my 20s again!
On the day that Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer were married in what was known as the wedding of the century, and their not-so-storybook life together began, Brian and I began a new life journey of our own.
On that July day in 1989, we moved to Fountain County.
We were excited, and nervous, and looked forward to many things. With what we felt at the time, by 1981 standards, was Brian’s whopping new administrative income of $22,500 a year, (and the 14-hour work days that routinely came with it), we could afford to rent our huge, country farmhouse for $200 a month and I could afford to go to college full time in pursuit of a journalism degree. Anything felt possible!
We had no clue as to the real joys that would unfold over the next nine years. Those joys, of course, were in the people we met, grew to love, and still love today. The joys were in the birth of our first child, the making of best friends, the support, and the memories.
The stories of our journey through Fountain County, in the towns of Veedersburg, Mellott, Newtown, Attica, Hillsboro, Wallace, Stone Bluff and Covington, include incredible memories, bigger, to us anyway, than the small towns on the map would indicate. Each one of the memories we made is worthy of a blog entry in itself, but for today, I’m only going to talk about Friday.
I’ll save for a later date how my first journalism job came from meeting up with a childhood friend in Attica; how that small-newspaper job took me into such places as inside Gov. Robert Orr’s private office inside the Indiana Statehouse or to a murder trial in neighboring Williamsport. Or how our precious firstborn son, Sam, began his life as a Fountain County resident, and how the community loved us through his open-heart surgery at 11 months of age. Or how so many people became as dear to us as family, and still are (Rick and Gay Kirkton, Barb Clark, John and Debby Williams, Sue Anderson, Linda Spear, to name only a few of the many I could include).
Or how when I think of Fountain County, I feel nothing but love.
So Friday my one-time co-worker at the paper, the sweet Jane Bowers, had me over to Covington to the Friendship Circle Center for a book program and luncheon. Everyone was so incredibly nice and welcoming.
Did I expect less from my onetime home county? Jane now directs the center where seniors gather daily for meals and activities. It’s such a great place. Several friends from Fountain Central days attended, as did some friends from my Attica newspapering era.
They don’t come any better than the gals I worked with at the paper. Of those there Friday, Nancy Wolfe is salt of the earth, common sense, loyalty, humor and sweetness personified. Carol Galloway is upbeat, funny, a great co-worker and friend. Jane is a true lady and has the gift of hospitality that shines in her center and among her coworkers.
A couple of others came from Williamsport. There was Carol Winegardner, who discovered my first book through her sister, and to my surprise, showed up with her friend, Donna Lyon, who I remember well from the newspapering days when Donna wrote for the Williamsport paper. We sat next to each other while covering a murder trial in the Warren County courthouse.
It was great to catch-up with everyone. The morning went by too quickly.
It was back to the 1980s.
If only for a few hours, I felt as though I was 25 again. At the time I really was that age, I had no idea how young that truly was.
Brenda Asberry with the tablecloth her late mother, Beverly, crocheted for me several years ago. During the last 15 or so years, the tablecloth has rarely left my oak dining room table. That is, until the last couple of years when it has gone on the road with me as a backdrop for my books and related materials.
Several years ago, I interviewed Beverly Walcott of New Castle for a newspaper article. During our chat, I couldn’t take my eyes off her tablecloth. It was large, lacy, lovely. And, it was hand-crocheted by Beverly.
She offered to make one for me, so I commissioned her for the job, and figured within a few months it might be ready to cover my oak dining table. But no, it took Beverly all of about three weeks.
For all these years, it has rarely left my table. That also means that it has met with its share of spills. I use the delicate hand-wash machine setting and guess what? The piece holds up perfectly, then quickly air dries.
Its classic pineapple pattern, with an oval in the center and tiny crochet work throughout, make it beautiful and that beauty does not go unnoticed. It has garnered plenty of compliments.
In the last two years, the tablecloth has taken on a new role. It has hit the road with me as I peddle my books. Its lace graces everything from century-old library tables to rickety folding or card tables. People often comment about the tablecloth, eyeing it even though it is underneath a poster, stacks of books and business cards.
Several things set it apart from other table coverings. It’s large so that whatever the size or shape of the table of the day, it works. If there’s leftover cloth, it gracefully pools on the floor. And, it never wrinkles. I could leave it in a heap and it would unfold as nice as ever. I also like it that the tablecloth has such an open weave, perfect for windy days when dressing outdoor tables.
Beverly has been gone a few years now, but I like to remind her beloved daughter, Brenda Asberry, about my continued affection for her mother’s handiwork. Monday was special because Brenda had me in to speak at the annual Henry County Senior Center Thank You Lunch. She is activity director there. It was a full-circle moment when I brought along the tablecloth and asked her to pose with it.
Thank you, Brenda! And Beverly, thank you for making the world prettier with your thread, hooks and talent. I’m blessed to have a piece of your lovely handiwork and for now, to take it on the road.
For Donna’s schedule, see the CONTACT page and scroll down to WHAT’S NEXT. Need a speaker or have an idea for a venue for the tablecloth – and for her books? Email her at email@example.com.
One of the most unlikely things that ever happened to me is a friendship with Joyce Maynard.
For starters, she went to Yale and worked at The New York Times. I went to Indiana State and work at a small-town newspaper. She has major publishing houses finance her manuscripts and two of those, To Die For and Labor Day, became movies. I self-published one small novel with another on the way.
She travels more and has more interesting things happen in a typical month than I do in … well, I’m embarrassed to say.
Yet some things are meant to be. Life is full of mystery and opportunity.
I’ve thought about Joyce a lot this week because her new book, Under the Influence, hit the shelves. And also because her husband, Jim, is in the hospital in Guatemala, where Joyce has a second home and runs writing workshops. Together, the couple has spent the past year and more battling his cancer. Things have been looking up, but he took ill last week.
Joyce came on my radar in 1987 when in Editor & Publisher I spotted a promotion for her book, a compilation “best of” her Domestic Affairs newspaper columns, in a book by the same name. The ad offered editors review copies. It was her face that reeled me in. Her eyes so wide and alive, and she was sporting these charming bangs and pigtails (pigtails!). It was as though she could jump off the page and we could go for coffee and talk about life as moms.
I was new to the mom scene; she had spent the past few years by then writing about adventures in that realm from the vantage point of a remote New Hampshire farm.
The book arrived and I inhaled it: stories about canning tomatoes, middle-of-the-night Christmas shopping, perilous, New England roads in winter, loving kids and family and life. Each essay was served up, readable, edible even, in the candor and humor. And each piece had a twist. Perhaps it was some bit of lesson learned or at least question asked. I loved it.
I started noticing her Kids in the Country column byline in Country Living, and somehow, in the days long before social media, learned about her fan newsletter and subscribed. I still have the copies in my attic. Joyce was accessible, real. In fact, she made it a part of her life and, surely, was an instinctive part of her own branding and marketing, to connect well with fans and hear their stories. I wrote a piece or two for her newsletter, coming onto her radar.
Life happened. She divorced, cared for and buried her beloved mother, moved off the farm to Keene, N.H., wrote more books. Her column ended but she had become a novelist with a bread-and-butter career as a magazine contributor. I moved too, worked for a different newspaper, birthed a second baby. In 1997, her newsletter announced that she was moving to San Francisco and if anyone was in New England on June 22, stop by her garage sale.
I took it as a personal invite. I knew I had to attend that garage sale, as unlikely and ridiculous as it sounded. I had to meet Joyce, pick up a relic from her life. So I wrote her a letter and asked about where to stay. She called and said stay with her for the weekend and help with the sale. Could I bring a friend? Sure.
And so my bestie Gay Kirkton and I did just that and had one of the most remarkable weekends we can imagine. Little did we know there would be a New Hampshire II.
It came in 2013 when Joyce invited us to her wedding to Jim. “You have to go,” said my husband, and we did. We sat among TV stars, writers, and other remarkable people on a mountaintop in New Hampshire and watched Joyce and Jim tie the knot. She had waited a long time to find this man.
We stayed in a 1700s bed and breakfast, went to church in a town the size of Brownsville with a Harvard-educated pastor; discussed The Great Gatsby with a Dartmouth English professor, and toured a gorgeous loft that belonged to a friend of Joyce’s and was featured in Country Home. We danced at her wedding along-side a famous 1960s community activist and were interviewed by a New York Times reporter.
Just a weekend in the life of Joyce.
A big weekend in the life of this fifty-something Hoosier farm girl.
We were saddened to learn of his illness just short months later. But then later, happy to hear he was cancer free.
And now, like so many times before, a new Joyce book joins the others. Once it’s read, it will reside next to its siblings in my glass-front book cabinet that holds special volumes and keepsakes.
I don’t abuse this unique—what?—relationship/fanship/friendship—with Joyce by asking her to read my manuscripts or give me advice. She is asked these things by many people all the time and as she has explained kindly to her fans, if she helped everyone who asked, she would never get her own work done. Plus, she makes a portion of her living leading writing workshops both in Guatemala and in the states. I get it. It takes a lot of time to comment on other people’s work in a constructive way. But Joyce has given me a few key pieces of advice, personally:
1. Always take the adventure.
2. Make Samantha ( heroine in Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast and the upcoming follow-up) 50, not 60.
3. Keep telling stories.
I’ve learned that adventures abound—they are the way we approach our everyday lives—and include, for me anyway, the occasional one that physically takes me away.
Samantha is 51 in the new book.
And as for stories, here’s another.