CATCHING UP WITH CHUCK AVERY
Note: The following feature story appeared in the Sunday, May 19, 2019 Courier-Times and Connersville News-Examiner. It is reprinted here.
by Donna Cronk
Chuck Avery never minded the idea of growing older.
If you're waiting for the punch line, there isn't one.
“When I was younger, I thought older people seemed respected and settled,” he says, adding that they are “not trying to impress anyone. Just trying to relax. It turned out like I thought.”
Avery, 84, spoke during a Tuesday brunch at Senior Living at Forest Ridge in New Castle. His topic concerned thoughts on aging.
The Hagerstown resident and Connersville native is well known regionally for his regular humor column that still runs in The Courier-Times and Connersville News-Examiner along with two other papers. At one time during his nearly 30-year side career as a general-and-humor columnist, his work appeared in nine newspapers.
Avery said he almost never knows in advance what he will write about in any given column. He credits former Hagerstown Exponent and Courier-Times Publisher Bob Hansen with giving him his start. He has no plans to quit writing the columns. But as for speaking gigs, he doesn’t do so many anymore.
He said last year, he spoke in Richmond. The person who invited him mentioned a stipend and told him to keep the talk to 15-20 minutes. Avery asked if he could have 25 minutes, and the person said no, 15 would be better. Avery responded, “If you’d raise my stipend, I won’t show up and we’d both be happy.”
Avery says it’s a true story, the kind readers have come to expect from the retired 27-year speech, drama, and literature teacher at Hagerstown High School. Youngest son Ian now teaches writing in Ohio. Chuck and wife Michelle have four grown kids, 10 grandchildren and two greats.
The couple became interested in each other while doing a play in Angola many years ago. She taught school for 31 years in Richmond before retiring.
Michelle says in their family, her husband is known for his storytelling abilities. She says he has the same personality at home that comes across in his columns. But, he says he wasn’t known for his wit while growing up.
Of his hundreds of columns, Avery says a personal favorite is about Christmas when he was a kid. A local organization sent the family some holiday gifts – and the Averys sent them back, requesting that the group give the presents to a family who needed them.
“We didn’t have anything but pride,” he recalls.
As a young man, he worked in Connersville factories where he found the jobs boring. Yet the experiences were significant because they motivated him to head to college and pursue something more interesting.
Along with his teaching career and sideline of column writing, producing books, and public radio commentaries, he and Michelle built two houses in rural Hagerstown. They still live in the second one, built a decade ago, which they designed and mostly built themselves. He still works on their property and cuts wood to heat the house.
These days his hobbies include learning to play classic guitar and improving his pool game. He works at both daily.
On Tuesday, Larry and Norma Meyer of New Castle were part of a packed house to hear Avery’s program. She worked at Hagerstown High School with Avery when he served as department head. She says he was witty back then.
Avery said once he finished talking in Richmond last year, the event host told the audience, “Next month, we’ll have a really good speaker.”
It’s all copy. And for Chuck Avery, it’s a good life.
Tips on aging well from Chuck Avery
During his Tuesday program, newspaper columnist Chuck Avery offered thoughts on how to avoid appearing old. He suggests that folks implement these tips as soon as they get their first AARP solicitation. He mentioned that for many at the luncheon, that invite came long ago. He shared:
1. Once you are invited to join AARP, start using rear-view mirrors when backing up. Receiving the invite means it won’t be long before the recipient can no longer use the arm-over-seat, turn-your-head-around-to-see method.
2. Begin parking in the same general area in big parking lots. Avoid trying to get into a parked car you haven’t owned for two years.
3. Commit to memorizing the make and model of your current car.
4. Make lists of every act you intend to do wherever you’re going. Avery deadpanned that he doesn’t get to a big city such as New Castle often but he had a list with two things on it for Tuesday. The list included go speak at Forest Ridge, then go to Kroger for a big ham.
5. Avoid abbreviations on your list. If you just put P and B on your list, you might end up with pork and beans.
6. Learn to address everyone as “neighbor.” That way you no longer have to memorize names.
SNAIL MAIL, WRITE ON
Yesterday a letter (and pop-up card) arrived from a woman named June whom I have never met, but who saved newspaper clippings of my articles as well as copies of her magazine for women, to share with a friend of hers, Linda, who lives in Liberty, my hometown.
I should say lived in my hometown, because June's letter yesterday was to tell me that her friend passed away in February. June had told me that Linda had been to one of my signings, and asked if I would send her friend an encouraging note. I did just that a couple times, wishing her well in battling her illness. I am sorry to hear that she passed.
In this throw-away as well as often paperless society we live in, I'm touched to know that someone would actually take the time and effort to save articles that I write and that someone else would be happy to get them.
Yesterday's letter, which arrived in the bright green envelope above, is the latest in my stack of reader snail mail. This stack was started when my second book, That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland, came out approaching two years ago. I filed away the mail that had arrived after the first book, up until summer 2016.
The envelope on top of the stack is what I mailed back to June. You'll notice a sticker of a bird. I like to put stickers on my mail because I like getting letters with stickers on them. I always tell them at work that when I get a handwritten envelope with a sticker on the back (or sometimes on the front in one or more corner), I know that person "comes in peace."
Often I'm asked if I'm working on a third book. I can't say it won't happen, or that it will. But I can promise you that not a day passes when I'm "not" writing one thing or another: features for the newspaper, emails to a variety of friends, upcoming programs and something new in recent months: Wednesday devotions for Ovid Community Church. I have the Wednesday slot and I'm trusting the Holy Spirit for continued inspiration. If you are interested in seeing them or other devotions and posts, let me know and I'd be happy to add you to the group. (Email me at email@example.com.)
Meanwhile, I invited June, and I'm inviting you too, to my free program at Senior Living at Forest Ridge in New Castle at 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 10. There's a free brunch, then program and the promise of a "lively discussion." I'm bringing a door prize and yes, a few copies of my books, if anyone is interested in buying signed copies or visiting with me after.
If interested, give Senior Living a ring at 765-521-4740 and tell them you'd like to attend. If you don't know where it is, put 2800 Forest Ridge Parkway in your GPS. The program is for the monthly Social Society and community members are welcome.
Meanwhile, let me say I'm grateful to those who continue to read these posts, take The Courier-Times, read my books or inquire about what I'm working on. Read on and I'll write on, good Lord willing.
Back in the winter, (don't you like using the word winter in the past tense?), LauraLisa out at Senior Living at Forest Ridge invited me to speak to the April brunch of the Social Society. It's free to any retiree who would like to come by. Just call to let them know you are coming so they will have enough food.
I decided to switch things up and do a new program for those attending. I've selected three posts from right here on my Home Row blog, and tweaked them for a "live audience." I'll be talking about basketball, newspapering and grocery shopping with the husband. There's time for questions about these or other topics, and yes, I'm bringing along a door prize. Best of all, it's free! So come on out to beautiful Senior Living at Forest Ridge, the place I tell folks that I'd like to be put in layaway.
While I'm plugging an upcoming program, here's a run down of some places I'll be speaking this busy spring. As I've said before, I could never have guessed that the "tour" continues, but it does, and it takes on new aspects. Maybe I'll see you on the road. We have a good time.
GOODBYE, 2017; HAPPY NEW YEAR
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.
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOOK
There are many surprises in author world. So many that, ironically, I could write a book about the surprises associated with writing a book.
But for today, let's touch on keeping this journey going and evolving. As we know from science and from hanging out for a while on this planet, nothing (except for God) stays the same. As authors, we have to keep producing new material in one form or another. Or, we have to keep finding new audiences for our old material.
The key word here is new, and keeping things fresh.
Last year, when my second novel came out, WholeHeart Communications Owner Christy Ragle suggested that I develop a presentation on self-publishing. At first, I balked at the notion. I wasn't an expert. I didn't have all the answers.
But the more I thought about it, I realized that while no, I wasn't a pro, I knew enough to publish two books and certainly had advice and opinions on the topic. I also realized that no one has "all the answers." But I had some answers. And some behind-the-cover insights and thoughts on the experience of self-publishing and what comes next. It could all prove helpful to those thinking of going for it.
I also have had a number of would-be authors approach me asking for advice, or inquiring if I would read and comment on their manuscripts, and even if I would edit their books.
So I put something together and realized that yes, I had enough for a program. It's gotten me into a few venues and this Saturday, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., I'll roll out a sample taken from the larger program in the Allen County Public Library, 900 Library Plaza, Fort Wayne. I'll be speaking during a panel discussion on "Top 10 tips for finding readers."
I'll also be around the rest of the day at the noon to 5 p.m. author fair. It's all free to the public, including these workshops:
* Secrets of Successful Self-Publishing 12:30-1:30 pm
Learn how to self-publish like a pro.
* How to Write 50K Words in 30 Days 1:45-3:15 pm
Writing Workshop with Michelle Weidenbenner.
* Writing Down the Genres 3:30-4:30 pm
Four authors who write in different genres: romance, Christian, non-fiction/history, and memoir—will discuss their process.
No preregistration is required to attend either of the panels or the writing class.
As writers, authors, or speakers, you never know if a particular presentation you come up with will be one that's requested over and over. My best tip in this area is that when you are developing a program, make it useful to those listening to you. It' not just about you. Give those you are speaking to food for thought, encouragement, challenge, how-to information or SOMETHING that has potential to help or change them. Years ago in the journalism field, we used to call this "news you can use."
Also, don't shy away from writing new programs to suit new opportunities that come your way.
Maybe it's not just food for thought, but actual food! A Zionsville librarian approached me asking if I would do a presentation on recipes from my first book. Oh, and bring samples. I said I could do that, sure, and told him that I would like to be reimbursed for the food expenses. He said it wasn't a problem. So I wrote a program called "Novel Food," shopped for, prepared and hauled in two dishes from recipes found in Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast.
One day at work the phone rang. A local elementary school asked if I would give a back-to-school program to staff, parents and kids on some aspect of literacy. Umm, sure? I mean, sure! I put one together called "What's Your Clue?" I've used it since then at a library summer reading program kickoff.
The point is that if we're going to continue our journey, we have to think out of the book or books we wrote, and delve into new territory.
Will it be perfect? Are we experts? No and no. Will it take time? Yes. Is it worth it? If you love writing and sharing with readers, yes. It is indeed worth it.
Donna Cronk is author of two inspirational novels, quite a few programs, and thousands of newspaper columns and feature stories. To connect with her about her programs or books, email her at email@example.com.
TYPING FAST, MAKING NEWSPAPERS
It’s spring 1973. I’m in eighth-grade at Liberty Junior High School.
There was no high school-orientation night to plot our high school courses. I don’t remember signing up for freshman year other than my mother’s strong feelings about one thing.
She said I should take typing; that I would use it.
That fall I learned that everything in typing begins on home row, and soon our sweet business-skills teacher, Ethel Sharp, helped us expand our range to other rows on the keyboard.
My friend Cheryl Rodenburg also took typing that fall. One weekend, we decided to borrow her step-grandmother’s portable typewriter and practice our Typing I skills.
We thought it would be fun to create a weekly newspaper in Philomath, the farm community where she lived.
Philomath, in the northwest tip of Union County, Indiana, isn’t an incorporated town, and there are no businesses. But there was a street light outside the Rodenburg home (actually, a security light, no doubt billed to the family). There were several houses in the neighborhood and a lot of cars and tractors passing through the main drag. City life when compared to our much more isolated farm.
I felt so alive that weekend; in love with our newspaper project. Whereas three years earlier we spent weekends in marathon sessions playing with Barbies, this was a new era and I knew it.
I felt as though I could work on our little newspaper 24/7 and I would never tire of it, ever, ever. The power of the press had reached Philomath! And I knew that whatever stories we came up with about the neighborhood, the people would read them. They might have suggestions for more stories, and feel a sense of pride at being in print.
But with only home row under our belts that weekend, we weren’t yet skilled enough to pull off a weekly newspaper, or even one issue.
I ached with a desire to type fluently, stringing not just pecked-out words but sentences, and paragraphs together, to doing something I couldn’t quite verbalize the significance of, but it amounted to making that keyboard sing with the poetry of everyday people’s stories.
At home, there sat an ancient typewriter in the back of a closet. Mom unearthed it, but it was heavy as a Model T, and the keys had to be pushed hard into submission to gather enough ink off the old ribbon to leave a print.
Back in typing class, we kept getting better. Every beginner’s goal became the chance to move up from the manual typewriter to the modern IBM Selectric. I still recall the hum and slight vibration of the machine under my fingers, and the way the keys clicked so easily compared to the clack of non-electric keys. When my fingers sat on home row of that Selectric, I felt as a race horse must feel, itching to get out of the starting gate and move.
The sound of typing became music to my ears, a symphony when others typed at the same time. As the years rolled on, I joined the high school newspaper staff, became editor my senior year, and then studied journalism in college.
It was there I was introduced to video display terminals (VDTs) that we used in 1980s and 1990s newspapering.
What had not changed were the sounds and appeal of creating news stories, just as we had attempted as beginner typists that fall in Philomath. Only by the early 1980s, there was a screen and a curser and it felt so space-age to backspace and delete a stray character rather than attempt a neat job with the typewriter eraser or correction fluid.
Of course computers changed everything. The keyboards were connected to nothing short of the world and all its information in the form of the internet. But it also meant that everyone else was connected to the world. Would they still need local newspapers?
At some point, the clickity-clack of newsroom Associated Press bulletins and breaking news, as well as features and stock reports that printed out of that magical AP wire machine became obsolete. Computers silently transmitted all that copy to us.
As the years continued, many smaller papers stopped using their own presses and instead, printed at centralized locations.
At one time, a newspaper office was a noisy place. The press rolled, the keyboards of first typewriters, then VDTs, then computers clicked. The AP wire machine cranked out copy. People came and went in open-concept newsrooms and advertising departments.
You learned to concentrate in the midst of much noise and many disruptions. You didn’t think about it. Or if you did, you thought it was great to be a part of the pre-deadline mix; that it would all come together, somehow, as if by magic, into a printed newspaper. And it would all happen again the next day.
Most days now, someone comes by the newspaper office and says, “Sure is quiet in here.”
It’s true, too. Our Mac keyboards are so quiet that reporters with light touches can’t even be heard typing. The silence is deafening to where sometimes I think: Are we really making a paper? It's all happening so quietly.
At some point, I trashed my mother’s typewriter, that jet-black, heavy-as-a-Model-T number. As Brian would say, I was in one of my cleaning frenzies.
In the newspaper office, we were gifted with the typewriter that belonged to long-time owner Walter Chambers. It sits on his desk that his family also gave us. They thought his things should be at the newspaper.
The only other typewriter in the building rests above our old-time morgue, where old stories were clipped and stored for future reference. The typewriter typed the name of the topics of those stories on small envelopes. We never use that typewriter anymore. But no one is inclined to toss it out either.
I think back to October 1973 and the craving to know how to make a keyboard sing. I wanted to type fast and make newspapers.
It’s fall 2017. I’m in my thirty-fourth year as a paid community journalist. I still want to type fast and make newspapers.
Maybe some things don't change.
UPCOMING AUTHOR FAIRS = NEW TERRITORY
It's all about the new territory.
This week was a good one in the book-marketing department because the in-box brought details and posters from two large Indiana libraries affirming my acceptance as author at their fall fairs.
What that means is this. Potential new readers who might take an interest in my books will pass my table on two Saturdays in two separate cities. I might sell a couple, a few, or even a lot of books. But here's the real bait: if one of those readers happens to connect positively with what I write, that might generate an invite to a book club where all her friends have read it and want to discuss it.
Or it might mean that there isn't a peep until a winter's night when I get a call asking if I would be the speaker at her church's mother-daughter banquet come May. Or a beautiful hand-written letter arrives in the mail saying how much one of the books was enjoyed.
Or, nothing at all might result.
New territory. That's always the goal in author world.
When friends ask if I'm still selling books or doing anything with them, I see their surprise when I tell them yes. After all, they read the things a while ago, and in this super-fast-paced world, everything seems to be old news fast.
A book is like a homemade meal. Both take a lot of time to produce. There's all that ingredient-gathering, figuring out the recipes, having the right utensils, the cooking knowledge to prepare the dish properly, getting the right people to the table, and then, after such a long process to reach the end result, the book is read, the meal devoured.
Before the dishes are washed or the book widely distributed, the questions come: What's for dessert? (or) What are you doing next?
Well, if you're me or a whole bunch of other authors I know, what's next means looking for that new territory.
So along with the Fishers author fair, there's this one, which I heard through the author-vine, is a pretty terrific one, in Fort Wayne.
So what I know for now is that the author journey continues, and I am grateful to the Fishers / Hamilton County and the Fort Wayne / Allen County library staffs for selecting my books -- and me -- as a part of their author fairs.
If you or friends you know live in those areas, I'd love to visit with any of you on either of the first two Saturdays in November. The journey continues and as long as I can find new territory, I hope to remain on it.
AND, a bonus: My friend Sandy Moore, author of the children's chapter book, Sadie's Search for Home, and a new one coming out in December (which I'll let her announce more about when she's ready) also made the cut for these two author fairs. So we get to spend some time together. Any recommendations for a dinner spot in Fort Wayne?
In other news ...
Author Cathy Shouse of the Muncie branch of Pen Women sent this release along to The Courier-Times and I thought I’d share it here in full.
Cathy hosted me as a speaker last year and invited me to join the group. If there were more hours in the day, I would. If you’re looking for a group focused on the creative arts, Friday’s meeting would be a great way to check it out.
I met the guest speaker during a Tipton author fair two years ago and instantly liked her a lot. We’ve kept in touch and I’m happy to give her a plug, below.
Not only is this traditionally published author incredibly talented with art and words, she’s transparent and approachable. Here’s the info that Cathy sent:
Author and graphic designer Kelly O’Dell Stanley of Crawfordsville will speak at a luncheon program at 11:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 20 in Muncie. Her topic is: “How to Express Your Creativity in Unique Ways.”
O’Dell Stanley’s work has been included in design anthologies and PRINT Magazine’s Design Annual and she has received a variety of awards for her design.
The author discovered writing as a new way of practicing her creativity. In 2013, her essay won first place in the Writer’s Digest Competition in inspirational writing. She’s published two books with Tyndale since 2015; Praying Upside Down: A Creative Prayer Experience to Transform Your Time with God and Designed to Pray: Creative Ways to Engage with God.
Her original monthly calendars are downloaded by hundreds of people worldwide Visit her at (www.kellyostanley.com or on Facebook at Kelly O’Dell Stanley, Author)
The catered meeting is an outreach of the National League of American Pen Women’s Muncie branch at Westminster Villa’s Community Hall, 5600 Westminster Blvd., Muncie. The cost is $10. Space is limited. To attend call Barb Kehoe at 765-288-2098 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Pen Women is a national, non-profit organization with headquarters in Washington D.C., whose members are artists, musicians and writers.
OUR LIFE STORIES CHOOSE US: A REVIEW OF JOYCE MAYNARD'S NEW BOOK: 'THE BEST OF US'
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.
Please join me this Saturday, Sept. 9, on the Union County courthouse square for four mini-presentations on Four Famous Folks From Liberty. At 10 a.m. I'll profile Civil War General Ambrose Burnside; 12:30 p.m. is the real "Little Orphant Annie," Mary Alice "Allie" Smith Gray; 1:45 p.m. will be Voice of the 500 Bob Jenkins, and at 2:45 p.m. is our own Miss Indiana 1988, Joni McMechan Checchia.
This weekend, Saturday-Sunday, Sept. 9-10, Union County, Indiana, honors its past at the annual Founder’s Days on the courthouse lawn in Liberty.
Last year I took part in the programming by reading some Hoosier poetry. The committee invited me back this year, but I decided to personalize the program with Union County history. And since local history—or any history, for that matter--is always more interesting when it speaks of people (his story = the story of people), I thought it would be fun to create profiles on some Union County natives whose stories go far beyond the small county’s borders.
While brainstorming, it occurred that when we think of a pioneer, we generally associate the term with Conestoga wagons heading west. But pioneers are also those who explore new territories in ways in addition to homesteading and community-building. I chose to highlight four.
A Civil War General
Liberty native General Ambrose Burnside was a national figure in a troubled time. He was the first person to come to mind when developing this program.
As Civil War Commander of the Grand Army of the Potomac, an entire seminar could be done on his service in that sobering war where 620,000 Americans died on our own soil. What I didn’t realize were his additional contributions to American life.
On a lighter note, for example, his name is still associated in pop culture for his unique facial hair, whereby his very name created the term “sideburns.” He invented an upgraded rifle from previous models – the Burnside Carbine – and was co-founder and first president of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
He went on to become a three-term governor of Rhode Island, a foreign-war mediator, a U.S. Senator, and – a fascinating side note – he was sitting under President Lincoln’s balcony in Ford’s Theater when the great president was slain.
At 10 a.m. Saturday, I’ll unpack more of Burnside’s story in the first of four 15-minute presentations on the courthouse lawn.
An orphan who inspired the Raggedy Ann doll
Specific details about her childhood are unclear. After all, the year was 1850 and there was no reason to think that the Liberty farm girl, Mary Alice “Allie” Smith, would in any way be associated with fame or legacy.
It is known, however, that the girl became homeless, an “orphan child” and as was the custom of the day, she was sent to “earn her board and keep” with a family that needed a “servant girl” to help around the house.
She found a home with a benevolent family in Greenfield, Indiana, whose home can be toured today as a museum. It was the childhood home of the man who would become The Hoosier Poet, James Whitcomb Riley. Little Jim was fond of “Allie” and the girl inspired his most famous work, “Little Orphant Annie.”
The story behind the poem, as well as the legs that the poem took in inspiring adaptive works – books, a movie musical, and of course the ever-popular play, “Annie,” not to mention one of the world’s most recognized dolls, Raggedy Ann.
And to think, the true orphan child is from Liberty, Indiana. The presentation about her is at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
An auto sport broadcaster
Veteran auto sport broadcaster, ESPN and other national-media talent, radio and track Voice of the 500, and even though he is retired, current track voice each May, Bob Jenkins was raised on Main Street in Liberty.
It was in our town that his international career covering auto racing around the globe was nurtured. He became enamored with watching small-town racer Levi Dunaway get his car ready for a Richmond run on Friday nights, and as a kid, Bob’s own raceway was the “oval” behind Miles-Richmond, where his dad worked.
Yet despite his successes around the world through his broadcasting and movie work, Jenkins reveals that he has thought about writing a book – one largely about growing up in a small town.
I had the privilege of writing about Bob in March when he gave a talk at a historical society fundraiser in New Castle, and we have emailed each other since with updates for this talk.
I’ll speak about Bob at 1:45 p.m. Saturday and have some autographed photos for those attending to win as door prizes.
Miss Indiana 1988 is former Liberty farm girl Joni McMechan Checchia. Today, Joni lives in Houston, Texas with her family, Paul, a doctor, and son Andrew, 16.
A Northwestern University graduate, Joni is an interior designer whose clients are located throughout the country, and she does volunteer work in her community. (By the way, her home was spared by Hurricane Harvey but many friends there felt the brunt of it).
Joni provides insights into the significance of growing up on the family farm, unpacks some special Miss Indiana memories such as touring with the Miss America USO program throughout the world, and sharing what it was like to be Miss Indiana and represent the Miss America scholarship program internationally.
She sent some autographed photos from her reign as Miss Indiana that will be given as door prizes during the 2:45 p.m. presentation.
If you are interested in these Union County legends, I hope you’ll come see me on the courthouse square Saturday. I’ll have a table set up with some memorabilia that might surprise you – from photos of the four I’m featuring to a children’s book I found that’s written about Ambrose Burnside.
A NEW RECIPE CONTEST FOR FALL
One of the challenges of editing a quarterly women's magazine is that with that project, I'm never working in season. I'm always thinking of what readers will see on the date the magazine appears which is three months out.
I've asked a cover subject to dress for late fall on a hot August day -- and could she please get out her autumn decorations for props? However if I'm working on the winter issue in the fall, the last thing I want in the background of photos are pumpkins.
So eyebrows might have raised Friday when a column appeared in the New Castle Courier-Times, publisher of her magazine for women, announcing our new holiday recipe contest. I wonder if there were groans such as when you walk into a department store this time of year and find Christmas trees lit up.
We did a survey among her magazine for women readers and the most common response was that they wanted more recipes. Our readership has always been recipe-oriented. For decades we hosted a successful annual recipe contest in March but after the magazine was created, that took the time that previously went into the recipe contest so we discontinued it.
That contest was rather elaborate in that we had six categories, a preliminary as well as final round, brought in a celebrity judge, and had a resulting publication devoted to recipes.
This new her Holiday Recipe Contest is a simplified competition. In fact, it's all new. We'll have 20 finalists, one top winner who will get $100 the evening of the finals and the cover spot in the fall issue, a tasting party for finalists, an assortment of door prizes, and a nice stash of local recipes for our magazine readers inside their Nov. 5 issue -- just in time for holiday fun.
I'm reprinting Friday's article here with the rules and regs. Since my blogging audience both overlaps and is expanded from the newspaper one, please keep something in mind. Only enter if you are able to prepare and bring your prepared recipe to the tasting party finals. And remember than the paper entry does not assure you are in the finals. I will notify you if you are.
While the top 20 recipes will be selected based on the submitted written recipes only, no one can win a thing if the actual food is not brought in to the finals. And above all, have some fun with this! I have no idea if it will be an annual thing. Maybe. Guess it depends on how this one goes.
OK! Here we go, from Friday's issue.
It’s not time to buy your Thanksgiving turkey, nor cook a batch of Christmas fudge.
But it’s always time to be thinking ahead to the holiday season.
Her magazine for women will devote the fall cover story and multiple pages to a new contest, and event, sponsored by the magazine and The Courier-Times. Let me introduce to you to her Holiday Recipe Contest. Today begins the entry period for the competition which extends through noon, Monday, Sept. 11.
Detailed instructions follow. The short version is that each reader is invited to submit a written recipe to the contest before the deadline. Of the recipes submitted, 20 readers will be invited to bring their prepared recipe in the form of edible food to the judging which will begin promptly at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4 at The Courier-Times, 201 S. 14th St. Contestants should be there no later than 6 p.m. for preliminary photos and registration.
The finalists will be seated and watch as a team of three judges comment on the food and a single overall winner is named. The top dish and the person submitting it will be featured on the cover of the fall issue. During the evening, a variety of photos will be taken. Finalists will have the opportunity to taste each other’s foods and door prizes will be awarded before the top winner is named. The top winner will take home $100.
As many recipes as space allows will be printed in the fall magazine, which comes out Sunday, Nov. 12.
Specific rules follow. Direct any questions to her magazine editor Donna Cronk at 765-575-4657 or email email@example.com.
1. One recipe per person may be entered. By submitting the recipe, the person submitting it affirms to the best of his or her knowledge he or she has permission to submit the recipe and is not in knowing violation of a copyright. The recipe must not be knowingly copied from a cookbook, internet or social media site, but instead be either created by the person submitting it or handed down in the family with the original source unknown.
2. The recipe should be something served by the submitter during the Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday season. It may be sweet or savory. It could be a favorite breakfast casserole, pie, cake, cookie, or any other dish that is a family favorite.
3. Only submit a recipe if at the time of submission you are available if contacted to prepare the dish and bring it to the Oct. 4 judging. The complete written recipe, with ingredients, amounts and instructions must be provided as the preliminary contest entry to be considered for the final judging competition.
4. Current Courier-Times employees, columnists and stringers, and those living in their households, are not permitted to enter.
5. In submitting the full written recipe, send it via one of the following: email (preferred), U.S. mail or drop it off at the newspaper office. Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org; mail to The Courier-Times, Donna Cronk, 201 S. 14th St., New Castle, IN 47362; or drop off at the S. 14th St. address. Include your name, full address, email and daytime phone number.
Notification from her magazine and Cronk will go out to the 20 chosen contestants on Tuesday, Sept. 12. Those selected will have until noon, Monday, Sept. 18 to respond if they plan to participate in the judging and tasting party. If they do not, alternates will be named.