Friends are essential–my life lesson

I wish I knew who created this poster for it speaks of a life lesson I learned in 1989. I was 39 years old and during a routine physical, the doctor announced I had two heart murmurs. Those murmurs meant open heart surgery, weeks out of work, and out of the kitchen (the least of my worries as “cook” has always been a four letter word for me).  But I would need help. My then husband Danny and my now and forever son took excellent care of me. They loved me, and I soon discovered so many others did also.

My sister, my best friend, Valerie, flew in from Florida to cook (not a four-letter word for her), grocery shop for Pinwheels for my husband, rescue Gershwin (my rescue cat) from hanging on ferns and being gently run over. Never has a sister shown such love and kindness to an older sister, who according to her, had made her wash dishes and clean house as a six year old.

Ok, I was suppose to be baby sitting her, but my friends were calling, my boyfriend was calling, what was a teenager to do? Find a foot stool so she could reach the sink and wash those dishes before mother came home from work.

(Val is in the red dress at the left. Photo courtesy of Phil Williams)

Now that didn’t happen a lot, and I’m thinking there was some embellishment on her part, but bottom line–my sister was there for me when I needed her, always has been, and is my best friend. Val is a keeper. I didn’t realize how much I loved her until that year when she sacrificed so much to help me. Kisses and hugs dearest sister, dearest friend.

Celia Kay Dean Smith, whose name I can rarely even think of without tears welling in my eyes, another keeper. Celia and I have been friends since 1973 when she substituted for me in my 7th and 8th grade English classes. That was my first year to teach, and I caught every cold, every virus, even German measles, thus Celia stepping in to fill my shoes.

And in 1989, she stepped in again. Since our first meeting, we had learned to really like  Riunete wine(our tastes improved with the years), Planters’ Punch, Cosmopolitans; we had browsed art museums, picked strawberries, cried on each other’s shoulders, laughed until we almost wet our pants, and remained close even though she had moved from Milan, TN to Raleigh, NC to Toronto to Barbados to Danville, CA to Atlanta and back almost home to Jackson, Mississippi.

Celia is the beautiful woman on the left. Last photo I had with her.

She, too, had rescued Gershwin from being Tarzan and swinging from hanging ferns but never from being run over. That heroic act we reserved for Valerie. She also cooked, cleaned, and flew miles across the country from Danville just to help me.

Celia was an artist, a realtor, a World Book saleswoman, a mom, the oldest of five sisters, a Grancee, a brain cancer victim. When she needed help, she didn’t want me to come or that’s what I kept telling myself. At the time, my father was ill, and when she was on her death bed, he was recovering from surgery. No way could I go to her. I will never forget the night I received the text from her husband, “Celia is with Jesus.” 

But she was not with me and never would be again, except in my heart and soul.

In addition to Valerie and Celia, my friends with whom I worked at the North Carolina legislature and the NC Banking Commission overwhelmed me with visits, with meals, with fragrant powders and lotions, and lavished me with kindness, with unadulterated love and compassion. Never had I felt such an outpouring of friendship and companionship. 

A cliche but true–no man is an island. All my friends were like Carole King singing “You’ve got a friend.” I have never forgotten those two months of surgery and recuperation. I finally understood how important friends were and how important it was to be a friend. 

I know that family and true friends are really one and the same.


My family, my sister Valerie, and my friend Celia are rare people. They showed up at just the right time, and stayed by my side through the rough times and through the good times. 

And even though Celia no longer walks this earth, she is in my heart and gently reminds me–“Be a Keeper.” May you find your own Keepers and be one as well.

America’s Great Loop

Credit–Philip Williams Photography

It wouldn’t necessarily be a road trip although Route 66 would be my choice if I had to travel by car. But my preference would be to take a water road trip–America’s Great Loop Cruise through the waterways of eastern United States and some areas of Canada. 

I’d begin in Chicago, go south along the Mississippi, then cut to the Tennessee River in my home state, then on to the Tennesse-Tombigbee Waterway to the Gulf. The Atlantic Coast would be my next adventure, traveling on the Intracostal, ducking into different ports along the way, enjoying life at the marinas where everyone is welcome. Not sure if my memory is exactly correct, but I seem to remember that two of Morgan Freeman’s greatest pleasures were working crossword puzzles and being docked at a marina. I would concur wholeheartedly.

Next stops would be New York, the Hudson, the Erie Canal. On westward to Canadian waters and to the Great Lakes and back to Chicago.

Why? Why not? Life from a boat looks so different than life from a car.

The Common Ingredient is Love

Garlicky Tomato and White Bean soup pairs well with cornbread and honey. #TheCommonIngredient
Credit: Cathy Salter’s Garlicky Tomato and White Bean Soup–#The Common Ingredient

March 2020–Long lines at food pantries; thousands of people out of work and worried they cannot feed their families. 

March 2020–At home in Columbia, Missouri, Anne Deaton saw these lines, worried about the food insecure, and how she could help. Not content to just worry but, as always, ready to act, Anne got busy. She contacted fellow Columbians Nina Mukerjee Furstenau, Cathy Salter, and Robin Labrunerie, all culinary talents, writers and all founding members of The Common Ingredient (TCI). Barbara Schlemeier and Linda Cupp joined in along with Holly Enowski, their webmaster, and a website was born:  thecommoningredient.com.

And not just any website. A website where people who could no longer share meals with family and friends could find recipes for future meals once the pandemic abated as well as act on their concern for those hard hit by COVID-19. Through the website these food warriors raised awareness about food insecurity, especially during COVID-19, and provided a way for people, like me, to donate to organizations serving those who need food. 

 “Yes, this was a very small action step that we could do from our home (and have fun doing so),” explained Anne, “as none of us felt, at our ages, that we could go volunteer at the food pantry or other food distribution sites when COVID began.” 

Anne Deaton, founding member of TCI.
Photo Credit: The Common Ingredient 2021 summer newsletter

It was also a way for those of us stuck at home to enjoy this virtual cookbook where the common ingredient is love–love for food, for family, for those who need our help.

What a resource these women have prepared for their online visitors–recipes, comfort food stories, tips and tricks (which I need), recipe submissions (yes, submit your favorite recipe and grow their collection), and a donation link to organizations serving the food insecure in Northeast Missouri. Future plans include ways to grow the site to include other states and organizations.

January 2022–Yes, these talented, energetic, caring women inspired me and continue to inspire. They could have just donated to Feeding America or similar organizations and said “Enough. I did my part.” But they didn’t. They continue to expand their efforts and declare to the world that they will help overcome food insecurity. I will join them. Will you?


Soaring out of my comfort zone

Nervous smile as I await take off from New Castle International Gliderport, New Caste, VA

That smile on my face hides the grimace in my gut as I prepared for my first sailplane ride. Launch took place from the New Castle International Gliderport in New Castle, Virginia, home of the Blue Ridge Soaring Society (BRSS), our host for this adventure. Cecil McBride, the scribe of my husband’s motorcycle group, organized rides for members who wanted to sail the friendly skies in lieu of two wheels on asphalt.

White knuckled flyer that I am in a plane that has an engine, why would I choose to soar in an aircraft without an engine? Well, my thoughts at the time were that we couldn’t really lose power and plummet from 30,000 feet to a certain death. After all, the tow plane would take us high enough (but not too high) to catch an updraft, or if I want to sound really knowledgable, a thermal. My thoughts were should any emergency arise, we would just glide to earth. No fuel means no fire, just in case of an emergency landing

Oh woman of little learning! (Remember a little learning is a dangerous thing.) Guess what? Sailplanes can fall from the sky, do go fast, and one can die in a glider. Not likely, but possible. So glad I had not consulted Google before sailing away.

My biggest concern after the pilot’s orientation about our flight, was that somehow, I would not disconnect us correctly from the tow plane.(My only job.) Such a silly worry, but my overactive imagination conjured up within seconds all sorts of weird occurrences–we wouldn’t disconnect somehow causing both us and the tow plane to go down or we would follow behind the tow plane and not experience this adventure and be the laughing stock of the BRSS and the motorcycle group. All my fault. 

Ok, none of that happened or probably could not have happened. I never asked. Once we safely disconnected from the tow plane, caught an updraft, and began to soar, so did my heart. Even though the day was not sunny so another worry, where were our thermals, the silence filled my ears–just the whish, whish, of the air around us, beneath us, over us, calmed me down, and I took in every second, every frame of the scenes running under us. 

When I was much, much younger, I dreamed that I could fly. I felt myself bobbing in the air, floating on updrafts as I flew over hills and into valleys. Was this my dream come true? Perhaps, but that freedom of being buoyed only by the air, I have not felt since that cloudy, October day in 2015.

I sailed out of my comfort zone because I like challenges, because I do not want to dissolve away into old age, with only my walker to support me, because my anxiety prompts me to try those adventures that make me anxious. I’ve lived a good life but I want more until the day I decide that my life is complete. Not there yet.

My father’s wallet


Dear Daddy,

I found your wallet today, the one you were always misplacing whether you were at home on Brentwood Drive, Milan, or at Morning Pointe, your last residence, there in Chattanooga with my sister Valerie not too far away. Guess I’d misplaced it this time, forgetting that I had tucked it away in my L.L. Bean Boat Bag, the repository of all my treasured “Must Keeps.”

My father’s wall

Holding your wallet feels like holding your hands, wrinkled and worn but amazingly soft and tender, despite the decades of hard work. Those hands skillfully filed saws for our livelihood, built beautiful cherry wood tables for our delight, sewed sequins on Val’s majorette uniforms, pushed lawn mowers, pushed us high in our swings, pushed us off on our first bike rides, pushed us off into the arms of our husbands-to-be, pulled us close when we needed a h

“Hold our hands, Daddy.” That’s what we whispered two years ago as you lay in your hospice bed. Hold on tight! But you couldn’t. Your fingers, interlaced with ours, slowly loosened their grip. Your fingernails scraped across the crisp white sheets before you jerked your hands high into the air, seemingly surprised that it was time to go.

But I found you again. Your driver’s license photo looked up at me from your brown trifold. Tucked inside were six $1.00 bills, ready for you to spend on strawberry pie and coffee at Perkins. For an instant, you were with me. The touch of the wallet quickened my soul with your essence, making my heart smile.

You knew I was sad, didn’t you Daddy? Once again your hands were there to comfort me and pull me close when I needed love.

Thank you,