Unexpected Bonuses From Writing

I enjoy writing, so producing a column every other week has been more of a pleasure than a chore. So far my family has not voiced concern when I reveal to the public some of their behaviors, and it has been gratifying to have response from readers, whether by e-mail or comments in person.

In response to one column, I was asked for the recipe for salt-rising bread, which I sent with fear and trepidation, for salt rising bread is quite temperamental! Then a follow-up e-mail indicated the reader had excellent results. Whew!

But the greatest bonus from this job came last week when a column resulted in my re-connecting with childhood friends I had not seen in 67 years.

When I wrote about my first day of school in 1939, I had no idea anyone in Roanoke would be interested in the school at Mt. Sidney, Virginia, a small town in the Shenandoah Valley. Was I ever wrong! A lady in Roanoke clipped the column and sent it to a relative in Mt. Sidney. Copies were distributed at a monthly family breakfast, to see if any of the cousins could remember the writer, whose maiden name was not included in the article. One of the cousins, Don Link, noticed the contact information at the end of the article and e-mailed me.

“What was your maiden name?” he asked. We exchanged several e-mails. He remembered me and was able to give me an update on several classmates about whom I inquired. Our family moved to another part of Augusta County when I was in sixth grade, and I enrolled in another school. In those days there was no e-mail or Facebook, and I had no further contact with my grammar school friends.

Don shared my column with his neighbor, Patricia Botkin Chawkat, who was one of my closest friends. She asked for my phone number and our telephone conversation resulted in plans for a meeting. We decided to have lunch with another of our friends,  Mary Lee Wampler Spangler, who lives in the Bridgewater Retirement Center. We three were “best friends” in grammar school.

So last Wednesday, a bright sunny day just perfect for an excursion, I travelled to Verona, to meet Pat, who had rounded up another friend, Betty Jo Senger Campbell, now living in Staunton.

Would I recognize them? I wondered as I stood outside the RiteAid pharmacy where we were to meet. After all, one would expect a few changes in the 67 years since we last saw each other. No problem! A vehicle with two women pulled up beside me and those 67 years disappeared into thin air as we were together again.

The ride north on route 11 to Pat’s home near Ft. Defiance where I would park my car was a trip down memory lane for me. I crossed Middle River, much smaller than I remembered, and bare without the old mill that once stood there. I passed the little house where I used to live and the Old Stone Presbyterian Church where I attended Sunday School. I also saw the new high school at Ft. Defiance, which replaced Mt. Sidney School, which closed in 1954.

Pat took the Centerville Road to Bridgewater, and although this area was not familiar, I enjoyed the beauty of this rural area in autumn. Maples, hickories and oaks in radiant hues of crimson and gold, Black Angus cattle grazing on the rolling hills – a picturesque scene reminiscent of a time when life moved at a slower pace.

Mary Lee was waiting for us and treated us to lunch, then took us to her retirement cottage for dessert. Our conversation was filled with “Do you remember…” and questions about other friends – who married whom, where they are living and sadly, which ones are no longer with us. Pat surprised us by producing pictures from those years – especially a “School Days” picture of the three of us- — Pat, Mary Lee and me, our heads forming a triangle that filled the small space.

“We need to make another,” she said. “In the same positions.” After several tries we succeeded.

To complete our day, we visited Don Link, whose response to my column made this reunion possible. He is a history buff, a retired agriculture teacher and a missionary. He and his wife Nancy spent several years teaching in Nigeria as missionaries from the Brethren Church. He hopes one day to start a local museum to preserve the history of this rural area that is rapidly changing.

So with every column I wonder what other connections might evolve. That’s what makes this job so exciting!

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