[This is a memory from the many decades the author has been privileged to write for daily and weekly newspapers circulating in Western Virginia.]
Another birthday has come and gone. I’m now two years into my tenth decade. It’s something to be thankful for.
About 20 years ago, I interviewed noted watercolorist artist Harriet Stokes, who died a few years later weeks before her 100th birthday. A regular attender at my Salem church, Stokes formerly did not tell her age, but as she grew closer to the century mark, she revealed it proudly.
A long-time friend who lives in a retirement home in Lexington turned 99 this past April 15. She’s still good for a 15-minute conversation and told me of her late mother-in-law who died at 102 but unable to see or hear.
“That’s not living,” my friend said. I’m inclined to agree.
I’ve been blessed to know two men who celebrated their 100th birthdays though they did not long survive them. Melville (Buster) Carico, a long-time political reporter for “The Roanoke Times” was honored by his Fincastle church on his July birthday several years ago. He could still reminisce a bit about his difficulty in covering objectively civil rights struggles affecting friends of faith.
The other centenarian was George Overstreet, once a furniture sales representative of a Roanoke industry and in retirement a bass soloist in my church’s choir. He, like Carico, had outlived his wife.
Musicians, artists and writers whose greatest satisfaction in life comes from within may be at least somewhat productive into their 90s.
I’ve seen a lot of history, all of it in Virginia, to which my ancestors on both sides came in Colonial times.
One of my earliest memories is going with my mother to a bank in our small Piedmont, Virginia, town. Around its walls were colorful red, white and blue posters bearing a Blue Eagle and NRA. When I asked my mother what it was for, she responded, “Something about the government.”
No, it wasn’t the National Rifle Association but that the bank was cooperating in the National Recovery Act, a Franklin D. Roosevelt initiative to bring the nation out of the Great Depression.
We got our mail in a Rural Free Delivery box on the highway after walking across two fields and crossing a small creek on a footbridge, for our “Farmhouse” style frame home, like several others, was on a slight rise away from the highway. Six days a week, a copy of the earliest edition of “The Richmond Times-Dispatch” was always there. When World War II broke out in Poland in 1939, my mother and I learned of it in the paper.
Fast-forward to my young adult years and a summer job at the daily Richmond newspaper, not as a writer, but as one of six women in the Reference Department, a boring but indispensable place for writers to find information in pre-computer days.
I spent long hours that summer as the clipping file envelopes on obscure “Korea” suddenly grew from one to a dozen. The conflict ended three years later; by then my news reporter husband Charlie Stebbins and I were married and starting our many years of writing for the daily Roanoke papers.
Political conventions, heard on small radios, were fascinating in the 1950s when we began voting and even shook the hand of the famous General Dwight D. Eisenhower when he visited Virginia. We were Republicans then, as many were in the Commonwealth. Various changes came later.
Our daughter of seven came home from her Hollins school early to tell us of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The 1964 Civil Rights legislation gave our youngest child a dedicated Black teacher.
Newlywed niece of my husband had married her Richmond sweetheart, he got a job in the new state of Hawaii, and in 1982 they made a weeklong visit to the islands possible. I flew for the first time.
From 1985 to 1999, with children grown, Charlie and I flew to the British Isles four times, a thrill of my life. After the World Trade Center disaster, we stayed on this side of the Atlantic touching nearly every state and five Canadian provinces by bus and train tours. His death in 2008 confined me to several interesting Western Virginia day trips. Always I wrote of them.
For many of our adult working years, Charlie and I benefited at the daily newspaper from the editorship of Forrest M. (Frosty) Landon who died earlier this month at 87. Parkinson’s Disease, which usually kills slowly, was revealed in his obituary as might be expected in an excellent newsman knowing readers would want to know. Much, naturally, has already been published about this active member of Roanoke’s Unitarian-Universalist church whose commitment to representing people in fairness marked his many years. He made it possible for us to continue to do work we loved so long as he was able. I still value that.