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I thoroughly enjoyed the production of “Sister Act” at the Old Opera House in April. The costumes, the acting, the set design were all terrific.

 

It made me think of Edge Hill Cemetery.

 

I gave up jogging years ago, and now I get my steps by traversing the cemetery. The roads are usually free of traffic, the terrain is fairly level and, needless to say, it’s very quiet.

 

Walking through the cemetery gives me a strong sense of community. There are lots of names I recognize from my 40 years in Jefferson County. School board members, elected officials, civic leaders, community organizers, educators—so many gave of their time to strengthen our community. Reading the familiar names on the headstones is strangely comforting. 

 

I have reached that terrible age when many of the people I have enjoyed for decades are leaving us. Back in the day, congratulation cards for new babies and school graduations dominated my notecard supply. Now I buy stacks of sympathy cards.

 

A writer once commented, “Graveyards are full of indispensable people.” It seems the losses to our community of indispensable people are mounting. Jane Rissler, Ren Parziale, Grant Smith, Dale Manuel and James Tolbert are just a few of the luminaries we have lost. 

 

Fast forward to “Sister Act.” The program includes more than 50 names of people who contributed their time and talent to the production. I recognized three of them. Back in the 1980s when my husband Ron was president of the Old Opera House, we knew almost everyone participating in the planning and production of shows. Not anymore.  

 

I am reminded of John F. Kennedy’s famous statement, “The torch has been passed to a new generation.” In the case of Jefferson County, the torch has been passed to new arrivals. In 2023 alone a total of 796 building permits were issued in the county. This is the single largest number of residential building permits issued in 20 years.

 

The increase in new residents is affecting every aspect of life, including the political scene. Having a familiar county name is no longer enough to win votes. When I ran for county commission in 2008, people told me I would get votes solely based on my husband’s family name. People knew of the Widmyers and their community activities. With our county’s growing population, longtime family names are no longer so important.

 

At my advanced age, I am happy to pass the torch to a new generation of newcomers to our county. I just hope when it comes to getting involved in making our community better our new residents will be as indispensable as those who are now resting in peace.

 

Spirit of Jefferson, June 12,2024

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Apparently at my age (75) I am supposed to start cleaning my house of clutter. In her book “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” Margareta Magnusson advises, “Get rid of stuff now, so your children won’t have to.”

 

Magnusson, who says her age is between 80 and 100, believes as our date of departure from earth grows closer, we should take the time to make our home nice and orderly.

 

I am not planning to depart from this earth any time soon, but I am getting older. We bought a new mattress last month, and the salesman boasted the model had a 25-year warranty. “Unless the mattress folds into a coffin, that warranty is not a selling point,” I replied.

 

Magnusson cheerfully provides tips on getting rid of clutter. Start with a category of stuff that is simple, easy to handle and doesn’t have too much sentimental connection, she advises.

 

So I started with socks.

 

I have 47 pairs of athletic socks. More than are probably owned by Serena and Venus Williams, combined. My collection includes crew socks, ankle socks and no-show socks. Am I a world-class athlete who must regularly change footwear as I compete around the world? No. I do like to walk and play pickleball, but neither past time requires 47 pairs of socksI will donate most to a homeless shelter.

 

Buoyed by my sock effort, I moved onto shoes. It turns out I have 17 pairs of shoes, the majority of which are black. I have black high heels, low heels, no heels, sandals, black shoes with decorations, black shoes without decorations—after socks, black shoes comprise my largest category of clothing items. 

 

I have kept all these shoes to ensure I always have the proper footwear for any type of event I might attend. I may not have a sentimental attachment to my 10-year-old, low-heeled black pumps, but what if I get invited to a semi-formal dinner or, more likely, must attend a funeral? Do I risk throwing out an appropriate pair of shoes?  

 

I decided to keep the black shoes but jettison any shoes with laces (keeping just two pairs of athletic sneakers). Slip on footwear is my go to choice now.  

 

By this time I am exhausted. And I have not even tackled the biggest items requiring much more thought: family photos, memorabilia, paper ephemera (like the response from the late Sen. Byrd to a letter son Nick wrote at age 9 questioning the decision to put a highway through our farm), knick-knacks, paintings, furniture. 

 

The depressing thought of dealing with all the clutter that is in our very large farmhouse deters me from tidying up.                   

 

Magnusson warns careful, thoughtful death cleaning takes many, many hours. I am not willing to put in the time. I would rather spend my remaining years enjoying pursuits like pickleball or jigsaw puzzles or streaming movies.

 

I have an alternative to Swedish Death Cleaning from the Travelers (gypsies) of Ireland. When a family member dies, possessions unwanted by the immediate family are burned.

 

I am going to attach the local regulations for burn piles in Jefferson County to my will. My kids can then burn what they don’t want, including what’s left in my sock drawer and whatever remains of my black shoe collection.

 

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Updated: Nov 12, 2023

I have been a grandmother (my two grandsons call me Gaga) for four years. Here are the lessons I have learned thus far.


Lesson 1: Dietary concerns are for the parents to worry about, not me. My 4-year-old grandson Leo is a picky eater and fails to understand the nutritional importance of cleaning his dinner plate. My husband and I recently watched the grandboys while my daughter and her husband attended a weekend wedding. When my daughter left Friday evening, she said, “Leo doesn’t get any more food because he didn’t finish his supper.”

Fifteen minutes after they left Leo looked at me with his sad eyes and announced he was hungry. Could he have a granola bar? “Sure!!!” I reply. As the grandmother, I get to distribute granola bars, juice packs and yogurt pouches on demand. I mean it’s not like they are eating cookies and chocolate.


Lesson 2: Strollers are now the size and weight of washing machines. They also have more knobs, levers and options than my car. My husband has a degree in mechanical engineering, and he could not figure out how to collapse the stroller after we took the boys to the park.

We approached a young family and asked for help. They were even perplexed but cleverly went to their cell phones and looked up the stroller specs. Voila! One push of a magic button and the stroller collapsed. It became smaller than a washing machine but still weighed the same.


Lesson 3: At my advanced age, watching toddlers is physically and mentally demanding. I did some crayon work with my grandsons at their little tot table. They jumped up after 10 minutes. There is no jumping up from a toddler sized chair for someone my age. I had to roll off the chair onto the rug and haul myself up from a kneeling position.

Later that evening my daughter, her husband and my husband were deeply involved in rewiring an overhead light. I was in charge of the boys. Finally at 8:30, wearing my plastic fireman hat and holding an armful of stuffed animals the boys and I successfully rescued from a pretend forest fire, I suggested to my daughter, “I think its bedtime.”

“It OK,” she replied, “the boys can stay up later.”

“I’m talking about my bedtime,” I explained.


Lesson 4: Blippi is the new man in my life. My grandkids love Blippi, a young man who started making videos to entertain his 2-year-old nephew. Now he rakes in $24 million a year.


Blippi is like a human Big Bird—sweet, funny and engaging. His videos feature firetrucks, police cars, helicopters, strawberry farms, science centers and road construction equipment. Thanks to my grandsons, I have watched many of these videos multiple times. I am now conversant in the mechanics of skid loaders and excavators.

Leo and Will are allowed to watch Blippi over breakfast so this enables me to linger over a cup of coffee. “Can we watch one more?” they always ask. “Sure!” I reply. “How about another juice pack?”


After a weekend of caring for my toddler grandsons, my mind and body are tapped out. As I go home to recover, I think of my new heroes: the 2.3 million grandparents in our country raising their grandchildren. I watch my grandkids one weekend at a time, but these grandparents are on duty 24/7.


Grandchildren are indeed the reward of a long life. I just hope my creaky knees, declining stamina and faulty memory let me enjoy them to the fullest.

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