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The Conductor

Oct
6

I wrote this post a year ago before the hardcover of my book was published. I’m re-running it today, the day before the paperback version of my book is released, in Georgia’s honor, edited to add links to some of my favorite posts on the blog about Georgia. I hope you’ll click through to the links and enjoy!

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I’m so proud of my book, and so excited. It’s the most important thing I’ve written in my whole life, as well as the most revealing. I’m proud that I lived the life that is in the book. That I dared. Because there is no reason on earth that I or anyone should have thought I would.

From the book: “I was about to buy the most magical farm in all the land! Or, in fact, I was about to embark on an intense experience of hardship, deprivation, passion, danger, and romance gone awry. But it was a good thing I didn’t know any of that right then.”

How could any of that life even be mine?

I lived a safe life for the first 40 years of my existence on this planet. Safe, safe, safe. Good girl, safe, good girl.

Good girls who eat their peas and desire a safe life don’t run away from the suburbs and move into a slanted little house with no insulation, no central heat, and no money. Good girls don’t move to dirt roads barricaded by rivers and creeks and icy narrow ways out with no guard rails. Good girls don’t throw away all the security and money they always thought they needed to be happy, and drive off with nothing but their laptop and their cat and their kids.

If I die tomorrow, I have lived.

I did the hardest things alone, most notably explaining it to my kids, who were coming with me.

A few weeks before, I had sat in a rocking chair next to my dear Georgia on the porch of the slanted little house and asked perhaps the most important question of my life. She sat there, looking at me, wondering why I was visiting, and I said, “Will you let me move in to the old farmhouse? I want to live here.”

And she didn’t blink, she didn’t question, she just said, “Of course, you’re family.”

I lived there for two and a half years before moving to a farm of my own at Stringtown Rising. I paid a (very) minimal rent at the slanted little house, enough to cover the gas it cost to heat the house. Near the end of my time there, that last Christmas, she gave me a card. Inside, she wrote to me that her gift to me until I moved out was that I wouldn’t have to pay any more rent.

It wasn’t the greatest gift she gave me. That greatest gift was herself. She was in her 70s, and she’d grown up on a farm, knew how to do it all. She rambled around the farm between her house, my cousin’s house, and the slanted little house where I was living, dressed like a cross between a church lady and a gnome with her curly silver hair sticking out from under a cap, wearing a series of West Virginia t-shirts and polyester pants and always, always, a sweater, unless it was 90 degrees. She made me do chores. She made me hoe and then she made me can. She made me rake leaves and clean out gutters and carry sticks to the brush pile. She made me drive her to the store and she tried to make me put on sweaters every time a cloud crossed the sun.

She made me crazy.

And she made me want to be more like her.

Georgia was the conductor to my journey, the one who gave me my key to the rocket ride by providing a means for me to come to West Virginia and by inspiring me to be a different kind of woman than I’d ever imagined. There were many people who made this book possible, but she was first and foremost. She was like the “Yoda” in my backroads Star Wars, and if you’ve ever had someone like that in your life, I think you will connect to her role in my story. And if you’ve never been fortunate enough to have a Georgia, let me share her with you. Through this book, she can be yours, too.
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I hope I’ve done justice to her, and to so many people who became part of my story along the way. While this story came to be larger than life in some ways, at least to my former sheltered eyes, it is a true story about real life and real people, with all the real emotions that come hand-in-hand with reality.

graphic1When I came to West Virginia, I didn’t really have a plan. I was lost, to tell you the truth. It was the people I knew on this journey, like Georgia, who showed me the way and gave me a purpose both within and outside of myself. I hope with this book I can share those inspirations that changed my life, and with that, create something that means as much to you as it does to me, and be something that you, also, will want to share.

You can order now (hardcover, paperback, or e-book!), and I hope so much that you will tell me what you think!

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Links to some of my posts about Georgia:
Driving Miss Georgia
Guiding the Lost
Downed Tree Causes Year’s Worst Pileup
My Real Garden
The One That Got Away
The Big Excitement
Then She Ate Some Pie and Went to Bed
Over the Hill and through the Woods
Picking Hot Peppers at the Old Farmhouse
The Orange Boosh

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My Dear Georgia

Oct
3

I’ve waited several days to write this post. Partly because I wanted to give time for the immediate family to be notified, and partly because I needed some time myself to put my thoughts together. Not that I can ever put my thoughts together properly in this case.

The obituary, written by my cousin, Mark Sergent.

Georgia Pauline Sergent, 84, of Johnson Creek, Walton, West Virginia passed away at home on September 28, 2014. She was born at Cass, Pocahontas County, West Virginia on February 7, 1930, a daughter of the late Robert Brooks and Esta Long Reed of Glenville.

Georgia graduated from Glenville High School, obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Home Economics from Glenville State College and a Master’s Degree in Physical Education from the West Virginia University College of Graduate Studies. She was employed as a WVU Extension Home Demonstration Agent for several years and served in several counties when she met her future husband, the late Robert Sergent of Walton, then a fellow WVU 4-H agent. Robert and Georgia were married twice, once at Glenville and again at Jackson’s Mills Girls’ State 4-H Camp in the Formal Rose Garden. Robert later worked with the USDA Farmers Home Administration as a County Supervisor, covering over one half of West Virginia’s counties, The couple resided in Romney, Philippi, Moundsville, Elkview, Kingwood, Wayne and Winfield gaining many lifelong friends. Georgia enjoyed working with children and taught in the 1960′s at the Winfield Methodist Church-sponsored kindergarten.

Georgia and Robert retired to the Sergent family farm in 1978, joining the Methodist Class of the Walton Union Church. She was active in teaching Sunday school, youth ministries, and the Outreach Committee, making home visits to shut-ins. Georgia and Robert were blessed in traveling twice to the Holy Land. Georgia enjoyed gardening, cooking, canning and sewing. She shared her garden produce with the community, especially senior citizens. Robert and Georgia loved to operate their “Bed and Breakfast without the Breakfast” at the 100 year old family farmhouse for friends, relatives, and neighbors in need. She enjoyed local history and helped republish “Bishop’s History of Roane County” and helped publish the “Roane County West Virginia Family History Book”. She was a member and past president of the Roane County Friends of the Library and, along with the community, helped fund the building of the Walton Branch Library. Late in life, Georgia shared her farm and homemaking skills with cousin and author, Suzanne McMinn, and was cast as a romance novel character in “A Weekend Engagement” by McMinn. Georgia was a regular feature in McMinn’s “chickensintheroad.com” blog. Georgia was active in the 4-H program, the founding adult leader of the Winfield Scotts 4-H club, a WV 4-H All Star, and she lived by the All Star motto, “Service”.

Georgia is survived by her son, Mark Sergent and wife, Sheryl, of Walton and one grandson, Madison Sergent, of Morgantown. She is survived by brothers and wives: Bob (Cricket) Reed, A. J. “Jack” (Wanda) Reed, Nelson Reed, brother-in-law, Richard “Dick” Reed (husband of late sister, Marion Reed) all of Glenville, and many nephews, nieces and cousins.

A memorial service will be held at the Walton Union Church, Walton, West Virginia on October 12, 2014 at 1:00 PM followed by a fellowship dinner sponsored by the church. A private burial service will be held later at the Sergent Family Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Friends of the Roane County Library c/o Spencer Library, 110 Parking Plaza, Spencer, West Virginia 25276 or the Roane County 4-H Foundation,` P.O. Box 105, Spencer, West Virginia 25276. The Taylor-Vandale Funeral Home, of Spencer, assisted with the arrangements.

When I went on A Ride in Stringtown on Sunday, I arrived at the unloading point for the four-wheeler (my cousin’s farm) early. I wanted to take some extra time to visit. I’d brought a batch of pepperoni rolls for Mark, but I was too early, their house was dark, so I left them in their fridge, and went next door to wander sentimentally through the Slanted Little House. After a time, I sat in one of the rocking chairs on the front porch, then decided to go see Georgia. My cousin came out of his house and waved to me, a pepperoni roll in hand, and I called out to him that I was going to see Georgia. I went into her house, found her in bed, and sat down in the chair beside her bed and knew instantly. Yet did not want to believe it. I knew my cousin was on his way to his morning check on his mama, so I waited.

My cousin is a very calm person.

Which I am not.

So when he confirmed that she had passed away in her sleep, I burst into tears.

Because he was supposed to WAKE HER UP.

I wasn’t Georgia’s niece, by the way. People often ask me why I call my cousin’s mother my cousin’s mother instead of my aunt. Georgia was not my aunt. My “cousin” Mark (Georgia’s son) is actually my second cousin, and Georgia is the wife of my dad’s first cousin, so she is technically the wife of my first cousin-once-removed. That is a mouthful, so I’ve always called her my cousin’s mother. As I wrote in my book and on my website, Georgia was “the lady of the manor, a workhorse, a slave driver, Miss Marple, and Martha Stewart all rolled into one.” To me, she was my stand-in mother, my grandmother, my best friend, my inspiration, my mentor, my pet.

“She came over to the Slanted Little House ten times a day, and if I was in the bathroom, she waited outside the door. With my mail. Or a plate of sandwiches. Or orders to come help her hoe.

She suffered from macular degeneration and liked me to drive her places.

She’d come over and say, ‘What time did you say you were going to town?’

Because I’m slow, I’d always say, ‘I wasn’t planning to go to town.’

She’d say, ‘Yes, you were. I need to go, too. Let’s go at ten.’”

Oh, my, that was my Georgia.

When I wanted to make that big change in my life and move to West Virginia, I went to Georgia. I asked her if I could live in the Slanted Little House. She said, without a second’s hesitation, “Of course, you’re family.”

If it had not been for Georgia, I would not be here. I would never have come to West Virginia. I would never have learned to can or so many other things that Georgia taught me. There would never have been a Chickens in the Road or a Clover or a Beulah Petunia or a Glory Bee or a Stringtown Rising or a Sassafras Farm or any of it. I would not have had the career and the ups and downs and joys and wonders. My children would not have grown up here and had the lives they have had. None of it would have happened except for Georgia.

NONE OF IT.

And while I try to figure out what it means to me, selfishly, that she’s gone, what I do know is what it means that she was here in the first place.

To me, selfishly.

I went on that day, eventually, to Stringtown, as I think Georgia would have wanted. She never understood how many people she touched. How many people learned to can because of her. How many people were inspired because of her. She never got on the internet and didn’t have more than the slightest idea that she was known outside of her own small town. Nor did she care! Georgia lived purely to serve, without thought of accolade.

As we sat in her house that morning, my cousin said to me, “You gave her a lot of purpose in her later years.”

I hope someday I will be worthy of the service she gave to me.

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  1. today9

    October 1, 2014 - A Ride in Stringtown

    I took a ride to Stringtown recently with my friend Jerry on his four-wheeler, and a four-wheeler is the way to travel this road, let me tell ya.

    I hadn’t been out there in about a year, and things have changed. There’s a new owner, an English fellow. Yes, really. I don’t think they intend to keep livestock as they’ve torn down the goat house … Continued…

  1. blogsize

    September 29, 2014 - Available October 7!

    It’s almost here! Here’s the new paperback cover.

    It was a cold late autumn day when I brought my children to live in rural West Virginia. The farmhouse was one hundred years old, there was already snow on the ground, and the heat was sparse–as was the insulation. The floors weren’t even, either. My then-twelve-year-old son walked … Continued…

  1. IMG_3136

    September 24, 2014 - It’s Starting to Look A Lot Like Autumn

    Fall checklist:

    Hay. I have most of the hay in that I need to get in. I’ve got some more lined up that will be coming in a few weeks. I’ll be set then.

    Wood. I have all the trees pulled out of the woods and half of it is already split and stacked. The other half is cut into logs, waiting to be … Continued…

  1. IMG_3027

    September 4, 2014 - Gettin’ Wood

    One of the busy bee activities going on around here is the harvesting of firewood from the hills on the farm. I’ve started up this mission a bit late, really, so we’re targeting dead trees. Last night, I was up on the far upper pasture with my hired men.

    Dogs were up there helping, you know.

    After each dead … Continued…

  1. IMG_2868

    August 13, 2014 - A Girl, A Loaf of Bread, and A Goodbye

    Morgan, packed and ready to go back to Morgantown, this time–basically–for good. School starts at WVU next week.

    I was thinking about clinging to her ankles or throwing myself behind the wheels of her car so she couldn’t back up, but I’m pretty sure she would have kicked me out of the way then run over me. (Just kidding. I think.) She’s excited, eager, … Continued…

  1. IMG_2809

    August 5, 2014 - CITR in WV Living Magazine

    I’m in the summer 2014 edition of WV Living Magazine! You can find the article online now–click here. Of course, this is part of the little spate of publicity centering around the book, which is coming out in paperback soon (this October), don’t forget!

    Back cover copy from the hardcover:

    It was a cold late autumn day when I … Continued…

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The Slanted Little House

"It was a cold wintry day when I brought my children to live in rural West Virginia. The farmhouse was one hundred years old, there was already snow on the ground, and the heat was sparse-—as was the insulation. The floors weren’t even, either. My then-twelve-year-old son walked in the door and said, “You’ve brought us to this slanted little house to die." Keep reading our story....



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