Where to begin? I’ve been contemplating this all day in preparation of sharing this story. In order for you to fully grasp the significance, I have to back track a bit. So for those of you that know me personally, I’ll apologize for the parts that you may already know.
To start, you have to know my personality. I’m a think outside the box person. I’m a problem solver. I’m a 150% or nothing doer. I’m the youngest of five and a complete brat. I’m an “is it broken, nope, well heck, let’s break it just to see what happens” person. I’m also a damn yankee. I was born in Ohio and have lived in the South since I was 10. That’s significant because I annoy the hell out of most Southern people, especially the women, because I rarely take no for an answer, can be extremely blunt, and cuss like a sailor far too much. I’m competitive, type A plus a bazillion, and opinionated. I’m also a mother hen and want to help people.
But about 19 years ago, I met an angel that pointed out that if I’d just get out of my own way, the good intentions that were my motives for the things I do in life could be seen. Of course I fought that diagnosis and kicked and screamed that “why can’t people just understand me”. Thankfully, the divine spirit didn’t give up on me and kept working on me (well, really I’m still a work in progress as I still get in my own way at times!).
I had to go through considerable angst and self evaluation to figure out that Charlotte, my corporate job, and my ego were going to kill me and those around me if I didn’t do something about it. I wasn’t the mother, wife, daughter, employee, co-worker, neighbor, sister, or aunt that I was capable of being. I was too consumed with ME! So, I bellied up to the adult bar and formulated a plan.
I started trying to find ways to spend more time with my family and less time worried about climbing the corporate ladder. I tried to see those around me outside of my judgment of them, but for their true value. I worked on removing ME from my sentences and include more WEs and USs. It was hard. Many times I could not step back far enough to see what was so obvious to others. I became aware of how toxic Charlotte was for my family. It was too late for Jennifer, as she had finished high school, but there was still time to make things better for Cassidi.
Eventually, I came up with the escape plan of getting my massage education and licensure and moving to our cabin in the woods. We had actually bought it a couple of years earlier trying to spend more family time in nature together. We knew it was home as soon as we bought it, but just had no idea it would REALLY become home. I went back to school for massage and added in the yoga certification for good measure. I started talking to the folks at my “day job”, and they gave me the green light to move and continue working for the bank. It was actually the perfect transition to wean myself off the crazy corporate life to the slower country life. We moved up eleven years ago this summer and have never looked back.
I tell you all of that to help you understand the simple fact that I’m a seeker. I’m a chameleon. I’m always transforming. Sometimes it’s big things, sometimes it’s small things. But I’m always looking for the next thing I’m supposed to be doing. The next gift the divine wants to share with me to share with those in my life. I get bored easily, so this is a continual pattern for me. I have the energy for it, but those around me sometimes get a little irritated – namely Tony!
I’ve had three separate businesses in the eleven years we’ve been up here – one a very small massage operation close to our house, the other a very successful spa for six and a half years, and now the wellness center for the last two and a half years. Things are great, and I work with an amazing group of people – both staff and clients. I love what I do and getting to help people day in and day out has filled my heart to the brim.
But as with everything, time and gravity set in. I overdid the physical aspect of the work and it has caught up with me. I cannot see the volume of people at I once did. The aches and pains in my own body have caught up with me. I found an amazing therapist that has stepped in and taken on the majority of the work. It has been so wonderful knowing that my clients are being taken care of by someone that while she isn’t me, she’s darn close. Those of you that have a service provider of any sort, know that once you get used to someone, it’s nearly impossible to ever replace them and not compare them back to the first one you fell in love with. My clients aren’t bodies I throw on a table and rub. They’re my family. They’re my peeps! So, it isn’t easy stepping away – not on my heart nor theirs.
Knowing this was the fate of a massage therapist (the usual career span is 10 to 15 years based on the volume and difficulty of the work) is not a secret. And I didn’t help matters by being older when I started. So, at 50, I’ve done really well to work at the pace I have, put as much of myself in to it from a mind/body/spirit perspective, and still be able to put in about 15 to 20 hours a week with the massage. That doesn’t include all the other hours that are spent actually running the business. Yes, I’m an energizer bunny, but my batteries aren’t as strong as they once were!
Nonetheless, I’ve been contemplating what’s next. I’ve done some training to become a teacher (of what, I’m not entirely sure); I have a full fledged art studio up at the garage ready to start; I want to write books; Granny ‘Cann is ready to be initiated when the time comes; and I’ve been contemplating some specialty focuses in body work that is less physically demanding on my body. So many wonderful options to choose from. And I keep meeting people in each of these fields that are available to help me on my path. Trying to figure out the next step has been very difficult.
In my quest to become less type A and more type B, I’ve embraced the saying “Let go and let God”. I do my best to remove my will and my desires from my wants and actions. I pray for strength to survive whatever will be thrown my way instead of a specific outcome. Recently, I’ve become so complacent in my approach to decisions, I feel like maybe I’m moving in the wrong direction.
So, I’ve been asking for guidance and direction from the divine. I’ve asked for clarity. I’ve asked for “signs”. I said out loud on my front porch last night “Divine spirit, please show me the way! Please give me the clear direction you want me to pursue!”
Afterward, I shook my head and realized how just in my question, I was limiting myself. The whole “I only do it 150% or not at all” thing had gotten me again. I realized that I could do so many of these things at the same time. That if I just stopped expecting a HUGE shift like the forced extraction I gave myself in leaving the corporate world all those years ago, I could pursue many of these things in parallel. I went to bed feeling a little calmer.
This morning when I woke up, I knew I didn’t have to go in until later in the day. I slowly made my way through the morning. A couple of clients had to cancel, so I worked on compacting my schedule if possible. I fed the animals, and put the finishing touches on cleaning the hot tub from the weekend. It took a little longer than I expected, so I didn’t get out the door to start my walk when I intended to. I also needed to hear from one last client on my schedule. I broke protocol and took my phone with me. I wanted to do my large loop, but if she couldn’t come later, I’d have to settle for the shorter route. Not long into the walk, she let me know it was good to do the full circle.
On my walk, there is one stretch right before I turn to start the circle where the pavement turns to gravel. I know that just over the hill and on the right, sets the little cabin that commemorates Orlene Puckett on the Parkway. I fell in love with her story when we first started coming up here. She was a midwife that delivered over 1000 babies even though she didn’t start “catching babies” until she was 50. Because she was born at a time where they didn’t keep birth records, her exact age isn’t known. But she was approximately 100 when she died. The super tragic piece of her story is that she had 24 babies of her own – each and every one dying before the age of one. It’s believed she had RH factor. That means that her first child would survive, but all future pregnancies would terminate. In a cruel twist of fate, typhoid took the life of her first young daughter. All future babies she either miscarried, had a still birth, or they died within months of birth.
No one knew what RH factor was at that time. Her husband was a very hard, mountain man and many believed he abused her causing the deaths. And some people even thought she had abused and killed the children. It was a very hard time in our history – mid 1800s. The mountain people in that time were very uneducated and somewhat anti-social. She became a mid-wife almost by accident. A neighbor was having a difficult delivery, no doctor was available, and the husband sought out Orlene, because he figured after having 24 babies of her own, surely she knew something about it.
A few years back, I found out there was a woman that conducted a performance honoring the memory and legacy of Orlene. She’s actually known as Aunt Orlene. It’s a show the Park Services organizes. We took our lawn chairs on a hot June day and watch Phyllis Stump tell the tragic story of sweet Aunt Orlene. I was moved to tears (yeah, we all know I’m a BIG cry baby!). She had a book she’d written. I bought it and devoured it. I tried to get in touch with her afterward as she said she lives close by, but nothing ever came of it. She has since had health problems and has not been able to do the shows. I’ve often said maybe I should take up the torch and carry her story forward. Nothing has ever come of it, but it’s always been in the back of my mind. When we were on the Parkway a couple of weekends ago, Tony said “When are you going to get going on being Aunt Orlene?” I chuckled.
So, every time I get to that part of my walk, I always hope that I’ll see her spirit up over the horizon. Every time I’ve been disappointed. Until today!
I didn’t see her in that spot, nor did she make herself known in the image I have pictured in my brain. As I was walking, I saw an older woman walking ahead of me. I actually thought she was this sweet little woman that sits on her front porch starting her day on so many occasions on my previous walks. When I first saw her, she was actually looking back in my direction, stopped in the road. I picked up my pace hoping to catch her so we could talk. I saw another couple on their front porch, waved, and spoke a good day greeting to them. When I looked back up the road, she was gone. My heart sank a bit, but I held out hope that she’d be on her front porch so I could say hello.
I picked up my pace yet again. I was really excited that maybe I was going to carry on a conversation with her this time. I’ve seen her, and her husband on other occasions, many times on my walks in the past year. We’ve exchanged pleasantries but that’s all. Something today told me to stop and allow space for more.
When I got to the house, she was there on the porch. I said good morning, and she replied the same. I asked about her walk. She explained where she had been. She mentioned the Puckett cabin, and then further explained that she used to do a performance in her honor. My heart stopped! I nearly started crying right there. But I was able to say “Are you Phyllis Stump?” The surprised look on her face was priceless. She answered, “Why yes, I am.” I think there may have been a hint of pride in knowing that her work was known to this stranger. She got up and walked toward me, and I started walking toward her. I had to do everything in my power not to hug her neck and sob. I explained I was about to get emotional. I asked if I could sit with her. She agreed.
We spent the next hour reviewing the facts of me seeing her performance, trying to find her, and wanting to carry Aunt Orlene’s story forward. I told her all about my feeling of a transformation trying to happen in my life. About how I’ve passed her house and been so drawn to her numerous times in the past year. How I’ve wanted to see Aunt Orlene’s spirit all these years on that road and by the cabin, but today I actually did! I’d explain, cry, compose myself, and explain some more. All the while, she sat in bewilderment. She’d explain some things about Aunt Orlene as if I was a stranger to her story. I’d chirp off the stats and told her I knew - I’d memorized her book. She was flabbergasted.
We had such a wonderful talk. It went in so many directions. At one point, I was talking about this place being her home that I’ve walked by so many times. That I had been looking for her and she was sitting right there. How I was drawn to the street number on her mailbox because it made three 8s when combined (yes, my crazy LOVE of the number 8). And that’s when she floored me again. She told me this wasn’t her house. That she just knew the woman that owned it (the owner is actually a baby that Aunt Orlene delivered), and had stopped for a rest on her walk back home. That’s when I really lost it. The poor thing had no idea what to think of me!
At the summary of our talk there at that house, I asked her if she was ready to pass the torch. She spoke of her illnesses, of her desire to keep performing but the difficulties of finding a location as the Park Services have cut funding, of other places she’s tried to perform that just haven’t panned out, and of her continual aging that has hindered her memory and ability to perform. At one point, I think there may have been recognition that this person sitting in front of her just may be the answer to a prayer that she didn’t even know she had or was ready for.
So many people call all of these occurrences coincidences – ironies. I am a firm believer that everything in our lives happen for a reason. And every happening is an opportunity for learning and growth. All of the happenings that led up to me meeting Phyllis today were perfectly lined up – me starting out later than I expected, me seeing her in the distance, her stopping at this house I’ve been so drawn to, it not even being her house, her being who she was, my heart being what it is, her heart being what it is. Not one single item in that list happened without purpose.
We got up, made our way slowly to her house (which is also on my circle route in which I’ve greeted them on their porch a time or two, also), I met her husband, and she invited me in. She showed me a picture she had commissioned a local artist to draw of Aunt Orlene and what she thinks are her two nephews. She showed me the two big binders she has right there in her living room containing her research on Aunt Orlene. I asked if she wanted me to take some of her books to sell at MAMAW. She gave me four. We exchanged names, phone numbers, and email addresses. We have no idea where this is going, but we’re both to ponder it and get back to each other this coming Monday.
As I was about to leave, she was looking long and hard at me. She told me I didn’t look 50, but then again, she’s been told she doesn’t look her actual age either. She then sized me up, told me I was tall, and was definitely closer to Aunt Orlene’s height than she herself was. It occurred to me that she was “auditioning” me. My heart smiled!
Needless to say, I walked out of her house, made my way home, and have zero idea how I got there. I was on cloud nine at today’s discovery. Again, I have no earthly idea what’s to come of all of this, but am so grateful for this experience. I feel the divine spirit is working magic, and I am beyond excited to see what unfolds!