Girl From Goat Pasture Road

Musings of Susan Swicegood Boswell



7 Days: Merry Mags (Reprisal)

Mags Circa 1975 and 2015

Four friends, forty years…

The gift of friendship is one of the most life-affirming, sustaining and positive forces in anyone’s life. Forty years ago, these three girls and I were inseparable, the terror of Tyro Junior High School. After college, careers, children, illness, marriage and divorce, broken hearts, ailing parents, second chances, getting skinny and then getting fat again, we seriously reconnected with each other about five years ago with the tenacity of a baby hanging on to its mama.

We deemed ourselves “The Steel Magnolias” as an ode to our Southerness and our ability to persevere through the ups and downs life.Over time, our name was shortened to “The Mags” because although we are Southern, we are simply not that genteel or proper.

Some days, I feel so, well old… but when we are together, the years simply melt away. At our get-together last night, I surprised them with this picture I found among some old family photos. After much analysis of our clothing and hairstyles, we believe this was taken around Christmas, 1975.

Look closely you can see Marilyn (who at that time, went by the nickname, “Ralph”) seated, posing as Santa dressed in an impromptu Santa outfit: toilet paper beard, toboggan and Christmas bow hat. Vick’s the child on Santa’s lap while Tracy and I look on. Then, just as now, I was the daydreamer in the group, my eyes looking off-camera, lost in my own thoughts and my own little world. Tracy, the beautiful blonde, my friend of “Shoe – Whore” fame, still towers over everyone else’s head and represents the heart and soul of the Mags.

Last night, after several bottles of wine, crackers, cheese and pizza, one of us thought we should recreate the original photo. Trying to coerce the cooperation of the cell phone, the props and all parties involved was a bit like herding cats. Of all the photos that were taken, Tracy sent me this one. I was like, “Are you serious, this is the best one? You’ve got to be kidding me…”

On the outside, we’ve gained the weight- equivalent of another middle-aged woman- there’s another Mag draped around our hips and poking out of our skinny jeans! Our boobs have migrated impossibly south, dropped way down yonder like the crystal ball in Time’s Square on New Year’s Eve. We’re using night serums on our face and waxing the chin hairs from our chinny-chin-chins.

The irony is that if you asked any one of us the most surprising thing about a friendship spanning more than forty years, we would tell you how little we have changed.

The four of us are as different as night and day. We’re teachers and CPA’s, hospital administrators and creative types, writers, preppies and earth puppies, direct and evasive, sex kittens and hermits. There’s several tattoos in very strategic places among the group.

As to who and where, my lips are sealed…

Today, we’re still there for each other in all the old ways, but more so. We laugh harder and cry more easily. We listen more carefully and we’re not afraid to ask the hard questions or disagree. We hug harder and hang on longer. These women are my “go to girls” and I’ve no doubt they would love me through anything. They’d help me hide a body, break me out of jail or at least hide a key in my cheesecake.

Because if we’re together, you bet there will be dessert!

If you have friends like these, thank God for that gift! They will go with you through hell and back. If you don’t have friends like these, do something about it NOW! Make a phone call or look up your old friends on Facebook. Time leaves it mark on all of us but good friends and laughter are truly the best antidote for aging.

Merry Christmas Mags!!!

Treasures in the Attic

old attic

My husband is a treasure hunter. Our home is filled with all sorts of strange and unusual artifacts from his many trips junking. Among his numerous acquisitions include lamps and bottle openers made from the hooves and legs of deer (a little creepy), men’s hat stretchers and bowtie collections (precursors of upcoming fads I am sure) and a tiny scissor collection (certain to be used by our aging arthritic hands). Years ago, he brought home a dusty box filled with old letters and photographs that were pilfered from the remote third floor attic of an old house in Lexington awaiting demolition. “Another box of old stuff to clutter up my house,” I  muttered to myself, rolling my eyes.  “Why are you always bringing that stuff home?” I asked. The dust scattered and floated upward as he lifted off the lid and began to sort through the contents. “I just think it’s sad” he began, “for these things to be left behind. It’s like losing a piece of your soul”.

For years, the box sat all but forgotten in the book shelf in our living room. Occasionally, we would pull a letter or photograph from the box. Faces we didn’t recognize stared out at us across  a span of over 60 years, sepia colored images with withered edges. The folded letters were perfectly creased, with a drift of elegant script across paper as transparent as a butterfly’s wings. Eventually, the box became our little detective project as I began to type the letters and place the information chronologically into a notebook.

As we began to sort the contents of the box, a story began to emerge. It read like a Nicholas Sparks’  novel with most of the pages missing…

Most of the contents were love letters dated from the 1920’s and 30’s. Several photos captured a lively, bright-eyed young woman smiling seductively for the camera. One large 8’ x 10″ photo was labeled simply “The Doctor”. The terse writing from his corresponding letter hinted of a broken heart. Another photograph,  more recent than the others, showed a serious-faced little girl wearing coke bottle glasses. There was also a letter in sprawling childlike script which began, “Dear Daddy, I fell and broke my glasses…” We assumed the child in the letter and the photograph was one and the same.

The bright eyed young woman, Lyndal Denny was pursued by many arduous suitors including the illustrious Doctor but none professed his love more eloquently than the one who signed his letters, simply “Red.” Elmo “red” Leonard had already graduated from college and worked in Lexington North Carolina in the family mercantile business. Passionate and exuberant, his writing spoke of many things, but mostly of his adoration for Lyndal. Some letters began with “Girl of my Dreams.” Then “How good a sweet kiss from you would be!” declared love struck Elmo. The poor guy was passionately, hopelessly  and whole-heartedly in love with Lyndal.

Fast forward nearly ten years after my husband’s discovery of the lost letters to 1992. My husband, Perry and I were ecstatic, expecting our first child, however there was one problem. As a public school art teacher, Perry associated every popular name with an unruly middle school student. We finally settled on two uncommon names: “Brennen Scott” for a boy and “Lyndal Claire” after the young woman in the letters.

As my due date grew near, we decided on a whim to try to locate Lyndal’s former home by the address listed about an hour away in the town of Burlington. We found the street but no corresponding house number. A little ways down the street, an elderly gentleman was mowing his grass and we stopped to ask if he knew of the family. He hadlived in the town most of his life, he said, and while he was unsure of the whereabouts of Lyndal, he remembered her sister who still lived in town.

Imagine our surprise at learning Lyndal was alive and well, living with her daughter in nearby Durham. We were thrilled when months later we would actually meet her and return her letters. We felt like we knew her intimately; we had read so many of her thoughts and knew of her adventures yet we had so many questions. Did she marry Elmo? What was her life like? Was she happy?

We drove to the retirement community near Duke University where Lyndal and her daughter Harriet lived in a small townhouse. At eighty-nine years old, Lyndal was no longer the same beauty in the photographs but she was just as vivacious. The blue chiffon scarf tied neatly around her neck echoed the same azure of her merry eyes. Her silver-white hair and clear mind shined with the brilliant patina of old age. We were welcomed into her little home filled with books and fine antique furniture. She graciously accepted the return of her letters as Perry explained how he found them in the attic.

Then, she began to tell her story…

Lyndal was no child of privilege. Her parents and four siblings moved to Burlington from eastern North Carolina in the early 1900’s and her father died soon thereafter. Although her mother ran a boarding house and worked as a seamstress, she was unable to provide for her two oldest daughters. Ultimately, she had no choice but to send them to an orphanage. Both girls excelled in school. What could have been a horrific experience was made better by the girls having each other. Their mother sewed clothes for them and visited when she could. Lyndal was smart and ambitious. She worked in the school’s administrative offices and eventually earned a scholarship to Chowan College.

While she dated and undoubtably flirted with many young men, Lyndal was eventually wooed by Red, a man with bright auburn hair and a grand sense of humor. She was the love of his life and they were happily married until his passing some twenty years prior. Their only daughter Harriet was indeed the little girl in our photos. She eventually became the head reference librarian for the Duke Divinity School. Still wearing thick coke bottle glasses and a wan smile, Harriet sat quietly beside her mother. She had not changed much either over her sixty years.

I asked Lyndal about her unusual name and confided that if we had a baby girl, we planned to name her “Lyndal”. She clapped her hands in delight then inquired whether “Elmo” or “Red” was on our short list of boys’ names. “No,” I confessed and she chuckled at my reply. “My mother found the name Lyndal in a book she read before I was born but she could never remember the title. Elmo was named after the character in St. Elmo’s Fire. So you see…” her voice trailed off as her eyes twinkled with memories. “It was ALL very romantic!”

Weeks after we met her, I gave birth, not to a little Lyndal, but to a healthy baby boy. Our son, Brennen Scott turned twenty three last April. We formed a friendship with Harriet and Lyndal, sending cards at holidays and making the Sunday afternoon drive to the beautiful Duke campus, going out to eat and sharing stories. Lyndal Denny Leonard passed away just four years after we met face-to-face. She was just shy of celebrating her 100th birthday. Harriet followed her mother unexpectedly the following year.

It’s been over twenty years since we returned those letters to Lyndal. Except when there are old dusty boxes cluttering my living room , I am thankful for my husband’s penchant for rescuing lost antiquities. He reunited three souls that day in returning the letters and photographs to their rightful owner and gave us the gift of friendship of two wonderful ladies we would have likely never known. I am thankful “time” speaks to my husband in the way it does. I joke that he’s never met an antique he didn’t like.

Hopefully, he’ll still like me when I’m a hundred years old, too.

PS My husband Perry makes collages from old photographs and ephemera. His work can be seen at

Reduction Cooking Redux


Even if you’re the most amateur of foodies, you are probably familiar with the term “reduction cooking”. This culinary technique involves simmering a liquid such as a stock or a sauce until its chemical composition has changed and its volume has been reduced. What is left in the bottom of the pan and does not boil away or evaporate becomes richer and more flavorful than its original composition or the sum of its parts.

In life, this process is not unlike “trial by fire.”

If my own chemical composition could be examined microscopically, I am certain it would look very different from how it appeared twenty years ago. It’s a time of stress and transition, these middle years. I have stood shoulder to shoulder with my women friends, as we have each come undone in our own ways. I have seen a friend who enjoyed nearly fifty years of a solid marriage watch it dissolve before her very eyes. Many of us have had health scares. Some have lost homes and incomes. We’ve lost parents to disease and old age and lost our children to everything from substance abuse and mental illness to simply growing up. The generation before us is thinning in numbers and we find ourselves emerging to the front of the line.

Our loss is not even limited to humans. We’ve had our pets now for fifteen or twenty years; even they are dying in droves. My Australian Schnauzer Shredder had a stroke last year and surgery this summer at age eighteen. In people years, he’s older than Rip Van Winkle. He can barely find his food in the bowl unless I shake  his aluminum doggie bowl. When I call his name, he looks in every direction except the one I am calling from. Since he has also lost the ability to alert me  when he needs to go outside to use the bathroom, I have begun laying down bath towels in his path, hoping I will fool him into thinking he is outside in the grass. My home looks and smells like it did when my son was a baby. The scent of chlorox permeates the air. Baby gates are secured in all the doorways and medicine droppers fill the kitchen windowsill.

During this time, we are often surprised to discover we lost ourselves along the way. We were just too busy to notice. I don’t have to tell you this is a scary place, but what I do want to assure you is that there is no need to be afraid.

This process of “trial by fire” has a secret and often overlooked component. In the midst of giving up so many false forms of security, we found surprising strength in places we didn’t even know we had. We have discovered an inner resilience. We still have the ability to learn and excel at new skills and have developed boundaries that let us take situations at face value without getting so personally involved. We have even found that stripped of much that we hold precious, we are still standing, only a little worse for wear. We’ve found support from all four corners of our lives because during those years we were serving on committees, dropping off food when someone was sick, babysitting a friend’s kid- we were really building relationships that have nothing to do with the business of life but everything to do with our own foundation.

Recently, I lamented to a friend my lack of feeling worthy to enter this new phase of life. I thought by now I’d have it all together. I thought my 401-K would have another digit. I thought I would have stayed a lifetime member of Weight Watchers. I thought I would have learned to wash the dishes as I go rather than letting them pile up in the sink. I thought I would floss my teeth every single night.

Somehow, I thought I would have accomplished so much more by now…
My friend says maybe we’re not supposed to grow up and become those older and wiser people we thought we were supposed to. Maybe we’re not supposed to grow old, but should aim to grow young. What if the secret to remaining vital is willing ourselves to stay vulnerable, to stay silly, to continue to love and have faith in the hard parts and to simply not take life too seriously? Maybe in our ideas about growing older, we have it all wrong?

I’ve seen a new beauty emerge in my friends. Not the same type of beauty as when we were younger with unblemished skin, flat tummies and breasts that didn’t sag. I am talking about a reduction cooking type of beauty. This is an essential and deeper kind of beauty that leaves behind the extraneous and radiates outward like a tree standing tall and strong in the forest, a weathered rock, the scent of fresh cucumber and grated ginger, a sunrise.

It’s a glow that comes from within. It has nothing, and everything, to do with the temperature.

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