Do You Have Lunch With A Crazy Person?

How is your mental health?

I don’t usually come up against moral dilemmas when out with my daughters thrift shopping. The shop has changed hands and no longer can I depend fully on the place to outfit me. I suppose it’s not a terrible thing to buy new clothes from real stores, but still.

We left a little disappointed and with empty hands and walked up the street toward our car. I had noticed an older lady outside of an empty storefront with what looked like a small rummage sale of framed paintings and other trinkets at her feet as we had driven into town but hadn’t thought much of it. In Upstate New York many storefronts are empty and people often have junk sales.

As we approached the lady who was pulling weeds from between the cracks of the sidewalk she engaged us in small talk about the town’s inability to compete with Saratoga Springs because the local government refused to learn about historical zoning and markers. She told us how she had lovingly restored seven houses in the area to their period correct beauty.

She hooked me on many levels–old houses, inept government, nineteenth century period-correctness. She was also beautiful with wavy mid-length silver hair and large and bright hazel eyes. Within a few moments she told us she was in her late seventies.

Claire bragged about the way her ass looked in the black leggings she wore quite well. She said it was due to genetics and keeping active and interested in life. With a dramatic wave of the arm she pointed to the paintings on the sidewalk and the photographs taped to the window of the storefront.

The Grieving Process

“Henry died this year,” she told us as she pointed to an obituary cut from the newspaper.

I scanned it. Henry loved dancing, old cars and the local Catholic church. The pictures showed a very handsome older man — the kind of man who possibly loved too many women at once.

Claire started stories about her time as a frumpy teacher. Stories about raising daughters alone after her second husband ran off with her best friend. About her first husband’s death in Vietnam. About her opinions on politics.

I mentioned that we didn’t have much in common politically. We both agreed that this was not a problem and that mature adults should be able to discuss ideas without having the ideas poison relationships. Since this attitude pleased us both we agreed to be friends and possibly to go to lunch and have margaritas.

“I was a frump until I met Henry,” she said wistfully. “He made me beautiful.” She pointed to one picture where she did look a bit frumpy and then another of her and Henry at some sort of garden party. In this photo she wore a form-fitting red dress and a confident expression of being loved on her face. Henry looked proud and happy too.

“So after your horrible second marriage you finally found happiness,” I said.

Her eyes clouded for a second. “No, it wasn’t always happy.” Claire looked as if lost for a moment but recovered. “So when do you want to do lunch?”

Just then the owner of the thrift store called to me from down the road. “Adrienne, you left something in here!”

I knew I hadn’t bought anything. My daughters looked equally confused. A different lady from the store came out now and called me again. Claire turned her attention to my daughters, asking them about school and such. I strolled down the street to retrieve whatever it was that I’d left behind.

“She’s crazy,” the shop-owner said. “We all loved and knew Henry, but since his death Claire has been terrible. She accosts anyone who walks by the building she and Henry own. Henry left her underwater financially. She tells everyone she’s going to run for mayor. He had her put away a few times. We knew you and the girls would be too nice to step away, but she’ll keep you for hours if you let her.”

I had noticed that her stories trailed off and circled back, but she was colorful and interesting. I thought lonely and grieving. I called to the girls, waved a good-bye to Claire as she kissed the girls as if she’d known them for years and we drove off.

I checked the time and we had indeed been talking to her for almost an hour. I’d actually enjoyed the idea of Mexican food and drink with her. I loved that she was open to discussing politics although we were diametrically opposed on most issues. But she was crazy — or so it was said and I had run off to escape it — partially to please the shop-keepers.

How can you tell if someone is mentally ill?

Okay. So she did seem a little scattered. She did consume most of the air-time in conversation but … maybe she was terribly lonely … and grieving. Maybe she was crazy and needed to be checked into a mental health facility …

I live with a girl who has been checked into mental health facilities. Should I have run from her. We jokingly say yes on some days.

What if good old Henry wasn’t perfect? What if Claire had been hurt enough times that she became unhinged every so often? What if Claire is actually right that the town doesn’t know how to manage its affairs?

Why does this lonely, creative and possibly crazy woman haunt me?


So here’s what I’m wondering:

Would you have lunch with someone who is mentally ill?

Do you chance it?

Do you take the shopkeeper’s warning to clear out as fast as you can?

Who is responsible for befriending a woman like this?

How crazy is too crazy to hang out with?


Further reading:









Grace upon Grace

Joseph Mohr stood in silent awe of the bright stars hanging over the snow-blanketed countryside of Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg, Austria one night. Possibly his mind wandered back to his youth or even to earlier times as a baby when his mother was alone with him and wondering if the soldier she did not marry but loved could really have deserted her in her shame.

Joseph was given his father’s surname, the custom of the day, despite the fact that this surname would forever brand him a bastard.  A boy like this could have turned quite bitter left on his own. Today when so many boys grow up without fathers I wish for more men like Johann Nepomuk Hiernle, vicar and leader of music at Salzburg Cathedral.

The vicar arranged for Joseph’s schooling and encouraged his musical explorations. Encouragement is the simplest thing to do but, as a muscle, it is often underused. My cynical mind briefly intrudes on this pleasant thought. Did the vicar have some horrible reason for taking this boy under his wing? Have I been infected by the narrative that seems to say all men and boys are predators? God forbid it! How awful that the good are sullied by the evil in their midst.

Maybe a man of integrity and courage is a rarer thing than I hope? I choose to believe that one day men of integrity will be valued again in the way young Joseph must have valued his friendship with the vicar.

Joseph, as a bastard, needed special permission to enter the seminary. He became a priest. On this snowy night he walked the two miles to his friend’s house. Joseph carried a poem he’d written on a similar evening a few years back.  Franz Gruber helped Joseph put the poem to music to be used for Father Joseph’s Christmas Eve service.


Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

Silent Night became an instant sensation and spread across the globe quickly. Father Joseph Mohr remained a priest. He donated most of his salary to the poor. Joseph also set up a fund for children from poor families to attend school. How many of us use the hurts of our lives to serve others?

Joseph is remembered for his music. Silent Night is sung every year. I wonder about the vicar, though. His quiet help took a boy from poverty and shame and enriched us all.




“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13


What would you do if you saw a person you knew as an acquaintance being taken away by two strange men?

John Price escaped from slavery in 1856 with few skills and in sorry health. When the residents of the utopian Christian town of Oberlin, Ohio took him in, they found Price odd jobs and had him stay at various homes realizing Price didn’t have the strength or skill set to make it further up the Underground Railroad.

As the leaves turned on a chilly fall day in 1858 an Oberlin teenager picked up Price who’d been gathering potatoes on a freedman’s farm at the edge of town, for Oberlin was fully integrated and strongly abolitionist. Oberlin had been established by two Presbyterians who believed that Christians needed to work out their salvation by living a truly righteous life–one that advocated freedom for slaves. Oberlin College was open to men of all races and their town had hidden many runaway slaves.

Let us stop to wonder about men who establish towns. From scratch.

Sometimes I fear I may offend a random visitor to my blog who hates Christians. This random visitor may see my favorite Bible quote , “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 and dismiss me as one of those people.

It’s obvious that I don’t have the moral courage to form a town based on my understanding of Christianity. I doubt I’d even have the courage to wear a t-shirt proclaiming my belief in the sanctity of all life (it helps ease my conscience that I look terrible in t-shirts, but still.). The men and women at Oberlin didn’t have to wear t-shirts. Their acts of courage and commitment were the greatest form of advertisement for the Good News of JC (I often cringe at saying Jesus Christ out loud).

My blog is a small one and I think it would be fair to admit that the likelihood of real harm coming to me for mentioning my Christian beliefs is relatively small and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but my ego is big. But enough about me. 🙂

John Price, the runaway slave picking potatoes, rides along with the teenager from Oberlin. The teenager slows his horse as another carriage approaches with two strange men. The men are slave hunters. They capture Price quite easily since the teenager is an accomplice in the kidnapping. Further down the road two white students from Oberlin pass the carriage carrying Price back to slavery. Price calls out to them in their buggy, but they turn their eyes away.

Ansel Lyman, one of the students in the buggy runs through the town of Oberlin upon his return with news of Price’s kidnapping, and the town comes alive. As men and women race toward Wellington, some with guns, the crowd grows as news of the kidnapping spreads. No one sits at home watching TV or watching their fireplaces.

In Wellington the slave catchers and Price watch from their hotel as the crowds gather. The catchers are armed of course but they fear their fate will be the same as the building across the way which happened to burn down that morning. I imagine this was a bit more than the catchers bargained for. The Dred Scott decision had made it legal to catch slaves in free states.

The people of Oberlin considered the Scott decision unconstitutional and morally wrong as did many brave souls in the North. Here we must remember that abolitionists were painted as extremists. Most people chose peace over righteousness.  I wonder if I would have done the same. I like staying home before the fire.

400px-oberlinrescuersRumors spread that the army will be called in. A few good men with guns rescue Price. A freedman eventually gets Price to Canada, but the incident challenges the nation.

The Rescuers as the men who stormed the hotel and hid Price are now called are marched to stand trial before a jury and judge of the Democratic persuasion who hate abolitionists. Two men are tried and both are found guilty. All the others after the judge frees them on bail refuse to pay and spend time in the jail across the courtyard. The head of the jail happens to support abolition and opens the place to visitors. At first it’s just the families of the men but before long people from across the North journey to support the abolitionists. Black and white men and women flood the area united against immoral and corrupt government policies and actions.

The Democrats‘ worst nightmare comes true. War is just around the corner, but forgive them for not knowing it just yet.


**Featured image of John Mercer Langston, a lawyer and Oberlin’s town clerk, came from a family of abolitionists. His brother Charles and his brother-in-law O.S.B. Wall were among the town’s residents who rescued John Price from a slave-catcher.

Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio



Holloways: Well-Worn Paths

Sunken lane in Normandy France (photo by Jean-Francois Gornet)

If you’re lucky enough to have storytellers in your family you may have experienced what I’m naming Soul Holloways. Holloways are sunken, endlessly trod-upon paths. Their histories are sometimes buried deep, but the roots are exposed in places. Some holloways date back to Roman times and some to Native American trails.

Soul Holloways are those fleeting times when you remember what you don’t remember. The past opens through an old picture of a great-grandfather with mischievous eyes and the trace of a smile under his mustache. This great grandfather was the son of the son of Charles Foster who was hung from a tree when he was 6 and whipped all day for being late. He came to Christ at age 21. His father was a drunk but strong and cut the first roads through New England.

Some holloways are overgrown by the trees that border them

The women of the Foster Holloway Clan were spirited but given the burden of walking with drunks or very strict and straight-laced men–the tension between insanity and stability always being great.

Holloways are mysterious and beautiful but have been used in times of war to trap men in their depths or hide them from enemies–making them sometimes famous and sometimes infamous.

It’s  easy to get trapped or saved in a Soul Holloway–exposed roots tell you where you came from, but you must not get mired in them for the holloways can be muddy in spring. Walking your Soul Holloway makes you feel you can touch every kindred spirit since even before they landed in the New World in 1630. You say, “Yes, I know that about myself now. It’s how it has always been in my family.”


Once, in the forest we found an old paved road. Within ten years of no one caring for it the forest had reclaimed much of it. We may try to cover or pave over our holloways, but holloways are more like beautiful scars than roads that cover earthy smells and allow us to rush by in fast cars.

Soul Holloways are beautiful scars, too. They ask us to linger a while.

I write about family scars all the time. Maybe you’d recognize a familiar Soul Holloway in one of my novels! BUY ONE TODAY. 🙂


Music and Love

American composer Edward MacDowell fell in love and married Marion his piano student while both were living in Germany. Finances caused them to return to the States and eventually buy a farm in New Hampshire where Edward would write some of his most romantic and beloved pieces of music. Critics and the public adored him.

MacDowell composed a piano piece titled
MacDowell composed a piano piece titled “Cradle Song”, Marian suffered an illness that resulted in her being unable to bear children.

In 1904 a Hansom Cab ran over Edward which seemed to contribute to growing dementia and failing health possibly due to tertiary syphilis. Lawrence Gilman, a contemporary, described him: “His mind became as that of a little child. He sat quietly, day after day, in a chair by a window, smiling patiently from time to time at those about him, turning the pages of a book of fairy tales that seemed to give him a definite pleasure, and greeting with a fugitive gleam of recognition certain of his more intimate friends.” Wikipedia

The composer at rest.
The composer at rest.

His dying wish was for a colony of musicians to delight in the magic of the little farm Marion had bought. Marion sought and found help in the form of The MENDELSSOHN GLEE CLUB which raised money to help the MacDowells. Friends launched a public appeal to raise funds for his care; among the signers were Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan and Grover Cleveland.

Marion cared for her husband until his death and founded THE MACDOWELL COLONY. She resumed her piano career and  spent the rest of her life traveling and lecturing to support her husband’s dream.