Essence of life

My darling red hearts from Essence on Main in Clarkston 

I awoke this frozen, bright blue morning with the delightful thought of tagging along with a friend to Clarkston. The unique charm and flavor of a local village appealed to me, especially in good company and when I’m hungry.

            After Mary Ellen delivered her little Mal-Shi into the groomer’s loving arms, she parked on Clarkston’s Main Street. I observed the free parking, one benefit of dining and shopping in a small town.

I mention this in remembrance of the $45 parking ticket I lately paid for overlooking a small sign at the corner of Canfield and Cass Avenues in Detroit.

The price was worth the reunion with my California daughter and our laughs with other canine lovers in the gated Dog Park. I seldom have the opportunity to watch my grand-dog Lily play with all kinds of breeds and sizes of city pets.

Yet, be it local or out of state, I’ve found small town merchants and wait staff kinder than those in cities. Perhaps slower foot traffic allows for that.

In high anticipation, Mary Ellen and I passed a bakery and clothing shop. We paused before a window with a beautiful display of white, life-sized deer with little red hearts dangling from their antlers.  

“They have some very nice items in this store,” she said.

I stood resolute before those cascading red hearts. Lord knows I didn’t need anything new for my home. I’d find something useful inside to support this local business.  

My fellow admirer of darling, dangling, original ideas looked me in the eye. “We have two hours while Abbey’s at the groomer. Would you like to drop in after breakfast?”


We walked next door to the Old Village Café. The waitress smiled and waved to us. “Sit anywhere you like.”

“I remember her from lunch here two summers ago,” I said.

We ordered Eggs Benedict and a cup of hot tea. I splurged with a side of hash browns which I shared with my friend.

Two mothers who’ve lost an adult child, Mary Ellen most recently, we acknowledged the overwhelming fatigue that follows the crisis of death and a memorial service.

“Let me know what I can do to help you recover,” I said.

“You’re helping now.”

“What? This is like a mini vacation.”

We left the café and browsed every nook and cranny within the shop where the red hearts hung from the deer’s antlers. I found my favorite tea blend, Paris, by Harney & Sons.  And Moosejaw chocolates and Germack nuts.

Oh yes, I fought the nudge to pluck up a string of those frivolous red hearts until I saw Mary Ellen, one of the most practical persons on the planet, with a strand in her hand.

As she drove us northeast toward home, I asked, “What’s the name of that charming shop?”

“Essence on Main.”

Lord willing, we’ll return to the place where we found our token of companionship. For the shop sells delicious ginger molasses and chocolate chip shortbread cookies.      


Celebrating Mom's 100th birthday

Warren O'Brien & Sadie Lee McCoy on their wedding day, March 23, 1946, Phelps Presbyterian Church
Tuesday, August 7, 2001: McCoy Homeplace, Phelps, Kentucky

My mother reclines with her coffee cup in the farmhouse where she grew up in the McCoy Bottom. Where I lived almost the first five years of my life.

I record our genealogy and Sadie Lee McCoy’s personal history—the purpose for my visit to Peter Creek, a stream that flows from the peak of Big Creek Mountain to the Tug River bordering Kentucky and West Virginia.

Mom names her maternal grandparents and their twenty offspring, ten each. I came to know most of my forebears during childhood summer vacations south.

At last, Mom comes to the McCoy/O’Brien branch of our family tree. She hesitates for we’ve seldom mentioned Dad after their divorce in 1967 and his burial in March 1995.

“How did you and Dad meet?” I nudge.

“Well, Warren worked the farm with Dad and my brothers.”

“You mean Dad farmed with Grandpa Floyd and my uncles here in the McCoy Bottom?”

“And across the creek where I was born. Dad always hired hands. After his mining accident in 1932, Mom needed more help because I was only ten years old and Sarah and the boys were younger. Dad said he liked the way Warren worked.”

“How did Dad work?”


“And that’s how your romance began?”

“The baby of nine children, Warren O’Brien was a snotty-nosed boy back then.”

“Well, when did you fall in love?”

“I guess it began when Warren came home from the War. Some of our boys didn’t make it back, and that hurt real bad. I went with Granny O’Brien and her family to the Williamson Train Station to welcome Warren home. Everybody on Peter Creek was glad to see him.”

My granny, Ollie Jane McCoy, poses on her piano bench before the house where my mother was born

Monday, January 10, 2022: My Homeplace, Addison Township, Michigan

Today is Mom’s 100th birthday. I remove her wedding photo from the living room bookshelf. My parents smile, arm in arm, and I am comforted.

Dressed in his Marine uniform, Dad seems eager and able to build a family and prosperous life with his bride. The rosettes attached to the tulle skirt layered over Mom’s slender, satin dress puddle on the floor around their feet.

I remember the Scarlet O’Hara eighteen-inch waistline contest Mom said she won while in high-school and recall her southern resilience.

In the day when most war brides wore their best dress or suit for their wedding clothes, I marvel at Mom’s fine bridal gown, headpiece, and veil.

I refer to my notes from that August day twenty-one years ago. “Mom and Dad knew how to make money. Dad kept two milk cows and fifteen beehives. Mom opened her own store with a gas pump. She sold livestock feed, Dad’s comb honey, and her pound butter.”

Indeed, dear Reader, my forefathers knew how to use what they had to prosper. However, what my mother mentioned most from March 23, 1946, was this: “Dad held onto my arm and walked me down the aisle with the help of his leg braces.”

Sometimes, hard work is nothing less or more than a blissful moment we encourage another branch of our family tree to grow.

The store Granny opened on the road above the McCoy Homeplace (roof visible to right of gas pump)

Benefits of neighborly ambulations


Stoney Creek on a cold, sunny winter day

Upon the conclusion of this past gardening season, I determined to resume frequent walks on my country roads come January 2022. Primarily for the benefits of fresh air and exercise.

Which includes a wave to neighbors while they muck their barns, visit their mailboxes, or call for their dogs. And a chance meeting with a familiar face passing on foot or behind a steering wheel cheers me like a bright, blue sky on a winter day.

So, later I’ll layer my clothing and lace my boots for a muddy stroll in sunshine. Incidentally, my fondness for mud throws back to childhood when Mom praised my mud pies with a genuine smile. 

Which explains my preference to saunter slushy, hilly, pot-holed roads rather than groomed trails. I’m most content walking along Stoney Creek that resembles Peter Creek, the stream that flows along my natal Kentucky home.

Now, I cannot attribute my desire for outdoor recreation to my mother. A fair-skinned Scot-German who avoided the blazing sun, Mom excelled in domestic skills such as cooking, baking, sewing, and creating wedding cakes.

Her second of five daughters, I did not inherit Mom’s steady eye and hand. I cannot embroider the smallest piece without puckering the fabric, or draw a straight line.

Long ago, my few pathetic knitted and crocheted efforts ended up in the trash can. My inventive mind sees serpentine lines.

For instance, it’s taken my dyslexic brain decades to befriend the lettered keyboard. The battle first emerged in my sophomore Beginning Typing class with Mr. Walling when my grade regressed from a B to a D.

This disqualified me from the J.V. cheerleading squad for a miserable month. Meanwhile, I practiced typing after school under Mr. Walling’s critical supervision.

Truly, I could’ve never accomplished a writer’s life in this modern world without the intervention of the word processor, cursor, and backspace keys.

However, when I turn into my second mile, I’ve forgotten my search for the notched F and J keys. With each step, the voice of sound reason returns—encouraging words that ease the stress of my limitations and lift me to higher places.

As the waters of Stoney Creek tumble over rocks and fallen logs, they speak sweet comfort, joy, and guidance to my mind, soul, and spirit.

Today, I’ll bundle up with a burdened heart for a steadfast and loving friend; a mother who held vigil with her husband in a hospital for several days, praying for God’s will for their elder son.

Dear Reader, amongst the numerous blessings of dodging icy patches is communion with my Lord, Jesus—to pause along open fields, forests, and Stoney Creek and appeal to Heaven for the sick and bereaved.

And to remember God’s mercy and grace found within my family’s losses, count them worthy to offer up in prayer on behalf of my heartbroken friend and her family.

I’ll walk along “Rivers of Living Waters” and pray for my friend and her grandchildren’s comfort.

For the healing of the nations.