Thursday, April 21, 2011


There was never a more entertaining guest or table partner than Joan. Joan could hold an audience captive with her many stories about life in the mountains. Her voice was soft and the cadence of her voice slow. You had to listen well, but it was always so worth it.

Joan arrived many years before to work with children and in the homecare ministries of Red Bird Mission. One of her beloved patients was Tildy, a sturdy mountain woman married many years to Sy. When Tildy died, Sy turned his eye toward Joan and the two surprised everybody by marrying some while later. Joan was 50 and it was her first marriage. By the time we arrived at Red Bird, Sy had died and Joan was learning to live alone again, but missing dreadfully the love of her life.

Joan had travelled many of the back roads caring for patients. Her goodness was legend. She never feared bad roads or people. She knew how to protect herself, and you just knew that she knew. She stayed at home protecting her household when forest fires raged through her part of the mountains. She handled sick, drugged, and dependent folks with ease. I think she wasn’t afraid of anything or anybody. Snakes? A whack with a machete takes care of them. Problems unsolvable? Prayer takes care of them. Hungry? Her garden was prolific and her fried apples the best you’ve ever eaten.

When I came home to fresh vegetables on the porch, I never had to ask where they came from. It was always Joan. Although declining health has taken her out of the mountains, she remains for me a friend and icon of stalwart faith and strength. A real mountain woman.

Church Basement Lady

Fran Woodworth, Cook Extraordinaire

A popular book and entertainment program called “The Church Basement Ladies” profiles life in the kitchen of a Scandinavian Lutheran Church in Minnesota. But these ladies are everywhere and, if you attend church, you know some of them too. They can be the absolute heart of the church, bustling around between the stove and the refrigerator and serving up helpings of steaming love on special occasions. They are known for comfort food…literally. Their funeral dinners have comforted many families, as have hot tea and coffee on cold days before church. This is the group that turns out chicken and noodles by the gallon, invented Jello desserts, beats Keebler’s in the numbers of cookies baked, hosts luncheons by the legion, and ensures that no event goes unnoticed without refreshments.

There was never a truer member of this club than Fran Woodworth in Beverly, Kentucky. A retired pastor’s wife, she brought years of experience to the Beverly UMC kitchen. A woman who knew the taste and importance of good food for any occasion, Fran was one of the best cooks I’ve ever met. Fresh, real, homemade and lots of it…these were her mantra. No margarine. EVER. No generic mayonnaise. EVER. Only…well, only fresh, real, homemade, and lots of it. Thanks Fran for your generous use of culinary gifts; you are a true Church Basement Lady.