America Archive

If I Can Just Make Cheyenne

Posted June 12, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

On Wednesday I will turn 60. To celebrate, over the next few days, I’ll have a series of posts that will give you a rare look into the private life and heart of Reba. I hope you’ll stop by and celebrate with me.

I rounded the corner and ran north, excitement bubbling in my soul. Today I would see downtown Cheyenne. I passed underneath one of the two major interstate highways that intersect here and wasn’t surprised that it looked like most any interstate exit. Restaurants and hotels lined the road, begging for customers to drop some cash.

Within a mile I was taken back in time, although NOT to the days of the old west. Instead, I found myself squarely in the middle of the 1950’s. It looked as though someone discarded an entire town from decades ago and Cheyenne bought it. Old diners with spinning stools and red/white checkered table cloths. Cheap strip motels from a time when people stayed in them just to sleep, not to be pampered. Old “filling” stations that offered fuel and little else.

I continued running, hoping against hope that this was not all there is. I passed a biker bar and gazed in wonder as hundreds of grizzly characters showed off their black leather, drank beer and ate greasy hamburgers. But they did seem like a happy lot.

I climbed a small hill and downtown came into view. I passed homeless people who seemed devoid of any ambition. One of them sat on a bench reaching into a bag of edible goodies, no doubt deposited there by some do-gooder. I ran past dozens smelly young drifters with backpacks. I figured they’d come to Cheyenne for the same reason I had.

I finally reached the center of the town and down one street, I saw the gold dome of the state capitol. What I didn’t see was anything western. There were no gun slinging cowboys. No hitching posts or horses. No wagons or saloons. No old timey hotels. There were old buildings for sure but nothing resembling the wild, wild west. Some buildings had been refurbished into bars and restaurants, some into parking garages. Many stood empty, a memory of a time long ago, although not distant enough into the past to satisfy my craving for cowboys and Indians.

I turned around and began my trek back. Already I’d seen African American young ladies walking to work at the local steakhouse. I’d seen Chinese women making large wok-full’s of fried rice for the busy take-out dinner hours. I’d seen Mexican men riding bicycles, presumably to or from work. But no cowboys.

I gazed toward the intersection and saw a young woman in a very fancy dinner dress being escorted by a man in an expensive monochrome suit. They walked across the street and he opened the passenger door of the $70,000 SUV for her. She entered but not before casting me a wary look, as if this penguin of a grandma runner wanted to steal anything she had.

I ran back past the homeless man sitting on the bench. He’d been eating some of the things in his bag and had thrown the wrappers onto the sidewalk. I bent down, picked them up and ran to the trash can to toss them in.

As I ran back toward the truck stop on the outskirts of town, I marveled that Cheyenne is as diverse as Times Square. Rich, poor, multi-ethnic, those just passing through all came to this place. Some searching. I wondered if they found what they were looking for. I fought a twinge of disappointment that I did not find my western town. I’d painted a much more appealing one onto the canvas of my mind.

The anticipation long since faded, I forced myself through the last mile back to the truck stop. As I rounded the corner and Dillon came into view, I was grateful that I’d named my truck (and all my trucks) a name from the old west. Cheyenne may have not been what I expected, but it was quite an adventure and well worth the three-hour run.

I know that in the days and weeks to come and I remember Cheyenne, I’ll choose to remember the one I built, not the one I saw on my run. In my town, horses and wagons still clop up and down the streets. Long-legged cowboys wear guns on their hips and aren’t afraid of anything.

My journey started with me thinking with great anticipation, “If I can just make Cheyenne”. It ended with gratitude that I created a town in my mind that no one can take away. I thanked God for my wonderful imaginary town created by the amazing imagination He saw fit to give me. I DID make Cheyenne… just the way I wanted to remember it!

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In His Steps

Posted March 31, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Jeffrey rolled down the road into the evening sunset in his Peterbilt. He’d been a trucker for twenty years and loved the open road. With country music playing in the background, his thoughts went to his mother. She died when he was sixteen and after bouncing around for a couple of years, he began driving a truck. The road was now his home.

He missed her more than he could imagine, especially since his father was absent. When Jeffrey was a young boy, Dad put on a uniform, picked up a gun and went off to fight the Vietnam War. He never came home. Whether he died a hero or abandoned his family, they would never know.

The lonely trucker wheeled into a favorite truck stop for some home cooking before finishing his run. He selected a seat at the counter amongst other truckers doing the same thing and struck up a conversation with the older fellow next to him.

Between sips of coffee and bites of greasy food, the two men traded stories. Midway through the elder man’s historical account, he looked up at his younger counterpart and stopped talking mid-sentence. Tears filled his widened eyes as he realized he’d happened upon someone very, very special. More slowly, it became apparent to Jeffrey that the stranger sitting next to him was his father and he’d followed in his steps.

Through tears, Jonathan explained to his son that he’d come back home from the war but he and his mother were no longer at their old homestead.

“Mom couldn’t make ends meet. She couldn’t pay for the house. I wanted to work but was too young. We lost the house and had to move away.” Jeffrey wiped a tear from his eye with rough hands of the strong man he’d become.

“I looked for you for so long,” the old man offered. “I asked everyone but no one knew where you went. When I knew I wouldn’t find you, I went on the road and have been out here ever since.”

They forgot about the time, their loads and the need to deliver them. They made up for lost time. Jonathan gazed at his son with pride and complete acceptance that without even knowing his son was walking in his steps. Jeffrey felt the hole in his heart seal up with every passing moment.

A chance meeting in a truck stop with two strangers chatting over a late-night meal changed the lives of two people forever. The ocean between father and son was eliminated and the joyful reunion was more than either could hope or dream.  That chance meeting—or was it fate—ignited a fire and bond that only happens between a father and his boy.

Five years have passed since Jonathan and Jeffrey were reunited. Today they mostly drive together, one truck behind the other. Father and son. Owner and partner. They recently visited a grave where a wife and mother was laid to rest. After more than four decades, a husband soldier was finally able to say goodbye to his bride. He looked toward Heaven and thanked God that He’d looked after his boy who despite his absence, had grown into a fine man. He marveled that even though they’d been miles apart and separated by tragic circumstance, a son had followed in his father’s steps.

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Pride of the Ozarks

Posted March 30, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Nestled in a hollow in the deep Ozark Mountains, there is a place you’d miss if you weren’t looking. It’s not a fancy place by any means but the Hillbilly Hideout is one of my favorite places in America.

The Hideout is an all-night diner in a truck stop off Interstate 40. Most national chain truck stops give you a choice of fast food or go hungry. Not so with this place. When I eat there, I feel as though I’ve gone back in time when mama stayed home and cooked dinner every day.

At the Hillbilly Hideout, you can talk like ya wanna and ain’t nobody gonna judge ya. They are just plain down home country folk from the mountains in Arkansas and they treat a total stranger like a long lost best friend. They will give you the shirt off their backs and a free shower if you really need one.

The diner has wooden chairs from the 60’s. I’m sure the vinyl booths are as well. You won’t be greeted by a fancy hostess forcing you to sit where it flows best for them. You sit wherever you want. Don’t expect a waitress because one will not be assigned to you. Instead THEY ALL will be assigned to you. Every waitress on duty is responsible to make sure you have a pleasurable dining experience. Need something? Flag any of them down and they get it for you. They share the tips at the end of the shift so they all have a vested interest in making sure you’re satisfied. I have a feeling they’d do it anyway, because they are just good folks.

A typical country meal is too much for you to eat. Pork chops, fried okra, potatoes, cabbage, beans and cornbread are a typical menu choice. You’ll have to leave some on the plate—don’t worry, they won’t hold it against you—and it will only set you back $6.99. Every bit of it is cooked up fresh right when you order it. Nothing came in precooked plastic bags like the national chain eateries. One taste and you’ll feel like you died and went to Heaven.

The Hillbilly Hideout is as old as restaurants are in America. They haven’t upgraded the décor or their menu in all those decades. But once you discover it, you’ll adjust your travel plans to go back. At any time, you’ll find soldiers and locals, tourists and truckers. On game day in ANY sport, the local team bus stops here on the way to or from the game. It’s tradition. Young and old, rich or poor, EVERYBODY goes to Hillbilly Hideout. And they know all the waitresses. Though there is a younger generation of servers, most of the matriarchs have been right there every day for more than thirty years. They are part of the fixtures at this hole in the wall.

I am an adventurer and become easily bored and disillusioned when every brand restaurant looks exactly the same and has exactly the same menu. National branded truck stops are all laid out the same, so much so, sometimes I have to ask myself where I am. In one place in Arkansas, all I have to do is look around and I know I’m in the greatest place in the Pride of the Ozarks: The Hillbilly Hideout. No place like it on earth and one of the few places I can still get real fresh cooked food for a reasonable price, get treated like a queen by the nicest folks you’d ever meet.

The heartbeat of America is alive and well at exit 35 on Interstate 40 in Arkansas. Stop in. You’ll be glad you did. And when you finally force yourself to leave, you’ll hear, “Ya’ll come back now, ya hear?”

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Die Like You Were Living

Posted March 29, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Last week, ten-year-old barrel racer Piper Faust died tragically at a rodeo in Caldwell, Texas. She was getting ready to race when her horse spooked, fell backwards onto her. Truly heartbreaking for the world to have lost such a wonderfully spirited young girl.

I did not know Piper but those who did speak only of her infectious spirit, her amazing smile and her passion for the rodeo. They say she’d said for years she would die young. Perhaps she somehow knew. One thing’s for sure, Piper spent every moment of everyday living her life to its absolute fullest, doing what she loved.

Her father said, “I think her heart stopped beating in the arena. She left her soul where she loved it.” That’s something that cannot be said of many eighty year olds when they pass from this life to the next.

Piper’s mother said that she did everything with all her heart. She gave it her all. That’s the cowboy way and at the end of the ride, whether a cowboy stays the limit or gets bucked off, they leave it all out on the dirt floor of the rodeo arena, satisfied that they gave it their all.

Not many people understand having that kind of commitment to something. They’ve never experienced a passion so intense, it compels someone to climb back up on the horse after being bucked off. Piper had that drive. Had she been able, she would have climbed right back up and raced when her name was called.

We can learn so much from this tough as nails kid. To embrace life wholly and completely. To number our days and live each one as if it was our last. We would make sure that we are living in such a way that when we draw our last breath, we die doing exactly what we were destined to do on this earth, passionately living our dreams.

There are those who feel Piper should not have been engaging in such a dangerous sport. I could not disagree more. EVERYTHING in life comes with its own set of risks. Because of that truth, we should—no, absolutely MUST—spend our days pursuing what we love.

Her death was tragic and that night when she passed from this life to the next, there was an undeniable hole in the world her presence once filled. But I guarantee you that if she had the opportunity to change that moment in time, she would not. She died like she was living… in the rodeo.

Piper’s death brings to the forefront of our minds the truth we are all faced with every moment of every day. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. We must live while life is with us. When you come to the end of your cowboy or cowgirl’s last ride, I hope you will have lived in such a way, that you died living life. May your heart stop beating in the arena and leave your soul where you loved it.

All of life is like Piper’s story. It’s a rodeo with unpredictable horses to race. We can sit out or climb on the horse, calmly accepting the reality it could be our last ride. And since we could get bucked off, we owe it to ourselves and the world to hang on for dear life. To ride the limit and leave it all out there on the dirt floor of the rodeo arena.

Rest in peace, Piper. Thank you for teaching us all how to live.

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Defenders of Freedom

Posted March 28, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I left under the cover of darkness in the vastness of South Dakota. I drove 52 miles without seeing a single light of any kind. It rained the day and night before and the higher I climbed, the lower the temperature dropped. When it reached 29 degrees, I stopped my truck right on the road. There was no place to pull off and since I was the only person for dozens of miles, it didn’t really matter that I was blocking the road.

I tried to slide my feet across the pavement. My boots dug in. Still not convinced there was no ice, I bent down and placed both hands on the pavement. There really was NO ice. I hopped back in Dillon and finished my ride to, well, an undisclosed location.

My instructions were to drive two miles down the last road on my GPS and stop at the gate. Someone would come get me.

“How will they know I’m there?”

“They’ll know.”

I arrived at the locked gate, cut my headlights and turned off my engine. Within thirty seconds, three sets of headlights sped toward me from inside the gate. Armed military police officers stopped, opened the gate and approached my truck. They were ALL business and were very heavily armed.

They instructed me to follow the lead vehicle to a building. As I approached, the door went up and two more guards appeared and motioned for me to drive inside. The second my trailer cleared, the door closed again and the armed guards showed up at my door.

They instructed me to open both doors, my tool compartment and my hood and to get my paperwork. Once completed, they escorted me far into the labyrinth of the building and into an interrogation room. As they closed and locked the door behind me, I gazed around at the room. A wooden bench spread along wall. On the far corner of it sat a telephone. Three walls were cinderblock, the forth a two-way mirror.  They could see me but I could not see them.

After fifteen minutes, a member of the security detail’s voice boomed over an intercom I failed to notice in my jailbird six by six. He asked me if I’d ever been there. Not knowing exactly where “there” was, I said no. They then asked me to slide my ID and paperwork through a tiny slot beside the two-way mirror.

Then I waited. I sat. I stood. I paced five feet, then five feet back. I sat again. I crossed my legs. I tried not to look like I’d committed a crime. I hoped they did not find the bomb I was now absolutely sure had to be in my truck. Otherwise they would not be doing this to me.

Ninety-three agonizing minutes later, the door opened. A very stern looking armed soldier told me I had been cleared but I was to remain in the room until my “sponsor” arrived.

“Would that be a person who is going to escort me where I need to deliver?”

“Yes ma’am.”

Finally, the door unlocked and opened again and an armed female soldier approached. She provided strict instructions that I was to follow immediately behind her vehicle, not change lanes or direction. She would escort me precisely where I was to deliver the plutonium… Uhhh, I mean the frozen beef.

I did as I was told while armed vehicles were on my left and behind me. When my sponsor made a right turn, I wondered if it would be worse to swing out to the left allowing my trailer to clear on the right, or run off the road with the back. I swung out. They didn’t shoot me. Another building came into view. She turned in and I did as well.

She stopped, got out of her vehicle and approached me as she pointed at a dock against the building. “Open your doors now (they’d already broken the seal when they searched the trailer) and back up to that dock. Once you are in the dock, please turn off the engine and exit your truck. Do NOT return to your truck until I tell you to.”

I did just that and within just a couple of minutes, the two pallets and six boxes were offloaded by personnel I never saw and my paperwork was brought to me by a member of my security detail. We then repeated the caravan in reverse order. Within moments I exited the gate in the middle of nowhere, it closed and the armed soldiers disappeared back into the darkness.

As I drove off to my next pick up point, I felt wholly patriotic to deliver beef to hard core soldiers who were standing the line of defense against America’s enemies. It was intimidating. Frightening even for someone who’d done nothing wrong. But it was also inspiring and reassuring to see that men and women are well equipped to care for our nation.

I realized we are in good hands. I’d thanked them for their service to our country. None even cracked a smile but with fingers on their triggers, responded with a quick, “thank you ma’am.”

Soldiers standing at the ready.

I would like to thank the men and women who sacrifice, put on a uniform, take up arms to fight in our military. I do not take that for granted and I know YOU are paying the price for my freedom, someone you’ll most likely never meet.

God bless you, American soldiers, as you stand the line for freedom.

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Temporary Home

Posted March 27, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I pulled into a truck stop in a remote part of Kansas just as I ran out of drive time. The day had started at 2am and I’d been bombarded with challenges all day. My patience had reached its limit and I was ready for a relaxing dinner in the local restaurant.

I grabbed a window booth and perused the menu. As with many local eateries in Kansas, they had a Mexican food section. I ordered my vegetarian enchiladas and chomped on the chips and salsa. My young waitress drew me to her immediately with her infectious smile. She was friendly and attentive, and eager to please her weary customer. We struck up a conversation.

Jennifer is only 18 and was orphaned at age five. She was never adopted, although she is so delightful, I can’t imagine why. Throughout her childhood, she was placed in over a hundred foster homes, until she finally aged out of the system.

I was amazed and couldn’t help but ask, “How were you able to cope with bouncing around with no place of your own?”

“When you’re in the foster system, you learn quickly that nothing is permanent. No matter where they place you, it’s just a temporary home.”

“That must have been very difficult for you.”

“Sometimes. But I’m no different from you.”

I thought she somehow knew about my life and my story.  “How so?”

“We’re all just passing through. Earth not our destination. It’s our temporary home. I’m headed to Heaven. What about you?”

For the next few minutes, I let Jennifer share Jesus with me. It was important to her. I finally told her that I share her faith.

“I knew it. It just felt good to tell you. Thanks for letting me.”

“So what now, Jennifer? What are you doing now? I’m sure you had to qualify for college scholarships.”

The smile momentarily faded from her face for the first time since we’d met. “Another thing I learned in foster care was it’s best to not take the handouts they give you. There are always strings attached in foster homes.”

“So you’re on your own now?”

“Yes. I rent a room from my boss. I work here and two other jobs. No colleges around here to go to but I’m taking classes online. I pay my own tuition as I go. Another year and I will have my BA degree.”

“What then? Have a plan?”

“I suppose most people would think I’d do social work or something to right the wrongs and save the foster care system. But that’s impossible to accomplish and God rescued me from it. I have no plans to go back. This is cattle country. The cows need veterinary care. I’m going to Vet school. I’ve already been accepted. I just have to complete my biology labs at the campus this summer. I start in the fall.”

Noticing that Jennifer’s smile had returned, I knew in my heart she would be fine and go far in life. She’d been bounced around more than a tennis ball on centre court at Wimbledon, yet her attitude remained hopeful. She possessed a wisdom beyond her years, that true wisdom forged on the anvil of suffering.

I wanted to do something to help her. I wanted to adopt her and make her my kid. But she was not a child. She was a bigger than life young woman determined to grab life by the horns and force it to follow her lead.

Jennifer knows it is fleeting. She’ll never get it back. She knows this earth, however unfair it was to her during her childhood, is merely her temporary home. She embraces every moment and squeezes every drop of goodie out of it, not intending to waste a single one lamenting over water under a bridge she did not build.

As I reluctantly said goodbye to my new friend and slowly walked back to my truck, I was reminded how temporary life—good or bad—really is. I let the challenging waters of my day roll under the proverbial bridge and disappear somewhere beyond my world.

Jennifer got it right.

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Shatter the Night

Posted March 25, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I quickly checked the weather report before departing for my new pick up point. It would be dark by the time I trucked the sixty miles east to Lexington, Nebraska. The weather reports promised some rain and winds to 30mph, well within the limits to drive with an empty trailer. So I rolled.

Ten miles into my journey and right on cue, the rains began. Surprisingly there were far less severe than the dark, ominous clouds threatened, and had completely stopped before I arrived at my shipper. I knew my load was already ready so it was just a matter of checking in, dropping my empty trailer, hook to my loaded one, check out and pull into their overnight parking area for a nice, relaxing evening of movies.

Or so I thought.

The trailer I was to hook to was a foot too high. I exited my truck, went back to the trailer and began to crank it down. I looked back toward the front of the truck and a huge brown cloud began rushing by. Within a few seconds, I could no longer see my truck just a few feet in front of me. I was in a sand storm.

The winds increased rapidly and strengthened every second. Suddenly, they began to blow underneath my trailer so hard, it was blowing me off my feet. I knew I was in trouble and the safest place was inside my truck. I just couldn’t see it.

I closed my eyes, held on to the trailer and inched my way back up to my truck. In the space between my truck and trailer, grains of sand pelted my skin like thousands of pin pricks. Sand got into my ears, my eyes, under my fingernails. I staggered to stay upright but finally made it to my driver’s door, opened it and climbed inside.

I sat looking out my windshield at a brown out as the fierce wind rocked my truck violently. Suddenly, my passenger side window shattered into a million pieces. Shards of flying glass rocketed toward me, slicing my skin as they made contact.

The brown sand blew in through the hole where glass once protected me. I attempted to put up a blanket to stop the flow of wind but it was useless. I was bleeding and being pummeled by sand and ferocious wind.

Within a few minutes, the winds subsided to a mere 37mph sustained. I exited my truck again. As I walked back to my trailer again, I left a trail of all sizes and shapes of glass that had blown into my lap, into my pockets, my hair and boots.

Safely hooked but shaken up, I drove to the guard shack and told them what happened. Fortunately, they’d included eye irrigation to their first aid kit. I used all they had. My eyes were scratched and hurting. I suppose it didn’t really matter much whether it was from glass or sand. Both cut.

I cleaned the blood from the micro cuts, removed the glass from my ears, mouth and boots. I realized that only ten minutes before the storm hit, I was out on the open highway with an empty trailer. There is no way it would have remained upright had I been hit by the storm NO ONE SAW COMING!!!!

I waded through debris in my truck that looked as though a bomb had exploded and through tears, thanked God yet again for His protection. Through filing the accident report, dealing with our safety department, making arrangements to have the window replaced and ultimately putting my heart back inside my chest, I realized how blessed I really am.

Just as with any thriller, I could not have a calm exit to the ordeal. Before I could finish the reporting and phone calls, a violent thunderstorm arrived and threatened to make mud out of the three inches of brown sand inside my truck. I quickly grabbed a piece of heavy plastic and duct tape (no person should ever be without these), and patched the hole.

Finally, at 1am, I vacuumed the glass and sand off my bed, crawled into it and wept. One final release at the end of another harrowing experience. One weapon I have to right my world when it gets turned on off its kilter. Somewhere in the ocean of those tears, I drifted off to sleep and put a period at the end of another sentence in the book of my life.

They say the winds of that sand storm exceeded 100mph. I believe it. I felt it. I battled against it.

I thank God that in that moment of terror, when I least expected something to happen, He gave me the resourcefulness to know what to do and survive. The gale force winds of adversity may have shattered the night but in the morning light the storm had passed and life goes on…

 

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You’re Never Too Old

Posted March 24, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

In a couple of months I will reach a milestone. I’ll turn the BIG 6-0. Through the years as I navigated this incredible journey called life, I wasn’t sure what I thought I’d feel like at this age. But I can assure you THIS was NOT it.

I still run. Ok, these days it more resembles the march of the penguins but I’m still out there pounding the pavement. I did not even start driving a truck until I was 57. I climb all over my truck and trailer. I play with my neighbor’s grandkids. I camp in tents on the ground.

The only time I feel my age is when I look at the mirror, gaze at that wrinkly woman with silver hair staring back at me, gasp and ask, “Who are you and what have you done with Reba?”

Recently while in the Mojave Desert in California, I stopped to eat at a local hole in the wall diner. My waitress hurried over to take my drink order. It was hard not to notice she was older than me. Much older. 89 to be exact. She was as spry as they come. Genevieve (Genny for short), took orders from memory, carried huge heavy trays filled with food to tables and NEVER got the order wrong. Never.

She worked circles around her young spring chicken counterparts and refused to complain about anything. I asked her if she could sit for a few minutes. Surprisingly, she did and as I always do, I dug into her life.

Genny raised four sons on tips from the restaurant. She started there at the age of 14. It was where she met her husband. She was married at 16 and widowed at 17. Her husband was killed in World War II.  Suddenly a single parent, she worked double shifts to provide. When her boys got old enough to attend school, the bus dropped them off at the grill every day. They sat doing homework while Genny bussed tables and provided for their modest lifestyle.

Her eyes glowed as she spoke of her grown sons. “One is a doctor. One is a teacher, a professor at a college. The other two followed in their father’s footsteps and are officers in the military. All things considered, I guess we did alright.”

She went on to say her sons want her to give up her home in the desert and retire from her job at the diner. Quite frankly, I’d chastise myself moments earlier for thinking the same thing.  I asked her why she stayed out there in the desert slinging hash. Her answer was profound.

“I’ve done this for 75 years. It’s who I am. Doing anything else would require I give up my identity. I’m just not willing to give up who I am.”

“It’s been really hard work. I’m sure you’re tired.”

“There have been days that I was so tired I felt I couldn’t go on for another step. But it’s that same work that’s kept me young. It’s keeping me alive. Sure can’t complain about that. Hard work never hurt nobody.”

Genny worked seven days a week for more than 75 years without a vacation or even a single day off. That’s over 27,000 days she’s waited tables. She serves about 40 customers a day at that little well known diner. That means she’s served over a million meals in her lifetime to hungry passersby. Many of them were complete strangers who she never saw again. Yet, she treated them like family and saw to it their hunger needs were met.

She suddenly jumped up, thanked me for the “chat” but said she had to get back to work. She hurried away as she waved at regular customers who were walking in. She met them at their table with their usual drinks.

Genny is living proof that you are never too old to live your dream. You are never too old to continue really living life. Honestly, you are never too old to become who you were meant to be.

I may never see Genny again but I doubt I’ll ever forget her. Deep in the Mojave Desert, she proves that the Heartbeat of America is alive and well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Coal Miner’s Daughter

Posted February 13, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I recently rode again through the mountains of West Virginia. Each time I do, the rich black hills pull at my heart’s strings. I climbed the highways that cut through the heart of Appalachia. Coal mining towns dot the valleys. Homes, trees, buildings and vehicles are covered in a blanket of black dust from the mines.

A simple folk live in these hills. Bred with black etching the lines in their fingers like ink on a roadmap, most of them are the next generation of miners. In each house on every row between nowhere and the mine, there lives a coal miner’s daughter.  

Decades ago, a country music singer left the mining town in search of another life. Loretta Lynn gave us a glimpse of what life was like for those who mine the black gold. A hard existence from birth to death, but these people don’t complain. They just willingly accept their place in America. Most of them…

I know Miss America, 1993, Leanza Cornett. I watched her grow up. When then Miss Florida was crowned, she was the epitome of clamor and glitz. She was flawless. Breathtakingly drop dead gorgeous. Her personality would make you feel as if you just stepped into the presence of an angel. Precious young lady inside and out.

Looking at her crowned in all her glory, it’s difficult to imagine her humble beginnings. Like Loretta and the women in each of the houses on miner’s row, Leanza is a coal miner’s daughter.

Her father, Dick, decided to take a road less traveled. He escaped the mines, moved to sunshine and fresh air of Florida and opened a sandwich shop. The coal miner’s daughter decided to follow in her father’s footsteps. She believed the world was hers and she seized it.

As I drove through Charleston, I tried to imagine Leanza running through the black ash playing. Did she dream of being Miss America some day? Did she realize there was a place in the world that did not have coal dust? I searched the eyes of those in cars as I wound my way through the mining communities. I saw hundreds of coal miner’s daughters who drive the same black soot roads to the local Walmart where their mothers bought their baby food and diapers. They will marry a coal miner and will give birth to another coal miner’s daughter.

Finally, the gold and black capitol building in Charleston was no longer visible in the rearview mirror. I only had to drive a few miles to the east to feel the solemn quietness that looms over Huntington. I can’t help but wonder which of the protruding hills claimed the lives of the Marshall football team decades ago. After more than forty years, the town seems to still grieves those they lost that rainy night when their plane crashed and burned. Or perhaps they are mourning those who were swallowed up by the mine. Whatever the reason, an inconsolable heart has found a way to beat on, continuing life in spite of tragedy.

I know there is more to the story of West Virginia, far more than I could extract during a drive through the region. There are battles fought and beliefs stood up for by these strong, tough as nails mountain people. Just as there is so much below the surface of these mountains that most of us will never see, there are stories these folks have not told. They would most likely paint a different portrait than me but I cannot deny what I feel as I visit the hills in Appalachian coal country. It is a place like no other on earth, and one I would like to take time in to explore.

But I rolled on as truckers to. And here in West Virginia, men will keep descending deep into the mountain to bring out the black gold. Women will give birth to a coal miner’s daughter who’ll grow up to marry another coal miner. Such is the circle of life in the coal mining town.

The mountains breathe in the coal dust and exhales it into the beauty all its own, where coal miner’s daughters remind us that the heartbeat of America is alive and well in West Virginia.

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The Road Less Traveled

Posted December 29, 2016 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

You have followed me for the last three years that I’ve taken the road less traveled, first on the Road to Freedom bicycle tour, then from behind the wheel of a BIG rig. Many of you have wondered how I can do it. Most of you ask why I do what I do. So, as we get ready to put the period at the end of 2016 and open a new chapter, I thought it would be a good time to tell you.

I’m not normal. Never have been. I’m a tomboy, don’t like girly things and conformity makes me feel like I’m in prison. I worked for decades in Corporate America with big companies like Merrill Lynch and AT&T. I had the house, the sports car and—at least according to most people—I was very successful.

There was just one problem. I was horribly unhappy. Depressed even. I felt I had no purpose and generally hated life. I also felt like I was terminally ill. Each and every day I literally felt like I was dying.

As it turns out, I’m not cut out to be like most people. Putting me in a business suit and sitting me in an office all day is like putting a hamster on a wheel. Know what’s funny? I was good at it. Really good! But I learned the hard way you can be good at a lot of things you are never meant to do.

I have a doctorate degree in clinical counseling. I have been very well respected in my field on a national level and yet, I drive a truck. Sounds like a horrible lack of ambition and a waste of talent, right? At least that’s what former friends and colleagues told me.

But I came to realize my lot in life is to take the road less traveled. Not have a home with kids, two dogs and a white picket fence. No, I’m destined to experience hooking to a trailer in  negative 23 degree weather and 40 mph winds at 2am in Nebraska. I feel it in every ounce of my being. The piercing, cutting blade of cold that slices through you. And my job is to tell you about it so you can experience it without getting frostbite.

My place in this world is on that road less traveled and bring the stories back to you. My purpose is to experience the sunset in the painted desert in New Mexico and tell you it really does exist by painting the portrait for you with words. It is to tell you about a lone wolf on the Navajo Nation that felt it needed to protect me from wild animals and to bring the Nation’s wild ponies to your back yard.

For many of you, the only way you will experience the Mojave Desert is through my words. You will only meet Kevin the war veteran by reading my blog. You wouldn’t know December 22nd was two minutes longer than the day before. You would have no idea that our country is filled with great Americans who are the fabric upon which our nation is built.

No, I won’t be attending any fancy parties all gussied up or spending the day at the mall. You won’t find me in a cubicle or mahogany office in a high-rise business complex. If you’re looking for me, you’ll have to come down the road less traveled. It’s where I belong. That’s my white picket fence. 

I took some time off from blogging for several reasons. All the while, the Heartbeat of America has continued to beat and I have many, many stories to tell you. I will resume the blog in the new year.

Thank you for following my journey and for appreciating that I have taken the road less traveled.

From my road to your house, I wish you a very happy new year. May you be exactly where you were destined to be, doing what God created you to do.

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