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Monday, July 4, 2011



My encounter with Effie came about quite by chance. A local Mennonite minister in the Shenandoah Valley told me about her and offered to take me up to her place for a brief visit.

She lived alone in a small mountain cabin a lalf-mile or so up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. I did not know it at the time, but she was nearly blind, and had to use a stick to get around. Still, she was a tough old lady who spoke her piece.

As we approached her house, I could see her sitting on her front porch rocking away in an old chair. My gut instinct told me this would be one of the images I wanted, so I started unpacking my tripod and camera as I hiked down the trail, which was not easy. I was maybe five paces from her cabin when I stopped and jammed the tripod into the ground, and made several rapid exposures with my 2 1/4 twin-lens roll- film camera.

After my introduction, I made a second image. This time I was able to move in a bit closer and capture the true character of her face. I was right; that was my photography session for the day. When I told her that I had made the first image from a distance, she just laughed and kidded me about why anyone would want to have a picture of an old woman. I told her that her face had lots of character. And I was dead serious. She was a lovely old lady.

One evening, several years following this visit, I was sitting around a campfire enjoying good tales and fellowship with a group of local Mennonite friends who lived in that same general area. Suddenly, there was a lot of commotion in the distance, and several of those in the group took off in a pickup truck to see what was going on up the road. I knew nothing at the time except that it involved Effie.

About an hour later, the group returned with everyone laughing and kidding each other about what had transpired up at Effie's place. Apparently, a neighbor had heard her yelling in the distance and sent for help. Knowing her condition, everyone expected the worst.

What had happened was that some of her chickens and a small pig had gotten loose. Despite her near blindness and the advancing darkness, she took off down through the woods and brush after them. I'm not sure how, but she managed to get hung up real good in a wire fence that was supposed to keep the livestock in. My friends said she was completely stuck and was madder than a wet hen. Fortunately, the only thing that hurt was her dignity.

It wasn't too long after this incident when the wood stove in her cabin backfired during the night and when the neighbors checked on her the next day, she was gone. They think she died of smoke inhalation during her sleep. There was no damage to the house.

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