Inching down 95 South on what would turn out to be a seven-hour slog from Washington to Charlotte, my stomach started growling midway.
Stuck in stop-and-go-traffic, my black Lab’s nose pressed against the window, smearing the glass. We were hungry, hot, and in need of a pit stop.
Chick-fil-A is where we usually stop on long trips. The service is friendly; the bathrooms sparkle; and my daughters love the chicken nuggets and fresh lemonade--not to mention the free mints. I’m also addicted to the milkshakes, particularly the “hand-spun” peach shakes served in the summer. And, on this sweltering August day, I craved one.
I first learned of the Chick-fil-A flap from one of my gay friends on Facebook. He posted that his family would be boycotting the chain because of its CEO’s opposition to same-sex marriage. “Damn sandwiches were so tasty, but we won’t be back,” he wrote.
And then came the flood of news stories, more postings from “friends” and, finally, the viral YouTube video of the guy berating the Chick-fil-A employee for working for such a “hateful company.” After watching the clip, I applauded the employee’s polite and measured response in the face of a rude customer. I agreed with what she said. But I also agreed, in theory, with the ill-behaved activist, though not his handling of it. I imagine he and I have a similar voting record.
I support gay marriage. The families I know with two moms or two dads are amazing. Their kids are well-adjusted, kind, conscientious. Same-sex couples do have family values. Strong ones. This isn’t a random opinion, it’s what I’ve witnessed in my children’s school, and from my gay friends and neighbors here in DC and elsewhere. I whole-heartedly support freedom of choice--in all its forms.
Which brings me to my choice. To have a milkshake or not? What would it say if I stopped for a shake in light of the boycott? How would I explain to my children that I support gay rights and my right to have a thick, creamy milkshake?
Bottom line: I don’t relish tackling political questions when I’m hungry. I’d rather keep my poultry and my politics separate, like church and state.
We live in a country based on free speech. Even if we disagree with others’ opinions, they still have a right to them. Tolerance--on both sides--is the key ingredient. And what would boycotting a restaurant really do to the CEO? Would it change his views? Doubtful.
So I chose the peach milkshake. And, yes, I felt guilty about it. Still do. Aside from the cause, the calories are concerning. I have just discovered that a large peach milkshake from Chick-fil-A has 850 calories and 21 grams of fat. I’m calling it my guilt-shake.
Growing up with an artist as a mother had its benefits. We were exposed (some might say, dragged) to museums at an early age. She constantly made us aware of our surroundings: the fresh green (tendre vert, as she calls it) of new leaves, the sculptural quality of bare trees, the ever-changing landscapes. And the light, always the light.
She captures light and movement in her paintings, whether it’s a landscape, billowing clouds above the sea, or a shifting nude in a studio.
With the opening of her retrospective, “Painted Poetry: The Art of Mary Page Evans,” at The Delaware Art Museum, it’s easy to appreciate a lifetime of hard work, perseverance and passion. Walk through the space and you see what she’s been obsessed with for the past 40 years: landscapes, gardens, figures, trees and, finally, the sea and sky.
But as a child--and teenager--I most definitely did not appreciate life with an artist. Who wants their mother showing up at carpool with paint smeared on the side of the car and nude drawings floating around the back seat? Other mothers smelled of tea rose perfume. Mom smelled of turpentine.
And can we talk about the way she dressed? All I wanted was for her to slip on Pappagallo shoes like the other moms. But she insisted on clogs or cork platforms. And then there were the layers of chunky necklaces, hoop earrings, and bandanas wrapped around her head like a pirate. Now, of course, these outfits would be quite chic. Perhaps they were even then. But through a teenage girl’s eyes, nothing your mother wears is chic. Trust me, I have a tween and teen now, and I’m a constant source of embarrassment. And hear I thought I was kind of stylish. I can now empathize from both sides. I tell my girls, “You don’t know what embarrassment is.”
But somewhere along the line, embarrassment turned to pride.
The day before the opening, I call from my home in Washington to see how she’s doing. Dad, now acting as her personal secretary and major advocate, tells me he can’t find her. “I have no idea where she is. Hold on, let me call her. ‘Mary Page,’’’ he bellows, sounding a bit exasperated by his frenetic wife. When he calls for my mother, he adds an extra syllable to Page...Mary Pa-age.
She finally picks up the phone, breathless. “Hi. I’ve got to get down to the museum for a press conference. What’s up?”
A press conference? What is she, some sort of rock star?
Then she lists all the upcoming talks, tours, and workshops she’s scheduled to give, Frankly, just hearing this, exhausts me. But Mom has more energy than the average 75-year-old. Actually, she probably has more energy than the average 25-year-old.
That’s what following your passion does; it gives you energy. Do what you love and the rest will follow, that’s Mom’s mantra. She’s a great example of someone who has stuck to her guns or, in her case, paint brushes.
I hang up, telling her I’ll see her at the opening. I want to say, “I’m proud of you, Mom.” But in our family, it’s about showing, not telling. And that’s what her paintings do.
In a city as transient as Washington, it’s hard to find true locals. Sure, people might boast of having been here since the Eisenhower administration, but try finding someone who has lived here since William Howard Taft was president. Now that’s a native Washingtonian.
Margaret Rupli Woodward has been in Washington for more than a century. True, she’s not the only centenarian in town, but she just might be the only centenarian who has lived in the same house for 99 years. Woodward, who recently turned 102, moved into the house on Hall Place, in what is now Glover Park, when she was three years old. Back then, the road was dirt and chickens roamed her back yard.
Woodward’s mother and aunt bought the brick row house for just under $5000 in 1913, giving new meaning to a buy-and-hold investment strategy. “I like to tell people, I was born into a five thousand dollar neighborhood and now I live in a million dollar neighborhood,” Woodward chuckles, her cloudy blue eyes crinkling up. “And I haven’t moved.” The family later purchased the house next door and used it as a rental property. Woodward still owns both.
But while Woodward is entering her hundredth year on the block, her life on Hall Place has hardly been sedentary. After graduating from Goucher College (Phi Beta Kappa) and studying economics at University of Chicago, Woodward married a British newspaper reporter. They ended up in Amsterdam where she became one of the first female announcers for NBC radio. When the Germans invaded Holland in 1940, Woodward and her husband, along with members of a ballet troupe, escaped on a coal barge. “That was the first time I ever got intentionally drunk,” she recalls. “I didn’t want to be sober while crossing the North Sea in the middle of the night during a war.”
When she returned to the states, Woodward tried getting a job with NBC, but, as she recalls, “They weren’t hiring women. The only reason I got the job in Amsterdam was because I was well-educated, and I had a voice that projected well.” For the record, her throaty voice still projects well. And while her hearing is not as sharp, her memory is still very much intact. She never returned to broadcasting, but she did retain some advice Edward R. Murrow gave her. “He told me, ‘Don’t ever make it dramatic. Use understatement. "That was good advice.”
Woodward wound up becoming a foreign service officer with the State Department, traveling extensively throughout Europe. All the while, the house on Hall Place remained her base. “I always kept my things there.”
Although Woodward never had children (she and her husband divorced in 1947), she’s seen her fair share grow up on Hall Place. She also tutored children through her church for years after retiring from the State Department in the 60s. But it wasn’t just children she helped. Woodward spent a lot of time volunteering at a local nursing home, often visiting friends who used to live on the block. “But I seem to outlive everybody,” Woodward laughs, nodding her head of thick silver hair.
“There used to be all kinds of different people. There was a lawyer, a milkman,” Woodward says of the residents on Hall Place. “Now it’s all young professionals. It used to be more mixed up. This house had a bricklayer in it. My aunt was a school teacher. And there were a lot of astronomers” who worked in the nearby Naval Observatory.
“When we moved here, basements were used for coal. Now they have tenants.”
If anyone knows how to be a good neighbor, it’s Woodward. Her advice? “Be friendly, but mind your own business.”
As for secrets to her longevity, Woodward, who could easily pass for 85, credits “good genes and a good care-taker.” Maria Teresa Madariaga, a nurse’s assistant, came here from Chile to care for Mrs. Woodward after she had eye surgery in her 90s. She thought the job would last about two weeks. “Look at me now, seven years later,” she laughs, walking over to Woodward to help her readjust her pink floral scarf. But Madariaga, 54, wouldn’t think of leaving Woodward now. “She’s like my grandmother, my mother, my daughter, my friend.”
Woodward may credit Madariaga for her staying power, but Madariaga credits Woodward’s attitude and personality. “She has a good sense of humor and she doesn’t keep anger,” Madariaga says. “Yes, she can get sad sometimes, but not angry. In the seven years I’ve been with her, I’ve never heard her talk bad about someone.”
Neighbors on Hall Place have a similar respect for Woodward, regarding her as a neighborhood treasure. “The thing she has given to all of us, something that is unique and irreplaceable, is a specific history of where we live, and how lucky we are to be part of that history,” says Hall Place resident Nancy Tartt. “That sense of place that is difficult to find in our fast-moving culture. I will always be grateful to her for that.”
Woodward, too, is grateful. Perhaps heeding Murrow’s advice about being understated, she takes her age in stride. “I just accept it,” she says matter-of-factly. “I never asked to be a hundred. It never occurred to me that I’d be a hundred. Now I’m even more surprised to be 102. No one else on Hall Place has lived that long.”
And she would know.