On the Orangedale Road….

This story developed from journal notes taken during our recent trip to Canada, and time with our friends on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. I’ve written several stories from this travel journal. On the Orangedale Road appeared in the Alleghany News November 8, 2017.


We turn down the Orangedale road. It’s the same sign. No real show of wear. But it’s only been five years. How much could change in that short period of time?

The curves. I remember those curves. Dodging the potholes. Making a game of it. Seeing how fast the old Silverado could go. The April night when snowflakes big as salad plates slid like wet meringue down the windshield as I crept across a one-car bridge with no side rails. This time Melvin drives, and I work hard to cram in as many memories as possible. I want to capture precious bits for future savoring. A little squirrel gathering nuts to relish in hibernation.

Around the last corner, bordering the property line we used to call ours, there is a For Sale sign.  I gasp. The road opens to a clearing at the water’s edge. The current owners have taken out the patches of scrub that blocked the full view of the lake from the house. They’ve etched a gravel path and created a boat ramp. The entrance to the inlet has been dredged. There is a mooring ball bobbing in the distance.

Taken on the day we closed on the property. It was definitely a “fixer upper!” We tore down walls inside and reconfigured the floor plan. Old siding came off, a new porch and deck went on. It went from a 3-bedroom ranch with an indoor pool and in-law suite to a 4-bedroom with a large master suite, spa bath, and new kitchen.

Melvin and I suffer pangs of jealousy. We wanted to do those things. They were on our to-do list. But in the end, we knew this was not our forever home. It was our adventure house, so we renovated, landscaped, and decorated, having lots of fun in the process.

We are hailed from the front porch of our former home and invited up. They are Carl and Teresa, a carpenter and a teacher from the Nunavut Territory, north of the Arctic Circle. Our adventure house has become their forever home. Besides the work at the shoreline there’s a new workshop partially constructed, and Carl has started to blaze a trail 80 acres back to a small lake on the property’s edge.

They are developing the land to fit their needs and enriching its contribution to the scenery along the Orangedale-Iona Road, a heritage road, (meaning dirt and gravel) which is the local route along the Bras d’Or Lakes shoreline.

Taken from the air soon after we took possession of the property.

It’s a road thick with maples, spruce, and white birch. Add a sprinkling of neat, little houses. I remembered that there was one particular bridge across a wide creek that always had someone fishing off the side, and dogs would bark at your passing car for the length of their property line. It was the unique character of this scenic road that first attracted us to the location.


We felt that same attraction on our first drive up Shawtown Road in Alleghany County, North Carolina. We had seen so many pieces of property. Some were obviously not right for us, and others were just not the perfect fit we were hoping for, but as the car wound up Shawtown we felt a spark. When we made the turn onto the worn-in tire tracks leading back from the road, we came over a little rise to a flat stretch of hayfield rimmed with evergreen, farmland in the short distance, mountains in the long distance. And there it was, the spot where we would build our forever home. Just as Carl and Teresa saw Cape Breton as the place to set down their roots, we knew this piece of Alleghany County was the land we wanted to shape into our senior nesting place.


And, what about the For Sale sign on the Cape Breton property? We didn’t ask. Maybe Carl is selling the acres just off the left side of the house. This land has the highest points, the widest views, and water access, which makes it very desirable. It’s only a guess. Could be that Carl plans to market the land to folks above the Arctic Circle. That would make sense. For people who live with a scant five months of temperate weather, Cape Breton’s warm summers, shouldered by mild spring and fall transitions, make the island look like the Canadian version of the Bahamas!

Mustang Sally

 My father bought the Mustang off the showroom floor. It was a 1964 1/2, red convertible, white interior, automatic. He said it was mine.

My dad, Oliver Rains, on one of his Sunday morning rides. It was never too early in the season to put the top down!

I was sixteen years old and not yet aware of the warning to, “read the fine print.” This particular fine print made it my car…except for Saturday and Sunday mornings when Daddy would be up at sunrise and gone until noon. So, the car wasn’t really mine. It was a time-share. But I soon discovered the benefit.  He always brought the car back spotless and with a full tank of gas.

Not until years later did I understand how my father had been enticed by Detroit’s answer to boredom. He fell under the spell of Lee Iacocca’s Mustang. Daddy was a white collar, middle class man in his 50’s. His mid-life crisis was as predictable as my mother’s menopause.  Ford was offering a remedy. In the mind of Oliver Rains, buying the Mustang was more than merely the cure for his middle-age malaise. To him it was almost practical.

Corvettes, Porches, and the like were out of the question. Too expensive. Too flashy. But how could you argue with a man who wanted to indulge his teenage daughter with a red convertible? She could drive herself to school. Run errands for her mother.  Genius! All he asked in return was weekend mornings to escape the humdrum life and hassles of the work week with a long drive in the fresh air and time to hang out with his buddies at the B&B Market or the little airport across the bridge in Chesapeake, Ohio.

I’ll never know what memories my father accumulated during his share of time in that car. Maybe it was the exhilaration of a top-down ride on the open highway.  Possibly it was just the free time away from four walls.  I do know that my share of Mustang memories from 1965 through 1969 includes rides to ball games and dances, drives to Myrtle Beach, and on one occasion a bit of small town thrill riding that included a bloody leg.

THE BLOODY LEG – a teenage adventure

My father lost his left leg to diabetes in 1965. He struggled with prosthetic limbs until he found one with the comfort and stability he needed. After he settled in with his new leg, the old leg was tucked away behind the door in the bedroom. One night, along with an accomplice who shall remain nameless, this spare leg made its way to the open trunk of the Mustang. We secured the thigh portion under the spare tire, and tied down the lid, leaving the calf of the leg, fully dressed in shoe and sock, hanging out in plain sight. Then we doused it with ketchup and drove around town to see how long it would take for the police to stop us.

We were pulled over on Fifth Avenue around 18th Street in front of Marshall University. The policeman said he, “wasn’t amused” by our little prank and gave us a stern talk about distracting other drivers and scaring children who might see a bloody leg dangling from the trunk of a car. There was no ticket. We went home feeling very successful. We had some laughs, a brush with authority, no one got hurt, and we made a clean getaway. For a weekend night in Huntington, West Virginia in 1965, that was pretty exciting!

It wasn’t until the next week that I was confronted by my father. He had been away on business when we pulled off our escapade, but word of the run-in made it back through his friend, the sheriff. First Daddy scolded, then he smiled, and then he reminded me that I was living in a small town. I had forgotten my father’s strong connections around the community and the fact that in their eyes, I was the teenage girl driving “Ollie’s red  Mustang.”

1969 – Holding Laura at our Detroit apartment. My father bought me a Dodge Dart that spring. “I’m not having my granddaughter riding around in a car that isn’t safe for children.”

The Other Mustang – 1997


My husband Melvin has many wonderful qualities. One of those qualities is his ability to build, tear down, and rebuild automobiles. He took the shell of a 1965 Mustang he found in an old barn and recreated my first ride. He scoured the internet and sourced everything from the white pony seat covers to the push-button AM radio. It was our runaround sunshine car for ten years.

In 1998. Kathie Grant Catlin riding shotgun, and Sue Scott McKee giving her royal wave from the back seat. We met to capture some of that Mustang fever from our high school days.

Back in the days of the first Mustang, this was my theme song. 

A Tribute to Anne

California, early 1940’s.

Remembering my mother,

Anne Draffkorn Rains,

on the day of her birth.

She was quite something,

and I mean that statement in all possible ways.




As I begin to write My Life In Horsepower, it’s appropriate to include a story from Mother’s automotive history. This memoir recently appeared in the Alleghany News, Sparta, North Carolina.

The Story of Big Blue

She was long and lean, and ran like the wind. Mother loved her. Daddy loved her too. She was a 1967 Chrysler Newport Custom.

Photo taken in October, 1988. Mother wanted to hand Big Blue over to me, but had to visit my house in Philadelphia to be sure the garage was suitable before she gave me the keys.

Daddy ordered the Chrysler the year I got married. He bought fleet cars from the dealer in Huntington, West Virginia, and told the owner he wanted something special for my mother. It was meant to soothe her mood in advance of my impending nuptials. Neither parent approved of my marriage for many valid reasons, one of them being I was only nineteen. Mother was distraught. Daddy was resigned, but both knew they couldn’t change my mind. To give her something to smile about, he ordered the car. Navy blue, black interior, black vinyl top. He called her, “Big Blue.”

I should note here that when my parents met in the 30’s, Daddy owned a little roadster convertible with a rumble seat. I’m not sure if it made him more attractive to her, but it sure didn’t hurt. It was a common bond. Mother loved the status and freedom that an automobile provided. Daddy just liked to drive.

Mother loved all material things, but especially cars. As a child of the Depression, owning a car was more than mere transportation. Many of her favorite stories included a car as one of the regular characters. “Pauline, Joe, and I took the Buick for a run up to the cabin.” Most old photos taken at outings included a vehicle somewhere in the scene. And so it became with Mother and Big Blue.

Blue took her through snowstorms that kept other cars marooned, and through rain storms that had other cars fishtailing off the pavement. She also transported visiting relatives to the funeral when Daddy died suddenly from a heart attack. Such was the partnership between my mother and that car, even at the age of 76, she felt the confidence to drive solo from Huntington to Columbus, Ohio, for regular visits after Laura and I moved.

Their partnership went on for years, but as much as Mother loved the car, she was also realistic. Blue was 18 years old now, and she decided only one of the pair could have chronic creaks, mysterious leaks, and trouble revving up in the morning.

She went back to the same Chrysler dealership, found the son of the owner who sold the car to Daddy, and drove away in a new Dodge Diplomat with all the bells and whistles. And Blue? She stayed at the dealership in storage as part of the deal…for free…for three years. Mother was a good negotiator.

Blue’s next home was with me, where she stayed until 2003. I took her on sales calls and country drives. After Melvin and I married, Blue went to car shows and rallys. She had a custom car cover and was always in a garage. I promised Mother I wouldn’t sell Blue while she was alive. I kept my promise. There was, however, no promise on who would be the next owner.

In the end, after 36 years of service to our family, I handed over to keys to three young men who talked about speakers in the trunk and flames along the sides. They said it was going to be, “one phat ride.” At that moment I heard the ashes in Mother’s urn puff, and felt Daddy do a twirl in his Indiana grave. I was reminded again of all the ways an automobile becomes more than just transportation, and how the love affair with automobiles continues because there will always be someone who loves the status and freedom, and someone who just loves to drive.

My Life In Horsepower

In the novel, A Man Called Ove, the lead character marks the phases of his life by the car he was driving at the time. For him it was always a Volvo, sometimes a sedan, or a hatchback, or a wagon.

My life in horsepower has not been brand loyal like Ove. I’ve gone from American to Japanese, to Swedish, then German, and back to American. My 2008 gold Subaru Outback was my most faithful steed, with  four-wheel drive that me feel fearless, and capacity that allowed us to pack it to the max. When Melvin and I left Cape Breton, the Subaru was packed up to the dashboard and hauled back to Georgia on a trailer behind the truck.

That was 10 years ago. With our future filled with daytrips, side trips, and long distance road excursions, Melvin decided it was time to trade. He wanted a little more comfort and a few bells and whistles, so the Subaru stayed on the dealer’s lot and the Ford Fusion came home.

With my new ride, Fonda deFord. Just like any other 4-door, white sedan, except Fonda sports the writer’s words of warning in the back window!


My biggest regret. I forgot to take the CD’s out of the player. By the time I realized it, the car was already gone to the next owner. So, a shout-out to the Saint Joe Class of 1965. Anyone out there willing to burn a set of the 50th Reunion mix for me?

Nothing can beat that hand-picked selection of music compiled by Dean Daniels, (grad by marriage to classmate Linda Kemper.) This group of CD’s is a time capsule of song capturing our days of house parties, school dances, and transistor radios tuned to WKEE Radio.  Ive been behind the wheel for over 50 years. Some of those wheels have been standard, some automatic. Some luxurious, some with jammed doors and may-pop tires.

But, no matter where I am and what I’m driving, when I hear Louie Louie, my mind circles back to the first Ford.

It was a red Mustang convertible, 1964 ½ .




Fifty years ago I said yes.

On July 29, 1967, I said yes to marriage at 19 hoping it would change my life, not realizing the immediate change from Miss to Mrs. was only the beginning. Fifteen months after that wedding day Laura was born. 

By then I could predict the future of my marriage but hoped fatherhood would bring him around. Four years later I put Laura in the back seat of my Dodge Dart and headed down Route 23 from Detroit back to Huntington, WV. I had my child, our clothes, the sewing machine, my sanity, and her future. We sang “Take Me Home Country Roads” with John Denver while I drove.

Laura was beside me as I searched to find a way in the world.

Many times I’ve been a good example.

Other times I’ve been a dire warning. 

In her current situation Laura is leading the way. It’s the way of a single woman with a good job in a good company with good insurance. Even with all this goodness, her upcoming surgeries require a level of planning and organization that rivals a mid-sized home improvement project. Advanced paperwork, filing with specific providers, getting on the schedule with doctors and facilities. She is building her list of resources, learning what to expect, and working to make the process easier, mentally and physically. I have become her research assistant.

Today is my day to do research on reconstructive surgery after a double mastectomy.  I’ve watched a UCLA webinar led by Laura’s surgeon, and learned about implants, “flaps” and what determines whether an immediate or delayed reconstruction is the best route. The webinar was led by one of the doctors referred to handle her case. Access to this information helps me be a better support person, and eases my motherly mind. I’m miles away but can connect with her caregivers through the UCLA site. Comfort.

I feel fortunate that she has included me as she searches to find a way through the cancer treatment maze. I’m finding my place and am glad to be seen as an asset and not a liability.  As a single, working mom, Laura fell into the latchkey category during many of her school years. Now I have the chance to do the things a “stay-at-home” mom could do. Feels good.

Daughter beside me


Mother beside her


The Gift of Defining Moments

When Melvin and I moved from Atlanta to Alleghany County, my plan was to retire from work and spend my time writing. Melvin had shifted into retirement mode the day he said goodbye to Kirk-Rudy in 2007. He ditched the suits, stocked up on Carhartts, and started car-building and ham radio projects. By the time we moved to Alleghany, he was a full time retiree. I was a harder sell on the idea of “just writing” in my retirement. I kept seeing things to do, ways I could contribute to the community.

I had decided that after one last project, (the Working Writers Workshops in May) I would put aside the organized, multi-tasking event organizer side of life and opt for days nestled on the porch reading, writing, and getting lost in thought. Fortunately I was poised in that direction when March and April turned life upside down, and May brought a tsunami that would change the future.

In the last four months I’ve had some serious stomach issues, (ulcers) which brought about a personal reality check and refocus, which brought about my retirement from active involvement in community service projects, followed by a renewed dedication to my writing  and the support of our growing literary community. After nudges from my writer friends and mentors, there it was…a revival…a coming home to the things that bring joy into my life.

April, 1969. Detroit. Ages: 6-months, 21 years.

1972 Camden Park, Huntington, WV. Ages: 4 years, 25 years.

The new plan was just getting underway when I picked up the phone on a Wednesday night in mid-May and heard my daughter say, “The test came back. I have cancer.” It was one of those life-as-you-know-it will-never-be-the-same moments, right up there with the day she was born…a defining moment in the mother/daughter relationship.

Life now revolves around trips to Los Angeles for support, writing about the experience, and supporting local writers and community projects of the Alleghany Writers creative writing group.

In the spirit of mother/daughter relationships, here’s a memoir, Snoop. I will  be reading it at the upcoming Voices of Alleghany open mic night. Our usual meeting place is the Alleghany Library, but Miles Realty has offered to host our event in July due to a scheduling conflict at the Library space. Voices of Alleghany is open to the public and all are invited to  hear the writers and poets of our county read their work. Thursday, July 20, 7pm, Miles Realty, 555 S. Main St., Sparta.     Come to read, come to listen, come to support!


The minute I pulled opened the dresser drawer I knew someone had been snooping. Sweaters that were folded with the precision I learned from three high school summers of retail had been jostled from their right angle positions in an attempt to reach the blue pocket folder holding all my money and personal papers. There were only two other people in the house, one of them a four year old with neither the strength to pull the heavy drawer, nor the shrewdness to cover her tracks. The other person was my mother.

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