Saturday, March 27, 2010

A community's tragedy

This has not been a good week in Colonial Beach, the town where I spend my summers. On Tuesday, the owner of a local coffee shop, which has become a gathering spot for many in the town, died tragically in an explosion while trying to remove the old gas tanks under the property.

I originally met Jeff, his wife Julie and their girls, when I still had my bookstore in town and they were weekend visitors on the hunt for Beanie Babies. A few years later, they bought an old Esso station in the heart of downtown -- such as it is in this very small community -- and turned it into The Espresso Station. They built a second home in town and commuted to Colonial Beach from their home in Fredericksburg to run the shop which quickly became a local favorite, especially for some of the women's groups in town, who'd stop by after meetings at church or on Sunday morning after services. Father Ron, the minister at St. Mary's Episcopal Church across the street, considered the coffee shop his second office.

A group of local citizens organizing to try to make improvements in the town gathered there regularly. And a whole bunch of my friends were hooked on their iced coffee drinks, especially when trying to wake up at dawn on a hot summer day to get things started for the town's Market Day events.

Recently Jeff and Julie hoped to expand their outdoor patio area. To do that, the old underground gas tanks had to go. Jeff got a permit and with the help of a friend tried to remove the tanks himself. Apparently no one had warned him of the danger of the fumes left after the tanks themselves had been drained. Something -- heat from a power saw or a spark -- ignited those fumes and caused the explosion that cost him his life and left his family and friends devastated.

I have a million and one questions about why any responsible government agency would approve an amateur doing a dangerous task normally reserved for very highly paid professionals, but for the moment that's hardly the point. The town has lost a man who was devoted to bringing something special to our community, a business that had staying power despite economic ups and downs, a place where people could sit with friends over a cup of coffee, a piece of White House apple cake or a muffin and engage in some lively conversation.

Though I've spoken with several people since this happened, including my friend Father Ron, no one knows for certain if Julie will have the heart or the means to keep the business going. It was, in so many ways, an expression of love for the town, not a profit-maker. For the sake of the community, I hope she and her girls will carry on. For now, I just hope they know how very much they were appreciated and how deeply our hearts ache for her loss.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

When 'I'm sorry' isn't enough

How huge does a transgression have to be before simply saying, "I'm sorry," is not nearly enough? And does someone actually have to earn forgiveness or should it be given freely, when an apology seems sincere?

I've been thinking a lot about this recently. Mostly it's because of people like Tiger Woods and Sandra Bullock's husband, who've been publicly apologizing like crazy for cheating on their spouses, but it's also because I have a truly terrible habit of holding grudges for eternity. It takes a lot for me to lose faith in someone, but once I have, forgiveness does not come easily. And I have to say if I were in the position of some of these wronged wives, forgiveness would likely be impossible.

I have a couple of friends who are ministers. One, who shakes his head at my stubborn refusal to let go of things, reminds me that the person I'm hurting most is myself. The other, who's written a book on forgiveness, would probably be appalled to know how deeply I cling to past hurts. Even I recognize just how absurd it is at times.

To give you one of the more ridiculous examples, when I was maybe eight, an umpire tossed a pitcher from the old Washington Senators -- my favorite team at the time -- out of a game because a coach from Baltimore in my "expert" opinion harassed him till he did something stupid. Remember now, I was eight. I wrote to the commissioner of baseball to protest. More dramatically, I boycotted the entire city of Baltimore. I had not set foot in that town until last year when I was sent there on a book tour. Now that's a grudge!

At fourteen, when a dentist jabbed me with novacaine to do my first filling without discussing it with me, my parents had to change dentists. I refused to ever go back to that one.

See what I mean? Those examples might be dismissed as slightly wacky or eccentric, because I was, after all, just a kid. As an adult, it's meant that there are businesses I won't patronize or individuals I won't spend time with. And I suppose there'd be nothing wrong with that, if either had seriously wronged me and I'd simply made a decision to end the relationship, whether business or personal. Sadly, though, I often let it eat at me.

What a waste of time and energy and proof positive of the importance of letting go of things, not for the sake of the offending person, but for yourself. Who wins if you hold onto a grudge? You're not really making the other person miserable, are you? If they're so inconsiderate that they've done you seriously wrong in the first place, then you staying mad at them probably won't matter. It'll only ruin your health.

So, my advice to the wives of all those cheaters -- get furious, call the louses every name in the book if it'll make you feel better, then forgive. Not for their sake, but for yours. That does not, by the way, mean you take them back unless they've gone way beyond 'I'm sorry' to prove they're worthy of another chance.

A poet and writer whose work I've enjoyed over the years, Dorothy Parker, said it best: "Living well is the best revenge." Forgive, and live really, really well.

What about the rest of you? How do you handle it if you've been wronged, whether by a cheating spouse or a friend? Is a sincere apology enough to win your forgiveness? Or does it depend on the seriousness of the betrayal? And if you've found a way to truly let go of the past and move on after someone's hurt you, how have you done it? Let me know by clicking on comments below.

Sherryl Woods

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Keep your tax off my pizza!

As I've mentioned many times before, I think there's a fine line between personal accountability and the need for governmental legislation. That line, in my opinion, falls smack between me and an innocent bystander who might be affected by my reckless behavior. I don't think my addiction to pizza falls into this category.

Just this morning -- before I'd even had my full quota of morning tea to provide my antioxidents, in fact -- I heard a news report that there's thought (?) being given to an 18% tax on pizza as a method of discouraging people from eating what I consider to be the world's almost perfect food. There's precedent for this, of course. There have been taxes levied on sodas to discourage kids and adults from consuming the amount of sugar they contain. And, goodness knows, there have been taxes piled on top of taxes to slow the sale of cigarettes. Now, pizza? Come on, people, get a grip.

If we learned little else from Prohibition, it's that you can't legislate morality. You can, however, create laws that make people think twice hopefully about consuming so much alcohol that they're blind drunk when they get behind the wheel of a car. And we can justify it because that action -- driving while drunk -- can put someone else's life at risk.

Who, pray tell, is hurt because we're a nation that loves our pizza? Sure, there are those who eat it, and many other things, to excess. I suspect you could probably kill yourself by consuming too much broccoli if you ate it to the exclusion of everything else. But you're not likely to harm your neighbor because you have a slice of pizza...or even the whole darn thing.

I mentioned earlier that I consider pizza to be the perfect food. It has grain in the crust, it has dairy in the cheese, it has tomatoes in the sauce and, if you order the veggie variety, it has green peppers, onions and black olives. I'm sure there are plenty of nutrition experts out there who'll jump on this and tell me I'm insane and who can provide the nutritional low-down to prove it. However, I'd like to point out that pizza of various types is one of my basic food groups...and at my somewhat advanced age, with a family history of cholesterol problems, my cholesterol count is in very positive territory. Thank goodness.

Now, I have no problem with fast food chains and other restaurants providing the nutritional information on their menu selections and allowing consumers to make informed choices. In fact, while it may take some of the fun out of dining out, it should certainly assist those of us who are trying to keep a somewhat watchful eye on our diets. But a tax singling out pizza? In an economy in which every spare cent counts and a weekly pizza night is an inexpensive treat for a large family? Think, too, about the impact on small businesses, because while Domino's, Pizza Hut, Papa John's and others may be large chains, the individual businesses are usually locally owned, the drivers and clerks local young people. Tack on an 18% tax, watch sales plummet and see those businesses start laying off workers. All because the government doesn't trust us to make wise choices for ourselves and our kids.

So, to whoever's responsible for this brainstorm (?), reel it in. Leave me and my pizza alone. And if you think it doesn't matter, because you don't give two hoots about pizza -- or sodas, for that matter -- then drop in your favorite food in its place, because it's a obviously a very slippery slope from pizza and sodas to hamburgers, fries, ice cream and that all-American dessert . . . apple pie.

Click on comments below and let me know what you think or send me an email at

Sherryl Woods


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Dirty, rotten scoundrels

How many times, especially in recent weeks since the Tiger Woods' fiasco, have you referred to a cheating spouse or boyfriend as a dirty, rotten scoundrel . . . or worse? Cheating is one of those things that women take very, very personally, whether in their own lives, the lives of their friends or even in their fiction.

I have a theory about this, at least as it pertains to the way we view the cheating man in the life of a friend. I suspect we all fear that there, but for the grace of God, could be us. The discovery that a man we know has been cheating on a friend hits way too close to home. It shakes up the way we view the world, and sometimes our own relationships. We start watching for the little clues that we might have missed that, heaven forbid, it's happening to us, too.

When a friend reveals that a spouse or boyfriend has been cheating, we offer a shoulder to cry on, try very hard not to be judgmental once the decision is made to stay or go, and offer support if the relationship is irretrievably broken.

It's a whole lot easier to be judgmental and view the issue as black or white -- kick the dirty, rotten scoundrel to the curb, for instance -- when there's some distance from the situation. Most everybody has their opinions about what the publicly humiliated spouses of various political figures and celebrities ought to do to their husbands.

The truth is, though, when the cheating hits home, it's a whole lot harder to make the call. The theoretical "cheating is a deal breaker" is tougher when your own emotions and kids, perhaps, are involved. Every situation, every marriage, every relationship is different. And sometimes it takes walking in those shoes to view the choices differently.

I've been thinking about this recently after seeing a reader comment somewhere that she flatly won't read a book in which the spouse or hero has cheated. Her views were strong and unyielding. Since I have no idea who she was, I have no way of determining what colored her opinions, but I'm curious about how the rest of you feel.

In Home in Carolina, which hits stores March 30, Ty Townsend has cheated on Annie Sullivan during their time apart while she was still in college and he was on the road playing Major League baseball. The situation reminds me of Ross's oft-repeated claim to Rachel in "Friends" that he'd thought they were "on a break." That's definitely what Ty thought, and maybe he could have pulled it off and earned Annie's forgiveness, if only one of those women hadn't had his child!

So, put yourself in Annie's shoes, if you can. This is a man who's been a dear and loyal friend, a man who's been there for her during some of the worst times of her life. He still loves her more than anything. Could you forgive him? Could you accept his child as your own?

Obviously there are more complications in the book than I've detailed here, but in general I'd love to hear how you'd handle such a situation. Could you steel your heart against this man you've always loved? Click on comments below and let me know, or email me directly at

Sherryl Woods

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