Dr. Susanne Freeborn

Dr. Susanne Freeborn
Bellingham, Washington, USA
November 06
Depends on the hour

Dr. Susanne Freeborn's Links

MARCH 12, 2010 7:54AM

KNOWING MYSELF: Miss Penny of Long Ago and Far Away Maryland

Rate: 20 Flag

Her name was Adele and she was a widow who had sharecropped in North Carolina tobacco.  She was so tiny that she made me feel tall, and at 5'3" there are not many women whose heads I could tuck under my chin when I stood behind them.  I believe she was over 75 years old when I moved in next door, and she smoked like a Hoover on fire.  She had the kind of skin that only a Camel smoker can cultivate over many years.  My only defense to her smoking at the time was that I smoked my Marlboros along with her as we drank endless pots of coffee.  Everyone called her Miss Penny but nobody knew why or how, since neither her first or last name was Penny.


She was my next door neighbor in North Laurel, Maryland 1971-3.  I lived next to her when George Wallace was shot at the GIANT FOOD store where we went to shop for groceries together with our fists full of coupons.  I was collecting the brown and mustard floral ironstone 'dish of the week' that you could buy if you spent $10 on food.  Miss Penny would always buy Eggo waffles even though I told her I would make them for her homemade on my Sunbeam.  She thought them to be very modern, popping them into a little toaster oven in her closet-sized kitchen.

If you could picture the house below painted white it would look a lot like the house she lived in, it was made out of a steel shipping container.  I believe her husband had done the work just before he died.  She lived there alone, and since it was very tiny, maybe that was a good thing.  There was another shipping container in the back yard sitting at an angle that said it had been dropped off without any idea that it would sit there with weeds growing up around it for many, many years.  It was going to be a second part of the house, but then death intervened and the house stayed small and housed this sweet little widow for about three decades.

Click to see more ...

 The front had an elevated tiny front porch and stairs that were built of cinder block and painted grey.  It was not so large as the one shown here, I think one fan back metal chair fit there and I painted it red.  There was an old galvanized bath tub out in the back too.  I painted it red, brought it around to the front yard and  filled it with dirt and planted it full of Anenomes, Muscari, Daffodils, Geraniums and Creeping Charley for a Mother's Day present.


Miss Penny sewed for folks to augment her tiny Social Security check.  I think her daughter sometimes sent her some money.  I only saw her there visiting her mother once in three years.  It wasn't that long a drive to where she lived in Virginia, I knew because I drove to National Airport two or three times a week in my little Volvo 122S.

1968-Volvo-122S-Amazon by dedliNZ. 

 Miss Penny taught me to refine my shopping mojo.  She was the queen of thrift shopping.  She knew all the stores and when the annual tag sales were held by churches and civic organizations.  She was my second hand shopping mentor.  I would take her to lunch after we plundered the sales and spent less than a couple of bucks to drag home dishes and pots and utensils that I didn't have as a young bride who married far from my family in California.   I found vintage 1940's clothes that fit my taste and she taught me to alter them.  Dresses like this:

 1940'S Bubble Peplum Sequined Dress1940's Pink Sequin Bow Black Dress

Now it cost hundreds to get these.  I got them for something like $2.  Maybe I'd have to renew the sequins.  Miss Penny would show me how.  

Now here's the truth about what I was like at age 21.  I was a snob about getting to know anyone who wasn't close to my age.   I was just beginning to get over a painful childhood and I hid out in the culture of my youth and I smoked a lot of pot and dropped quite a few psychedelic drugs.  I wasn't sure yet what I wanted out of life or what I could actually have.  

One day, I was in the kitchen washing the dishes listening to John Prine album we had just gotten.  It had a song on it that got right under my skin.  Here's a video of him singing it recently:


Because of this song I got to be friends with Miss Penny.  I learned a lot about being helpful to others, about learning to have fun some other way than what I already knew how to do.  I learned that making do isn't the worst thing that could happen.  I learned how to be something more than a stupid kid. 

In Memory of Miss Penny 

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"I was just beginning to get over a painful childhood and I hid out in the culture of my youth and I smoked a lot of pot and dropped quite a few psychedelic drugs. I wasn't sure yet what I wanted out of life or what I could actually have."

How I can relate! Your tale of Miss Penny though - is exclusively yours to tell and so wonderfully told! I can hear her gravel voice talking to you now as you sip coffee together. Fabulous tale I look forward to seeing on the cover later today. R
Thanks Leonde. The cover thing, I'd be totally shocked. Really.
Your opening paragraph is an exemplar of writing. This: "and she smoked like a Hoover on fire" made me laugh.

But the whole piece is a plainspoken masterpiece of portraiture. No kidding. When I was 16 I left home to live in a commune, and Mrs. Moody next door looked after us mind-altering numbskulls. She threatened to "thromble our beheismassus" if we didn't feed Bulbous the dog regular enough.

I know what you say here, and you say it with love and honesty and fine writing.
Thanks Greg. You just had me laughing my ass off. Thanks God for Mrs. Moody.
I like this very much. You bring Miss Penny alive for all of us.
Thanks Dorinda. Just what I wanted to do in a spare way.
Marvelous piece, Susanne. Miss Penny sounds like a hoot. So of course, I have to ask - is that painting at the end a portrait of Miss Penny? And if so, did you paint it?

Because it feels like her, to me.

Highly rated. Extremely well done. :-D
Thanks Bill. No, it isn't any of that but it felt like Miss Penny. Her face was a bit rounder but the smile is right and so are the twinkly eyes.
I love to glue a penny on the sidewalk curbs in DCs K- street Red Light Whore district.
Politicos slip rolled copper-pennies down the dancers garter belt. I'd rather save pennies.
Browse bulbs/seeds.
Plant Tulips in town.
If Guest visit me I'll show my old stoping grounds of Oella, and Ellicott City, Maryland.
Oella was the rough are just across from the Patapso River. In summer, when the sugar powdered doughnut company was open, the green leaf on trees were partly white. The powdered whit sugar floated as white dust.
Serious. Great pastry!
Visit Robert H. Deluty!
He has a cerium brain!
He eats celery, pea, kale,
oats, but no rye breads.
He's allergic to nasties.
You really are a doctor?
Plant tulips everywhere.
Thank Nature and God.
Miss Penny, and goats.
She no smoke de' cigar.
No kiss camel tail butt.
No smoke in tulip area.
Beautiful post. ay tulips.
Hi Art. I am a Doctor of Law and a Doctor of Religious Studies but not a medical doctor or any kind.

I wish I had seen the powdered sugar donut trees! That sounds like a playful fantasy for any child regardless of age!
Miss Penny sounds a lot like an angel to me ... dragging you from the dark corners of childhood out into the light of who you would become ~creative, content, generous with yourself. I'm not one to get all religious-y, but stories like this one remind me of the Sunday School lessson about Jesus knocking on your door in a disguise and how you would treat him. Even though it wasn't in your nature to gravitate towards an older person (at that time), something inside was greater than your left-over pain or your "cultural" hiding place ...

I love this post and I love Miss Penny and I am sure you were/are both an incredible blessing to each other.

You know how to tell a story, girl. And I love the graphics ~ they add such a great layer to it all - especially the bathtub full of flowers. Love that.

Thanks for sharing this. I'm tucking Miss Penny away in my memory ~
Well Mom, I feel like I have repaid you just a little for some of the wonderful tales you have shared. To get those details the way that you do, you had to be special at the time. I have this picture of you under that big oak table in my head now.
I wonder if John Prine's tender song made a lot of us chat up older folks back then. I was one. You say hello, ask how they are, strike up a conversation thinking that you're doing them a favor, then quickly realize that they are doing you one in their response.

Gorgeous car!
The song made me wake up for a moment. Miss Penny made me wake up more than she ever knew.
I so enjoyed this fine memory. Older friends have been such a treasure to me. I rarely learn anything new from my same age friends but often learn about life from my older ones now. I befriended an older couple who lived nearby and were like hermits. We became great pals. I was sad to see the writing of this end. ANd I will have you know, that I had that EXACT same Volvo, including the exact same color! One of my favorites of yours. (What to see the happy walls?)
I'd rate a clip of John Prine just because it's a clip of John Prine. But I really enjoyed the picture you paint of the place. Doesn't seem someone could do better decorating a shipping container. It's a great scene. And I've been raiding rummage sales for my kitchen for years. Can't find clothes there that fit me very often, but I find a lot of stuff that I can use.
This was fabulous Susanne. What a story teller you are. And that picture at the end? It was Ms Penny to me. I will have to listen to the John Prine clip when I get home from work.
Nice, nice post! I just added you as a favorite. I totally dig this John Pryne Song, too. Brings me all back to my days in Appalachia. I know how to pronounce it all right, too.

Hi, Susanne~

Like Greg, I absolutely love your opening paragraph. The whole story was wonderful, but the writing there really drew me in and made me want to learn more. I have an 85 year old friend that sounds a heck of a lot like Penny and I love her more than just about anyone I know.

Great story. Big r for you:)
Lived a couple of exits away on the beltway from you at that time and a John Prine fan. A sensitive portrayal, well-written.
I love this so much, Suzanne! Because I have a "miss Penny" of my own- her name is Phyllis. She's 88 years old but I call her Baci like the chocolates and, I'm her Perugina. She's the tall one, I'm the petite- and we have such memories fond despite of the age difference between us. I'm thinking of her now as I write this-thank you for sharing yours. Rated. PS: I love those dresses!
Isn't it such a blessing when we first make friends with someone old who turns out to be fun and wise and caring about us? I had such an opportunity, and I think, like you, it opened for me an entire understanding about old people.

This is very well written and hits close to home for me.

Thanks, Susanne.

Well I went out with Dan to the doctor and a few errands and now come back to find folks are reading, and apparently enjoying, my story about Miss Penny. I know you would have liked her!

Spudman, didn't those dual carburetors in the Volvo just about drive you nutz? I think this was the quickest, coolest car I ever had.

Jimmy, I'd rate for him every time myself. Thanks for coming on over.

Trilogy, I know you are going to like how the gravitas of age enriches the song. His wonderful voice and lyrics as a young man stole my heart.

Thanks Patty Jane! Now I'm going to have to drop by your blog...
Thanks Sheepy, and Happy Birthday!

Eden, I am not at all surprised that you have a friend that age that you treasure. Completely in character for you. It's so sweet a friendship, May - September. Who knows how long September lasts!

Daniel, do you still live in Maryland? I did for eleven years. Loved it but I missed the West Coast.

Fusun, what a sweet thing to call your friend, Baci! Dan and I were in Perugia for a a couple of hours and you could smell the chocolate kisses! You are a fortunate women to have one another.

Monte, I know you must have blazed past my neighborhood on your motorcycle. You're right, I learned so much about who I am by being a friend to Miss Penny. Thanks.
What a joy to know a whole 'nother side of you! Beautiful writing, Susanne. Miss Penny now lives vividly for us too, and your younger self as well. Thanks for sharing (and motivating me to begin writing here.)
Thanks, now I am going to go see your blog my friend.
I believe that people come into our lives at the precise moment we need them. It sounds like your friendship with Miss Penny came about at the right moment, too. This was a lovely, vivid portrait that you've painted, Susanne.
A wonderful remembrance, Susanne - love the dresses, and the tub full of flowers. Sounds like you were very good friends to each other, amazing how much difference that can make...

Thank you for inviting me to read. This was a snapshot of Americana, of an age gone by. What a long ways away we are, now, from those days. Your own recollections of certain things awoke some of my own recollections.

You conveyed warmth that you found in this relationship, and it was a pleasure to share it.

This is just simply an amazing post. It seems Miss Penny had a steady hand in helping you through your painful childhood. Bless her and bless you for recognizing here value and honoring her here.
Lisa, I think people come into and pass out of our lives sometimes without notice because we aren't always paying attention or open to the contributions that others make to us. Because I had an awful childhood I was a hyper-vigilant listener and I tried hard to please people so they wouldn't hurt me some more. I turned away from those reasons to pay attention as I found peace but I didn't ever lose the skills that came of that hyper vigilance and turned them to the practices of consciousness and that made me a better person than I might have been.

I was happy to help Miss Penny and she was happy to help me. We laughed our tails off together and it was unforgettable.

Thanks for coming by!
I fell in love with 40's style Donna. I found a little jersey blouse with a peplum. All the edges were corded with a contrasting fabric that caught the color of the pattern of the fabric. It had a sweetheart neckline and beautiful round, carved crystal buttons. It was probably very expensive when it was new. It redifined my sense of style, so when I met Miss Penny I was ready to learn how to make what I loved fit me properly and she loved my enthusiasm for those styles.

I wish I had a picture of the tub of flowers that exists now only in my memory. It was lovely.
Thanks Rick. It was a warm relationship without reservation, glad you felt it.
If we can honor those whom we love in some way Sally, I think God knows and so do they still feel our love somehow. Thanks for coming by.