Often, Diane Murphy and I are called upon to speak to local groups. (A side-effect of having your face in the paper twice a week, I suppose.)
Several Fridays ago, Diane was scheduled to speak to the XYZ Group at Calvary Baptist Church in Boardman.
She called me late one evening, two nights before the engagement. She had a family emergency. Could I possibly speak in her place?
I said yes, of course, as every good friend would. Yet, I felt uneasy and uncertain. I like to take my time, concentrate on my audience and weigh my words when developing a speech. There would be no time to do that before this address.
I arrived at Calvary Baptist full of apprehension. My thoughts were not complete. My words did not flow with ease.
Warm greeting: As I walked into the fellowship hall, I was greeted with the warmest of welcomes.
Bill Ray, program chairman of the group, shook my hand.
"Welcome to XYZ Senior Citizens," he said. "That stands for 'Xtra Youthful Zest,' " he smiled.
Ladies from around the room flocked around me. Many, expecting Diane, had clipped her columns from the paper, eager to share them with her.
By the time I sat down, I was completely at ease.
Over lunch, I chatted with Paul Brimfield, senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church.
"I have been having lunch with this group for many years," he said. "Most of them used to come with their spouses."
There are no spouses today.
Introduction: After lunch, Gloria Bodner, president of XYZ, stands to give announcements. At 74, she is a "spring chicken" of the group. "Next, we have Gail White from The Vindicator," she concludes.
The pastor leans over and asks, "How long is your speech?" He has an appointment to keep.
I respond, "I have no idea!"
I shuffle with my papers on the podium. . . . I look out at my expecting audience. "I should not be up here," I think to myself.
These beautiful, wonderful, full-of-life seniors should be standing at this podium talking to a group of my peers.
We should be listening while they talk about their lives, their adventures, the lessons they have learned.
We should be taking notes while they speak firsthand of the horrors of war, depression and hardships.
Oh! What we could learn from them about "making do," being happy with what we've got, and cherishing those things that are truly important.
Comments: My speech topic is about leaving a legacy. "If I Had My Life To Live Over" is the title of a selection I have chosen to read.
It prompts an array of comments.
"I'd do it all over again," says Betty Willford, 84, of Struthers.
"I'd keep my mouth shut," responds Mary Dick, also 84, of Austintown.
The speech turns into a wonderful discussion filled with wisdom and humor.
"We didn't have anything," says Dorothy Fowles, 89, of Youngstown. "It didn't hurt us."
"We were lucky to get a pair of long johns and an orange in our stocking at Christmas," adds Marie Doyle, 90, of Boardman.
How I envy these seniors' zest!
All too soon, Bob Ray is tapping his watch. The show must move on.
Music: John Gabriele of Poland is up next to play the accordion.
Back in my seat, I listen as every XYZ-er accompanies John's music.
"Shine on, shine on harvest moon," they sing.
"When I Grow Too Old To Dream," is next.
"That came out in 1935, the year I was married," recalls Vi Miller, 92, of Boardman as she closes her eyes and sings.
I smile as I look around the room, feeling completely blessed by this experience.
I came with nervous trepidation to give a speech.
But loving hearts embraced me and I became the one who received.