I was sad to find out Tuesday that Clark County lost a very special lady recently, a “pioneer woman.”
I met Lenora Perkins, who died Monday at age 87, a few months ago, while I joined the Write Local group at the library one Friday morning as part of a story I was working on. And although all of the people in that group made an impression on me, Lenora did especially.
I sat beside her during the meeting, and she had a pleasant and subtle smile on her face the entire time, almost like she was holding the secret to happiness. She sat and listened intently to the comments the group members made, and she told me multiple times how glad she was to have me there that day.
That day she had also brought some of her framed paper cuttings in to show the group. They were beautiful — made with such deliberate and thoughtful detail.
At the end of the meeting, I asked the group members if they had any suggestions for the paper or possible story ideas, and John Maruskin suggested a story about Lenora.
Great minds think alike. As soon as I had seen her walk in the room that morning wearing a beautiful, detailed hat with a flower on it (one of those clothing items that only certain people can pull off), I just knew she was a special lady.
When John suggested the idea, she just laughed modestly.
I didn’t forget it though, and I wanted to learn more about the joyful lady in the flower hat.
I interviewed John about Lenora not long after that day, and my inkling about her was right — she was a very special lady. Originally from Irvine, Ky., she sort of remade her life during a time when that was a lot harder for women to do. After a divorce, she came to Winchester, charmed by all the white-laced curtains and geraniums in the windows, as John described, and became a nutritionist.
She “made it on her own,” John said, calling herself “pioneer woman.”
I had set up an interview with Lenora later that week, but when she realized I wanted to do a feature about her and her only, she got worried and modest, and she didn’t want to do the story. I kept the transcript from the interview with John, I guess in hopes that she would change her mind, and I’d like to share parts of it.
John met Lenora on his wedding day. Lenora was at the wedding as a friend of his wife Julie, but when he met her, the two became friends immediately.
“Because Lenora has like this sort of same, oblique imagination that I have,” he said. “We’ll look at something and sort of take it off in some tangent.”
John described Lenora’s great sense of humor and her unique, modernist writing style.
“She gets emotions and ideas and just sort of puts them down on the page,” he said. “And they come together with this beautiful little rhythm and sort of this little poem and this neat little piece of writing. … She never cares if anything’s published, she never cares if anything’s read by anybody, she just likes to write these things, so they’re really wonderful.”
John’s desk was covered in some of her paper cuttings and some of her other crafts. She made him and Julie homemade postcards regularly, filled with whatever came to her mind that day. One of the postcards, reflecting on a time when she attended Morehead State and was always speeding to get there, read “Beautiful day for flying to Morehead, isn’t it?”
She went through a phase for a couple weeks when she would just stand up during the Write Local meetings and start singing spontaneously, John recalled with laughter.
“She just cracks us up,” he said.
John remembered the first time he and Julie had visited Lenora at her home, a story I really enjoyed.
“We’re driving and driving … and I go ‘Gosh I wonder where the house is,’ and Julie says ‘I think I see it,’” he said. “So we look up on the hill, and it’s this big, pink house.”
Her entire house was done in shades of pink and red, and it had lace curtains and geraniums in the windows — the same charms that originally drew her to Winchester.
At 87, she lived each day to its fullest. She was climbing ladders to paint her ceilings, riding a lawn mower to cut her own grass, challenging herself through writing and crafting, and singing whenever she felt like it.
John remembered just one time when Lenora got mad at him, after she had come to his house for a party.
“It was sort of dark, and I had the audacity first of all to suggest that I walk her to her car, so I walked her to the car, and then said that I would stand … on the end of the road and sort of direct (her) out, and she pushed me away and said ‘I don’t want help!’ And after that, it was like ‘I won’t help pioneer woman again,’” he said, laughing.
Lenora was inspiring in the way she lived life to its fullest. She is evidence that every person has his or her own unique story that matters in this world — like hidden treasures you never knew existed until you stopped to ask. Even though I was lucky enough to have spent just a little bit of time with her, it was obvious that Lenora marched to her own drum, and she didn’t let anything stop her from doing what she enjoyed. We could learn a lot from her.
After all, if we feel like singing, why shouldn’t we just be able to stand up and sing?
Contact Katie Perkowski at firstname.lastname@example.org.