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Staying connected a happiness booster

April 1, 2012
By ESTHER MCCOY - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

I once read a book called "Friends for Keeps" and will attest to the premise of the story by Gretchen Rubin that staying connected to people from the past is a happiness booster.

We vacationed at the home of a friend I have known since babyhood, if that is a word. That gal is Florence Burkett Turnbull, and she and her husband, Bruce, live in Lakeland, Fla.

When we get together our husbands wander off to the television set. And with March Madness in full swing, they liked that better anyhow. It is always - "remember that time?"- and off one of us will wander down memory lane with the other in tow.

We did not expect the Turnbulls to be at the Tampa Airport when we arrived but they surprised us. Of course, we got so involved in talking that we didn't notice the Pittsburgh luggage on the moving rack and almost got it locked up in the office for the night.

After getting unpacked, we went next door to visit with Tom and Elaine Butler. When we were in Florida on another occasion, two writers came to the Butler home to interview Tom and his brother, Jim, for a story on World War II heroes.

This was put into a book called "Our Heroes," where both brothers, and others from Polk County, discussed their valiant participation in battles during World War II.

After the atomic bombs were dropped and Japan surrendered, the brothers returned home and began their lives again. I can just imagine their parents' worries, with one son in the Army and the other in the Marines, fighting in various battles.

I was amazed at the vast fields of green plants and big red berries when we went strawberry picking. Each row was defined, and the strawberries were planted on raised terraces that make it better for the back.

We had seen in the newspaper that this would be 4-H strawberry picking day, where members picked to support local 4-H programs and a food bank. The first thing I noticed was many young people wearing Hearts for Horses shirts, as I am familiar with such a name for a Jefferson County club.

I asked the adviser if I could photograph some of the members and about 15 gathered together, all excited about getting a picture taken.

Since it was St. Patrick's Day, we went to downtown Lakeland to eat at Mollie McHugh's. I like this eating spot, as that was my maiden name, and the owner, now deceased, was named McHugh.

The outdoor eating space at the front of the building was filled to capacity, and the indoors was filled with Irish music a few octaves higher than old people enjoy.

We chose to go to the back patio and after rearranging our table in the shade, we had a great time all by ourselves.

Stephanie was our waitress and did a great job of taking care of us. Lamont got shepherd's pie, and the three of us had huge, corned beef sandwiches with slaw.

Florence bought me a green beaded necklace with an enormous shamrock in the center that lit up when the button was pushed. We decided by doing this that I was flashing people. (Old people have their own kind of entertainment.)

The girls, namely two of Florence's neighbors, Ingrid Mauss and Carol Deatrick; Florence; and I went to the Lavender and Lace Tea Room near Lake Alfred and enjoyed a wonderful lunch.

On arriving home, we found that the boys had started out for lunch and browsing through a hardware store but encountered a flying mattress along the way.

As Bruce was making a right turn at the intersection, a truck was turning left from another direction. The mattress left the bed of the truck, striking the car, and the truck sped away.

Lamont got out of the car to move the mattress from the street, and it remained on the grass for the next two days of our vacation.

I was excited about going to a spring training game for the Detroit Tigers. While I have withdrawn from them as my teen favorite, I still enjoy seeing them play. I also keep hoping for the chance to meet Al Kaline, who was my teenage crush. Again, this did not happen. But the Tigers won and I got to see Justin Verlander, the 2011 MVP and Cy Young Award Winner, pitch a few innings.

They honored a great-grandson of Ty Cobb, plus I saw Gene Lamont coaching third base. He and Jim Leyland, manager, were once part of the Pirates.

Ryan Rayburn and Delmon Young both hit home runs, and there were two double plays executed to help win the game, 7-3.

Things got tamer the next day when we went to Hollis Gardens in downtown Lakeland. This is like stepping into nature's wonderland. There is a gazebo where we saw a wedding in progress on another visit, along with waterfalls, fountains, an orchard with rare and exotic fruits, herb rooms, yellow and red rooms where flowers of those colors bloom, a vegetable room, a lilly pond, patterned flower beds and a butterfly garden.

Soft violin music was playing the entire time, and it was so relaxing.

We took a walk around Mirror Lake, near the gardens, and saw an old Coca Cola Foundry, with the logo imprinted in cement on the building. None of us thought the soft drink was spelled right on the sign, we are so used to just seeing the word Coke.

There was also an Amtrack Station, where we watched a passenger train stop and people disembark. Now we know of another option in traveling to Florida. We can take the train and arrive right in Lakeland.

The last stop on our agenda was LeeRoy Selmon's Restaurant in Tampa, before going to the airport. I like to look at all the murals on the walls of the once-great Tampa Bucaneer football player.

Then it was hugs and vigorous waving, and we were off to go through security in the airport. I was patted down because two yellow spots appeared on my X-ray picture. They found it to be nothing but I keep wondering what those yellow spots represented.

We arrived in Pittsburgh to a driving rain and the onset of cold weather, something that was not present the week we were on vacation.

But we have many happy memories.

(McCoy, a resident of Smithfield, is a staff columnist and food editor for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. She can be contacted at

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