Good morning and welcome to Extra Gravy, a Harrison Bergeron Production coming to you from the glass-enclosed studios in Biscuit City, a wonderful magical land where all your dreams come true, everyone is intelligent and beautiful and has a ton of money! And it’s 72 degrees and sunny year ‘round.
Our guest today is Sally Ramsey, raconteur, retired nurse, musician and one of the funniest and most optimistic people I know.
Dan: Welcome, Sally, to Extra Gravy, probably the world’s only virtual radio show without an audio. It’s nice to be able to talk with you!
Sally: Hi, Dan. I’m so happy to join you this morning. What a view from the glass enclosed Biscuit City studio!
Dan: It is unimaginably magnificent, isn’t it? Let’s go back to when I first became aware of you: you came to the 8:30 service and sat near the front and smiled when the choir sang as if we were the most wonderful group you had ever heard. (Believe me, that early in the morning we were struggling.) Since then I’ve gotten to know you as about the most optimistic and at the same time down-to-earth person I know. Have you always been like that?
Sally: What flattery! You usually catch me on a “good” day, since I assure you I’m not always so optimistic, but I think life is much better if you approach things with a “glass half-full” attitude.
Dan: I know you’re from a little town in North Carolina that has several claims to fame. You’re a terrific story teller, so would tell us about your home town and the stories about the KKK and the CIA “extreme rendition” airfield there?
Sally: I’ve actually lived in several places in North Carolina, but I consider home to be Smithfield, North Carolina, which is about 25 miles east of Raleigh and familiar to many who travel the I-95 corridor. It’s the town with the big outlet mall visible from the highway. The outlets arrived long after I left.
When I moved there as a high school freshman I thought my father had certainly chosen the most backward, rural location he could find to relocate our family. Greensboro, our former home, seemed quite worldly to me at that moment.
This was the 60’s - the time of the Civil Rights movement, the assassination of Martin Luther King and all the unrest and social change of the time. I was horrified to discover the KKK was not something I read about in the newspaper or images of hooded cowards on the evening news, but was actually active in this area of the rural South. What an embarrassment to the citizens of this small community when an enormous red and white misspelled sign glorifying the Klan was erected just as you entered the town! The property was owned by an avowed Klansman who felt compelled to advertise his ignorance and prejudice in such a public way. Seeing Smithfield and that horrible sign featured on the evening news with Walter Cronkite one night was the height of embarrassment for a newcomer and an impressionable teen-ager!
That sign eventually mysteriously came down one night by an act of teen-age vandalism. Interestingly enough, most everyone knew the “culprits,” but, to my knowledge, the authorities claimed ignorance, and no one was ever punished.
In spite of the notoriety of the sign, Smithfield turned out to be a good place to grow up and call home. We made wonderful friends and my mother continues to live there. Smithfield was also the home of Ava Gardner, the movie star. Many of her extended family still call Smithfield home. She was a frequent visitor during her lifetime and was often seen at the little diner that her brother owned which was also the lone teen gathering place in town. It was not unusual to see her sitting in a booth when we’d go in for a burger after the Friday night football games. We teen-agers weren’t too impressed, but our parents found it pretty extraordinary.
Smithfield again made the news recently for being the home of the private air field used by CIA aircraft that secretly transport terrorist prisoners to foreign locations for interrogation and imprisonment. Imagine my surprise to read the story in The Washington Post recently! There have been lots of local protests, but I believe the tough economy caused many to overlook the situation since new jobs have been created to support the air field. It’s still hard to wrap my head around the idea of the CIA in Smithfield! What’s the world coming to?
Dan: These are such wonderful stories that I first heard before and after choir and rehearsals. How did you come to join the choir? You seem to enjoy it so much! What’s your musical background?
Sally: My musical background, such as it is, consists of seven years of piano lessons (I learned to read music, but I’m no piano player) and singing with the chorus all through school. A friend encouraged me to sing with Voices United in 2006 and I ventured out of my comfort zone and gave it a try. It was a wonderful experience and it made me remember how much I enjoyed singing with a group. Becky invited me to sing with the choir whenever they performed a piece from that program. Then, she asked me to help out the group for special holiday presentations. Before I knew it, I was in! I thoroughly enjoy being in the choir and being part of the worship experience. I’ve made such wonderful friends and am privileged to be associated with so many talented, committed people.
Dan: Yes, Becky has a way of involving people in music all right! Tell me about coming to Manassas. I think you came about the same time I did.
Sally: I graduated from college, married and moved to Manassas in 1974. My husband, Les, had found work here after his graduation the year before, so this became our home. I soon found employment as the nurse in a private OB/Gyn office. I had a long career working with many mothers and babies in Manassas. I have wonderful memories and still see women in the community that remember that time. I’ve been very fortunate to have had a career doing what I love and being able to watch so many of those babies grow up. There are many young adults I see in our church that fall into that category. Medicine and patient care has changed so much over the years. I’m glad that I practiced when I did, but I’m glad to be officially retired – at least for now. Nursing is something that never leaves you, though.
Dan: That’s quite a legacy to have with you forever. I’m getting a little ahead of myself, though. I could tell that you write well from listening to your stories. How did you learn to write, and who encouraged you?
Sally: I’m really not a writer – at least not like so many of your other guests – so I’m honored that you consider me part of that good company even if just in the margin. I had an English teacher in the seventh grade who opened the world of writing to me. Her influence is with me every time I put pen to paper or, in today’s words, fingers to keyboard. I learned the beginnings of how to communicate with the written word during that school year and her guidance has served me ever since. Fortunately, I had other excellent English teachers that all took an interest in me and nurtured that solid beginning. All teachers should take note since you never know how much you may impact some impressionable mind.
Dan: You’re a storyteller as well. You told me a story about a relative who lived in Alexandria and was a railroad engineer. Tell us about that, please!
Sally: That story is about my great grandfather, Alfred T. “Bud” Rollins. He lived in Alexandria and worked for the railroad as an engineer. My father used to tell the story about how his grandfather had been involved in a serious train wreck. Of course, I didn’t have many details from this long-told family story until recently when the accident was featured in the October, 2011, issue of Our State magazine, a North Carolina publication. The story goes that Bud Rollins was the engineer of one of two trains carrying the performers and animals for Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show that also featured Annie Oakley. They were traveling in a convoy on a single track. There was a miscommunication with a freight train going in the opposite direction. The instruction was that the freight train engineer was to pull off on a side track and let the Wild West trains pass. After the first train went by, the freight train engineer pulled back on the track, heading straight for the second train. A head-on collision and derailment ensued with many animal casualties and injuries to people on the train. Annie Oakley was seriously injured. Fortunately, the train crews survived. Good thing for me since I’m here to tell the story today!
Dan: A writer friend of mine uses the pen name of “Molly Bolt” which I think is so funny because most pen names are pretentious and arty, but she uses a piece of hardware for a nom de plume. I think you of all people who know about this find it funniest. Why do you think it’s so funny? And please tell us the story about how you acquired your affinity for bits of hardware!
Sally: I love word play and I also have a peculiar sense of humor so to use a hollow wall anchor as a pen name makes me giggle. As for hardware, much to my husband’s horror since he is a true handyman extraordinaire, I was the resident fix-it person at my former office. I even had my own set of tools. This fact still makes Les cringe!
He continues to doubt the veracity of the story I tell from my senior year in high school. The entire senior class was sent to the cafeteria one morning to participate in an Air Force Aptitude test. It was pretty clear to me early on that I wasn’t Air Force material until we got to the automotive section of the test. Now we were on to something! In an effort to be a great girlfriend, I had spent hours listening to the current object of my affection wax poetically about automobile engines, carburetors and cam shafts. You could hear the girls in the room groan as they came to the page with the parts of an engine all waiting to be identified. Proctoring this test wasn’t happening so there were lots of whispered questions – like “What’s a head gasket?” . Usually the one least likely to disobey the no talking rule, I found myself whispering answers to my bewildered table mates. Imagine my parents’ surprise to be advised of my exceptionally high test score! It’s a wonder a military career was not in my future!
Dan: You are a golfer and frequently play with your friend Molly Powell. How’d you get started golfing? Are there some stories connected with that? I just bet there are!
Sally: I’ve easily made the transition from the work force to the golf course! My dad was an avid, low handicap golfer. He was delighted when I took up the sport first in high school and then again some 20+ years ago. I’m certainly not a low handicapper, but I play as often as I can and have many great friends because of the game. I won’t bore you or your “listeners” with golf stories since you either love it or hate it. Non-golfers usually make references to watching paint dry if I try to share my golf stories with them.
Dan: Do your relatives think you’re funny? Do they appreciate your stories and are they storytellers as well?
Sally: What an interesting question! I doubt there’s one family member that thinks I’m funny. I think my sister is the clever/comical one. We are a close family though and get together as often as we can. Stories and laughter invariably ensue when we’re together.
Dan: You speak about your mother quite often. She sounds like a character. Would you tell us about her, please?
Sally: I think my mother is pretty amazing. There was a time she wouldn’t have dreamed of telling her age, but she’s proud of her 88 years now. She is in remarkably good health, which is a blessing. She is a voracious reader; she continues to live alone; she drives around Smithfield (it’s still a small town) and plays bridge a couple of times a week. She has a large circle of friends and has an active social life – more active than mine! I’ve learned a lot from her, especially about the importance of faith, friends and relationships.
Dan: Do you have any other stories you’d like to tell us?
Sally: I believe they say you should always leave your audience wanting more, so I’ll save other tales in case you’re at a loss for words one day and need to tap into my deep well of stories and anecdotes! I always tell new golf friends that I cannot promise anything about the caliber of my game, but I’m sure to be comic relief during 18 holes together!
Dan: You seem to enjoy Biscuit City and the devotionals I read to the choir. Why do you think you enjoy them so much?
Sally: We both have that quirky sense of humor that amuses us! We get it even if others don’t! And I think stories such as we both tell help us to understand our world and our lives. It’s a blessing to be able to share them with other people.
Dan: I want to thank you for being with us on Extra Gravy from the Biscuit City studios today. You’re one of my favorite people and a kind and well-respected person. And the same lady cuts our hair. You’ve been a delightful guest.
We’d love to have you back sometime for some more stories and merriment.
Sally: It has been my pleasure! I’d be delighted to return to Biscuit City Land any time!
Dan: Do you have anything you’d like to add to this interview?
Sally: I think we’ve probably bored your listening audience enough for one day. I’m just honored you find me and my story interesting and/or amusing enough to warrant an interview!
Dan: …I have one final question. If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be? I would be a Brazilian rosewood tree because they are beautiful and their wood is used in high-end guitars.
Sally: I’ve been worried about this tree question, since I knew it would be coming. With spring being upon us, I’ve been especially intrigued with the dogwood. It’s actually on the small side for trees (don’t I wish!), graceful, often old and gnarled (I call this aging gracefully), and with lovely flowers in springtime that, as legend has it, reference the cross and everlasting life. I must say that was pretty deep thinking for me!
Dan: We’ve been talking with Sally Ramsey, story teller, funny lady, musician, retired nurse and one of my favorite people in the world. This has been the Local Artist of the Week feature, brought to you on the Extra Gravy show on the Biscuit City Network. The Local Artist of the Week is a Harrison Bergeron Production from Molly Bolt Industries, producer of fine hardware, food products and an occasional book or two. This episode is sponsored by Biscuit City Stories and Tales, now available in some bookstores. We’re not going to tell you which ones to make it a kind of treasure hunt! So look and look and look for the big bound volume of Tales from Biscuit City. They’re not as good as Sally Ramsey’s stories, but, hey, few things are! That’s Biscuit City Stories and Tales, available at a bookstore near you, maybe. Somewhere. Look for it!
This is Dan Verner, bidding you a fond adieu from the glass-enclosed brain center of the Biscuit City Network until next time when we’ll talk to another local artist.