James River Day School

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Fourth Graders Visit Woodruff's Store

by Paddy Braunstein.

James River’s fourth grade students recently took a trip to the back roads of Elon, Virginia to Woodruff’s Store Café & Pie Shop. The smell of hot apple pie welcomed all in to the small café. The children sat at small, round, red & white checked tables anxious to try a bite of the famous pie while listening to the stories of centenarian Mary Fannie Woodruff. Everyone was made to feel like family before the first bite.

What was it like when you were in 4th grade? Mary smiled and said she’d have to think about that for a moment since it was such a long time ago. Then she looked around, smiled and commented on how wonderful it was to have all of these sweet children sitting around. Just lovely.

What was your school like? She shivered to tell of the mile long walk to the one room schoolhouse and how she and her brothers and sisters would get there early so they could take their shoes off and warm their feet by the woodstove before the teacher rang the bell. She giggled when recalling talking too much in class and how the teacher whipped her hand. She was happy to know that teachers don’t hit kids anymore.

Did you have chores? Mary recalled milking the cow, churning the butter, bottling the milk, capping it and walking it down to the spring to keep it cool. No refrigerators back then.

What kind of clothes did you wear?
“Dresses, no pants back then for girls.”

She remembered her mother rushing to the market to collect large feed bags so she could wash them, bleach them and sew dresses for her daughters.

Did you have any hobbies? Mary taught herself how to play the pump organ when she was just a little girl. Her daddy thought she was pretty good at it and so did the minister at her church. She was the church organist for Chestnut Grove Baptist for 70 years!

Reading was another favorite pastime. Mary loved to read but recalled how frustrating it would be to be in the middle of a good book and have to put it down to trim the wick on the kerosene lantern. One time she even caught her hair on fire!

How did you celebrate holidays? Mary remembered with gratitude how her father would buy ten oranges so each child could have their own. The doll from Santa was shared among the three sisters and the seven boys would share the noisy squibs (small fireworks).

Did you fight with your brothers and sisters?
Oh no, never. No fussin’ and no fightin’. Never. We just loved each other.”

Did you have any pets?
“My daddy had cows and chickens since we were on a farm. Daddy also had a gentle mule and it was my job to ride the mule to the post office and pick up the mail.”

She pointed to a pen and ink drawing on the wall of her daddy and the mule. Below it was a picture from her wedding day. She was 18 and James Earl was 21. He built the store so they could have a little something in life. For 30 years Mary ran the corner grocery store. Local children would come in to get warm while waiting for the school bus and the store supported the local community.

How do you stay so happy? Mary gave credit to her faith and her ability to always focus on the blessings in life and to be grateful for every little thing you have. Every story was shared with a true warmth and joy.

Will you sing for us? Mary sat up, cleared her voice. Her daughters came out of the kitchen and the harmony that filled the room as they sang “I’ll Search Heaven for You” was as sweet as apple pie!

The students took this experience with all its wonderful smells, tastes, and touches from long ago and turned it into the following song!

That’s All You Need
(Words and music by Paddy Braunstein with JRDS fourth grade.)

In Elon, Virginia, on a winding country road
There’s a simple corner store with a story to be told
A little slice of heaven with mountains all around
An orchard up the road where apples can be found
Inside are little tables and lots of wooden chairs
Not too many match, but no one really cares
The walls are filled with pictures; some of family, some of friends
And yummy apple pie, that we highly recommend

That’s all you need
That’s all you need
Be happy, give thanks for the simple things
If you do you’ll find the joy it brings
You might even find
That’s all you need

On a bench in the corner, a Bible by her side
Centenarian Mrs. Woodruff always wears a smile
She’ll tell you lots of stories, days of long ago
Every time she tells them, you’ll be sure to know
Her husband built the store, built it up by hand
Something he could call his own right there on that land
His father was the son of a slave set free
The store would be the start of their new destiny

That’s all you need
That’s all you need
Be happy, give thanks for the simple things
If you do you’ll find the joy it brings
You might even find
That’s all you need

The corner has seen a lot of change along the way
Things are not the same as they were yesterday
For thirty years a grocery store, folks would come on by
And if they were in need, the Woodruffs would provide
The children at the bus stop would come in from the storm
And wait with Mrs. Woodruff, she always kept them warm
Folks drive for miles to meet her and have pie
And listen to the stories of the days gone by

That’s all you need
That’s all you need
Be happy, give thanks for the simple things
If you do you’ll find the joy it brings
You might even find
That’s all you need

She rode her daddy’s mule one mile to get the mail
Churned butter as a chore, fetched water in a pail
A tick bed made of wheat, a feed sack for a dress
One orange each for Christmas and still they all felt blessed
Santa brought one baby doll, three sisters had to share
Seven brothers shared a toy and played without a care
You listen to the stories and think that things were tough
But she’ll be quick to tell you they always had enough

That’s all you need
That’s all you need
Be happy, give thanks for the simple things
If you do you’ll find the joy it brings
You might even find
That’s all you need

We took a fourth grade field trip to learn about the store
But in the end we realized that we learned so much more
We found a slice of heaven and it wasn’t in the pie
It was in the Woodruff story and the love that they inspire

That’s all you need
That’s all you need
Be happy, give thanks for the simple things
If you do you’ll find the joy it brings
You might even find
That’s all you need

Copyright 2017