Becoming a Fluco

By Ruthann Carr, Correspondent

I moved to Fluvanna 10 years ago, but it just recently felt like home.
And while I first attributed that only to the kindness of strangers, I realize it was 10 years in the making.
I’ll explain.

I spent the first 40-plus years of my life in one city: Akron, Ohio. I was born and raised there.
I met my first friend, Colleen, when I was 5. Her father had just died and her mother worked as a waitress at the Firestone Country Club. It was unusual in those days to have a mother who worked outside the home.
With the trauma of her father’s death and starting school, Colleen was nervous. My mother told me to wait for her outside our kindergarten class and walk home with her.
I was not happy.

I don’t know what social game I had going on at 5, but somehow I saw Colleen as putting a crimp in it.
But that friendship blossomed and thank the Lord we are still best friends though we live hours apart.
I had my first date in Akron – and my first job, my first apartment, my first heartbreak. It’s where I learned to ride a bike and to climb a tree and to dream.
Akron was where I met my first husband and where we raised our three children.I worked as a medical secretary in Akron hospitals. As our children grew, another woman I knew from the Parent Teacher Association asked me to partner with her in starting a box-lunch delivery business. We ran it successfully for seven years, delivering mainly to public school teachers.

Everywhere I went in that fairly big city it seemed I ran into someone I knew.
When my oldest graduated from high school, I decided to go back to Kent State University to finish my journalism degree.
I wrote for newspapers in Youngstown, Warren and Cleveland.
Then I was laid off.

After months of looking, the only job offer I got was from the Northwest Indiana Times, just outside of Chicago.
I moved to Crown Point, Ind., thinking it would just be a place where I got more reporting experience before coming back to Akron to work at my hometown newspaper, the Beacon Journal.

But life has a way of altering my best laid plans.
I lived there for almost five years and during that time got divorced.
My children were all adults at this point. In fact, my daughter had just given birth to my first grandson. But they did not take it well. I guess no matter how old you are when it happens, it’s hard when your parents divorce.
For some reason, Crown Point did feel like home.

I had a job I loved and I became good friends with another single woman who worked at the newspaper. It was a small town of about 15,000 and I lived on the lovely, historic center square. I became a fixture at the library, antique shops and restaurants near my apartment.
During this time I became reacquainted with Jeff, a good friend from my childhood.
He lived in Fluvanna and he, too, was recently divorced.
Eventually we talked about marriage and I looked for a job in Virginia. He had two elementary school-aged children whom he was determined to live near as he had joint custody.

I was thrilled when the new director at Region Ten CSB in Charlottesville decided to hire me in a job he created handling communications for the agency.

Going South
I found an affordable apartment in Scottsville and moved just before Thanksgiving 2007.
While Jeff wasn’t from Virginia, he’d lived here for about 15 years. He had friends here. Those friends were welcoming to me. But they were his friends.
In July 2008 we married and I moved into the house he bought in Fluvanna.

The future looked bright – for about a month.
In August, my father died.
In October, Region Ten cut my position because of the recession.
In December, my mother died.

None of the things I tried to do to become a member of my new community bore much fruit.
I couldn’t find a church that fit.
I came to realize that after being raised Catholic and going to Catholic school for 12 years, then becoming a born-again Christian and fully immersing myself in church during my 30-year first marriage, I may have entered the post-church phase of my life.
That added to my feeling unmoored.

I wanted and needed a job.
I searched and searched and searched.
During those first few years no one was hiring.
Well, they weren’t hiring me – a newcomer northerner of a certain age.
As someone once explained to me, Charlottesville was full of people with PhDs waiting tables and working in nurseries (the horticulture kind).
I told everyone I was looking for work.

Jeff’s co-worker told me she saw the Fluvanna Review was looking for reporters and maybe I should apply.
I spent 10 years writing for daily newspapers with circulations much bigger than the Daily Progress and now I’m supposed to write for a local weekly?
Oh how the mighty have fallen.
(I never said I didn’t have a bad attitude).
So I swallowed my pride and applied. I figured it would get me out of the house and out of my head.
And I’d have the added benefit of learning about my adopted community.
I was even happier when I met the publisher, Carlos Santos. He made a career writing for the Richmond Times Dispatch.
We got each other.
So in 2010 I started covering the Board of Supervisors. Since then I’ve written about crime, schools, politics and anything else my editor assigns me. I’ve interviewed incredibly interesting people.
And I enjoy it.

I continued looking for full-time work with benefits.
Then, any other kind of work with steady hours.
And I found plenty of jobs. I was even hired by plenty.
I just couldn’t keep them.

I worked as a cashier, a test proctor, and a child-care provider in an after-school program.
I worked with domestic violence survivors, parents who’d lost custody of their children because of abuse or neglect, and for a school for children and adults with autism.
I voluntarily left a couple of those jobs to move on to a better one.
But I got fired from most of them.
All of this led to much soul-searching.

What was wrong with me?

If you’re like me and hoping for answers, I got nothing.
I volunteered.
I became a master gardener and worked with the children’s garden at Carysbrook.
I became a court appointed special advocate and worked for Piedmont CASA.
I took part in the Fluvanna County Leadership Development program and graduated in the 11th class.
All the while helping parent my step-children and seeing them both graduate from Fluvanna High School.
But I still felt unmoored and like I was just limping along.

Then the office manager job with the Fluvanna Chamber of Commerce opened up in March 2017.
I’d applied for the job years before and didn’t get it.
But I decided to bite the bullet and apply again.
They hired me.
So for a year now I’ve been at the helm of the Chamber and writing for the Review.
Together they make a more-than-full-time job.

But I realized a few months ago that in one year of working for the Chamber I’ve made more lasting friendships than I did in eight years writing for the paper.
It’s nothing against the Review.
When I look back on my years as a reporter, I never became friends with people I interviewed.
Even though I met people in their homes often during some of the most difficult times in their lives, it rarely led to a friendship.
I’m just part of their story for that moment.
As it should be.

But at the Chamber, I’m actively working to help people start and grow their business.
And all the years of covering Board of Supervisors meetings and School Board meetings and political races haven’t been for naught.
Neither has my involvement in Master Gardeners or Leadership Development or any other job or volunteer work I’ve done since moving to Virginia.
Not a day goes by at the Chamber where I don’t draw from that body of knowledge.

A Fluco
One evening last fall I was driving my 2003 Hyundai Elantra (that has seen better days). As I drove around the circle at Routes 53 and 600, it died. I had just enough power to pull off the road onto the berm.

I had no idea what I was going to do.

My husband works in Charlottesville and wouldn’t be home until many hours later.

I contemplated leaving it there and walking the five-plus miles home.
Just then, a man in a huge pick-up truck pulled off the road in front of me.
He got out and asked if I needed help.
Together we figured out the radiator sprung a leak.
Even though he was on his way home after a long day at work, he said he’d go get a container of water to fill up the radiator long enough to get me home.
As he drove off, I thanked God for this man’s kindness.

Then another car pulled up.
A young woman got out and asked if I needed help.
She had just gotten off work as a home health aide.
I told her someone was getting water and would be back.
She said she’d stay with me until he returned.
“We women have to stick together,” she said.

After a few minutes, a sheriff’s deputy pulled up asking if I needed help.
Turns out he knew the young woman.
He parked and stayed until my first angel of mercy returned.
All of a sudden, instead of an inconvenience it felt like a party.
The man returned with a jug of water.
Together we added water to the radiator until it stopped boiling and hissing and the thermostat was in normal range.
“Now keep the heater on as you drive home,” the first man said. “That will help keep the engine cool.”
I thanked him and tried to give him some money for his trouble.
He wouldn’t take it.

The woman said she’d follow me home, just in case.
The deputy waited until we pulled onto the road and then drove off.
I drove home, with my guardian angel right behind me.
She pulled into my driveway and I motioned for her to wait.
I got out of the car and gave her a hug. She wouldn’t accept my money either.
“We women have to stick together,” she said.

I wrote down all of their names, intending to write a column or letter to the editor, but never did.
I’ve since lost the notebook I wrote their names in.
I intended to say how their act of kindness made me feel like I was home.
I realize it takes time to fit in.

I realize that because I never gave up (although I did my share of moaning and complaining) I laid the groundwork.
But those three Flucos did more than anything to make me feel like I am part of Fluvanna and Fluvanna is a part of me.
Thank you.

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