The Death of a Mall

A friend and I have recently been discussing the condition of the mall I walk at most mornings. She asks if the smells from the Food Court aren’t distracting while I’m walking. What smells, I tell her? Even by 9:00 a.m. there might not be anyone manning places in the Food Court, much less cooking anything.

She can’t picture just how far down Virginia Center Commons has grown. Grown down? Strange way to describe something that “dead” or “dying” seems to describe better .

I wonder whether American Family Fitness knew how badly VCC was dying when they bought and totally redid the  property on the other side of this wall. It’s one of the few places that are thriving, but it’s not even owned by the mall.

I recall how much fun it was to go to VCC  back in the 1990s when it was new and thriving. After years of going to a mall that was further away, a two-story mall, how amazing it was to be in a single-story mall that was oh! so spread out. With skylighted hallways–one that reaches from the Food Court all the way to the back and a shorter one off to one side–and decorated with humongous (live) palm trees.

Even though I know now that I can walk from one end of it to the other in five minutes and make a complete circle in fifteen, it was so crowded back then that it would probably have taken two to three times that long to move through the crowd at a snail’s pace.

As if I had any reason to rush then.

The Food Court wasn’t humongous, but it had a good selection, and right beside the front door was a Ruby Tuesday’s. Along with the variety of kiosks and normal-sized shops–the best I can recall, there were no empty stores–the mall housed a J. C. Penney’s, a Sears, and several other larger “big name” places.

The mall still has Penney’s and Sears, although the future of both chains is–from what I understand–up in the air. Burlington occupies one of the big store sites, but a good-sized Macy’s closed down many months ago. Interestingly, it’s for sale, not for lease. But what wise businessman (or woman) would want to invest so much in a place too few people shop at anymore?

Probably the most successful place is American Family Fitness. No wonder. The mall doesn’t own it and its success isn’t dependent on mall customers.

My wife helped me do a survey a couple of days ago. It’s hard to count while walking, but we ticked off the numbers on a tablet as we went along, so I believe these figures are relatively accurate.

  • Stores and kiosks still open: 47  (includes one that’s about to open)
  • Stores closed in the side hallway: 21
    • Stores open in that hallway: 3
  • Stores closed in the main hallway (includes two in the process of closing): 17

I detest walking in the one hallway that has lost twenty-one stores. It’s depressing.

This problem seems to be at least partially a chicken-or-egg problem. Which happened first–stores closing because customers were no longer coming to the mall or too many stores closing for customers to find going there to be worthwhile? I’ve heard several people claim that groups of teens hanging around there made customers afraid.

While that might have happened sometime in the past, I’ve never seen dangerous looking teens there. I rarely see a crowd at all. This is what the Food Court area looked like around 6:00 p.m. a couple of days ago:

In all fairness, Monday evening seems to be the most consistently empty time of the whole week. But it never looks anywhere close to full.

This picture is of the hall that branches off just past the Food Court. This is the one that only has three businesses–a LensCrafters, an optometrist’s office that’s all but officially a part of LensCrafters, and an African hair braiding place.

 

Some months ago the mall was sold to someone who supposedly likes to fix up malls like this one. I hope he can. He hasn’t done much so far. The lines in the parking lot are so faded it’s hard to be sure I’m parking within the lines.

Virginia Center Commons is just a mile down the road from us, and we do shop there–to whatever extent we can find what we want or need. We want to see it rejuvenated. Do we ever!

Any comments?



    

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Best regards,
Roger

The Unforgettable Nightmare

A few weeks ago I posted some memories of my mother. I enjoyed doing that.

But one horrible memory stands out in my mind more clearly than many of the others.

I was at church (not our current church) one Wednesday night at choir practice. We were rehearsing in the choir room. It was approximately 8:00 when someone came to the door to tell me my wife was on the phone; that was in 1994, years before I had a cell phone.

Debbie (my first wife) was frantic. She talked with my mother on the phone practically every day, but after trying to reach her repeatedly all day, she was concerned that something might have happened to her. Although I probably questioned that, I couldn’t afford to take a chance. After all, my mother was in her eighties and living by herself after the death of my father a year earlier.

I went back to the choir room and told them I needed to run check on my mother. Then I headed off on a mission I half dreaded and half expected to be unnecessary.

When I pulled up in front of the house, my stomach plunged. The front porch light was off. My mother always turned it on at night, even when she wasn’t expecting company.

More frightening still, however, was the fact that no lights were visible inside.

I always carried a key to Mother’s house, so getting in was no problem. But what was I going to find?

I turned on lights as I moved from room to room, calling out for my mother as I went. I finally went into her bedroom.

She was lying in bed. Perfectly still. Completely lifeless. Blood had come out of her mouth and spilled on to the bed. It was dry. I tried taking a pulse, although I knew that was probably a useless effort.

When I called 9-1-1–the only time I’ve ever had to do that–I couldn’t bring myself to tell them I was sure she had died, but I did tell them I didn’t see any point in trying mouth-to-mouth resuscitation when they suggested it.

Minutes later, police, emergency personnel, and a fire truck arrived outside. While several of them checked on Mother, I gave the others the few details I knew. They were kind and professional, and I appreciated their presence.

At some point I called Debbie to let her know Mother had died. She must’ve called the church, because our pastor showed up not long after that. They must’ve already taken mother’s body by then, though, because I asked our minister to help me get the bloody mattress out.

The details of what happened seem vague now, but I’ll never forget seeing my mother lying in bed that way, the victim of an apparent major stroke.

I think most of us want to die in our sleep. I do. I have no idea whether my mother suffered at all or whether her death was almost instantaneous. But I’ll always believe any suffering was minimal.

Not my most cheerful blog post, I know, but I needed to share that with whoever is willing to read it. Perhaps I’m more conscious of what I went through that night because I’m growing older day by day, and–although I hope and pray I have many good years left–my immortality is not something earthly. It’s heavenly.

Have you ever experienced something you can’t seem to forget about it? Maybe not something you think about often, but–when you do–something that’s disturbing. Would you be willing to leave a comment?

NOTE: Various people have complained about not being able to find or leave comments. Go all the way to the bottom of this post, beneath my “Best regards, Roger.” If you don’t see a “Reply to this post,” then go to the previous post and look just above it. On that very bottom line of that last section  you’ll see “Leave a Comment” if yours will be the first or “X Comments,” where  X denotes the number of existing comments.

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

Planning a Funeral…Mine (Part Two)

FuneralSong

[The dog ate today’s blog post. Or at least it fell somewhere into that mysterious bit bucket. Although I wrote it immediately after writing Sunday’s post, I must’ve failed to save the draft, and I didn’t discover that until this morning when I added the above image in preparation for posting. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to rewrite the post before leaving for the Wednesday nursing home ministry, and I didn’t think you would appreciate my slopping something together just so I could get it out at its usual time. Thank you for your understanding.]

This past Sunday, I shared with you that my wife and I plan to be cremated, and that’s about as far as I got in talking about my funeral. So here’s the rest of the story.

For years I’ve wanted a recording of Chi Coltrane’s “Go Like Elijah” to be played at my memorial service. It’s an energetic song. Very positive. One that is likely to get people’s feet tapping. That’s what I’d like.

Why be mournful? I’ll be in a better place. (Well, yes, I do want people to miss me, but why do it mournfully? And, yes, I’d rather that Jesus’s second coming took place soon and made this planning irrelevant.)

I also want a recording of the song pictured at the top of the page to be played. (Click here for a downloadable copy of the lead sheet.) It’s one of my original songs, and I recently updated a few of the words and changed the tune a little at a place where I could no longer reach the notes. Then I spent days making a digital recording of it.

As a frustrated perfectionist–it’s not within my power to do as good a job as I want–calling that recording finished is hard. But I’m reasonably satisfied. You may listen to it by clicking here.

As you’ll undoubtedly gather, I hope the people who hear this song at my memorial service will associate the good things the song talks about with me and not the bad ones!

Yes, we’ll have other music, too. Congregational singing, though. Not the choir. They deserve to have the day off.

“It Is Well with My Soul” is probably my favorite hymn, so I suppose they ought to sing that. And maybe “Amazing Grace.” And let’s not leave out “Victory in Jesus.”

And, yes, I want the pastor to present a brief evangelistic message for those present who might not yet be Christians.

Hmm. Sounds like a grand time. Too bad I won’t be there to enjoy it. Especially when it’s time to pig out afterwards…

Do you have your funeral planned? Do you have favorite songs you want sung? Anything unusual done (e.g., dancing on the coffin)? Please share a comment.

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I’ll be back again this Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on “As I Come Singing”–check it out here. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list here.

Best regards,
Roger

Planning a Funeral…Mine

cruiseship

Some folks were probably horrified at reading the title of today’s blog post, but I didn’t intend for them to be. Whether we want to admit it or not, all of us are going to die sometime, and it makes a lot of sense to get the decision-making out of the way ahead of time. Especially as it relates to money.

My parents did that, and it made things so much easier. They had not only selected their coffins, they’d also prepaid almost all of their funeral expenses.

My wife and I are taking that one step further. Why make our heirs spend hundreds of dollars of their inheritance on coffins that will be visible only for a couple of viewings and maybe a little while before the funeral ceremony. We are FAR too practical for that kind of wasteful spending.

Not only that, however. Why purchase a grave plot or even a small stone marker? As Christians, we believe that–like the repentant thief who was crucified beside Jesus–we will be with Him in Heaven immediately upon dying.

(Don’t tell our friend Eric about our plans, however. He believes we’ll remain completely dead until the time of Jesus’ second coming, and we can’t convince him otherwise.)

In case you haven’t seen it coming, that means Kathleen and I both want to be cremated. Yep, ashes to ashes.

And forget putting those ashes in a fancy jar that somebody had to dust periodically. We want our ashes thrown to the wind. And why not? I learned to play guitar during the Bob Dylan era…”Blowing in the Wind.”

Thrown to the wind…somewhere. The location has yet to be determined.

One of Kathleen’s girls suggested celebrating our deaths by taking a family cruise and throwing the ashes into the ocean to be consumed as fish food. Fine with us, as long as they don’t expect to inherit enough to pay for them, their spouses, and their kids to take that cruise.

They might also have trouble convincing their employers that a cruise for that purpose is a legitimate use of paid time off for a funeral. Go figure. Employers are funny people.

I suppose our kids could just store the ashes in a mason jar until vacation time. Properly labeled to avoid mistaking them for a cooking ingredient, of course.

This has been fun, readers, but it’s not really what I’d intended to write this blog post about. Looks like I’ll have to write a Part Two to cover that. Come back on Wednesday.

But–just in case this post has upset you–Kathleen and I don’t have any plans for dying. We’ll be more than happy to let that happen whenever God desires. And we can rest more comfortably in the meanwhile, confident that our eternal futures are as well provided for as our return to the earth.

Please share your reaction in a comment. And don’t think I’m criticizing anyone who feels differently from us.

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I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on “As I Come Singing”check it out here. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list here.

Best regards,
Roger

 

 

Growing More Emotional

I’ve never been one of those guys who thought that crying is unmanly. Then again, I’ve never thought of myself as “Mr. Macho.” No one else has ever thought of me that way, either.

Nonetheless, I never used to be much of a cry-er. As a child, I recall crying twice, although I may have done it more often than that. Once was one of those very few times I received a spanking. The other was when my parents told me we were moving away from the town we’d lived in for the first eight years of my life.

If I cried as a teen or young adult, I don’t remember it.

Except in 1976 at the death of the baby my ex- and I had. Beth lived three days after her normal birth. If you want to read about that, I would refer you to Yesterday’s Blossoms.

As I started growing a bit older, I sometimes got teary at the end of a movie or of a very moving book.

But do you know what’s REALLY weird? I can’t believe I’m about to admit this publicly because some of you are going to think me completely unfeeling. But when my parents died–my father in 1993 and my  mother the following year?

I didn’t cry. I was sad, yes. But I knew they were in Heaven, and I couldn’t be but so sad about that. I would miss them, yes. But tears? For whatever reason, they just wouldn’t come.

Flash forward to reaching my fifties and now my sixties. Tearfulness comes at the least expected times.

Still from books and movies. But also when someone comes forward at church to make a profession of faith in Christ or gets baptized. Or while I’m paying a complete stranger a sincere compliment. Or  thanking someone for even the smallest of favors. Even when someone is thanking me for something. These examples don’t begin to scratch the teary surface.

Gracious! Some people might really think this new-found emotionality is a true sign of aging gracelessly. But–doggone it–I’m thankful I’m still able to feel. If anything, I wish this change had occurred years earlier.

Okay. Your turn now. Especially you guys. What’s your take on displaying your emotions? Please leave a comment to share your view.

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing”check it out here–to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Best regards,
Roger

Tribute to a Friend

For almost all of my adult life, my best friends have always been women, and my wife is my best friend of all time.

But during my mid-twenties, I had a couple of special male friends, too. And one of those was Morgan Dilver.

Morgan was a very dark black man who specialized in making people laugh. I’ll never forget this tale.

A drunk walked up to him on the street one day.  “Are you a Negro?”  (Yes, that’s the word he used.)

Morgan rolled his eyes as only he could do and said, “No, I’m from Mexico.”

The drunk looked at him kind of funny. “I’ve never met anyone from Mexico before.”

Morgan rolled his eyes again. “Well, this is what we look like.”

Morgan was a teacher—or was he a counselor? It’s been a very long time. *sigh* But he also served as the girls’ cheering squad coach at the local high school. And once he demonstrated to me the cheer he would have taught his girls if he’d had a mute cheering squad. Too funny to attempt to describe here.

We used to take an occasional Saturday day trip to Ocean City, Maryland—we drove the sixty miles in his big white car–“The Ghost.” We had the most fun laughing at the reactions of people who stared at him in disbelief when he sat there on the blanket slathering on an overabundance of suntan lotion.

In 1972 I wrote a rock opera which a cast of fifty or sixty people participated in our single performance of. Morgan soloed as John the Baptist. The Bible says this about John’s food and apparel: “John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” Morgan borrowed some sort of camel-colored fur from his mother for the occasion.

Hmm. Maybe not quite biblical, but 100% Morgan.

When my first wife and I were getting married—nine hundred miles from my home in Maryland—Morgan and Bob, another good friend, drove through a snow storm to be groomsmen in the wedding. We weren’t sure how people would react to our having a black participant, but we loved Morgan for who he was. If anyone had an issue with his race, that was their problem.

Morgan won folks over in typical style. Especially my grandmother-in-law to be.

Once I was married, Morgan didn’t play as important a role in my life as he’d done previously, and we lost touch with him completely after moving to Richmond in 1984.

I’m not even sure how or when we found out that he’d died—he wouldn’t have been much over forty if he was even that old—but I still miss him.

Lord, I know he’s keeping You laughing up there in Heaven, and I can hardly wait to catch up on all of the stories I’ve missed or forgotten about.

P.S. I regret not having any pictures of Morgan to include with this post.

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If you have memories of a special friend, won’t you share them with a comment?

I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing”check it out here—to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Best regards,
Roger