Lorie Sheffer provides us with much “food for thought” today as we journey through our Mid Life Celebration. Ladies and gentlemen, Lorie Sheffer:
What time frame do we put on reaching our dreams? How high do we aim? It’s fine if your dream is more of a whim, and it’s fine if you don’t have complete success. Sometimes getting there is half the fun. But sometimes we hit highs that we never imagined. For the following two ladies, life didn’t begin at 40; life began after 50.
Julia Child was not one to be rushed. She stood 6 feet 2 inches tall, came from a privileged background, was college educated and had jobs as an editor, as well as working for the Office of Strategic Forces during WWII. She married at age 34, which was unheard of in the 1940s, when most young women married right out of high school. Julia loved food, and she wanted something fun to do while living in Paris with her husband, so she took classes at Le Cordon Bleu. She wanted to teach American housewives how to cook the amazing foods she had mastered, and decided to translate recipes from French into English. It took her and her collaborators a decade to write Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and they were dismayed when their first manuscript was rejected. The legendary cookbook was finally published when Child was 49 years old. Julia’s television show, The French Chef, aired its first episode in 1963, when Julia was 51 years old.
Paula Hiers was a 4 year old growing up in Albany Georgia when Julia’s show aired. While Julia was teaching American cooks to “be fearless” in preparing dishes such as Boeuf a la Bourguignonne, Paula was learning how to make her Grandma Paul’s fried chicken. Paula grew up in much more humble surroundings. She married at a young age, lost both of her parents by the time she was 19, and raised her younger brother as well as her own two sons. Her husband, Jimmy Deen, drank heavily and Paula cracked under the stress. She started having severe panic attacks, which soon developed into agoraphobia. She would, at times, be unable to leave her home without having an incapacitating attack of severe anxiety.
Paula would find solace in cooking those wonderful comfort foods from her childhood. She later found the strength to take a job as a teller at a bank near her home, and save enough money to leave her abusive husband. To supplement her income, she made bag lunches for her young sons to sell to area business people. Out of that was born her catering business, The Bag Lady. From there, Paula opened her first restaurant, The Lady, in a tiny rented space at a local Best Western Hotel. Paula put in so much time at The Lady that some nights she slept in a booth for a few hours before starting a new day. She was not making much money, and she longed for a day when she could open a bigger restaurant for herself and her sons. After receiving a loan from her aunt, Paula opened The Lady and Sons in downtown Savannah Georgia. A food critic, who was passing through town, stopped on the suggestion of an innkeeper, and the rest is history.
Gordon Elliott got wind of Paula and featured her on Door Knock Dinners and Ready Set Cook. Paula’s warm presence and down home personality did the rest. Paula’s Home Cooking made its Food Network debut in 2002, when Paula was 55 years old. A star was born. Paula has since written numerous best selling cookbooks, she has a total of three shows on Food Network and sells her own line of cookware. In 2004, she married her best friend, Michael Groover. Unlike Julia, Paula never set foot in a cooking school.
Don’t count yourself out of the game just because of age. Think what these ladies, and the rest of us, would have missed had Julia and Paula thought they were too old to dream.