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Posted April 14, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Dogs, cats, babies and M&Ms make up a woman's 'laughing wall'
By Ben Orcutt -- firstname.lastname@example.org
"By happy alchemy of mind, They turn to pleasure all they find." -- Matthew Green
LINDEN -- Ninety-year-old Linda Alletta James has a lot in common with British poet Matthew Green, the author of "The Spleen," who died in 1737.
James has been a poet for 65 years and is appreciative of the power of laughter. Snowed in during this past winter in her Blue Mountain home, James got the idea to erect a "laughing wall" in her kitchen.
"Mama don't drive in the snow and the ice on the mountain," James says during a recent interview, laughing at herself. "I got bored with TV commercials and I just sat there. I didn't want to play the piano and I didn't want to listen to the radio and I started cutting out from my magazines.
"After I was snowed in two weeks two different times, I laid in the bed one morning and it was real quiet and had a mental yoga. Have you heard of that? I heard it on the television if you be quiet for 15 minutes, an idea will come to you, and so I said, 'Well I think I'll call the newspapers and tell them something to combat boredom, loneliness and being by yourself.'"
James has been a widow since her husband, Charles, died on Jan. 17, 2000. A Page County native, James says she lived most of her life in Northern Virginia before moving to Warren County nearly 14 years ago. She and her husband have five children, 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
"I didn't want to call my children if I get lonely," James says. "I don't want to bother them. They're all busy working and trying to keep their jobs. And so I would just think of something funny and get my little flour and water paste and start working. I had little scissors and I would just get something in the magazine."
A proud Democrat, James' laughing wall includes a caricature of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Her wall also includes photos of babies and cats and other animals. She points to a series of photos that she put on the wall that show the progression of a frog egg becoming a tadpole and then a frog.
"We're expecting two new babies, and the butterflies follow me when I'm gardening," James says of her laughing wall, which is adjacent to her kitchen door that leads to her deck on the rear of her house and to her garage.
"Just funny things just to give me a laugh when I'm going out the door," she says, adding that a caricature of TV talk show host Dr. Phil as an M&M may be her favorite of the more than 100 cut-outs.
There's a cutout of Jesus next to the kitchen door and adjacent to the laughing wall. A Methodist by denomination, James says she does not attend church.
"I don't go now because I cry every time they sing a song, and I don't want to cry," she says.
James is proud of the long deck on the back of her home as she shows her guests around.
"On a clear day I can see Mt. Weather," she says. "I've got the only Artesian well on the whole mountain."
The focus quickly shifts back to her laughing wall as she gets out of the mild spring weather and goes back inside.
"It just makes me feel happy," she says. "It gives me a chuckle."
The wall also has given her autistic 23-year-old great-grandson, Bobby, a chuckle, James says.
"He said, 'Grandma, they're gonna think you're losing it,'" James says.
She says when she asked him why he was laughing at the wall, he said, "Because it's funny."
James says she looks at the wall a lot.
"Well, wouldn't that just make you laugh?," she says. "I can't get any higher [on the wall]. I think I've gone as far as I can go."
James is as proud of her poetry as she is of her laughing wall, adding that her pseudonym is Dame Doran. She has written a 300-plus-page book of poetry and in 1985, she read some of her work to thousands at the World of Poetry Convention in Los Angeles.
"They coincide," James says of her laughing wall and poetry. "They just touch me emotionally. They lift me up."
In addition to The Northern Virginia Daily, James called The Washington Post about her laughing wall, and when she said she was a poet, a woman at the Post said she would give her a contact at the Library of Congress so that James could read her poetry there. If she goes, James says she'll take someone with her.
"I wouldn't go in D.C. by myself," she says.
James is proud of a mantra that she enjoys telling everyone she meets that she says she's borrowed from Esquire magazine.
"Syphon off the creme of your life and give a cup to others," she says is her borrowed theme. "In other words, say something nice or tell a story about something happy [that] happened to you and give it to others. Everyone that I say that to, they say, 'That is so precious.'"
Loretta K. Dunn, a licensed clinical social worker in Winchester, says that James is on to something with her laughing wall.
"Anything that you can do that will enhance your ability to enjoy life and to find humor in every day events is normally a very healthy thing," Dunn says. "I think that a lot of people do very similar things in today's world by sending humorous cartoons and clips that they see by e-mail. I think she's discovered a way to do this in the privacy of her own home, and it may also be a way she stays connected to others when she's not able to be as mobile.
"I think there's been a lot of research that indicates that laughing helps to keep one's outlook positive and can affect one's immune system in a positive way. God bless her."
"I'm happy," James says, "and the man upstairs is my companion."
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