FORT VALLEY --
You won’t find a lemonade stand on the sidewalk in front of the old house on West Church Street.
But Cornelia “Pete” Nichols could probably open one. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, right?
Pete has squeezed a lifetime supply and stirred in plenty of sugar.
On Wednesday, she will be honored as a 50-year member by the Fort Valley Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. In many ways, it’s not just a recognition of her service but a celebration of her life.
“She is truly a lady with an indomitable spirit,” said longtime friend Betty Cleveland. “Pete has a positive attitude and always wanting to help others instead of being helped.”
Although Pete can claim her share of cloudy days, it has never stopped her from spreading sunshine. She keeps her chin up, even as she struggles to walk and to see the path in front of her feet.
She wears braces on both legs. It is the result of hypobetalipoproteinemia, a disorder that impairs the ability of her body to absorb and transport fats. It was so rare when she was diagnosed in the 1970s that she was referred to the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md., with nerve damage in her legs and feet. There was no way to reverse her condition. She was treated with massive doses of vitamins E, A and calcium to slow it down.
It affects her balance, so she uses a walker. She has fallen and broken her right hip three times and her left hip once.
In 2001, when she was 62 years old, she developed macular degeneration. Over time, her vision has declined, making it difficult to distinguish faces.
It also has denied her the great pleasure of reading -- she is now grateful for audio books -- and she eventually had to give up teaching Sunday School at First Baptist Church in Fort Valley.
She has not, however, stopped writing notes of encouragement to folks in hospitals and nursing homes.
“I’ve been in the hospital enough myself to know how nice it is to receive a letter,” she said. “I still write several a week. I just can’t see what I’ve written.”
Her husband, Bill, is a major source of her strength. They married in 1962, a year after she graduated from Agnes Scott College in Decatur and moved home to Fort Valley.
Bill is retired after running the family’s flour mill operation. He is a saint of a guy. He reads the newspaper to her, helps with the braces on her legs, does the grocery shopping and cooks.
“I couldn’t do anything without him,” she said.
Of course, having a lady named Pete around can lead to some interesting moments. (I told her my mother is named Charlie, so we have had our share of confusion, too.)
She was destined to be a Cornelia. Both of her grandmothers, a great-grandmother, aunt and cousin all were named Cornelia, which means strong-willed and wise.
Her nickname was derived from a comic strip character called “Sweetie Pie.” Her family began calling her “Sweetie Peetie” as a term of endearment, and it was later shortened to “Pete.”
She and Bill live in the house where she was born on West Church Street. It is one of the oldest homes in Fort Valley. It was a century old when the stork dropped her off in 1938, and she is now 75. The Nicholses have three children -- Billy, Virginia and Jack.
Pete is involved in politics and has a keen interest in history (she helped publish a local book on the history of Peach County). She is a huge fan of the football programs at the University of Georgia and First Presbyterian Day School. She also is a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Wednesday, she will be honored for a lifetime of dedication.
Every day, she simply goes about the business of being Pete.
Pour another glass of lemonade.
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.