Many travels, many stories
BLOOMINGDALE — For years, Judith Coopy chronicled her adventures in journals. She spoke to strangers freely, just like her father had. And when she held her golden fly swatter, an award for winning a story slam at Bitters & Bones, she knew her tale was worth telling and that she had lived freely and happily.
Coopy was a veteran, a mother and a recent divorcee 22 years ago when she received a phone call from a professor at Kent State University in Ohio. He asked her to come down for an interview for an English teaching position in China. She did, and the next day, 20 minutes into the interview, she was asked for her passport. She was stunned.
The plane for China left in five days, and if she accepted the job, she had to be on it. She returned home and took a three-day prayer pause to think and ask God what she should do.
“I didn’t call him right away,” Coopy said of the employer. “I said, ‘I’ll call you Monday,’ because I really needed to know for certain. Now my gut said yes, but did God say yes? I have a three-day prayer plan for making big decisions: Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday — death, burial, resurrection.”
She said it worked, and on Aug. 25, 1997, she was in China.
Coopy said she has an affinity for acclimating to other cultures. She had already traveled globally, visiting Italy, Spain and Mexico. On one of her first days in China, students from the school she was teaching at, Zhongshan University (also known as Sun Yat-sen University), brought her to the local fresh markets to shop for cooking ingredients. At these markets there are things that can scare off the less brave — items such as snake wine, a supposed medicine that comes in large glass bottles with the snake still inside. But that didn’t disturb Coopy. They used it once on her sore knee.
The next day she realized she had forgotten an item, and on her own she made her way through Guangzhou, the populous capital of Guangdong province, to the local market.
“I remembered where the market was,” Coopy said, “and they were shocked, people were shocked to see me again. This new foreigner, you know? But I’m like my father: You show me something once, and I know where to go.”
China offered her a world of experiences. She worked part-time on the weekends for the British consulate to help with English tests, and as a result was able to travel to cities all around China. She doesn’t know off the top of her head how many cities she visited there.
She likes new experiences. She chronicled an early one in the story that won her the Black Fly Swatter contest at the Howl Story Slam at Bitters & Bones. The tale was titled “1948, the day I gained my independence.” In it she talked about how she spent a day hitchhiking and crossing farmland to get to a fair at the age of 7. She was asked by several farmers to help her with various tasks, including birthing an animal. She walked into the fair with a little spare cash she’d earned from her adventure.
In China it was like that. A friend invited her to the northern part of the country where she stayed in a yurt and traveled in horses and camels. One day, in the Gobi Desert, she went sledding on sand.
“The Gobi Desert, it’s just sand, sand, sand,” Coopy said, gesturing with her hands. “And there’s one place you can take almost like an elevator up to the top of these big sand mounds that are moving from desert and they keep moving south.”
As she slid down, she said the disruption in the sand created a ringing sound like a tuning fork in the key of A. This phenomenon is called singing sands, she said.
After 12 years of teaching at various universities, she made her way to the Adirondacks, staying at a friend’s camp, and then eventually arriving at Overlook Apartments in Bloomingdale.
She said her reception wasn’t the warmest. She gets few visitors, but she keeps busy, traveling to Albany, Malone and Plattsburgh often.
Coopy said what has helped has been reaching out and putting herself out there. She walks often, and on her head she wears a white hat with black Chinese characters, spelling out her name. She said it’s started interesting conversations with other pedestrians.
Writing has helped her make connections. She said she didn’t like to write in school; she found it boring.
Writing has also helped her chronicle her adventures. She’s written 150 journals, the first dated Sept. 16, 1984. Now she also writes essays on her experiences. She said she’s written 50 essays about her life; she plans to write 80 in total so she can create a book detailing her adventures. Some stories she uses when she presents at Saranac Village at Will Rogers, an independent senior living center in Saranac Lake, for its “Road to Retirement” series. Presentations are held the first Wednesday of every month. Coopy said the goal is to show people that despite being retired, you can still live fully.
Coopy has also written booklets for the Creative Healing Connections group, which aims to provide a safe space for women to heal from cancer and wartime trauma, and to share their stories using art and nature. She also participates in a discussion group at the Saranac Lake Free Library and has co-founded a poetry group that meets on the fourth Monday of every month.
Coopy is in her 80s. She has set out to do two things: Live to see 2040, and keep learning. She said at a young age she wondered what 2040 would look like. She also loved school. Her wonder about the future has helped her through the toughest moments in her life. Her fondness for learning brightened her days.
Now, looking back, she’s content.
“I’m kind of satisfied in life,” Coopy said. “I’m comfortable. I’m not afraid. I don’t know when I’m going to die and I don’t care. … I don’t regret. I have no regrets.”