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On the COVID-19 rebound

By Bob Arnold


The COVID-19 pandemic, by and large, ended two to three years ago, but its repercussions continue to affect the way we live.  Our attitudes as workers have changed.  We stay at home more, have curbed our travel, go out less -- to eat or for entertainment -- or have changed our recreational habits.  The lingering economic effects have changed the way we consume goods and services.  Even our politics has been affected.   Countless things just aren’t the same.


Around town, if massage therapy was part of your healthcare regimen, you may have noticed at least one therapist known for many years as the area’s go-to practitioner for deep tissue massage has been missing.  COVID-19 knocked Marti Stephens out of the box.  


Before it drove her from the healthcare scene, Stephens did seven to nine deep tissue massages per day throughout the area in a practice that took her to salons as far north as Jackson and Madison, but included locals as well.  “I was terrified of getting COVID-19, shut down my business and gave up my license, but despite my efforts, got it anyway,” she relates. 


Today, Stephens is on the rebound.  She has a lot of things on her platter, but she is thinking about how she can again start helping folk concerned about their health.  After the journey that got her there, she isn’t giving it up lightly.


Stephens landed in Brookhaven with her parents in 1971 when she was four years old, lived in the area until she was 16 and returned permanently in 2002 as a single mother with three daughters to be with her mom and build a career as a massage therapist after living 17 years in Ohio and Florida.  Along the way, she also was a vocalist for Country and Top 40 bands and even thought, but not for long, about practicing cosmetology.


Her mom and dad were country music singers, who worked for Buck Owens in Bakersfield, California, where she was born and named after her parents’ good friend Country music star Marty Robbins.  She never fully understood why her parents, who once performed at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and appeared regularly on Bakersfield television stations, pulled up stakes for Mississippi, where their career turned to gospel music and her father operated a recording studio.  Growing up with three brothers and one sister as the eldest child, Stephens sang gospel with her parents at churches, festivals and special events, recalls spending many hours at her dad’s recording studio, and aspired to be a research scientist with an avid interest in space and nature, discovering new worlds under a microscope and taking care of animals who needed her special love and care.


Stephens attended the Brookhaven and Loyd Star schools and a Pentecostal Christian Academy into the twelfth grade, but received a high school Graduate Equivalency Diploma from Co-Lin after completing correspondence courses before resettling in Ohio.  Over seven years in Ohio, she married, had two daughters -- Amanda and Eden -- and studied cosmetology. 


In 1992, following a divorce and deciding she did not want to pursue a career as a hairdresser, Stephens changed venues to Orlando, Florida, at the urging of her sister, remarried, had her third daughter -- Holly, and started her career in massage therapy after studying advanced massage therapy and alternative medicine at the Florida College of Natural Health.  Her Orlando stop also included gigs as a singer with Country and Top 40 bands at night spots.  Before returning to Brookhaven after a divorce, she owned and operated the Serenety Oasis Spa at Daytona Beach after working for other spas.


In her first few years after coming back to Brookhaven, family occupied most of her attention, with three teenage daughters, and a grandson whom she reared from birth.  Around 2010, however, her massage career took off with work at the Aqua at the Renaissance in Jackson and further studies in alternative complementary medicine.  Through online work and credit transfers from other schools, she earned a Masters Degree from Everglades University at Boca Raton, Florida.


Before COVID-19, Stephens had become well known throughout the area for her work in deep tissue massage in which she incorporated reiki -- a healing touch technique in which energy is transferred to a person in physical or emotional pain through the palms of the practitioner’s hands.


Today, in the midst of a life that now includes grandparenting the children of her daughters, she is overcoming physical ailments and is working to restore the health and fitness she needs for strength and stamina required for massage and other healing arts.  She is also studying sound healing.  “Although I can reacquire my license relatively easily, getting myself into physical condition to practice massage again is another matter,” she says.  “Massage is physically taxing, particularly when you aren’t at the right weight and have lost muscle mass.”


Stephens is working on building her post-COVID-19 life and career in the country home on the eight acres abutting the Homo Chitto Forest in the Loyd Star area near McCall Creek where she has lived with her friend Craig Kimble for the past 15 years.  Her daughters are grown, and their four kids who ramble on the property are a big part of her life today.  Eden, 33, married to Don Bivens, is a freelance artist, handcrafts jewelry and manages her household and family at Meadville; and Holly, 29, married to Ben Felder, is a stay-at-home mom at McComb, and does photography.  Braden Beiser, 19, the grandson Stephens raised, works in the kitchen at Magnolia Blues. 


What are your hobbies? 

I enjoy swimming in a pool on our property, gardening and cooking.  For some reason, roses like me.  Roses of all kinds are thriving on our property.  I also grow vegetables, which I cook as a part of healthy meals with seafood, but no pork or beef.  I also have a passion for animals.  People dump unwanted animals on our property, and we keep them.  I have four dogs, including a hound and lab-boxer mix; two cats, and an array of creatures that are really my granddaughter’s pets -- a parakeet, hamster, gold and beta fish, bull frogs, three ducks, five chickens and a bearded dragon lizard.


Are you a reader?

I read about matrix energetics and energy work in healing, quantum physics and history.


How about movies or theater?

I follow historical documentaries and enjoy gangster and action movies.  My favorite actor is Al Pacino. I like movies like Dr. Strange and Ironman, and enjoy science fiction.  On television, I follow the old Law and Order SVU and Bonanza western series.


What would you do with the winnings if you won the lottery?

I’d start by hiring a financial advisor and then consider ways to help animals, and to be able to travel to learn about new cultures and strange and unusual places.  I want to visit pyramids and caverns.  Southern France and Sweeden are on the top of my travel list.


How would you change the world? 

Prayer.  I’m not religious, but I am spiritual.  The 52-miles of shelving at the Vatican is a good place to begin getting needed inspiration.


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