A RAY of Sunshine

When I was still in single digits, a life event happened that burned a memory in my consciousness that is vivid to this day.

My mother’s cousin, and thus mine too, committed suicide.

She was young. She had a husband. And two small girls. They had a comfortable home in an old farm house. Not on a farm but they had a big a garden and lots of shade trees in their huge side yard and of course a rope swing for us kids. We visited upon occasion. Not a lot but it was always an easy visit, usually for supper or Sunday after church. My grandmother would have baked something to add to the meal. We all ate well and then plunged into amazing desserts.

In the early evening we kids would catch lightning bugs in the twilight while the grown-ups sat in lawn chairs and caught up with what was happening in their worlds.

Then it changed. This visit was awkward. I was scooted outside and told to go play with my cousins and by all means to not to go upstairs. My cousins were fun, but they were younger than me and besides I was intrigued. What was all the hush about.

I snuck inside and eavesdropped on the conversation going on in the sitting room. Phrases like slit her wrists, bled out, right in the bathroom upstairs tumbled over me. This was too much to hear. I clapped my hands over my ears and eased away. Then it struck me. I had to see. I had to see what that bathroom looked like.

I inched my way upstairs being careful not to make a sound. I could hear the grown-ups muffled voices carrying on and my cousins distant laughter in the yard.

The common bathroom was down a short hallway. It was a small room bathed in light from a window over the bathtub that stood to the left of the doorway. The room itself was probably carved out of part of a bedroom when indoor plumbing came into style, that’s how old this house was. The floor was tile. The pedestal sink with a traditional mirrored medicine cabinet was centered inside the door on the wall opposite.

I tiptoed to the stand and just stood there looking around. Being a kid I really wanted to see evidence of what had transpired. An overlooked drop of blood. Or more. Hidden is some corner. But there was nothing of course.

And so I just stood there longer than was safe because I could not move. I could not fathom how this loving person, this mother, this wife could be so desperate. What had travelled into her mind and confused her so? What misery held her so tightly and dragged her down to such a dark bottomless place?

It’s not a new question. But it was new to me then. I had no answer. I have no answer. As an adult I do know this. No one can possibly know what is in another’s mind. What may seem an awkward decision might be the better of a worse one. A final one. And therefore we are wise to not judge. Love is always the truer course.

And if suicide is where desperation leads we can only hope that each story such as this proves to be a nurturing guide toward sunlight and a new day.

Her name was Ray.

 

 

 

 

 

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After A FASHION

As I am photographing this for the blog I suddenly realize that I have an Eleanor Link piece of art. Sadly not original, but still a cherished treasure, she was such an icon.

“Jett, see what you can do with this.” My boss Gene South, or Geno as we all call him, has thrust a layout assignment into my hands. It’s my first week on the job. I have no idea what I’m doing but a quick study, I am rapidly learning the ropes. My two colleagues, Mark Burnett, Kay Wyland and I design print ad layouts for Miller & Rhoads Department Store in Richmond, Virginia. We work in a shared cubicle, one of many, on the seventh floor of the department store. Next week we’ll be moving down to the third floor because our department’s floor space is needed for the store’s new main frame computers, so everyone has told me not to get too settled.

The day is not over, I’ve finished my assignments so Geno grabs an upcoming but not immediate ad to keep me busy. Still so green but not wanting to show my ignorance, I forge ahead and create something I really like using the sparse instructions, showcase the store using a classic suit. Apparently Geno likes what I’ve done too because he tells me that he is going to use it and puts it into production a few days later. Eleanor Link, head fashion artist illustrates my design. I have landed on the back cover of the Richmond Symphony program! Later Geno even steps into my cubicle to show me the finished work. Praise from the normally taciturn boss. I’m legal.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you how I got this job. The year is 1966. I am graduating from Richmond Professional Institute (now VCU) with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Per mom’s suggestion I have completed courses in teaching, but as much as I love kids, my still fresh student teaching experience has left me with little interest in the field.

And so I try several advertising agencies that have posted on the bulletin board of the graphic arts department, an off limits territory for fine arts students. The unwritten rule is that art students bond with their kind and never cross the invisible barrier. When I attended our college reunion two years ago the drama students that were entertaining us told me that they had a curiosity question and then asked me if students between the disciplines mixed when we were in school.  I laughed and assured them that apparently some things never change.

So I ignore the unspoken ban because I love Richard Carlyon and sign up for one of his commercial art lectures. I don’t care, I’m a rebel. I barely manage a C in his class but who cares I’m walking the walk and loving it.

None of the jobs are panning out. It’s evident that I know nothing about commercial art design. I cannot even get a job with Richmond newspapers through Chick Lawson, a good friend of my grandfather’s. And he’s pretty high up in the pecking order. I move on. Miller & Rhoads is a thought. Mom worked in Junior Colony as a young bride and mother. Surely there’ll be some job opening. At this point anything will do. I’m graduating. I need a job. But HR has nothing to offer.

Then a dorm mate tells me about an opening she has heard about in the Advertising Department of Miller & Rhoads. She’s in fashion illustration. I like the idea although I know nothing really about advertising. But that’s not going to stop me. In my mind’s eye I determine that I need to be dressed to impress. Really dressed to impress.

I decide that I need a hat, modest heels, gloves, a subdued sheath, pearls, a handbag, and matching hose. (Forget pantyhose, they are not yet on the horizon.)  I borrow most. I’m an art student, this type of outfit is not in my wardrobe. I take the bus downtown to the store. I get dressed in my borrowed finery in the ladies room and head up to the seventh floor where the advertising offices are located.

I have no appointment. I open the door to the department and practically fall into the receptionist’s desk which is right inside the door jammed into a tiny hallway and bumped up against a cubicle. There are no offices. Everyone has a minute cubicle with half walls so that they can shout changes to each other rather than waste time walking. Well, the director, Ashton Mitchell, does have an office but only he. I swoon. It’s an art world made for me. I announce that I am here about the job. In one telling look the receptionist, Cabell Bricker, sizes up both me and my outfit. I immediately realize that I’m on shaky ground.

This outfit which seemed like such a great idea is clearly so far over the top that it’s absurd. But I don’t back down. I look her in the eye, pleading. To her credit she does not blink an eyelash or worse, send me packing. I actually think that I recognize her and she me from campus parties, but we don’t run in the same circles, so neither of us goes there. Still it’s a small notch in my belt.

She’s intrigued enough that she yells for the art director. He appears, takes one look at me, inhales and glances at Cabell. She’s stifling a laugh. He looks me up and down. I hold my breath. He makes his decision and invites me to step into his cubicle. I breath a sigh of relief and quickly follow, not daring to look at Cabell lest she burst out laughing and break the spell. Geno browses through my portfolio. It’s all fine art work; etchings, lithographs, drawings. There are no designs, no advertising, no fashion illustrations. Expecting a rejection, I am elated when he tells me to go home, design six full page fashion spreads and bring them in for him to review.

I practically dance my way back to the dorm. And then panic hits. I don’t know anything useful for this assignment. I draft Gail, the friend who told me about the job. She’s as clueless as I am. She’s in illustration not advertising layout. I plunge ahead, borrow some swipes (fashion art by other artists to be used as prompts or figure placement when creating) from Gail and create my designs. I have actually taken a night school course in advertising but the most I learn from that is that our professor drives his Aston Martin to school and is willing to break for beer at Andy’s to end class early.

I turn in the completed designs to Cabell. This time I am dressed more like my real self. She’s says they’ll be in touch. Days go by. I hear nothing. I’m getting worried. We, the twentysome girls that I live with, share a common phone. Anyone within range answers it and takes a message if need be. I pester everyone. Maybe I got a call and the message did not get logged into the book. I want this job. I need this job. It’s mine. I draw up another series of ads and take them in. I explain to Geno that I redo the work because I figure that I can do better than the first set and hand him the papers. These are big 18×24 sketches. He rifles through them and probably figures that he is never going to get rid of me. He gives me the job.

A gift box with illustrations. Pat can do this in a heartbeat but she acknowledges that it is before her time. We decide that it is one of Bertha’s masterpieces.

Epilogue: Miller & Rhoads Advertising Roll Call 60’s Era

Ashton Mitchell “Mitch”, director. Hard to find a nicer guy. And the staff party he and his lovely wife threw every year at their waterfront home in Powhatan was not to be missed.

Gene “Geno” South, art director. A talented man and could carry a joke but you best toe the line on the clock.

My later immediate boss when I became the solo regional ad layout department, Jasper, or Jack to us, Horne, regional director.

Cabell Bricker, receptionist. She later becomes a great friend.

Mark Burnett, Kay Wyland, Eileen Talley (replaced me when I became regional staff of one layout artist), Bobbie Hicks (brought on when they needed even more staff) layout artists. Grouped as one because unlike everyone else who had their own, save production, we shared a cubicle. I did get my own cubicle when I was shifted to regional ads.

Pat Cully, illustrator. Our cubicles were next to each other, across the arms length hallway. I bought my first car from Pat & her husband Don (that’s a future blog post).

Sandy Crews (Rhodes), illustrator. I introduce her to Hank and they later marry. Hank and I date briefly but, as nice as he is, the vibes aren’t there. So one Saturday when he shows up at my apartment unannounced to encourage me to go on a day outing to Williamsburg I defer. But rather than send him off dejected I suggest that he take Sandy, who lives nearby.  I call her and she agrees. They hit it off and become a couple. I’m a matchmaker.

Eleanor Link, high fashion illustrator. She would get sent by train to NYC at the store’s expense, probably for fashion week. As beautiful and timeless as her illustrations were you will never see a navel on an exposed abdomen. Not allowed. I asked her about that once. She told me that the edict came from the 6th floor executive offices.

Bertha Morrissey, fashion illustrator.

Charlotte Saunders, head copywriter and a brilliant woman.

Sarah Gayle Hunter, copy writer who was fuller than life, you always heard her coming.

Bobbie Lynch, copywriter.

Betsy Drake (Allred), copy writer and good friend who matched up with a Latter Day Saints missionary from out west and followed him home to become his wife.

Tuppy Giasi, copywriter. Hank Rhodes was in the army with her husband Billy. I was Hank’s first blind date in our crowd.

Lester Woody, copywriter.

Jackie Blair, regional copy writer either St Catherine’s or St Mary’s background.

Lynn Weakley and Len White, production.

Sherrie Edwards Oliva, proof runner. I got her this job when prior runner, Becky, got married. Sherrie and I share many live adventure stories including the wedding dress one. It was always exciting to tag along with Sherrie to the executive offices. They were so solemn looking and we never saw anyone around.

 

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Well Deserved Mr Tambourine Man

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I was there. He mesmerized me. I’d even say it changed my life. I could do anything. Be anything that I wanted to be. It was liberating.

Today my man Bob Dylan received the Nobel Prize for literature. Well deserved Mr Tambourine Man, well deserved. I never met Dylan. But I still have an awesome story about how we came to ride the winds of time together.

The year is 1966. I am just into my last semester as a fine arts student at what was then RPI, now VCU, located in Richmond, Virginia. A division of William & Mary, RPI was a campus cobbled together in the fan district, the part of town where streets fanned out from the centrally located departments stores and town churches to meet the suburbs. School was composed of maybe four actual classroom buildings to include a three story gym with the art department being housed on the third floor. All other classes were held where ever a spot could be found. Mostly carriage houses or old homes.

Campus population was roughly half day students and half boarding, save a separate count of night school students who were mostly professionals adding onto their degrees. Those of us that lived on campus, found ourselves housed in former richly appointed homes. My dorm was the Bocock House on Franklin Street. I was one of its first inhabitants. Mrs Bocock had just opened the second floor of the front half of the house to the college. There were thirteen of us. By the time I graduated our numbers had increased to about twice that size since third floor rooms were added to the mix.

My first room was a corner room (they were huge) and overlooked the formal garden. My second room had hand painted French wall paper that used to drive us insane after a night of drinking. Red, white & blue plumes that danced freely for you. This room was in the middle of the second floor rooms (all the rest were corner rooms) and was actually a sitting room and thus very small compared to the others. Each room had its own bathroom complete with European water closet and claw footed bathtub. We had walk in, and walk through to the adjoining room, closets. Our room had its own small balcony, very Juliet like.

All of this narrative is to set the scene for RPI stories to follow in various posts. It was the sixties, women had curfews and were not allowed to wear pants on campus. I had to wear a raincoat over my bibs to and from art classes to avoid a call to the dean of women’s office. I later got one but that is another story and for another reason.

The day of the Dylan concert I was hanging out at Andy’s on Grace Street, the favored watering hole of business students. I was told recently by a fellow student that art students just did not go to Andy’s. I really was not aware of this pecking order at the time. He explained that art students were not cool enough, or maybe too cool, but they gathered elsewhere. Since my roomie was a retailing major and I dated among her crowd I had a free pass to be among the elite. It was there that my drinking buddy (his gal pal was at home in Georgia birthing their college romance son, no pregnant gals allowed on campus in the sixties) said he had free tickets compliments of a friend that worked in the box office of the Mosque to a nifty concert and would I like to go. He promised it would rock my world. The Mosque was close to campus and appears as it sounds, very big, very ornate and very impressive. All campus dances were held in the lower level ballroom. Another story.

I accept his proposal and we part to prep for our date. When he picked me up, he tells me we can get better tickets than the balcony ones he has. We stop at the box office and trade our second balcony tickets in for front row, first balcony. He explains who I am about to see. I know a little about Dylan. A dorm mate had some of his albums, I thought them rough. The house is not packed and at that it is mostly older folks, I did not see anyone from campus. What kind of concert is this going to be?

Then this skinny guy walks out on the stage of this massive place with its elegant side box seats, ornately domed ceiling and layers of velvet curtains. He sits down in a straight back chair set center stage. That’s it. Well, okay a mic, on a stand. But nothing else on that huge stage. Just the man, the guitar, the chair and the mic. He warms up for a minute, probably even smoking a cigarette. And then it begins. I fall in love, He is mesmerizing. A moment in time to treasure. I am a lucky gal.

 

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Vince Vaughan’s Got NOTHING On This Guy

sideboard mermaid

The family sideboard, repaired by friend Will Lockhart, adding more stories to its life.

It’s the early summer of 2006, I am meeting my sister Suzanne in Reedville to help clear out the tiny family one story with an open attic cinderblock, no air conditioning, not even a fan cottage (where Donny & I spent our honeymoon) of some faithful furniture so our aunt can put the property on the market. Suzanne claims the dining room table and chairs where countless hours have been spent eating, playing Pig and assorted other games and just generally enjoying life. I am happy with the sideboard that sat nearby and housed the dishes, playing cards, puzzles and such. Neither are heirlooms, just cast offs someone gave to our grandmother to furnish the cottage. But they’re priceless heritage to us chock full of family history and merriment. Suzanne and I meet, load our respective vehicles and part ways. And then this happens. (As documented ten years ago in my first blog on LiveJournal)

150 miles from home our vintage Suburban opts to mix my life up a bit and blows a tire. The car may be old but the tires are the best and so it is only an annoyance not a bad scene.

It’s 10 o’clock at night on a fast moving interstate, I’m not getting out to investigate. I am thinking I’ve dropped the transmission. I need to call D, Triple A, R who lives a stone’s throw away. My cell phone is quite literally squeezing the last of it’s battery juice into performance. Where’s the charger? In the car I usually drive. Where’s the extra battery? At home.

No panic. I call D, babbling the details before the phone dies. He springs into action and calls the cavalry. As I wait, I envision a night in Richmond. No good. I MUST get home. I power up the phone and call home. The line’s busy. I shut off the phone. 15 minutes later I try again. D answers. Someone come get me I implore. He’s on his way, so is R and Triple A.

3o minutes later R pulls up. He looks at the car. He starts the car. He looks under the car. Flat tire, he proclaims. We dig for the spare. We cannot find the jack. Triple A arrives. He announces the spare flat, too flat for Fix-A-Flat which I do have. The men discuss tire options. All involve the next day. I MUST GET HOME.

100 miles free, $3 a mile after that Triple A offers. I’ll take it. R shoves off after lending me his phone to call D and send him back home. I’ll be along I tell him. Triple A and I go for gas, coffee, and his buddy fresh from breaking up a bar room cat fight. This is gonna be a fun ride. Do you mind if we smoke? They’re nice guys, what can I say?

Imagine riding with Vince Vaughan uncensored easing back with a case of Bud Lite and you’ve got Triple A Buddy. We discover he used to work for the family electrical business. We compare notes on everyone. I am full of discovery.

rocking chair

Scored a pair of these rocking chairs too. Many a daylight hour spent in them on the cinderblock patio. Night time not so much. Mosquitoes.

By the time we get to Chesapeake TAB is sure we have kidnapped him. Only for his good buddy is he along for the ride, but how much farther? He’s not mad, he’s just VV, ready for some Mermaid Topless Bar action. We tell him we are not even in North Carolina yet. He has been to the OBX before. He has forgotten how long the ride through Currituck County is. At 3AM everyone’s agony is over. Triple A from having to deal with no dash lights, TAB from an eternal trip and me from the fumes of death, even though they did have the windows down.

Who needs a limo when you can get a kicking tow truck ride.

And the epilogue.

So I burned the tread right off a brand new tire. What did you do? I’ve been asked. Dunno. Never drifted off the road, stayed pretty much within the speed limit (read pretty much generously), not really that much weight in the car. It carried a heavier load when I took a bunch of stuff aka mostly magazines to Mom’s attic for Suzanne when she was moving west.

Also it turns out the spare was only low on air. Perfectly good to use. I knew Donny kept things right, but who was I to argue that night. Anyway it wasn’t a great spot to be changing a tire. And I never would have gotten to spend 170 miles with Vince Vaughan.

It was my $300 night to remember.

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Sunshine!

anne shirley 1

Anne Shirley of Green Gables talking to Matthew when he picks her up from the train station.

Recently an Etsy customer asks for an ARTBoard commission. Usually I get requests for Marcel the Shell commissions but this one is for an Anne Shirley of Green Gables quote.

This client has seen my other Anne with an e quotes and loves them. She wants her board background to be either a rainbow of color or a focus of blues and purples. She leaves it up to me but asks for a few stars scattered about if they will look good.

She puts down her deposit in the Commission ART Deposit section of my Etsy shop and after we discuss board size and price I work up a couple with her background color choices and send her photos.

She loves them both. I decide to put her quote on the blue and purple board as it is the size we talked about plus I am thinking it will be a better fit for the celestial theme room that she is decorating.

anne shirley 2

Anne to Marilla on the morning she is to be sent back to the orphanage because she is not a boy.

I complete the piece and take a look at the remaining board all primed and waiting for something cheerful. I decide to do another Anne Shirley quote and list it in the shop.

I set the original commission aside because I always like to live with a completed piece for a bit before sending a photo to a client to be sure everything stays satisfactory in my eyes.

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I made her a surprise bag to hold her art.

I read endless pages of script discarding perfect quote after perfect quote because none seem quite right for this rainbow board. Finally I find just the right one.

After both boards are ready I send photos to my client. At this point she is under no obligation to purchase anything although her deposit (which goes toward final payment) covers my work so that’s spent. I explain why I am sending her two photos and assure her that she is under no pressure to buy either but she can have both (or just her original board) for x monies.

“Sandy,” she replies, “I absolutely love both of these! You had no way of knowing, of course, but my friends call me Sunshine, because they know how much I love sunshine.”

She bought both boards.

 

 

 

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This Isn’t About CATS Is It?

big sunflowers

Sunflowers commission created for Katie. Lyrics by her mother Liz.

I recently had the privilege of creating a custom piece of art for a good friend to give to her daughter who was graduating from the Asheville School. For the occasion Liz wrote a song to Katie that is beyond beautiful and so full of love. As I worked through the design process of the commission I determined that phrases from the song needed to be included so that Katie would always have a visual reminder of such a special gift. And while I pondered I recalled the poem I wrote to daughter Emily when she left for college.

This was before the internet. Computers were for offices or maybe games if you were lucky. But there was no word processing, no casual typing with the ease of back space editing. There certainly was no web, or quick browsing. That would come a year or so later and son Donald would elatedly report via the hall payphone from his world at North Carolina School of Science and Math that there was this new thing called the web and you could search for something and get an answer a mere day later or even twelve hours if you were really lucky.

But I digress be it ever so slightly because Donald does figure into this in his own way. His part is that he too left home the same year that Emily did. But he was always 100% focused on NCSSM, since the 7th grade. He would get in. He would go to this amazing state funded educational paradise for his last two years of high school. There was no other recourse. And he did get in, the second youngest student to ever attend. And he did leave home when he was only thirteen and I was not ready, but he was. Completely.

Emily not quite as much. She wanted to go to UNC-CH. She had applied to no other college. “What if I don’t get in?” she suddenly long into the process realized. I assured her that she would get in. And of course she did. But she was still hesitant about it all. So much change. It was overwhelming and scary.

We were having family dinner one night after all the logistics worked out for both when Emily starts ragging me about our cats. They were getting into her stuff or something like that. I don’t recall exactly what. But I do know that we never fought. We disagreed a lot but we respected each other’s point of view and never ever fought. She even said to me one time, “Mom, we never fight. Almost all of my friends fight with their moms. Why don’t we fight?” I looked at her then and said that if she wanted to fight we could but why when we had nothing to fight about. That’s the way we rolled. But this night she was livid. She stormed off. I looked at Donny. He hadn’t a clue to offer. And then it dawned on me.

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To Emily

I went to her room and sat down on the bed next to her. “This isn’t about cats is it?”

She sniffled, “No.”

“You’ll be fine,” I hugged her. “Just fine.”

And then they left, the two of them almost simultaneously. Donald still gloats that he left a week earlier than Em. The house was so empty, even with three lively boys remaining. The first thing I did was take the leaf out of the dining room table. It looked so big for just the five of us. The second thing I did was write a poem to Emily. I missed her so much!

I had no reason other than a longing to do something. There would be no blog to post it on. No Facebook to share it with friends. I just needed to write and the poem flowed out.

Several years later when we were deep into home schooling the three boys (we gave it a try that fall since they were going to need to change schools anyway) Cricket Magazine opened up their International Cricket League, a monthly competition for readers worldwide, to all ages. Previously the cut off had been age sixteen. I always had the boys enter as an outlet for their creativity. There was a cycle. One month was prose, one photography, one art, one poetry. They all won many times, not always but a good amount of the time. It validated their work and the prizes were fun.  But sometimes the struggle was real. And so Andrew suggested to me that if they had to enter, then I should too since now I could. I couldn’t argue with that. And on the poetry month I entered, “To Emily”.

It won second prize. And made the judges cry.

 

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Ocracoke Delivers

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Ocrababes selfie. Jennifer Garrish, Becki Rea, Lora Whitehurst, Liz Teague, moi.

“Wanna go to Ocracoke?” Friend Becki Rea is tempting me with a trip a few weeks down the road. We’re sitting at the bar in Manteo listening to Bill, Doug and Tommy entertain us. Donny’s basketball buddy and his wife have taken over the waterfront eatery, Avenue Grill, and he decides that support all the way around is the perfect evening out. Lora and Ben are a few stools down from us. They recommend a few items which we order. It’s a casual fun evening. Becki explains that friend Liz Teague, she, Lora and I can make a girls’ trip of it. Twenty-four hours. I might just be able to squeeze that in between work commitments. I’m game.

This past Saturday morning sees the four of us head out in Becki’s new Ford to our destination. Hatteras Island is a mess from endless rain water dumped by Bonnie, the storm that wouldn’t quit, for days over the entire Outer Banks. We practically pontoon through pond after pond. There is more traffic headed north than south and we have to yield to most. Finally we reach Hatteras village, make a stop for water, and get in the ferry line. Luck is with us. We are the last car on an otherwise not full ferry. They’re just keeping to the schedule.

The crossing is such a switchback of turns due to so much shoaling that it takes more time than it should. At last we’re actually on Ocracoke. Liz has a good friend who offered her guest cottage aka the overflow for all family things vintage for the evening. We find her house, meet delightful Jennifer and unload. Our little abode is just the right size for the four of us. One couch, two single air mattresses, a foam padding pallet plus two desks, a dresser, boxes of vinyl lps and the room is maxed out. We are shoe horned in and could care less. Bathroom and shower are but a few steps away in the main house.

Jen, married to native Wayne (the main street on the island sports their surname) as well as being a career upper class level science teacher at the island’s one school, hands us our entry buttons (although I never saw anyone check, everything is that casual) and the five of us are off to experience the festival. It’s within walking distance as is most everything, but still golf carts are everywhere. The island favored mode of transportation, along with bicycles and shanks’ mare.

We start out mostly together and pretty much remain that way dividing and conquering occasionally and flowing back together with ease. The festival is low key, fun, and full of high caliber treats. The Green Grass Cloggers start us off. From there between two backyard venues, within short walking distance of each other, we hang with the Oak Grove String Band, Lipbone Redding, De Tierra Caliente, The Bucket Brothers. Every other person we see is from Dare County. Our county is well represented. Friends send their love to Donny. I send him a photo of the house to rent that would be perfect for his porch style listening.

We eat lunch that we buy from food vendors and sit on the deck of the Thai Moon (they are closed choosing to be a food vendor for the afternoon) to the tunes of the Blue Eyed Bettys and Maggie and Cassie MacDonald. We get beer and Lora and Liz sandwiches from The School Road Deli. Lora gets the Vice-Principal. I vow to get Laurie McKay an author gig at the school. Her books will fit right in and lunch at the deli is a must for her. We explore the artisan offerings. I buy a requisite t-shirt and we decide to mosey back to the homestead for a shower before dinner and the evening shows.

Lora and I opt for the outside shower. It’s a cobbled affair I fall in love with. Tiny, it sits right beside a little canal, Jen realistically calls a ditch, that flows to the sound when the wind blows the water the right way. Inside the shower there is barely enough light to see snakes and spiders that probably love it as much as me. I don’t care. I go first to shoo any visitors out for Lora. I only find a few small slugs climbing the walls of the bathtub you must stand in. Refreshed I dash across the yard in my towel to dress in the slightly larger cottage.

Donny’s bag of pistachios that he tossed at me as I’m leaving home work well for an appetizer. We nibble on cinnamon buns and chocolate chip cookies I have managed to bake before leaving home. Dessert out of the way, upon Jen’s recommendation, we walk to the Ocracoke Oyster Company for dinner. We figure everything in town is going to be packed. Becki orders a Mule. Our waitress doesn’t know it but after Becki explains the simple drink she says no problem. We all fall in line except for Jen, who is our DD and also has her stellar teacher image to maintain.  We declare the Mules perfect and before we leave have another round.

We walk back to the house to get the car. Jen needs to check on the mom and pop motel in town that she and Wayne own and it’s right next to the evening venue where Kaira Ba is going to be performing. They’re just getting started. We all begin standing together near the front but as the evening progresses Liz and I inch even closer while Becki, Jen and Lora move in the opposite direction. They want the full experience, we want the Mosh Pit rhythm. Liz has been instructed by Steve to check the group out as potential for the Salvage Station. Almost immediately, Liz and I look at each other and grin, perfect for Asheville. Every member is a dynamic force. They blend well. Senagal native Diali Cisokcho with his 22 string kora is magical. And the universal theme of love is evident in every piece. We are mesmerized.

Show over, we drift off to find the others. Our next stop is the community center where Michael Stanwood is performing. You could not find two more diametrically opposed acts. Michael works alone occasionally accompanied by David Tweedie but the show is his. He’s miked but he really doesn’t need to be. He might just have performed the song of the festival with his, “I’m Breaking Up With Myself.” It’s just so Ocrafolk. The perfect way to end our evening.

Back home we organize our bedding and fall into various states of sleep that bring on morning all too soon. Jen has a pot of rich coffee ready. That paired with the balance of the cinnamon buns and we’re all awake. We pack up and have just enough time to take a quick trip to the beach in Jen’s four wheel drive. It’s smack on high tide, still the beach is wide and beautiful. We soak it all in and decide to stop at the Fig Tree Bakery and Deli and Sweet Tooth for take out breakfast to be picked up on our way out of town. We hug Jen goodbye after she lets up steal some mint (it won’t grow if you don’t steal it) which is overtaking her garden. She loads us up with homemade fig preserves. A better new friend would be hard to find.

We stop for our breakfast and aim for the ferry. There is a line. They’re loading. There is an RV in front of us. Some cars have gone around it. We try and are stopped. Then we are waved forward. Literally last vehicle on. We rock. Liz texts Jen our success. Goodbye Ocracoke. When Liz asks me what impressed me the most about the festival, I say everything and then pause. While that’s true, I’m most impressed that between my last visit three decades ago and now not much has changed. Sure businesses have come and gone and growth has happened. But to the outside observer, it’s still the same quaint neighborly island I remember. Were a golden opportunity such as the one that brought us to our beloved home on Colington Island open up I’d move there in a heartbeat.

 

 

 

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Culper the Culprit

giphy culper

Coquina Beach with perfect waves and his parents home at last make for a happy pup. He’s in the right family, already a natural surfer.

The road from puppy, to pup, to grown up dog (does this even happen) is fraught with tales of mischief, wide eyed innocence and general mayhem as any caretaker can tell you. The stories are endless, most hilarious later, much later, but at the time not quite so much.

And so I enter the world of pup care for young Culper named after General George Washington’s highly successful spy ring. This group was so covert and shrouded in secrecy to protect the members that Washington himself did not know they names of all the spies. To this day no one knows for sure the name of female Agent 355. The name perfectly fits our sneaky clever pup, although autocorrect culprit possibly fits even better through his growing months.

exploded dog toy

How innocent is that face.

It is while his parents are on vacation that things get interesting. I am called in to pinch hit for the full time caretakers. I enter the house to find an explosion. A toy explosion. How many pieces of fiber fill can be in one small dog toy? Apparently when shredded apart by pup teeth the answer is countless. I know that his caretakers are taking excellent care of him but also have lives and demanding jobs and so I have already decided to take him on a field trip even before I walk in on the explosion. But Culper won’t get in my car. I can lift him in but not being really sure how the field trip is going to play out anyway I opt out.

The backyard will have to do to run off some energy. I am in the porch area stowing my phone to be ready to frolic with Mr. Energy. I don’t see him. But I figure that he is around the corner digging up plants, a favorite pasttime. Actually no, he is not around the corner digging up plants. He has spied a way out and escaped. I have visions of my charge running onto busy Colington Road, or just running free. Panic is setting in. I call Donny all the while calling his name and running toward the front of the house where I find Mr. Culprit investigating whatever in the side yard. I breathe a sigh of relief and lure him to me with apple bits I have in my pocket to reel him in when yard time is over.

broken fence

Freedom trail. Photo credit Donny Ball

Later Donny comes over to repair the fence, a feat unto itself since it was not attached to the house and at that only held up by imagination. It’s getting dark, cold and lack of all but the basic tools challenge this simple job. And rocks in the ground impede any deep digging for the post so Donny Rube Goldberg’s the entire repair using leftovers from Robert’s outside shower construction to create a triangle support system.

My next call of duty reveals plant parts scattered everywhere. Caretaker Ezra tells me that yes, everyday is a different disaster. (He sort of forgot to tell me that the fence was already downed by Mr. Busy. And that he too, temporarily, lost The Kid. “I panicked,” he tells me later. “Lewis would’ve killed me if anything happened to his dog.”) I reason that this pup needs some serious grown up dog chew toys and head to PetSmart for some destruction proof Kongs. They do the trick. He is well behaved the rest of parental vacation.

And then comes the coup de grace. At least in this dog’s life. In my opinion. So far. His parents are home. All is well. I’m asked to go put him to bed. No problem. It’s a short car ride or jog to their abode but I’d do it anyway even if the trip were longer. I arrive, let myself in and greet the happy pup. We head off to the bedroom where disaster has occurred. As Hilarey later describes, “It looked like a huge pile of confetti.” I do not have an incriminating photo but trust me one photo could not have covered the scope. A tasty paperback had been torn page by page. Thoroughly devoured.

genius of dogs

Culper digested, well almost.

Valerie has brought the pup home earlier in the day from his outing on the beach and after seeing how hungry he was for reading material elects not to put him to bed because she doesn’t want him to get into any more trouble. Surely she forgot that this pup, this adorable pup, will not get off the bed without help. He can. He just won’t. He’s afraid of most heights. He won’t get off of the couch. Anything with the slightest height to it. Not for love or food. Maybe Val thinks that Culper has unlocked the Get Down From Heights achievement badge. Nope. Not yet. He makes a few exceptions but the reward has to be high. Like a ride in the Prius for an outing.

So I know that putting him on the bed for a nap will not involve any more reckless recreation. I leave him surrounded by his literature litter. I would have made a photo attempt and cleaned up but couldn’t find the light. And what, you ask out of mild curiosity, might have been his choice of literature. Why, The Genius of Dogs of course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Strange Story of Cousin Tom Jett and the Dare stones

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Wall Street Journal, Friday January 22, 2016

“You see I had to shoot the man I lived with last year, so I was in the McDonough jail when old Doctor Pearce and old lady Pearce asked me to identify it. They showed it to met through the bars. I was in no humor to mess with any stone.” Cousin Tom Jett talking about Professor Pearce and his attempts to verify one of the Dare stones.

Jetts do seem to have a knack for earning odd places in American history. (Tom is released from jail. He acted in self defense.)

A story below the fold on the front page of Friday’s WSJ catches my attention, “A Small College Dares to Reopen a Stone Cold Case.”

Brenau University in Gainesville Georgia is the care taker to 46 inscribed stones documenting events that occur to the colonists of Roanoke Island after they vacate the island. These pet rocks, as a university publication names them, have a jaded past.

The first stone, and according to experts possibly the only one that actually might be authentic, is presumably found near Edenton in 1937 by a traveling produce salesman from California. He lugs the heavy but manageable stone to his car and several months later shows it to a professor at Emory University in Atlanta. While most of his colleagues are skeptical, history Professor Haywood Pearce Jr takes an interest in the stone and persuades his father, President of nearby Brenau University, to buy it. The two men follow many leads to authenticate the stone including producing a booklet and offering rewards for more stones. Both arouse public interest and as a result stones turn up in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

In that time period Paul Green is working on his play The Lost Colony to premier on Roanoke Island in 1937. Long interested in the area and the fate of the colonists, he is penning the drama at the request of town officials wanting to beef up their local pageant with a grand celebration the year of Virginia Dare’s 350th birthday. Prior to that, celebrating Virginia Dare’s birthday is an annual local event in Manteo dating back to the late 1800’s. Mabel Evans Jones even produces and stars in a silent movie on the subject in 1921 which gets national attention.

rock

Original Eleanor Dare stone

There is also a plan for a coastal highway from Maine to Miami and one backer wants to create interest in the rich history of the area by seeding Roanoke Island with fake artifacts. He tries to convince state senator Bradford Fearing, champion to the Outer Banks fishing industry struggling with a flat economy, that this will turn the tide when the finds turn up in the fishing nets. Fearing sends him packing. Too, if you talk to the right Manteo folks they’ll affirm the story that in 1937 a man with a suitcase size stone tries to interest the locals in what he calls the Virginia Dare stone.

So many ways for these stones to be fake yet they refuse to roll over and gather moss. In 1979 Leonard Nimoy’s In Search of: The Lost Colony of Roanoke includes a segment on the stones. The History Channel airs a piece on the stones this past October.

And just where does cousin Tom Jett fit into all of this? The Jett family of Henry County in Georgia runs a mill there for years. Tom remembers as a boy being intrigued by a stone on the floor of the mill everyone calls the Indian stone because it has strange writing on it. His memory, of course, would far predate the flurry of Dare stones (the Jett stones being among them) that later surface. When the mill goes defunct, the stone is tossed in a ditch. Then when the search for the Dare stones is in high gear, one even being found in the vicinity, someone remembers the mill stone and goes looking for it. After much search it is found. There’s a second Jett stone with odd Indian markings, allegedly broken in two forty years earlier by Tom’s father, one piece being used for a barn support, the other tossed about from town to town in a tool box for years. Yet when the two are finally located and brought back together they fit perfectly. Almost too perfectly.

Will the story of the Dare stones ever reach a conclusion? Maybe this time they will. Meanwhile we Jetts are famous for that phrase, not original with us but we do get a lot of mileage out of it, of never letting a good story get in the way of the truth.

 

 

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Wilbur & Orville and Kitty Hawk AND Bähs

It is mid-August 1900. Wilbur Wright after being admonished by his father to find purpose in his life decides to untangle the mystery of flight. It has long been on his mind since that day his father brought home a simple flying toy. After much urging Orville agrees to join him in the quest. And so after getting favorable reports from both the weather master at Kitty Hawk and postmaster, Wilbur immediately leaves from Dayton to see for himself. Orville plans to follow a few weeks later. Here is a letter from Orville to their sister, Katharine, after he arrives in Elizabeth City by train.

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Orville’s letter home and trying to find Wilbur

The Hotel Arlington

Elizabeth City NC Sep 26th 1900

Dear Swes;

It is only two hours since I wrote you from Norfolk, but having got a trace of Will here I send the news on at once. Trying to find Will at Kitty Hawk reminds me very much of a relief expedition to some lost Arctic explorer. The hotel clerk tells me Will was here four or five weeks ago he thinks – in fact is almost sure – it will be just five weeks tomorrow that he left. The hotel people are very accommodating and propose putting a man at hunting up the available way of reaching Kitty Hawk, They say the trip across is pretty much like “life” – uncertain, we know not at what moment we may arrive.

Do not let the store business worry you. Have Lorin attend to it, if he will. Harry Wellon is to be paid $4.50 Saturday night: ie: $4.50 per week. We will settle with Chrls when we get back. If he needs any money, however, let him have it.

orville fish (1)

Orville’s drawing of a fish from side and top

The post office here closes at noon so I have not learned whether there is any word from Will. him

I was down on the wharf looking at the little fish in the water. They were different from anything I had seen. One was a long green thing but a pointed nose. Three or four inches long like this: (a drawing). Then like this (another drawing) it managed to move along by working those fins on top cross wise to the way it was going. The life like view given is from the above. That is the reason the tail was wrong first time. I hear the dinner bell ringing which means one o’clock, or twelve by your time.

Goodbye,

Orville

Tell Harry to sell those rolls of tire tape in box back of what he has been selling at 5 cents a roll. They were ten cents rolls, but we must get rid of them. They are tied in tin foil wrapping.


central (1)

Wilbur’s letter to Katharine upon leaving Kitty Hawk

Hotel Central

Poindexter Street 

Elizabeth City NC October 23 1900

Dear Sterchers

We have said “Good bye Kitty, Good bye Hawk, good bye Kitty Hawk, we’re going to leave you now.” We reached you here this afternoon, after a pleasant trip from Kitty Hawk of six hours. It took me forty five hours going down there and Orville sixteen hours. We will go on to Norfolk tomorrow and will probably stay over a day to see the ship yards at Newport News. If we do so we will reach home Saturday night at any rate so you must have grub for four Sunday. Poor Bubbo (Little Bubbo) has only tasted beaf steak one or two meals in the last fifty or so, and I suspect he will sink his teeth into a nice tender porterhouse with peculiar pleasure. We are now at the Central, the Arlington being no more. We had a fair supper. I have gained a few pounds since leaving home, and Orville is as heavy as when he left. we both look like niggers by reason of our sunburnt faces and hands. I took a look at myself in a glass today for the first time in five or six weeks and was somewhat surprised. We will have some “amosin” stories to tell when we get home.

Cheer up Sterchens, we will be home in about a day after you receive this. We have missed our little baby sister like anything, you may be sure. Remember we will be home Saturday night and will be hungry as “bähs” Sunday. A fellow warned me not to go ashore going down to K.H. saying he would be afraid of “bäh.” I do not know whether the hungry animals which flew out at me were the “bäh” he meant but they are my standard of hungryness.

Your loving burro,

Will


 

In doing research for a children’s book I’m writing using animal characters to tell the story of the Wright brothers on the Outer Banks I came across copies of letters to their steady supporter, Katharine. These two are among the first they sent to her after arriving in Kitty Hawk. And actually we still have those bähs around.

 

 

 

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