You Will NOT Go Gently Into the Night

Our room is on the second floor where that curved tiny balcony is located. Bobbie and her roommates are directly above us in the ballroom behind the flat roofed perfect sun porch only accessible by climbing out a window, which we did, of course.

An earlier blog post of mine focuses on my cousin Ray’s suicide that occurs in my formative years. It makes an impression on me that might be described as an epiphany.

After the fact I do not dwell on it, but the sharpness of the memory stays with me still. As a curiosity, only to be sure my memory has not blurred or even switched things around, I confirm the details with my cousin, Lewis Vaughan Mills. He assures me that I have it right. He says that he has not thought about Ray in years.

At the end of my post about Ray, I add the usual eternal hope of us all, that if this helps one person, Ray’s death will have served a purpose. Perhaps it did. I offer you another personal experience with suicide.

This time I’m in college. In Richmond, Virginia. My dorm is a beautiful White House inspired piece of architecture. It is Mrs Bocock’s house on West Franklin Street, 909 to be exact. Today it is part of the VCU campus offices but in my time it is Mrs. Bocock’s private residence. Always short on dorm space, the college quickly accepts her offer of the front rooms in this magnificent house for housing.

I am one of the lucky few girls who get to live in this amazing palace. The first year it is home to us, only the front of the second floor is ours. Mrs. Bocock lives in the back of the house, upstairs and down. The first floor is for the daily activities of a senior citizens group. We are allowed to use it after they leave and before curfew. The second year more rooms are opened up, on the third floor which used to be a ballroom and servants rooms complete with a full kitchen.

It’s the mid-sixties, I am dorm president. One night late I am awakened by several girls from the room above ours. Theirs is the biggest room having been the ballroom. Fours girls are assigned to this room. It could have held more.

“Jett, Bobbie has locked herself in the bathroom and is threatening to slit her wrists.” I leap out of bed. Not on my watch. I dash up the circular metal stair case installed for a second access to the third floor in addition to the huge wooden stair case in the back of the house and into their room. A cluster of girls is gathered around the bathroom (each room had its own private bathroom) door yelling at Bobbie to open the door.

I move them out of the way and tell them to be quiet. I give them the sharpest evil eye I can muster. It shuts them down immediately.

“Bobbie,” I call through the door easing down onto the floor so I can talk in a soft voice to her. I hear muffled crying. We begin an exchange. We are friends. We have a history. We’re beer buddies. Neither of us is one to deny a pitcher of beer at Andy’s to share around. I’m used to calling her by her last name, Carlyle. Probably because Nash and I go by our last names. We tag favored girls in the dorm by their last name. They are our posse. But Carlyle is for lighter times, it doesn’t seem to fit here, so I use Bobbie. I beg her to come out. But I do not push. I let her pace her thoughts.

At some point one of the girls says that she is going to get Mrs. Carter, our very southern, straight as an arrow, prim and proper dorm mother. “No!” I hiss. “Do. Not. Get. Carter.” I know without a doubt that Mrs Carter will exacerbate the situation and only further agitate Bobbie, who does not cut Mrs Carter any slack.

I’m (third from right) teaching Bobbie (third from left) and other willing dorm mates how to play bridge.

Bobbie and I continue to dialogue. We are making progress. The crying has stopped. I hear the lock click and the door inches open. I get on my knees and begin to rise. Bobbie is standing there at the sink, apparatus at hand. She slowly turns to me. I am standing now, but I do not move toward her.

I do not speak. Now is not the time. I so want to, I am desperate to really talk to her. I have no clue what precipitated her decision to end her life. I need to understand. I reach out my hand to her. We will talk this out and make a plan. We’ve got this.

But someone has alerted Mrs Carter and she in turn has called EMS. They burst into the room just as Bobbie and I are connecting. They hustle me out of the way and grab Bobbie. They strap her down on a gurney to wheel her away. We tearfully look at each other. So many said words. So many more unsaid.

We learn that Bobbie is taken to a close by psychiatric hospital on Grace Street. It is small with a wrought iron fence and pretty shrubs. It doesn’t look like a hospital. It could be mistaken for a home. I purposefully walk by it. I want to visit. But I don’t know if Bobbie is ready for me. I think that she might feel like I tricked her into leaving the bathroom thinking that I knew all along medical intervention was coming.

Bobbie doesn’t comes back to school. I never give up hope that she starts over somewhere fresh. It will always be unknown how serious she was about ending her life; she did tell her roommates what she planned, a certain cry for help. Bobbie is a lesbian in that raw time of misunderstanding. Truth be told she’s probably more a trans, she doesn’t like anything about being female; but, that birthright is not part of sixties vernacular. Bobbie simply reaches a brink that she can not navigate beyond. I like to think that my cousin Ray helps me know how to guide her back from the edge.

 

 

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Let Us Talk About LETTUCE

Interior of commissary at NSD Guam, 28 June 1951.

I am in Harris Teeter shopping when a strangely familiar sight greets my eye in the produce section. Empty, or practically so, shelves where lettuce and other fresh greens should be succulently waiting for me, and others, to bag them up and take them home. No famine has not struck, it is only our local grocery in the summer and shoulder seasons.

The sight brings to mind the base commissary on Guam where we live in the mid-fifties. The produce department is always devoid of anything fresh. Always. A few scraggily heads of lettuce or partial heads, to be more exact, will be all you can ever expect to find. At that they are wilted and a sorry looking lot. There is no such thing as local produce. Well, I’m sure there is, the locals have to eat and gardens are always part of local culture. Still, we are not encouraged at all to mingle with the locals who live nowhere near our base anyway. Tales of Japanese soldiers unaware that the war is over holed up in the mountains waiting to take your life are drilled into our minds. We listen.

One shopping day Mom is doing the weekly pick and choose through the pathetic choices with close family friend John Molchan. Why John is on task escapes my memory. Possibly his wife, Connie, or their new baby, Marianne, is sick. At any rate, he is already out of his element. This is the fifties, wives do the grocery shopping, period. They are combing the meager selections when all of a sudden there is a literal stampede of women heading their way. John is dumbstruck and cannot move. He is almost bowled over. Thankfully he is tall. “What IS happening, Midge?” he shouts to Mom who is holding her own in the middle of the melee. Better still she’s pushed her way to the front. “Ship just came in, John,” she shouts back over her shoulder.

He looks bewildered, “So?” Ships come in all the time. But not a ship with fresh produce. That will be gone in mere minutes. And it is. Mom, I am sure, scores for herself and John, who has retreated to a safer part of the store.

Released from the measles quarantine ship I cruise in style with Mom & Dad around Honolulu.

Dad and John met at the onset of their deployment to Guam. It’s an instant friendship that goes on to span years. Even after both families depart from the eighteen month tour of duty, these two pilots continue to stay in touch. John brings the family to see us in Whitehall, Ohio, where Dad is part of the newly formed SAC program based at Lockbourne AFB. It’s not beyond possible that John finagles this visit as part of an assignment. He and Dad, both, are not shy of work arounds that deal them an advantage, be it an unscheduled stop or something fun like getting me off of the quarantined Guam bound ship in Honolulu.

After a week on board everyone looks forward to shore leave. But we kids are denied, as one among us is sick with the measles. That I have already suffered through every kind of measles known to man, matters not, I am stuck. Until sprung by my heroes, Dad and John. Dad rents a little cottage for us right on Waikiki not far from The Royal Hawaiian.

Besties united. Dad & John, sister Suzanne, Marianne Molchan, me and Bonnie Molchan in our basement at 422 Beaver Avenue, Whitehall, Ohio.

Dad and John are best buddies. With little else to do, parties on base are endless, the men attending when not on duty, the women always at the ready. Spur of the moment at any point in the day come right now wearing what you have on parties, any and every occasion parties, theme parties. It’s a party goers paradise. Dad & John are always the life of every party they can attend. They have duck calls. They entertain everyone with their duck call duets. You have to hear it to believe it. And with any encouragement at all they ramp it up, and up some more. They know how to party.

Time speeds by, especially when you’re having fun. Our tour is up so quickly. We hug goodbyes and board military transport ships for the states. Aboard, in a different type of close knit environment, parties again pop up everywhere, every moment of every day. Dad is supposed to be schooling me. Mom has given up, exasperated at my constantly being distracted by, in my estimation, better things to do; and turns me over to Dad.

The first day into this new routine we’re in the midst of a lesson, when Dad looks at me and says, “We’re not having any fun are we?” We’re outside in deck chairs, the warm sun and salt air definitely making it hard to concentrate. I timidly nod, wondering where this is going. “I say we stop,” he conspires. I break into a broad grin of agreement and dash off before he can change his mind. No chance of that, as Dad shouts after me, “Don’t tell your mother!”

I do not recall where the Molchans land after Guam, but I do know that John keeps up with us. He randomly calls to chat, never mind that it is the middle of the night where we are. He is from Ohio and so a stop by our home in Whitehall is an easy side trip for him and his family. But, alas, he does not bring his duck call. Maybe a good thing, our more churlish than not neighbor has a gun.

EPILOGUE

For future reads and documentation a small bit of clarification need be added. I started this post about a year before finally finishing and publishing. One of the first things that I do when starting a post draft is to title it. Typically the title doesn’t go through changes, unlike the post which experiences many redos before I’m satisfied. And as most, this title is perfect from the beginning. A week before posting I pick the draft back up and begin polishing it. Today I am close but not sure if it is a post anyone will actually find fun. Then I see the nationwide recall of Romaine lettuce promulgated by the CDC and ponder no more. Let us post about lettuce.

 

 

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The Fabulous BUNDY Boys

6416 Three Chopt Road Richmond VA circa 1959 home of Dr Starke Jett Jr and Leigh Arthur Jett

“Your son is d-r-u-n-k.” No words any mother, especially one of a two year old, wants to hear; even being delivered in an easy going southern drawl. My mom is aghast. How has this happened? We are at my grandmother’s antebellum home on Three Chopt Road in Richmond Virginia for Christmas. It’s a family tradition faithfully supported by my dad, two sisters and respective families. We total fourteen counting Mother Leigh, my namesake and family matriarch. Our drive is twelve hours straight through from Columbus, Ohio before the days of interstate. Our only brief stops are for gas, bathroom break and a quick picnic Mom will pack if the weather looks to be good. Occasionally on our trek Dad stops at a Howard Johnson’s for an actual meal. This exceedingly rare treat requires that my two siblings and I, tired of the endless car ride and constantly picking on each other out of boredom, straighten up and put on our best behavior. Once when we stop I am completely fascinated by a traveling family of five children all genuinely enjoying each other’s company and at their parents urging ordering favorites from the menu. I store the vision away in my future family file.

This Christmas, Star has picked up some childhood bug. It’s not enough to keep us home but erring for caution Mom gets a prescription and begins dosing him. By the time we get to Richmond, he’s pretty much uncontrollable. He displays endless temper tantrums and fits of flinging himself onto and off of any surface. My grandmother, probably at her neighbor’s suggestion, gets Mom an appointment with Dr Bundy, whose office is a few blocks away near the corner of Patterson Avenue and Three Chopt Road. He is the favored west end proper society pediatrician.

Dr Bundy takes one look at my brother and declares his diagnosis. The medication is not in sync with Star’s system and with each dose he has become more and more inebriated compounded by Mom upping dosages thinking that his tantrums were a result of the illness, never suspecting the medicine. She was sent home with instructions to let him sleep it off  to sober up. The adults came up with a faster plan, coffee milk made using Mother Leigh’s A&P drip grind 8 O’Clock deliciously strong (made so by pouring it through twice) black coffee.

When we began our family, I will consider no pediatrician other than Dr Bundy. No matter that we move to Varina in the east end of Richmond when Emily is six months old, our family pediatrician remains Dr Bundy. By the time Donald arrives Dr Curry has joined the practice but I still opt for Dr Bundy, who wants to know what we will call Donald. “Athelstan?” I never gave it thought. My grandfather, Dad and brother all have the same name, each generation with his own unique tag. But I guess being from a family of his own with generations having the same name, he has more direct insight into the same name game twists and turns. By the time we move to the Outer Banks the practice has several more pediatricians and Dr Bundy only sees select patients. No matter, we have established our history with this legendary man.

Our next encounter with the Bundy boys is when Donny, upon recommendation from his diabetic specialist Dr Jordan, becomes a regular patient of Dr Walter Bundy III. He is the son of our beloved pediatrician and is making his own mark in the world of ophthalmology at Virginia Eye Institute. When we first relocate to the Outer Banks, Donny commutes to Richmond to continue running the family lighting business, Advance Electric Supply Company. During this time Donny’s right eye starts to give him vision problems and it’s Dr Bundy to the rescue. Several successful laser surgeries save Donny’s eye from complete shut down. By the time cataract surgery is on the horizon Donny and I have our own at home business, Bayside School Services, on the Outer Banks; but of course the only recourse to consider is Dr Bundy. We head to Richmond for the scheduled outpatient operation. It goes well.

As with all of his patients Dr Bundy wants to see Donny the next day for the routine follow up exam. We want to go home. Donny asks if he can send a text photo. Dr Bundy ponders briefly, he admits that it is rather unconventional and nothing he has ever done. But he’s tech savvy. He uses his iPad when piloting his plane. He agrees to be a pioneer with Donny. We head home. The next day I take a close up of the eye and Donny sends it. Dr Bundy is impressed with the photo and how the eye looks.

The perfect Ocracoke get away for us – small, family run with windows that let in the cross breeze & is right in the middle of town

Our latest interaction with one of the fine Bundy boys comes this fall. Donny knows that Walter has a brother, David, who lives on Ocracoke where he began what is now an island favorite and well respected eatery, Zillies. David and staff plan periodic special dinners and one that includes wine pairings with each course catches Donny’s eye at the last minute. He tries to find a place for us to stay on the island but comes up short.

By now it’s the day before the event, I jump in and message friend and local family motel owner, Jennifer Garrish. She is out of town but is fairly sure there is an opening in the six unit business. She says to call in the morning. That is how low key and small they are. There is a web site but no online booking. I call the next morning and get voice mail. I end the call, not wanting to tie up the machine with my explanations. Then rethinking I call back with a short version of the story in my head if needed. I still get voice mail. I leave my note and move on.

Donny has bought tickets late Friday night after we hear from Jennifer, as there are only four left. We are willing to gamble. Saturday morning we see Sunday’s weather calls for high winds, the ferry ride will be exciting, if it’s even running. As we ponder whether to go or not, I get a call back from Jennifer’s niece, do I want two doubles or a king. We’re in, our date night is on. We’ll take our chances with the weather.

We agree not to dash for the ferry Sunday morning either and we don’t. We get great double shot red eye coffees at the Magic Bean Coffee Bazaar, we walk back to our room down Howard Street where much of Ocrafolk takes place, and before leaving the village take a driving tour of the other side of Silver Lake with a photo op stop at the lighthouse.

Finally we head toward home, and find a line backed up down highway 12, ferry dock not even in sight. I’m betting it’s all those sprint for the boat morning people thwarted. Much later we inch within sight of the dock since at long last they’re loading a boat but we’ll not make that one. Much later we miss the last place on the second boat to leave, eclipsed by a priority golf cart in tow. After another long wait we are at last on the ferry. Once underway we are cautioned about a rough crossing and potential over wash. Then we find ourselves stopped mid-crossing for an on coming ferry to negotiate a one way channel. We do know how to rock a date night.

Our delay puts us on Hatteras yearning for fresh coffee and actual food. All the spots that we know are good are closed. We happen upon Pamlico Deli and turn in. It looks great and it is. Nick, the owner, is a real foodie coming from a long line of meat handlers. He cooks all his own and the proof is in the tasting. Hands down the best Ruben sandwich I have ever eaten. But he does not have coffee. A few miles along we find a coffee shop, Uglie Mugs, but they have just closed. We can deal with it, we’re almost home.

Zillie’s 538 Back Road Ocracoke Island NC

Saturday on Ocracoke is charming. The nasty weather is still on the horizon, this day is sunny and just breezy enough for my Nags Head Pizza Company hat to be useful. We check in and decide to take a walk. We find Berkeley Manor and are delighted to see that it’s but a stone’s throw from our abode, especially if you cut through the back yard. Then it becomes a Walk Your Ass Off by Sandra tour. I want to show Donny where the Ocrafolk Festival is set. It’s been a couple of years for me since that fun girl weekend. And decades since Donny has even been on Ocracoke. Neither of us recall much about the layout of the island beyond the basics. GPS in hand we head toward what I think is the festival epicenter. We find ourselves on Back Road. We see Zillie’s. We see the back of the school. At the festival I only recall seeing the front of the school and that from a distance. We need to go right but by the time we have a chance we’re back on Irvin Garrish and at our motel. The festival overview will have to wait. It’s time to get ready for dinner.

We are forty attendees strong with assigned seating. Donny finds himself next to a whipper snapper Naval Academy career graduate, who is more than ready to compare survival stories. I am next to a gentleman whose hobby is native plants. He has the perfect idea for our eternal erosion, papyrus. He and his wife will share when they divide theirs. The six courses starting with shrimp and grits and progressing to prime rib plus dessert are paired with amazing wines all explained to us by our sommelier. It is all so good! I am not going to waste anything and polish off every bite and every drop of wine.

Walking home is more like weaving for me but who cares. I later chuckle that it would not have been incorrect for an apparition of senior Dr Bundy to appear, drawl in Donny’s ear, “Your wife is d-r-u-n-k,” wink and fade away.

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Virginia & Slim NO Not THAT Kind (Part 2)

May 2018 Malco’s Farm Point Harbor NC. Donny and I make a quick stop to speed pick strawberries to take to granddaughter Lydia in Springfield VA.

I get a random email recently that goes in part like this, “Pete Mistr here. How are you and your family? Scott, Spud’s oldest son, found your article “Virginia & Slim NO Not THAT Kind (Part 1). What a great article. I loved it. Is there a Part 2 and 3 and 4?”

Well let me say right now that few things spur a writer on more than positive feedback, I’m back on track. Part 2 which I fully intended to write months ago no longer shoved aside. To back up a moment, the whole affair starts in late March when I get an out of the blue letter from my cousin-in-law with a note that says, “A blast from your past…! Love, Jane”. She has sent a Richmond Times-Dispatch From the Archives article about one of those larger than life people that pass through lives of lucky folks, farmer and friend Slim Mistr.

Jane has struck a chord. Great memories flood in, I am instantly ready to write a blog post. But it’s not yet strawberry season and so I decide to write Part 1 to fill the gap. We have a favorite pick your own strawberry patch close by and I want some fresh pictures of us picking for the post.

The Malco patch serves us well over the years. We start picking there from the very first year it opens when three youngest, Stephen, Andrew & Lewis are kids, one of many home school field trips. Mr Malco is impressed with our speed and quality control. He tries to hire us to pick vegetables for him. Flattered but unconvinced we pass on the offer.

I have acquired my skills under the excellent tutelage of Slim Mistr, husband to Virginia whom I co-sponsored the yearbook with at Varina High School. After Emily, our first baby, is born Donny & I move into Virginia & Slim’s little tenant house on their farm off of Darbytown Road. We are in an apartment complex and anxious to move, but monies are tight and so when Virginia offers the house we are delighted. Still it is above our budget and we reluctantly turn it down. They counter with a lower price which is closer to reality for us and we gratefully accept.

Slim Mistr, truly a man for all seasons

We have been to their comfortable farm house many times for yearbook work sessions and know the farm well. At this point Slim is growing strawberries as an experiment. Virginia takes what they pick to school and sells them out of the back of her car. Spring rolls around. I get a call from Slim. “Sandy are you ready to pick strawberries.” The house with the strawberry fields beside it is a brisk walk away down their private lane. I scoop up Emily and we’re off to adventure. Spending early year summers on my grandparents small chicken farm in Ashland, Virginia I learn how to pick many things from corn to butterbeans. But strawberries will be new to me.

Slim hands me a pail and explains that we are looking for the almost but not quite ripe berries. Ripe berries can be eaten along the way but put too many in your bucket and you end up with an overripe mess because berries continue to ripen after being picked. Small ones are sweeter but big ones fill your pail faster.

I put Emily down in one of the smooth dirt pathways that separates each row of strawberry plants and begin picking. She crawls along chasing bugs and butterflies. Once I look back to see Emily has found our stash of filled buckets, dumped them over and is happily eating strawberries. This daily routine continues throughout strawberry season. It is fun and we don’t mind helping Slim. He’s an easy going guy. Later in the summer he teaches Donny & me how to pick blackberries growing wild along abandoned fence rows on the farm. Better than stooping down he explains. He never minds us scouting out and bringing home a cedar tree for Christmas decorating.

Slim and Virginia have taken us under their wing in so many ways. They are there in a flash when Donald decides to make a quick entry into this world and we need help with Emily. Donny’s folks are close but not close enough. As it is we need a police escort to the hospital to make it in time.

When we announce to them that we are expecting Donald, child number two, they decide to add a room onto the two bedroom house so the children can each have their own space. I am quite willing to turn the never used covered front stoop into a mini bedroom but neither will hear of such nonsense. The rent goes up a bit but not by much. Donny is now part of the family lighting business, Advance Electric Supply Company, so we can manage the increase.

It is through Virginia that Emily becomes best friends with Ginny Nelson and her younger twin sisters, Betsy & Nancy. Their family has a working farm of their own nearby and are part of the huge Mistr clan being nieces to Slim. As is same age cousin Dorothy Ogburn who gets added to the friendship list when the girls begin summer gymnastics at the local elementary school.

Slim is always in charge of the antique farm machinery display at the state fair. We love all the fascinating old machinery he gathers from friend statewide to put on display and we never tire of seeing the baby ducklings and chicks that are also part of his purview. Slim rekindles my love of a state fair. It’s one of Mom’s many legacies to me. She and teen pals were annual fair patrons. I inherit this faithful love of a good fair.

When we live in Whitehall going to the Ohio State Fair with best friend Sandy Winfrey is an event we both look forward to each year. We plan our day. It is a long bus trip across town but once there we cover every base. We collect all the good free stuff from exhibits. We ride the midway rides. We eat sausage biscuits. We visit every building. The huge 4-H buildings are of particular interest because it is where the exhibiters live during fair days and the bathrooms are ever so much better than public ones.

One year, school rumor has it that the mystery girl for The Columbus Dispatch is upperclass senior and model worthy beauty Suzi Minor. The game is find the mystery girl and hand her a copy of the newspaper to win. Each day the paper reveals a snippet of her attire. She appears once daily on a random schedule at the newspaper booth. We stake out the spot until Suzi appears but we don’t finish the challenge. We’re there on one of the first days and the contest has barely begun. We don’t want to spoil the fun for others, plus we’re feeling kind of bad about maybe having an inside track. Turns out that rumors were right and we missed our chance for the big prize.

Virgina and Slim at Donny’s brother Robert’s wedding at Sandston Baptist Church in 1975

From yearbook deadlines to strawberry stained fingers and everything in between so much of the fabric of our early family years are woven with thread from Mistr cloth. Donny & I treasure each and every memory and know how very lucky we are.

 

 

 

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An AWESOME Prom

2017 Spartan Theatre production of The Awesome 80s Prom

In high school I totally skip the dating scene. I blame this on an incident that occurs during freshman year algebra. Our entire class is cutting up and an extremely popular jock I think is cute asks me for my phone number. At that very moment our teacher shuts down the ruckus and being an obedient child I don’t take the chance to even pass a note.

Later in study hall I try to explain but he’s having none of it. I have snubbed him and for the rest of my entire high school days I am considered not cool to all the jocks. And who else matters, this is 1960’s high school. In reality that missed note pass couldn’t have had one thing to do with my popularity, or lack thereof, with hot guys but whatever the reason in hindsight it is a good thing. I am not ready for the world.

All is good until prom season. Junior year involves selecting colors and themes and vendors. I am on various committees. We decorate the gym within an inch of its life. And that is that. No date. My best friend Sandy didn’t have a date either. We move on.

Senior year prom I think about asking a shy guy, John Klein, in our art class since I know that we will all die waiting for him to ask anyone but I never get up the nerve. He goes with friend, Michelle Wilson, that pins him down, being braver than me. Our school photographer telephones to ask me to go with him. I feel that this is going to happen and dread the call. He is nice but dull, overweight and not cool. (After high school he drops the weight, gets a intriguing job and finds himself). I turn him down. Mom is aghast. I have turned down a date to the prom.

He asks Sandy. She accepts and gets to do the dress shopping thing and fancy hair and flowers. As mad as I am at her, the day of the prom I suggest that we go downtown to Lazarus shopping. As we head home a mean girls idea pops into my head and I decide that we will walk home. It’s a nice day. The walk takes us along the edge of a beautiful park and through the high dollar neighborhood of Bexley with its huge homes and manicured lawns. I have no idea what the distance is (seven miles) since we always take the endless bus ride to our stop, the last on the route, but she has let me down by scooping up my rejected date and in the back of my mind I want retribution. It takes us a couple of hours, she is tired and sunburned. I am miserably smug.

Later Mom insists on taking me over to see the decorated gym and then we go home and I probably watch TV or read a book.

So when grandson Martin snags the part of Louis Fensterspock, introverted computer nerd, in interactive The Awesome 80’s Prom I am set to party. After all it’s interactive, awesome audience participation is expected. West Springfield’s theater is undergoing a renovation and this 2017 fall production lands at nearby Burke Volunteer Fire & Rescue Department meeting room. The set is a simple one but it needs to be struck and reconstructed after and before each production, an added layer of stress. The weekend shows are not so bad but Thursday involves working around classes. The awesome crew gets it done in record time never missing a beat.

The last night of the three day run, Martin’s entourage; both set of grandparents, an uncle & teen cousin, his parents and teen sister do our part to make it a smashing success. We’re dressed for the part participants, Donny wears his tux and I’m in a smashing pink number. We’re having a blast. I’ve never seen this show so it’s all new to me. Outside before the show starts a cast member waltzes up to me waving a Ken doll and asks if I’ve seen Blake. I tell her I that can find Louis for her. I know that he’s about to arrive on his bicycle. She’s whispers, “He’s my boyfriend,” and whirls away.

An instant mini of me & DJ Johnny

As the show progresses things periodically happen on stage led by the school DJ. One such is the Best Dressed Boy. Gals from the cast weave through the audience quickly selecting five guys to join the DJ on the stage for this vote by applause event. After some dance breaks and other interactive moments it’s time for The Best Dressed Girl competition. Guys are told to do the selecting this time. I look around at who’s being picked. Suddenly a gal grabs my hand and says, “I’m not a guy but you need to be up there.” She pushes me toward the steps.

I’m game. I join the other girls on stage. The DJ counts us. There’s more than five. He shrugs whatever and proceeds to commence the vote. I look around. The gal next to me has a Joan Jett kind of thing going on. She looks pretty cool, she might win. The others are all beauties in their prom dresses. The first girl gets a good round of applause. I’m next. I step forward, hoping not to embarrass myself by receiving only a smatter of claps. I’m already a rogue entry.

The applause is decent. I’m happy, this is good. I prepare to step back, but the clapping doesn’t stop. It begins to swell. I’m baffled. Me? My outfit is rocking I’ll give you that. I worked hard on it. So I begin to milk the crowd. I wave. The applause gets louder. I urge them on. It gets louder. I’m elated albeit embarrassed on the flip side of the coin. All the other girls don’t have a chance. To be fair the DJ quickly goes down the line. And then back to me, his winner. I know the question is coming from watching the guy competition, “Where did you get your outfit?” No one really cares about that answer I decide, I deflect, “PARTY ON!” I shout into the mic. The crowd roars, they are with me.

My loot

Later I tell Martin that I could have quipped, “My closet.” He says someone already used that answer in another performance. Spared by my own wit. As I exit the stage I spy Lydia. “You set this up,” I challenge her. She grins, “I may have helped.” Martin/Louis closes the show with his eloquent delivery of how we may act and look different but we’re all really the same inside with the same needs and desires.  Then he declares his love for Kerrie (Ken doll girl) who pines after Blake but after Louis’ heartfelt speech realizes that he is the real deal. They kiss. It’s a sweet ending.

It really was an epic Awesome Prom.

 

Epilogue

April 2018 calls for entries in what will be the last Self Portrait Show Glenn Eure hosts. Pat will hopefully carry on the tradition but without Glenn and his pretty pill winks and his sincere, we need to get together soon to sketch nudes, it will be different. I don’t know this of course when I plan my entry but I do know that my Awesome 80’s Prom outfit needs clearance. I check with Pat & Glenn about such a big entry (the show room is small). “If it will fit through the door, you’re good,” Glenn promises.

I want to make a life size doll and dress her in the Awesome 80’s Prom finery complete with her prize goody bag. I stuff. I sew. I glue. She looks wrong. I tear things apart and start over. It is truly a labor of love. Finally I’m over it. I pose her in a chair. She is art show worthy but looks more like a wasted night on the town gal than a popularity contest winner. She doesn’t pick up any nods at the show. No matter I have already won well enough for the both of us.

When she comes home I nix trying to make her look real and position her in a Chagall exaggerated body pose which is perfect. To paraphrase a very young Martin who, when asked to do something, declares that he can’t move because he has no bones, my prom look alike doesn’t either. But she doesn’t need any. Her one job is to remind us of a fun night with awesome people and she’s a winner at that.

 

 

 

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Virginia & Slim NO Not THAT Kind (Part 1)

Two more mismatched people could not be imagined.

It was 1970, I was in my second year of teaching at Varina HS and assigned, for the second year, to be yearbook co-sponsor. Sponsoring extra-curricular activities was part of our teacher duties. I suppose you could request an area of interest but since I was on the yearbook staff in high school, it was an okay assignment. Or so I thought until I walked into the room and saw a beautiful but well beyond my age teacher assigned as my partner. This did not look good. The year before I had been paired with a guy teacher that had a pretty set opinion of how the book should be put together and as I jumped in mid-year I went with the flow. It was a pretty dreary book but the kids were fun. I was glad to not be with him again. But this teacher looked like trouble. She probably thought the same about me.

It only took about three sentences before Virginia and I discovered that contrary to both our beliefs we were no mismatch at all but a match made for each other. Neither of us would settle for anything less than perfect and that was the way it would be. We took the staff to workshop weekends, taught them how to take pictures, crop pictures, write copy and layout a decent book. The staff spent countless hours and days at the Mistr farm, where Slim & Virginia fed us and put up with us, getting everything right. Class time was just not enough.

It worked. Our book went from uninspired to trophy winning in just one year. We were elated. But never one to rest on our laurels, the next year we let the staff go for the big kahuna. They really wanted a tie-dye cover. We checked with our publisher, the American Yearbook Company. Yes, they could build the book with tie-dyed cloth we provided. That’s all any of us needed. Nothing was impossible, not even hand tie-dying individual pieces for 500+ yearbooks. Everyone looked to me to figure out the logistics, after all I was the art teacher.

We took a weekend field trip to the mountain corduroy fabric outlet where we bought bolts of cheap uncut non-dyed corduroy. Back home in Varina, we cut the cloth into rectangles. Then the dying began. Not to be satisfied with just one color, we had to have two. And so first we gathered by hand one at a time, several spot areas of each of those 500+ rectangles, dipped a spoonful of green dye into the middle and bound the spot with a rubber band. Then we applied more rubber bands creating a ball of sorts all the while making sure to protect the middle of the cloth where the name would go on the book spine.

Next the balls of cloth were dropped into huge vats of blue dye. All of this was done on the Mistr’s farm using their big kettles set up in the yard. No other way could we have accomplished such a huge task. After the balls were dyed and removed from the hot dye the rubber bands were removed and each piece ironed flat, boxed and shipped to AYC where they worked their magic and made our yearbook into yet another winner.

Got to interject an aside here, years later when Emily and fellow yearbook staff members at Manteo High School were having a discussion about their cover the book company representative, who happened to be from American Yearbook Company, told them about this high school that had hand tie-dyed cloth for their cover. It so impressed the company that they put a copy of our book in their display case. We were legendary!

Of course, even with the tie-dye cover the book only became a winner with someone like Virginia keeping her sharp pencil at the ready to fix any bad or wrong copy. We were fortunate to have Jim Mahone write most of our copy. His quick wit and way of saying much with just a few words was a dream for any yearbook to have on board. He went so far as to write his copy and captions on graph paper so that he could instantly know how many letters and spaces he had used. His own form of personal computer (his brain) letter count.

Virginia and I remained friends long after I quit teaching to have Emily, which was actually during the great tie-dye experience. I had to quit teaching at four months. I got an extension to stay until six months which coincided with Easter but after that I had to leave. Of course everyone knew I was pregnant but policy was policy. I could have come back the following year but Donny & I were fortunate enough to be able to let me stay home with the kids as they came along.

Donny & I moved into Slim & Virginia’s tenant house a few months after Emily was born and there we lived until we bought our first house, just around the corner at 54 Oakland Road, when Emily was 5 and Donald 3.

Slim & Virginia were unique people who crossed generation barriers with ease. They were simply a delightful couple who loved life. Virginia was a go to school and get your degree after the kids are grown mom. So actually she was as new to teaching as I was. We just came in through different doors.

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WELLINGTON Easter Bunny

In 1993, as some of you already know, I began a journey with a very special rabbit. He was originally a stuffed animal I made for our five children for Easter as funds were tight for store bought treats. But he was not content to be just any stuffed animal. He needed a name. Actually he had a name. “It’s Wellington,” he told me. He had a story. I must write it he told me. And so I did.

Thirteen books and a hundred plus illustrations later we reached the end of the book arc but not the story. World wide publishing has yet to come but it will. As I pull out paper Wellington files and dig into the computer for digital files because, even though his story reaches far beyond Easter and embrace no religion, Wellington is the Easter Bunny and spring is his season, I find this rare picture of the actual Wellington Rabbit and a few cards which I pasted below that he sent to us after he moved to Idaho. His story is in the preface to book  V, Lost and Found. Meanwhile ALL of the thirteen Wellington books are now online if PDF format for your instant enjoyment year around. Just click on the Wellington link at the top of my blog, or in the Pages list to the right.

And now Wellington has his own website!  He writes letters when the mood strikes. And all of the books are linked there as well as here.

 

 

 

 

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Waltzing Through TIME

Me, Mom & Dad in front of our new home at 6414 Three Chopt Road. We called it The Little House. It was the transformed double car garage of 6416 or as we called it The Big House. Photo credit Donald Loving.

I got an out of the blue email recently from the son of a college friend of Dad & Mom’s. All my life I have randomly but consistently heard of Donald Loving. More from Mom than Dad. It usually was a comment in passing. Donald was my grandmother’s pick for Mom. But not one to listen to her mother, Mom chose otherwise. Still Donald remained in her life. They even renewed their friendship after Mom moved to Reedville and Donald was living in Newport News.

Apparently Dad and Mom never left Donald’s thoughts either. This is note from Lee Loving (we have yet to meet).

Hello Sandra:

 I have struggled with sending this email for months, but being the “family historian” and happening upon your blog; I convinced myself to send it.
Up until my father’s death in 2011; I had heard the name Starke Jett my entire life. My father would talk about those days  on the North Neck of Virginia; growing up with Starke and maintaining a strong friendship through his college years at Randolph Macon.
 
It all came to head one fall day in the mid 1960’s when Dad came home and said this Starke Jett was coming for a visit. My Mother, Brother, Sister, and I were put to the task of “getting the place ready” for Dad’s best friend. My Dad was an Aeronautical Engineer for NASA, so we were used to keeping things in order. But this was a different mission. He pushed us like no other. We double cleaned, racked, cut, vacuumed, and dusted. I mean the placed look like an Embassy Suites by the time we were done.
 
Then, there he was. The man my Dad talked about more than anyone else was before my eyes. He came with his wife and son. He was charming, fun to talk to. His wife was a bit quiet but sweet. We went trick or treating with his son. I’ll never forget the amount of compassion my Dad had for Starke.
 
Now some 50 years later,  I have discovered that Dad kept every letter he received since 1932. What an adventure it has been. Among the many letters were letters from a Margaret Ann. I didn’t think much about it until I saw a letter from Starke Jett saying how much he had enjoyed meeting Margaret. Then they were more letters from both Margaret and Starke to my Dad. Around 1940 Starke was writing from Ohio, having enlisted in the Air Force.
 
I still hadn’t put two and two together until I decided to research Starke. And that’s when I ran across your Blog, your Mom’s and Father’s Obituary.  What a wonderful pair they made.
 
I hope this hasn’t brought up any ill feelings. You seem to appreciate your family’s history and memories. Thus, I thought I would share my experience with your Dad and how my Dad admired him.
A few weeks later a package arrives (Lee has advised me to look out for it). Inside are thirteen moments in time. All are treasures beyond measure. I’ve selected a few to scan. I posted them here  in time order. The first is from my grandmother. The second a fun art letter of Dad’s. The third has Dad already gushing over Mom (they married two years later). The fourth a letter from my aunt Keese (Clarice) to Donald. And the last married lady Margaret Ann corresponding with Donald. She did all of the letter writing after she and Dad married. Before that the bulk of the thirteen were letters from Dad to Donald, mostly of the moment typical guy chatter. On the second page of the shipyard letter below Dad tells about going to Cuba and how desolate it was, although the women were quite something else.
I received the lead photo a few weeks after the letters arrived. Guess Donald did finally get to see me! And Lee promises if any of us are in the Atlanta area and have time to stop in, he and his wife will have the house spotless.

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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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