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About sandy jett ball

artist, writer, runner

Bill Northern THE Horse Whisperer

Bill explains energy flow

“I didn’t get my apple.” Bill Northern, rookie dowser, stops in his tracks. He is on his way to the house to have a morning chat with a good friend. Her horse has something for Bill to tell her. Bill looks at the horse who repeats, not TV star Mr Ed style, but direct mind to mind communication style. “I didn’t get my apple today.” Bill nods, heads into the house to report. His friend assures Bill that she has given out the daily apple. And then she pauses, “Wait, no I haven’t.”

And with that Bill Northern becomes an official horse whisper. It’s his first real breakthrough. He goes on to make a career out of talking to horses and reporting their needs and concerns to owners. He and his wife travel to New Zealand first class paid by clients he is in such demand. He works in Hawaii and Florida.

Bill only starts out to be a sometimes dowser and takes a class out of curiosity. He isn’t very good at it and decides that maybe dowsing isn’t his thing. He practices at home but with little success until the day the horse speaks to him. Crystal clear, it is animals, horses in particular, that he is supposed to work with.

I read about Bill in a full page feature write up in The Daily Break of the Virginian Pilot. It is fascinating. I am delighted to see that he lives in Warsaw on the Northern Neck of Virginia which is the neck of the woods where my family hails from. I don’t know him but we are already bonded.

This is in the early nineties. A decade plus later I am seeking counsel with a long time lawyer friend for help with my mom’s paperwork. He and his wife (dorm mate from college) live in Warsaw. The three of us are having lunch at a local popular always crowded eat and run place when in walks this person casually dressed wearing a dapper gentleman farmer hat. I notice him because he’s noticeable in a quiet but dynamic way. Gordon looks up just then and says, “Hey, there’s Bill Northern!”

Bill teaching dowsing

I cannot believe this. “You know Bill Northern? I’ve always wanted to meet him!” Gordon hails Bill over to the table and invites him to lunch with us. Bill is happy to do so. He gets his lunch. We all chat. I explain how much I am intrigued by his work. He says that he is getting ready to drive to Florida for some sessions and would I like to go. It’s an honest invitation, not at all a come on. I truly consider it for a moment but home responsibilities, although to their credit Donny & Lewis will support any decision I make, tug me to say not this time but ask me again.

Bill and I connect later when I discover through his webpage that he teaches dowsing classes. Donny & I want to take one. I check in with Bill. He explains that the way it works is if he feels like folks are ready for the experience he will add their name to his list. When the timing is right he will arrange a class of four and alert you. If your calendar is clear you will spend a day learning all about dowsing in the comfort of Bill’s home and he even includes lunch and gives you basic dowsing take home tools. Donny & I are accepted together into a class. Even though I’ve taken several cranial sacral workshops and so know a bit about energy fields, Donny does the best. He’s a natural.

Cathie Morrison & Bill. Cathie has tremendous light energy.
Bill explains a point to Lynda Wood

Months later I take a group of girl friends for a class. Bill is elated over my energy field exclaiming that it is so big. Mom brings her dog Molly for a reading. Bill has helped mom with a dog she fostered telling her that the dog needs to be in a one dog family that will fawn over her. Mom is a little skeptical but finds the right home for Ginger and of course Bill is right.

Bill only accepts people with the right energy flow. Once I suggested a friend that actually lives near Bill and he said that she wasn’t ready. Currently two friends have been accepted for Bill’s next class. I cannot wait to hear about it. They are definitely ready and in for an awesome day with the infamous Bill Northern.

POSTSCRIPT: When I ask Bill about Mom bringing Molly to our class for him to assess her, he cordially agrees. As we continue our conversation about whispering with animals in general, I ask Bill if he ever works with cats explaining that we have many adoptees. He shakes his head and says, “Cats lie. They are impossible to work with. If they are very sick, they will tell the truth but that’s about it.”

Bill Northern, horse whipsperer

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Oh FUDGE

Mom starts it all. Somewhere along the way she acquires a recipe for fudge that does not involve a candy thermometer. And sweetest of all, it tastes divine.

Her fudge becomes more than legendary. It become a family legacy. To be faithfully carried on by Mom’s only granddaughter, our daughter Emily.

If you know the right people you might score some of your own Midge Fudge.

“Mom, you must get a fudge lesson from Granne. Not by phone. In person. Watch everything that she does. Carefully. Pay attention.” I paraphrase Emily, but not by much. And so I sign up for a private class of Learning to Make Fudge the Midge Way.

I visit Mom in Reedville as many times as I can make the three+ hour each way trip fit into my schedule. It’s usually a day trip because as much fun as Mom and I have together, my life on the OBX needs me too. Mom and I go to lunch, shop for savvy clothes, go to local events. And one time we make fudge.

I have actually never helped Mom make fudge, being a busy teen when she starts her mission and then I am off to college and later become a married gal and mom. So a lesson really is necessary. To get all of the fine nuances down pat.

Mom has been making Christmas fudge for years. It is the sweet treat every one of us fourteen gathered at 6416 Three Chopt for the Christmas festivities look forward to bingeing on bit by bit and bite by bite.

But as with most good stories there is the requisite tragedy. One year the bingers are left fudgeless. The fudge is sequestered on the second story (the house is built on a slope) screened in back porch adjoining the kitchen. Any food that won’t fit in the tiny indoor pantry is safely kept on tables on the back porch.

In the kitchen at 6416 Three Chopt (the window opens next to the crime scene porch) Keese tries to pin the missing fudge on Dad. He vows that he did not take it. He cannot believe that it has gone missing either. Cousin Jett wisely keeps to the side.

The six marathon bridge playing adults in this story decide to take a collective break and refuel with fudge. The tin is no where to be found. As Dad’s youngest sister, Keese, tells it, “We all start blaming each other, like three year olds, for taking the fudge. We cannot believe it’s really gone.” They quiz us, the children. We definitely know better than to sneak more than a tiny piece at a time. We are innocent and clueless.

Then, like a lightning bolt, the solution hits Mom. She has marked the tin “Richmond” in preparation for the trip from Ohio not to confuse it with other fudge destinations. She gifts deserving people everywhere.

It is the days of home dairy product delivery. Not wanting to believe her conclusion but having no other answer, Mom decides that the milkman from Richmond Dairy has absconded with the fudge. Of course he didn’t really take the fudge in a thievery manner, he thought it was for him. But the adults are fine with absconded, they have been denied any fudge until the next Christmas, a whole year away!

Emily is determined that the fudge legacy Mom has so faithfully woven into our family cloth will not fade away. She picks up the baton after Mom dies, insisting that as much as she will cherish every physical item Mom wants her to have (Mom’s list of who gets what is as legendary as she is) the one thing she really needs is the fudge pan. It’s nothing special, Mom’s humble cookie sheet pressed into service during her fudge marathons.

But Emily is right, Midge Fudge cannot be made properly in anything else. THE Pan oozes the flavor of all the fudge that has come before. And emits the loving touch of Mom’s hand as she prepared batch after batch.

Fresh fudge setting up in the one and only Fudge Pan.

At first Emily brings the fudge she has made with her for second Christmas on the OBX, individually packaged up. If someone cannot make it, their fudge is left for the next visit to the OBX. Then Emily upgrades everyone. Fudge is mailed as soon as it is made. It’s so much fresher. This year an unscheduled postal closing day vexes her as the fudge packages are en route and thus stuck somewhere aging unnecessarily.

Finally the mail gets moving again but Andrew’s package is lost in transit. Six year old PJ is terribly distraught. So is Emily. Lewis offers anyone else’s fudge to tide them over. No one volunteers. Ours is already consumed. Stephen says that it would have to be their kids portions, as he and Sarah have shown no restraint.

Midge Fudge getting ready for delivery! Emily includes a love note with each delivery so that recipients know the history of their treat.

I put a bug in Emily’s ear that cousin Peyton and I have been talking, among other things, about sneaking fudge at Three Chopt. When I tell Keese this, she says, “We all knew you kids were taking pieces. We just never said anything.” So much for stealth.

I suggest that a package of fudge to Peyton would not go unappreciated. And it is not. “Omg. Your sweet baby girl sent me Midge’s fudge with a cute picture and sweet card. You raised a fine daughter!  I’ll write her!!!!  Yahoo. My inner child will be shoving fudge in my mouth before I get caught!!!!!”

And she on the spot munches through two layers. Which turns out to be a very good thing because not long after the first text I get another, “Guess who got into Midge’s fudge. That’s throw up (she has sent a photo of a small but telling lump on her favorite rug) but I had it (the fudge) way out of reach. This is a dog that can’t climb up on the bed! Oy!!” Thankfully Alfie barfs up the little that he ate. Just proves that Mom’s fudge knows no boundaries. It’s loved by all.

Chocolate is bad for me? But it was so good. I admit it. I absconded. I really did. Guilty.

In fact when Keese and Emily chat at Mart’s memorial service, Keese asks if she can please have more fudge this year. The five or six pieces, while much appreciated, are just simply not enough. Keese is probably still scarred by the milkman denial year.

Oh yes, our girl knows her market, she sends you just enough to want more. “Emily,” as Peyton puts it, “is like the pusher man. First one’s free.” And when asked she says that a text appreciation message is quite acceptable, but a hand written postal note gets you more.

As much as she loved how happy her fudge made people, this photo of Mom in her pre-fudge making years is not far from how she felt after an endless fudge session.

Look what you started Mom! Thanks!! The legacy you built piece by piece over the years binds us all together in such a sweet way.

Epilogue

Cousin Peyton, slightly younger than her brother Rick, Jett & myself just read a short separate post I have put up about the fudge tragedy. When I ask her if there might be any missing details she replies, “I’m sure I was huddled in a fetal position with the shakes and chills jonesing for fudge. That’s probably when you caught me eating that candied grapefruit rind!!!”

Candied grapefruit rind? Yes, it is as awful as it sounds. Mother Leigh made it, not one to waste anything especially perfectly good grapefruit rind. As Peyton points out, it was truly an era of waste not want not. I try to like it. But clearly my personal sugar addiction has a line. Peyton and anyone else is welcome to the entire lot.

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The HEART of Christmas

Christmas dinner at 6416 Three Chopt Road mid 70’s

“Fla’Leigh, I need the table.” This will be my grandmother pleading with her oldest to please move her Christmas present wrapping project so that the big dining room table can be set for dinner. I haven’t quite got the spelling figured out; but, my grandmother is extremely good at blending my aunt’s given name of Florence Leigh, which is what she is always called by her parents, into a one syllable word. Others call her Flo. Most call her I.G. I think I get that tag for trying to say Florence Leigh and coming up with an overly simplified version that sticks, but no one else calls her like her mother does. It’s a definite mother daughter thing.

“Yes, Ma’am,” everything is swiftly moved to a beautiful round cherry side table that collects odds and ends. It would be dining room table enough in any standard size room.

As I wrap up another year of present wrapping using our own long dining room table with gifts stretched out in a long line by family, I.G. and her Christmas present wrapping flurry always comes to mind. After dinner, back come all the presents still to be wrapped and the fixings.

It’s a cozy set up. The dining room is centrally located with its floor to ceiling pocket doors always open. One doorway is a view of the open staircase in the central hall ever busy with eternal holiday bustle. Carolers easily fit there when they stop by to fete us. Because there is plenty of room we invite them in for a moment of warmth.

Another pocket doorway gives access to the living room where an eternal four hand game of bridge rotates between the six adults. It is also where the tree is, so wrapped presents quickly get dispatched to a spot in the ever growing pile.

Placing packages under the tree mid 70’s. The dining room pocket door is on the right.

How did I.G. score this perfect wrapping spot? Mom always wraps presents before we leave Ohio. She plans to be ready to play bridge and shop at a moment’s notice. She even puts on bows and it is up to Dad to see that the car is packed in such a way as to minimize crushing. He could easily have created the game of Tetris. He is an expert at working all the angles. But even so, some bows suffer. Finally after too many years of even slightly smashed bows, Mom compromises. She will add bows in Richmond.

My other aunt, Keese and her husband Martin, always stay in the former maid’s room located next to the kitchen with its own outside door to the second story back porch that spans the back of the kitchen. Thankfully for cold weather this room also has an added tiny access door at the back of the connecting closet that opens into the pantry. It’s like a small apartment complete with bathroom and enough space for wrapping presents.

And so the dining room table is free for the having as my grandmother will have wrapped her few gifts before the thirteen of us arrive. She always give country hams to her three children. We grands get the balance of her gifting attention. My freshman year in college she gives me a much longed for wrap around skirt. They are the current rage. Mother Leigh has no idea what a wrap around skirt is, but that does not deter her. She gets help from a friendly clerk at LaVogue, a high end store out of her shopping league, but it’s where fashion happens. It’s my favorite present that year.

At the dining room table, I.G. can wrap presents and still be part of all the fun activities. She’ll even take a rare break, allowing me to take over after I prove my worth at proper wrapping. Together we will put ribbons on her last gifts mere moments before Santa arrives.

The dining room has one more door. This door leads to all the things that wrap every one of our family gatherings up into a figurative bow. It’s a swinging door to the back hall and beyond that the kitchen. The kitchen is where my grandmother holds court from sunrise (well before any of us are up) to sunset. She sits in the chair behind my dad in the photo and makes biscuits, rolls, and so much more but these two stand out in my mind. She cuts perfect biscuits, a few at a time from an enormous dough ball, with a drinking glass. Alton Brown has nothing on her ingenuity.

My beautiful cousin Jett gone too soon, my Dad and my Aunt Keese in the only picture that I know of that exists showing the kitchen at 6416 Three Chopt. It had our heart and is our core.

Mother Leigh’s cooking is traditional southern comfort food. She gets a real ham deep in the country. Her favorite spot is a dusty two pump gas station between Suffolk and Whaleyville. I take her on this journey one time. Those of you who know of Cindy’s Kitchen sixteen layer chocolate cake procured at the gas station in Coinjock, here’s to gas station food always ringing true. Prior to our arrival, she cooks the ham to perfection. She makes red eye gravy from the drippings. All through Christmas a bit of it will be simmering on the stove, ready to go on a freshly baked biscuit.

The smell of Mother Leigh’s legendary coffee drifts throughout the enormous house and nudges late sleepers awake. There is a steep switchback staircase between the kitchen and dining room that gives quick access to this family hub. Breakfast is an ongoing affair, something hot always waiting for each of us as we stumble down the stairs in haphazard fashion all morning long.

I make myself learn to like black coffee like my adored Uncle Dick (also godfather), husband to endless present wrapper I.G. It’s a drip affair. Eight O’clock blend beans ground to drip specification on the spot at the down the street A&P. Not content to settle for ordinary and not willing to pay more for the richer Bokar Blend, Mother Leigh cleverly pours the economy Eight O’Clock through twice making it even richer than Bokar. My sibs, cousins and I have cut our teeth on her coffee milk, mostly milk & sugar with a splash of coffee. But as the oldest grand it is my responsibility to take up the mantle of adult coffee drinking. Only Dick is a hard core purist. It’s an acquired taste but I persevere and to this day prefer my coffee just this way.

Mother Leigh’s kitchen is the heart of our Christmas. It’s where we air differences. It’s where we make up. It’s where we solve the world’s problems. And we cherish every moment. We know we are blessed.

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Filed under Christmas, family, Richmond VA, Richmond VA West End, Three Chopt Road

Christmas in the SAND

Living on Guam in the 50’s is everyone’s dream life, from kid to adult. We go to the beach, we party, we play, we bond. In later years whenever the subject comes up, my parents always refer to this period of our life as the time when everything is perfect.

We ride out typhoons, one a direct hit. I vividly recall Dad taking me out in the eye to show me how calm everything is. Only moments before the wind is blowing with such ferocity that anything not tied down (he and fellow crewmen have spent hours tying down planes so that they will not tumble like weeds) gets carried along.

Typhoon preparedness on Guam 1953

Almost every night that the weather is good, there is an outdoor movie on base. Folding chairs are set up. Attendance is always full, even if it’s a repeat show. There’s no bathroom so you either endure or go home, which isn’t too far away. Everything on base is within walking distance.

On Saturdays, all the base kids pile onto a bus and get driven off base to a local theater somewhere short of nowhere. We fill the theater, dozens of screaming wild ones with pennies to spend on candy and popcorn that if selected wisely will last the entire morning. I am sure the only adults around are the bus drivers and the film operator. We form new friendships, dissolve old ones, fight over seats, food, and anything that strikes us as worthy. We love it all.

I go to school off base that is a series of quonset huts, one per class all connected by a concrete sidewalk. There is a big hut to serve as an auditorium. And in the middle of the complex a walk in refrigerator where cold milk is served to go with bag lunches. No cafeteria. We eat on the porch of our classroom hut.

On base we entertain ourselves by running behind the DDT truck spraying for mosquitoes, getting as close as possible to the back of the truck so to be entirely enveloped in the cloud of poison. You have to hold your breath, the smell is so awful. I am bad at it and give it up after a few tries. Still our kids marvel at why they are not malformed head to toe.

We sneak into the sugar cane fields behind the base, always leery of the possibility of lurking Japanese soldiers, to get stalks of cane to suck on. The sugar taste is so good.

Dad brings me exotic dolls and clothes from Japan whenever he goes there. A doll with wigs to change her status from young unmarried, to geisha, to wife; covered cloth slippers with a separation for your big toe. And straw open shoes with a velvet thong between the big toe and the rest, you would know the design as a flip flop, but then the concept is totally new to all of us. Learning to walk in them is hard even if they are pretty, the strap is annoyingly uncomfortable.

But the absolute best of all for a kid on Guam, is Christmas. The Navy shipmates decorate their ships within an inch of their smoke stacks. They are gaudy beauties to behold. I never tire of a trip to see them.

Decorated Navy ship on Guam 1953

A huge hanger is set up with presents for every kid on base. We get a collapsible cheap glass wind chime packed in a flat cheaper cardboard box lined with thin tissue. It smells divinely of the orient. I am always sad when mine breaks. We get a mesh stocking full candy. And, as if that is not enough, there are individual gifts. There is a line by age for girls and one for boys. The presents, identical according to specific sex and age, are wrapped and hidden behind screens and carefully handed out by an adult as you reach the front of your line. This glory stops at age twelve. I have figured out that the twelve year old girls get a toy red piano. I really want a piano. I’m only ten plus I won’t be on Guam when I’m twelve, our tour will be up. I get in the line for twelve year old girls and lie my way forward. I have not one bit of guilt about my deception. Mom doesn’t know how I have come by my treasure, she’s clueless about the details of the process, so I’m spared any inquisition.

Christmas 1953 on Guam. Me holding seven month old sister, Suzanne. Note the red piano behind my left shoulder. And next to my knee, the unique Japanese forerunner of the now common as sliced bread, flip flop.

The piano is only eclipsed by a German doll that I get for Christmas. I have sleuthed out my gifts, so this doll, a last minute addition, is a complete surprise. Mom tells me later that she initially passes on one for me because she’s done her shopping. But when she realizes that I will be the only doll age girl on base without a German doll, she picks a simply dressed one for me. It seems that a ship has come in mere days before Christmas with the dolls and there is a scramble for the most elaborately outfitted ones. I am impressed with the girls who get dolls dressed in over the top clothes and accessories but I love mine, simple dress and all. She’s absolutely beautiful.

Just as is life on Guam for those of us lucky enough to have our Christmas moment in the sand.

EPILOGUE

When your past gobsmacks you, in a good way, you just have to laugh and pay attention. Preparing to start a post about Christmas on Guam I see feedback from from the youngest daughter of Dad’s pilot partner in crime.

She has happened upon my blog post about her dad. She’s my sister’s age so I really do not recall a lot about her. Both born on Guam, they were but babies. Her older sister, still younger than me, I very much recall as cute and fun.

Normally I write and rewrite and put a draft aside but like I said when you’re gobsmacked you rise to the occasion, so Merry Christmas Yvonne aka Bonnie and Marianne!

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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.

AND FUN FEEDBACK

December 21, 2108, “Sandy, I truly enjoyed reading your recollections of Guam! While I can’t remember a thing as an infant there, I was able to return there while working for NOAA 25 years later, and again during my honeymoon to Palau. Yes, those days were the golden days for our parents. My brother, sis and I all have our own duck calls and from time to time locate each other in a crowd by calling one another. It would be great to meet you some day. Is your dad still living? Our dad died a couple of years ago and we buried him alongside mom at West Point. Hope to meet you some day. Let me know your contact info and I will do the same. Fondly, Marianne Molchan”

AND MORE FUN FEEDBACK

“Hi Sandy, this is Bonnie. My formal name is Yvonne but mom and dad renamed me probably at one of those parties. “My Bonnie lies over the ocean” was popular at the time. Like you, I remember the parties and loved it at our house because we were free to have fun too. I also remember learning to babysit when everyone was at another house. I was 5. I called a party on a cruise ship when I turned 60 and dad came for the cruise along with Marianne and more friends. Of course he brought the duck call. He competed in the talent show and the act is posted on the internet YouTube “John calls in the ducks”. He won a bottle of champagne.”

John explaining how he started using duck calls on Guam during typhoons. I’m still working on getting a sound bite of this!

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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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