Category Archives: family

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 ever 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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Vince Vaughan’s Got NOTHING On This Guy

sideboard mermaid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rocking chair

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

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

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

And the epilogue.

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

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

It was my $300 night to remember.

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This Isn’t About CATS Is It?

big sunflowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

emily 2

To Emily

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

She sniffled, “No.”

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

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

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

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

It won second prize. And made the judges cry.

 

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The Strange Story of Cousin Tom Jett and the Dare stones

wsj

Wall Street Journal, Friday January 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

rock

Original Eleanor Dare stone

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Two Girls TRAVELING Life

lighter us

Mom, me & Dad 1952 near Hickam AFB in Honolulu

We live in paradise, Dad, Mom & me. No, we really do. Dad is assigned to an eighteen month air rescue tour of duty on the remote island of Guam in the Mariana Islands. Family is allowed on this tour and so off we go, the three of us.

Well, to back up a step, Dad goes ahead. Mom & I follow after getting all of our belongings shipped from Texas and safely tucked away in the far reaches of the partially above ground immense basement at 6416 in Richmond. Our boxes and barrels and my beloved bicycle are stored next to the dirt garage section, out of the way from the simple all wood rooms designed for doing the family laundry, holding the coal furnace, and housing the gardener.

It is 1952, I am eight, when we land on Guam, after a stop in Honolulu where Dad meets our ship, and where we get a preview of what life in the amazing tropics is like. This Guam that we find ourselves on is so new to all but natives and a few hardy government employees that Mom gets to pick all of the trappings for our just completed house down to the fabric for our living room furniture. This Guam is not the one that my best friend’s Dad declares he is never so glad to leave. His, no families allowed, tour just a few years prior to ours is on a rough uncut diamond Guam.

We are dropped eyes wide open into a paradise so pristine and beautiful that it defies description. It is the first bloom on a hibiscus that will bear many blooms but never again a first one. There are no poisonous animals. There are no snakes. Tumon Bay is a no more than a beautiful beach reached through the jungle. There is always sunshine. When it rains, it’s a short shower of warm drops that barely get you wet. But that’s more than enough to maintain a lush growth of everything tropical because the humidity always hovers near 90 percent. And the temperature stays in the 70’s day and night year around. We have no glass windows in our house. Louvers for adjusting light and occasion breezes is all that is needed.

We all play at our own speed. I roam the entire base with no fear. It is my playground. My friends and I constantly make up games that require only the outdoor space around us. In summer and on weekends we go to nightly outdoor movies on the base. We sit in real seats under the stars and visit with our neighbors when the reels are being changed. There is no charge unless you want popcorn or a drink, and a nickel or two covers that.

Every chance he gets Dad goes on short leave to Japan and always brings me back dolls, wind chimes, tea sets and other wonders from that intriguing culture. Mom exchanges recipes and new ideas for adult parties which are never ending.

Whenever the occasion ship comes in with cargo from around the world it’s a mad dash to buy everything. Things are so inexpensive but not at all cheaply made that, as Mom says, “You can’t afford not to buy it all.”

Mom and I have dresses sewn for next to nothing by Hong Kong ladies trained in the art of exquisite tailoring. They custom cut and style to our specifications exactly what we want. We have our own private house of couture.

And then my grandmother, Mom’s mother, gets very sick. I am sure that the message from the states is concise and most likely in the form of a telegram or perhaps a Red Cross phone call because all but the most serious communication is by letter. And in Ashland, Virginia where Mom grows up the phone is still a luxury, especially a private line. Party lines where anyone can listen to your conversation are more the norm.

This is the grandmother who elopes to Charlottesville one January weekend just because she and Granddaddy want to get married and so they do, neither being much for fuss. This is the grandmother that I know as a stickler for rules and no frills living. And this is the same grandmother that lets me sleep with her and together we listen to The FBI in Peace and War and Dragnet on the radio in the pitch dark of the bedroom even though I am only six. And now she is very sick and we must go, Mom and I. But no one, not even dependents, leaves their tour of duty for any reason.

Dad plots and finagles and finally stealthily gets us on a military transport headed to Hickam AFB in Honolulu. Being a transport plane it has no real seats only jump seats along the inside walls of the plane. We are required to wear our Mae West vests the entire time since we are flying over water. Of course, there are no child sizes so I am engulfed in this massive life vest that presents a greater chance of suffocating rather than saving me it is so big. There is no heat. Mom and I do not have the advantage of airmen flight suits so we are agonizingly cold. Still we are against all odds on our way to Virginia.

In Honolulu we wait for a lift to the states trying to be as invisible as possible lest some by the rule book duty officer spies us and decides to ship us back to Guam. We are in luck. A hospital flight is headed to Travis AFB and there is room for us. If you by chance have ever been on a military hospital air ship you will know that it is designed for maximum capacity. There are no seats, it’s a hospital transport. Horizontal cots line both sides of the plane and are so tightly stacked that once you are in your cot, you can barely lift yourself up on your elbows. It’s for the severely sick or wounded why would you need to sit up anyway. But we are not sick, we are hitchhikers. And thankfully the only ones on board save the crew. Mom is immediately physically unsettled. My smirk at silly Mom quickly turns sour. There is something about being forced to lie completely flat on a moving airplane that just does not work. My barf bag and I become much too close. Finally, finally we land in California.

Mom and I roll out of our prisons and stagger off the plane. We breath in the fresh air. We have made it! Virginia is but a cross country train ride away. No more stolen space available for us. It is early evening but daylight is waning. Mom is a firm believer in a set bed time. No fudging, no gray area, no exceptions. She looks at me. “Are you hungry?” she asks. For way too many hours we have only snacked here and there. And then there is the matter of our last ride still churning in our stomaches, but suddenly I am really ravenous. I nod, yes. I wait for a practical let’s grab a quick bite and get you ready for bed announcement. She inhales and one girl to another says, “Let’s clean up, put on something fresh and pretty and go to dinner.” Bedtime flies out the window.

And for that moment, for that entire evening,  we are not mother-daughter, we are not parent-child. We are two equals. We are two girls traveling the road of life together.

 

 

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The LEGEND of Cousin William Storke Jett

Willie

William Storke Jett, 5th son and 7th child being the youngest, of Charles Coke Jett & Mary Wallace Ball Towles Jett. Born December 2, 1846 died 1884.

It was a dark and stormy night. Wait, that’s not how this story goes. It wasn’t night. It wasn’t dark. And it wasn’t stormy. Well maybe metaphorically speaking it was. You’ll see what I allude to soon enough.

But scratch that start for now. Let’s begin again in Willie’s own handwriting.

“I live in Westmoreland County Virginia. On Sunday April, 23 I was at the house of my brother-in-law, William Wallace, in King George County, Virginia. I was on my way from Fauquier County, where I had been with Mosby’s command. I had been in the Confederate service since June 17, last, when I first entered it. I was 18 years old on December 2nd last.

On Monday morning April 24, when I started from my sister’s I was in company with two other young men, Lieut. Ruggles and A R Bainbridge. We were going over into Caroline County, toward Bowling Green, and of course had to cross the Rappahannock. We went from my sister’s to Dr Ashton’s, about six miles, and stayed probably a quarter or half an hour, left there and went down to Port Conway. As we got on the hill, about fifty yards from the river, we saw a wagon down on the wharf, and as we got within twenty yards of the wagon, we saw apparently a young looking man jump out of the wagon and put his hand in the inside breast of his coat. I don’t know whether the others noticed it, but none of us said anything. We rode past, not stopping at the wagon, going right down to the wharf and hailed the ferry-boat. As soon as we came to the wharf, the young man walked down toward us and said, ‘Gentlemen, whose command do you belong to?’ Lieut. Ruggles said, ‘To Mosby’s command.’ I did not say anything. It has always been a rule of mine to never tell anyone my business when traveling. He said, ‘We belong to A P Hill’s command. I have my wounded brother, a Marylander who was wounded in the leg.’

In the meantime, the wounded brother had got out of the wagon and come toward where we were, on crutches. I was looking over toward Port Royal, being anxious for the ferryboat to get over. The young man said, ‘Come gentlemen, I suppose you are all going to the Southern Army.’ We made no reply. He said, ‘We are also anxious to get over there ourselves, and wish you to take us along with you.’ We made no reply at all that I remember, and he said, ‘Come, gentlemen, get down; we have got something to drink here; we will take a drink.’ I said, ‘Thank you , Sir, I never drink anything,’ and the other boys, I think, said the same thing.

I rode then from the wharf towards the old house, about twenty yards off, rode in the gate, and tied my horse. When I came out, they were all sitting there on the steps and on a ladder. This young man touched me on the shoulder and said he wanted to speak to me. I walked over toward the wharf with him and when we got there, he said, ‘I take it for granted you are raising a command to go South to Mexico and I want you to let us go with you.’ I was thrown back that such an idea should have entered any man’s head, and I did not say anything, but merely asked, ‘Who are you?’ He seemed to be very much excited and said, ‘We are the assassinators of the President.’ I was so much thrown back that I did not say anything, for I suppose, two or three minutes.

I should say that when they first asked us to take them under our protection, I inquired their names, and he said, ‘Our name is Boyd, his name is James William Boyd, and mine is —-E Boyd.’ When Herold (David E Herold) said they were the assassinators, he also said that if I noticed Booth’s left hand, I would see the letters J. W. B. Ruggles then came up and I said, ‘Here is a strange thing,’ and either repeated to him that they were the assassinators, or Herold did. I am not certain which, but I am sure that was said to Ruggles by either Herold or by me in Herold’s presence. Booth had not then got up to us. Booth then walked up and Herold enquired our names, and introduced us all around, calling Booth by that name. Booth had a shawl thrown around him, and he kept it over his left hand all the time, and on his hand was marked J. W. B. Herold gave us his own name then and they said they wanted to throw themselves entirely on our protection.

All this talk occurred before we went to the ferryboat. Booth had very little to say. We crossed the river together. Herold sent the boy back with the wagon from there. Booth got on Ruggles’ horse near the wharf, rode down to the boat, and crossed the river sitting on the horse all the time. Ruggles carried his crutches. As soon as we go over, they said they wanted me to find out somewhere for them to stay. I wanted to see some friends at Port Royal, Mr Peyton’s family, and I rode up there before they got out of the boat. Booth had requested that we should introduce him as a Confederate soldier traveling under the name of Boyd. I went to Miss Sarah Jane Peyton–I think Miss Sarah Jane–and told her that we had a wounded Marylander along by the name of Boyd, and I would be very much obliged to her if she would take care of him until the day after tomorrow. She at first consented, and Booth got down off of Ruggles’ horse, came into the house and sat down on a lounge. Presently she came to me again, took me into the parlor, and said that her brother, Mr Randolph Peyton, the lawyer, was not home. She hated very much to turn off a wounded soldier, but did not like to take anyone in during her brother’s absence. She said, ‘You can get him in anywhere up the road–Mr Garrett’s or anywhere else.’

Booth got on Ruggles’ horse again, and I got on mine. Herold got behind me, and Ruggles behind Bainbridge. We then rode up to Garrett’s which I suppose was about two miles. There was very little said. Booth remarked that he thought the President’s assassination was ‘was nothing to brag about,’ and I said, ‘I do not either.’ I had very little to say to him or he to me. He remarked that he did not intend to be taken alive, ‘If they don’t kill me. I’ll kill myself.’

At Garrett’s gate, Herold got down from behind me, and remained by the gate while Booth, Ruggles, Bainbridge and I, rode up to the house. There I introduced myself to Mr. Garrett. I told him my name, and that I knew him by reputation, but had never been introduced to him, and I said, ‘Here is a wounded Confederate soldier that we want you to take care of for a day or so; will you do that?’ He said, ‘Yes, certainly I will.’ Booth then got down, and we left there, remarking as we rode off, ‘We will see you again,’ though I had no intention of seeing him again, because I was going to Richmond, and did not expect to come on that road again. That was the last I ever saw of him. Herold went to Mrs. Clark’s and next day returned to Garrett’s. Bainbridge remained with Herold. Ruggles and I went on to Bowling Green.

I did not tell Garrett or anyone else who Booth was. I had heard of the assassination, but had seen none of the particulars. I heard on the day of the disorganization of Mosby’s command, that the President had been assassinated–either on Wednesday or Friday previous to meeting these men. I met no soldiers nor other persons looking after these men. Everything was perfectly quiet.

I remained at Bowling Green until Tuesday night, April, 25th. Col. Conger and Lieut. Baker came there that night, arrested me, carried me into the parlor, and began to question me. I told them everything from the beginning to the end, and I said I would pilot them to the house where Booth was. I took them to Garrett’s gate, and directed them how to go into the house, and they went in, leaving me at the gate. I have tried to evade nothing from the beginning. I have told everything.”

Sworn statement of William (Willie) Storke Jett May 6, 1865 as documented in The Jett and Allied Families by Jeter Lee Jett published by Gateway Press 1977

To Willie’s testament I add this thought that through no fault of our own, we Jetts do have a knack for finding ourselves in odd situations. Usually our good reputation and nature see us none the worse for it. Willie was exonerated of any wrong doing but for the balance of his short life he was haunted by the circumstances that befell him those few days in April.

 

 

 

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Branch Leigh Arthur Jett

Mother Leigh & Other Dad

Mother Leigh (Leigh Jett) & Other Dad (Rev Starke Jett II)

“I’m your youngest daughter,” time and again I tell my grandmother, whom I am named after and whom I decide to call Mother Leigh. I live with my paternal grandparents (I name our grandfather Other Dad) so much in my single digit years that it feels like that to me. She smiles and pats me on the head, never a word one way or the other crossing her lips.

It is she who teaches me to cook, by example. Mom, a teen bride, becomes a great cook but in her early married life years she is just beginning to hone her skills. Mother Leigh never lets lack of a recipe stop her. Once she chases a dressing that a chef refuses to divulge to her until she gets it to her liking. It’s simple but I can understand the elusiveness of it. It’s a sweet and sour combination dressing for a fruit salad. Donny & I both love it.

In my years with my grandparents (Other Dad is a minister on the Methodist circuit so they move a lot) I collect a plethora of amazing memories. Mother Leigh making me white sugar and butter sandwiches on the new time saver, sliced bread. Or scrapping the burnt topping off of breakfast toast and then convincing me that it is perfect. And she sells me on the chicken back. That piece that no one ever wants has a sweet chunk of hidden meat if you know where to look. Being a child of a successful gentleman farmer Mother Leigh learns this secret and more from her practical upbringing. She calls out a butcher if he offers her less than the prime cut of any animal. She knows where to find the best country hams. Usually in some out of the way gas station. She is onto the marvels of gas station food decades before it becomes popular.

Mother Leigh

Branch Leigh Arthur. She does not like the name Branch and always uses Leigh instead. She tells me that she is named Lee but that she changes it to Leigh when one of her brothers also named Lee keeps opening her mail.

A young wife and mother during the depression, she is never one to waste a thing. She has a continuous ball of saved string that she uses and adds to with such regularity that it hardly ever changes size. She gives me the task of turning plain lard packed in a new novel plastic sleeve into a buttery looking color by squeezing the red dot of food coloring tucked inside back and forth. She takes me with her to downtown Farmville, Virginia to buy real butter by the measure for special occasions. We walk. It is a short distance and ladies of her generation do not drive.

Mother Leigh spends her entire life going everywhere she wants to go, and she is a mover and a shaker, without ever getting behind the wheel of a car. Her oldest daughter, also a Leigh (Florence Leigh aka as IG. Go figure where that came from, no one seems to know. Not from me although I like it.) finally bites the bullet and learns to drive when she turns fifty.

I beg my grandmother to take me on a train ride and so she does, not once but over and over. We get our tickets at the tiny station in Farmville and patiently sit in the waiting room until our train arrives. The conductor helps us board then folds up his steps and with a whistle the train leaves the station. We get off at the first town and catch the next train home. It is all so exciting. I never tire of it. When I am in college she quizzes the young neighbor girls and gets me the new fashion at the time, a wrap around skirt. (How could she know that I am wishing so hard for one.) She has no idea what they are but that doesn’t stop her. She takes the Westhampton bus to LaVogue (a very high fashion store) in downtown Richmond and tells the sales clerk what she needs.

evangeline

B Leigh (as she signs her books) plays the role of Evangeline in a ‘Colonial Tea’ at the local movie theater March 1911. Her note to me written in the flyleaf August 1968 just months before I meet Donny.

When we live in Whaleyville and there is no heat in the house save a wood stove in the living room, she bundles me up in blankets warmed by the stove to make going to bed less chilling. And then rewarms the blankets as many times as I ask her. In Farmville she packs cold buttered rolls and the Sunday comics to entertain me while my grandfather preaches his sermon. No nursery for me. I will attend the service. But my young status is acknowledged. She knows the service will not ramble on. She taps her watch if my grandfather goes over his allotted minutes.

And the cooking, oh the cooking. She’ll gladly give you any recipe but it goes something like this. A lump of butter the size of an egg. About 3 cups of flour. Never an oven temperature or time with any of her recipes. She just knows and so will you after enough trials. She rolls biscuits from a huge ball of dough using a drinking glass to roll and then cut. She doesn’t own a spatula. Her knuckles do a better job of cleaning out a bowl than any tool.

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Our wedding reception at 6416 Three Chopt Road, June 7, 1969

She is her own woman. When she is a young adult, my grandfather is assigned to her family church in Alta Vista Virginia. He pays all of his parishioners a visit. The day he arrives at my grandmother’s house she and her sisters are home. Everyone is in the living room meeting the new minister. When it is her turn to speak, Mother Leigh trying to be charming blurts out, “So nice to meet you Reverend Jett. Perhaps you’ll have the pleasure of marrying one of us some day.” She is teased her entire life about proposing to my grandfather at their first meeting. She gives me her copy of Evangeline that seals the deal for their courtship. She writes their history on the flyleaf. She is the lead in the show and has gone with another but walks home with my grandfather who proposes to her.

And so there will be no other place for our wedding reception than her beautiful Richmond home. Miles from St James Episcopal Church where Donny & I are married makes no difference. I begin my formative years at her knee and I will enter my married life with her southern charm blessing our path.

With this I give you my last post for 2015 dedicated to the woman who set the grandmother bar for me. It’s a high one. I stretch up to reach it with her hand on my shoulder.

 

 

 

 

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Christmas MAGIC

6416 three chopt

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care

“Shhhh…listen. Hear that? It’s the reindeer on the roof!” We believe, my cousins and I. Never mind that we are teens, the closer it gets to Christmas Day the firmer our shaky faith becomes.

Between middle school and college years my family makes the long pre-interstate trek from Whitehall, Ohio (an enclave of Columbus) to our grandmother’s home in Richmond, Virginia for Christmas. Twelve hours by car stopping for gas and maybe one meal at Howard Johnson’s, the only road trip place with reliable food, gets us all dog tired to our destination. Many is the trip when Mom packs lunches to eat along the way. Dad does all the driving. Once we trade the Cumberland Gap Route 40 for the more direct mountain roads of West Virginia. Once.

In Richmond, we join forces with my Dad’s two sisters and their families to celebrate Christmas. It is magical. Everyone around us feels it too and tells us so. We know. We live it. We are in the magic.

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6416 Three Chopt Road Richmond VA

Our grandmother’s home at 6416 Three Chopt Road is the perfect Christmas house. An early twentieth century three story foursquare style home, it has a huge covered front porch. The massive front door with its brass mail slot opens onto an enormous hall. Called a hall, it is really a big open space where folks can unload packages, greet guests, and easily play kid games on the oriental rug.

There is a screened porch to one side, and to the other through a double wide sliding pocket door opening is a cozy living room with fireplace. Straight ahead is the classic plantation flying staircase that stole my grandmother’s heart. She fell in love with its free form and my grandfather had no recourse but to sell his lots on Broad Street and buy the house for her. There has been much family lamentation about how valuable those lots later became but they served their purpose, providing the perfect retirement home for my grandparents to live in. And for us to gather at for Christmas and Easter.

To the side of the living room and through another generous pocket door frame is the family size dining room. You can access the dining room from the hall too through yet another double pocket door framework. Those wide sliding doors with their detailed framing provide an airiness to the entire downstairs. They are always left open but we kids love to close them to make separate rooms for our fashion shows and productions whenever we can get away with it.

Adults eat dinner in the dining room. Kids eat in the huge kitchen which is also where a never ending breakfast complete with seriously strong coffee (long before it is the norm), red eye gravy and fresh biscuits starts everyone’s day. In the dining room there is a working servant button under the carpet near our grandmother’s foot. It is for summoning the kitchen help of which we have none. But Mother Leigh’s foot still presses that button regardless, mostly out of habit from when she did have a maid, but now never to any avail. She is always totally unaware until someone points out, “Mother Leigh, your foot is on the buzzer.” She blushes a bit and moves her foot.

My father is in the Air Force so we move a lot but land in Ohio for those Christmas in Richmond years. One year at Mom’s request we stay in Whitehall for Christmas. She wants to decorate her own tree. It is just not the same. Even Mom has to admit that she misses fretting over crushing the bows on all her pre-wrapped Christmas packages. Mom prefers to arrive in Richmond ready to party. She is all about the bridge games the adults engage in practically non-stop day and night. My aunts take turns playing a hand or two before heading back to wrapping presents. Sometimes they draft me to help with their wrapping. I don’t mind. Being the oldest cousin and betwixt adult & child hood I cherish being included in any adult activity even present wrapping. I am not experienced enough to play bridge but I can cover gift wrapping like a champ.

My cousins and I all bunk in the huge upstairs master bedroom where our grandmother has single metal beds made up in air dried linens ready for each of us. We have our own tiny turf, a bed and a few drawers in a shared dresser.

As much as I love my family and all our Christmas activity, I do have my own social life in Richmond, thanks to a since kindergarten friend (we lived in Richmond then) who always keeps me in the loop. Dad has not put the parking brake on before I am on the phone dialing AT8-7637 to check in with Patsy. It is usually mere days before Cotillion and she always insist that I attend. Far be it that they all have been learning social graces and dances for months, I still need to be included. She gives me her practice nosegay, Mom digs up something dressy for me to wear and off I go into Richmond society.

Patsy too sees that Sally Gabb has a highly sought after invitation for me to her traditional slumber party. Sally also lives in a magical house. Hers is located at the bottom of Old Mill Road, not far from 6416. There are four sisters in her family and one brother, the baby, whom they all fawn over. I love that one of Sally’s sisters gets disgusted living with her closest in age sister and moves into the so tiny (only room for a bed and a door) not in use kitchen maid’s room. The Gabb’s have a free standing phone booth in the kitchen for their real phone. (In summers they put on elaborate plays in their oversized garage.) Mrs. Gabb has beautiful German Christmas candies and she cooks fresh pizza pies for midnight slumber party snacking. We all play games and struggle to not sleep all spread out in every imaginable space in the dining room. This is where I fall in love with the game Mr Ree, a real all nighter.

Our Christmas always has it’s traditional moments. My uncle rounding up everyone for a trip to Miller & Rhoads for shopping and visiting Santa. “Meet me on the balcony,” with its lounge like atmosphere that overlooks the entire first floor of the store is always our battle cry. Adults take turns waiting in the endless Santa line with the kids so others can shop. Sometimes we even score a table in the oh so popular Tea Room for a bite to eat. My uncle bringing home a scruffy but tall enough to reach the 14′ ceiling cedar for us to decorate. My aunt insisting that all tinsel be strung on the tree one piece at a time, the end carefully wrapped around a branch so the long silver strand can shine brightest, that is until someone thankfully calls her away and we all quickly sling the rest onto the tree.  An adult trip at midnight on Christmas Eve to the only all night drug store for batteries with a requisite coffee stop at the Toddle House. My aunt taking over the entire dining room table for her wrapping quarters. Our grandmother making her reluctantly move everything for dinner but once the meal is over back out comes the loot and fixings. She barely finishes before Santa makes his appearance.

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Presents for everyone from everyone

On Christmas morning all kids assemble on the upper stairs while my uncle goes to see if Santa has visited. We truly are never quite sure what report he will bring back. When he tries to trick us we don’t know what to believe. How could Santa skip us? My uncle is quick to assure that he must be mistaken and then he goes to take another look. This time he comes back with a much better report. We all tumble down the stairs to our designated spots. Mine is the piano. Santa never wraps presents. He just tosses them off the sled and somehow they always land in perfect piles for each of us.

Then comes gifting each other. There are so many presents that it takes all morning to unwrap everything. Everyone gives everyone else something and with fourteen people that’s a lot of packages. They are simple gifts but so heartfelt. This is the age when the depression is but a faint memory, the war with all its heartache and rationing over, and the middle class coming into its own. It really is a time of Christmas magic. And we were there.

 

 

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Some Christmas FUN!

I’ve had reason to revisit some of my vlog videos recently and thought it would be fun for y’all too!

Here’s Emily & Lydia doing their mother daughter skating routine for Fairfax Ice Arena’s 2013 Holiday Show. Suzanne brought Harlee from Baltimore so the support group was strong. Yes, you can indeed hear me screaming to excess trying to help Harlee wave to the girls in the finale skate around. Such a docile child I am.

And here they are in 2012. Yes, we are going backwards. What fun is conventionality?

And the entire clip of Lydia in the 2011 Holiday Show. Plus Emily. And Martin showing his board breaking skill.

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