Category Archives: family

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

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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Waltzing Through TIME

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

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

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

Hello Sandra:

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

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A RAY of Sunshine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her name was Ray.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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