Category Archives: college

After A FASHION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bertha Morrissey, fashion illustrator.

Charlotte Saunders, head copywriter and a brilliant woman.

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

Bobbie Lynch, copywriter.

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

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

Lester Woody, copywriter.

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

Lynn Weakley and Len White, production.

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

 

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Well Deserved Mr Tambourine Man

2015-03-13-1426269049-6907066-bob_dylanthe_mosquesmall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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I’ll Take Manhattan

200“Don’t be remorseful. It just confuses me.” Oh Inspector Jack Anderson & Lady Detective Phyrne Fisher we do love you.

Son Andrew recently posts a photo of ingredients for a mixed drink that takes him four stops to acquire. He asks for guesses as to what he is concocting, offering a free drink for the first correct answer.

I figure it probably has something to do with season three of the charming series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries many of us are watching but what specifically would Phryne and Jack have been drinking? Andrew & Jenn are finished with the episodes, we have several to go.

Almost simultaneously Lewis and I guess Old Fashioned. Phryne was known to enjoy a hearty Old-Fashioned mixed to perfection by Mr. Butler. Nope, but we still get a free drink.

Then I look closer at the ingredients, two kinds of vermouth. Aha, it’s a Manhattan. Kat beats me to the guess (but she did spell it wrong). She has completed the series too. We’re both right, confirmed by Andrew and later the episode where Phryne and Jack have a Manhattan nightcap.

Manhattans and I have a long history. It is my first mixed drink. I am a freshman in college. My family has recently moved from Whitehall, Ohio where we live from fifth grade until I graduate. Dad’s job with the newly formed Department of Transportation investigating air plane crashes takes them to the DC area. No way I can get there from the cornfields of Oxford, Ohio where I attend Miami University and back for Thanksgiving break and so I find myself tagging along with dorm mate Sandy Mathison to her home in Cleveland.

Her parents own a Dairy Queen and she has her own horse. Another first for me on that trip. Riding a horse. It is harrowing invigorating. I do not fall off. I do not get kicked. Success. Probably has something to do with that Manhattan her aunt fixes me the night before.

We land at Sandy’s home shortly before dinner time. After dinner we head over to her aunt’s house within walking distance (good thing). “Show us how to drink,” Sandy commands. Her aunt, a real Phryne type free spirit, is delighted to oblige. Drinking proteges! She mixes. We drink. It is a happy combination. Many drinks later we stumble home. But upright we are. We can hold our liquor. We’ll take Manhattan.

 

 

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The PERKS of Being A Polaroid Camera Girl

camera girlAlways looking for ways to make quick money in college, I beg friend Sharon Gates Buskell to take me on as a Polaroid Camera Girl. It is a perfect job. Polaroid provides equipment, film, and jobs. You just show up, take folks pictures and sell the attributes of the camera.  Sharon agrees and I am in.

I float from one gig to another. Pay is good and somehow much of the film designated for any job gets used before returning the equipment to Sharon. She doesn’t mind. She is the queen of spreading the perks of our job around.

otis reddingAt one of our school dances she brings her camera and takes pictures for a dollar apiece. Otis Redding is the headliner. In those days headliners hung with the crowd and partied as much or more than we did. I snag Sharon just as she reaches the last shot in her last pack of film.

Friend Sandy Baker and her date Stevie Wonder (she called him that because he was short and sexy), get wind of my goal. They want to be in on the action. I agree but I get to keep the picture. (Years later I send a scan to Sandy in Germany where she lit off for right after graduation and never came back). It’s one of the best dollars I ever spent. You can barely see “Respect, Otis Redding” signed on the photo sleeve but it’s there.

polaroidA few years down the road I’m finished with school but still working a few Polaroid gigs now and then. It is the point where I have just met Donny at Church of Our Savior in Sandson. The annual Christmas bazaar is gearing up. Becky Upton has put Donny & I together making games for the kids. Donny makes my bean toss idea into a reality. First of a bazillion crazy ideas of mine he makes real. We have hit it off. But possibly the deal sealer that put us on our lifetime path together is when I volunteer to take Polaroid photos for bazaar goers in exchange for a few dollars to the bazaar funds. I have film. I have flash bulbs. I do not have a camera. Donny offers his Dad’s Polaroid. It has not seen a lot of use and needs batteries. Donny takes me to Sandston Pharmacy where I meet the local druggist, Tony Mehford. He considers us a couple and chats for a long time. And in hind sight I have just had my first date with my lifetime partner. The perks of being a Polaroid Camera Girl.

 

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The GRADUATE!

hilarey get diplomaShe’s a graduate. With highest honors, summa cum laude with honors in English. That means she maintained a 3.9 grade average or better and wrote and defended a thesis. Her topic is Gender Parity in the Film Industry. She tells me when we chat about the process, that her paper is accepted on the first presentation (one student in the department needs four attempts). The committee is very impressed with Hilarey’s writing, her supporting visuals and the work she put into all of it.

Donny & I want to go to graduation. Hilarey and Lewis want us there but they know all too well that it is a five hour drive. They keep saying not to feel obligated. And we don’t. But we really want to be there. It’s the getting up at 3:30AM that stalls us. We vacillate back and forth for days. Finally Donny decides. We’re going. There are the ceremonies plus the moving. One more car will be a help. We end up with all four vehicles packed full.

As I am taking a picture of Hilarey’s surprise departmental award, she tells me that when her parents drop her off four years ago she decides that if she has to be there for four long years she will make her mark. She will do her best and make it count. And she does.

IMG_3869  graduatedadjusting the mortar board hilarey & lewis

Not only does she graduate summa cum laude with English honors she receives the departmental Outstanding Graduating English Major award. This award is voted on by the entire department faculty. After nominations from faculty members and much discussion, votes are taken and the student with the most wins. It’s not an award sought after because few, if any, even know about it. Hilarey has no clue. She is there to simply make her mark.

Hilarey’s mentor, Hannah Abrams, is determined that Hilarey will receive this prestigious award. She speaks on Hilarey’s behalf. Eloquently, she reports when she meets us as we finish our lunch at Blue Surf. In telling the story, through occasional tears as she is still so passionate about it all, Hannah explains that while set on Hilarey winning , she didn’t want to over sell her nominee so keeps things brief. The professor that follows reads a poem and more for that nominee. “Do over,” she cries. “I need to tell you more.” She is granted more time. She explains how Hilarey is the exemplary student for the award. This bubbly professor has a winning personality and I can just picture her sincere enthusiasm. “We get it,” her colleagues finally say. Hannah wants to be absolutely sure.

She continues her praise. Not only is Hilarey a scholar, she competes (and wins) in SUP races. She has a long time supportive boyfriend (now fiancé). She has a life. Yes, Hannah’s fellow professors really get it. She thanks them and leaves. The committee is seriously considering another candidate but because of Hannah’s empassioned delivery, both students receive the award. That’s our Hilarey. Anyone will go to bat for her because she is just that good. And she deserves every single accolade that comes her way.

And soon she will be our daughter-in-law joining our three other amazing daughters-in-law (and one not to be left our awesome son-in-law) that complete our family. Welcome to the family Hilarey! And congratulations!!

honor graduate

Summa Cum Laude with English Honors May 9, 2015

 

 

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The Girls of 909 West Franklin St

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Sandy in front of 909 standing under our balcony room.

Current VCU campus rumor has it that we were hand picked by Mrs Bocock to live at 909. When we are told this at our reunion dinner we all laugh. The unspoken thought that floats through each of our minds is, “Hand picked? Cannot imagine how I got on that list.”

Elisabeth Holmes Bocock is a force of nature. She lives as a widow in her parents antebellum home on W Franklin Street in Richmond. The house was then in the heart of the VCU RPI campus. Good friends with school president, Dr Oliver who resides across the street with his lovely wife in his own mansion, she graciously offers the upstairs front rooms of her house (she lives in the back section) to the school for their use. Dorm space is needed and so the rooms are outfitted for a handful of girls. I am one of the first thirteen girls to live in this mansion. Previously I have been offered a single room in another dorm house on Park Avenue but turn it down as being too cramped and small.

I have already done the cramped room tour with incompatible roommates my freshman year at Miami in Ohio. Never again. Besides, I am living in my grandmother’s home at 6416 Three Chopt Road in the west end. I share a room, a big room, with my 5th grade cousin. We are well suited roomies. I am in no hurry to move. My uncle might have been in a hurry for me to move as I play my Beatles album over and over and over and over again. That was when it and they were new. I still have it.beatles

I learn at the reunion that 909 was closed as a dorm the year after I graduate. Sandy has to move to Monroe Terrace, a high rise old apartment building turned into dorm rooms, and is miserable. She gets an apartment as fast as she can.

Such a small window of time to experience the splendid glory of life at 909. We know we have it good. But we are in college, a lot escapes our radar. During the reunion dinner held in our old dorm, now a school culture center, we marvel at all the beauty we missed or so took for granted that we barely saw it.

When Frances (Bolton Wilkins) calls to suggest gathering at the reunion can be fun, I stall. Could be fun but an entire weekend. Sandy stalls too. Then we chat and agree to go together. We laugh at the fact that her picture is in the middle of the photo montage used for every segment of publicity for the reunion. She is on all the mailing material. She is on the website. She is everywhere. But that is typical Sandy. She never seeks attention. It comes to her.

Frances is delighted that we are committing. She has a bevy of other 909/RPI girls signing up too including Barbara (Buskell Davison) who rooms with Sandy and Alicia after I graduate. That is after we stealthily move all of her belongings from her other dorm to our room because we know that she needs to be a 909 gal. It’ll be a grand party. I email the amazing worker bee Diane Stout-Brown that has put everything together to thank her for all her hard work and add that she will have a contingency of former 909 residents at the dinner. It is a grand evening. Well, until Barbara provides the requisite gal reunion drama by unintentionally leaving her purse in our now locked room upstairs. Chris has left with the only keys. Diane works her magic and the drama is short lived. Just a token 909 antic.

our room door   bathroomwatercloset909 bathroomsandy and chris   balconyfive of usentertainmentdorm dome   purse searchsingserenade

When we arrive at the dinner I introduce myself to Diane and she says to stay put. She has a surprise for me. She comes back with a guy and introduces me/us to him. He is Chris Ritrievi, Senior Associate Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations and has keys to the offices, his included, on the roped off second floor. He begs us to disregard his office mess and leads us upstairs. We are having our own private tour! We are a group of about ten plus a few that get wind of what is happening and join us.

Up the beautiful splint staircase we clamor (there was no carpeting in our day). Chris opens the first door. It’s my original room. It’s much smaller now because when they put in a spiral staircase to the third floor (more rooms for girls) for a fire code second exit it took part of this room. Frances and Maureen live here after I move across the hall. Chris cannot show us the adjoining bathroom (because it it out of commission) where we used to climb out the window and sunbath on the roof. That is until we got in trouble with the Dean of Women. But Mrs Bocock tells her that it is fine and we resume our golden disk worship.

The next room, Chris’ office, is a huge corner affair. None of us spend much time here. The girls are on a different focus from us. All the rooms adjoin via interior doors. Our room is next door through a small inner connecting hall. To one side of the tiny hall is a shared bathroom that we pretty much claim as our own. Those corner girls can share the other bathroom. It’s just as it was then. The water closet. The big tub. Sandy and I both remember it as a claw foot. It’s not but it is deep with one of those tall porcelain shaft stoppers. (My grandmother’s are exactly the same.) “No shower?” someone asks. Nope. “How did you wash your hair?” Probably stuck our head in the running water of the tub.

And then we step through the doorway into our room. We know the French hand painted wall paper went years ago. But the room is just as we recall it. The balcony. The twist and turn secret passage like closet with a door in our room, in the tiny hall and in the adjoining the room we just left. Totally occupied by those corner room girls. We settle for metal free standing things the college gives us. I change to this room that second year because Betsy, the girl already in the balcony room, and I are good friends plus my roommate Jane (Winters Wise) is leaving school at the end of the semester. Mary Ann Sturgis (Nassawadox native ferry ride and all) has already left midterm.

Enter roommate number three, Sandy, a freshman. I get a letter from her that summer naming all the things we have in common. Our names. Sandra Lee and Sandra Leigh. Our home towns. Rockwell and Rockville. It is a match meant to be. We become instantly Jett and Nash, so decided by me to avoid confusion but also because my Dad and his best friend in college went by Jett and Leggett and I thought it exceedingly cool.

When Betsy gets married on the spur of the moment in early January (I vow in a letter home that if anyone else dares to get married during exams I will shoot them) we quickly turn her bed into a sofa in fervent hopes that the school will not assign another girl to our room. It works, just us for the balance of the year. About that wedding. Betsy is engaged to a guy, Ronnie, from VPI. We talk her into going out on a blind date just to get out of the dorm. With Jack Bruce, Gordon’s (dating Frances and also Sandy’s first cousin) roommate. They fall madly in love and truth told no stretching it (letters home confirm) get married in a church with a posh hotel reception the next weekend. Poor Ronnie. He shows up that first date weekend with roses in hand to surprise Betsy (it was one of their anniversaries). Betsy will not see him. It falls to one of us to break the news. Talk about drama. The next year Alicia who lives in the ballroom on the third floor joins Sandy and myself. Then it’s just one more year and 909 as a dorm is closed forever.

A small window in time when we were The Girls of 909.

A composite I made one winter break when I was the only one in the dorm and bored to tears

A composite I made one winter break when I was the only one in the dorm and bored to tears

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When Worlds Collide

“I’ll go if you’re going.”

“Well I’ll go if you’re going.”

And so our college reunion weekend begins. Sandra Lee Nash Hamilton from Rockwell NC and I, Sandra Leigh Jett Ball from (then) Rockville MD, roomies for life. Different as day and night on the surface but eternally bonded kindred spirits in the soul where all love lives.

moose and thumperI pick Sandy up at the Richmond airport midday Friday and we proceed to our not to be believed loft apartment for the weekend. It is a dream place for our reuniting. We have not seen each other for over twenty years. We have always kept up with Christmas cards including the requisite family update notes and pictures but that’s all. In trying to locate a place to stay for our last minute decision we find ourselves invited by Outer Banks good friends and neighbors Al, Steve, Wally & Jagger to rest our heads at their Richmond loft apartment in refurbished Lee School. They have decorated the downstairs like a 50’s diner complete with jukebox, pay phone, popcorn machine, menus, a seating booth. And lighting. Ah, the lighting. Stunning. We are immediately time warped back to our college years.

We wrestle Sandy’s big blue suitcase up to the elevator and inside. (I have a small carry on size). She has big blue and a carry on size. In her defense, she is going on to a family funeral after the reunion. Still she would have had more luggage than me in a heart beat.

three beast diner poodle skirt picture ladder photo wall james dean french door copy check outWe semi-unpack. Our loft bedroom is another story. We are in a palace. King size bed, posh pillows, plush throws, rich fabric drapes for closet doors, a loft over our loft (reached via a tiny wooden ladder beside the bed) big enough to sit in and read while looking at street life going by through the huge arch window.

sandy vmfa

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts garden

We change to walking clothes and head to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts just around the corner. We want to check out the restaurant Amuse for lunch potential with the rest of the gals the next day. It looks perfect. We move on to Carytown where we find a plethora of fun restaurants for another lunch option. Funky shops are everywhere. We sip some tea at 10 Italian Cafe and chat. We head back to the loft. It’s time to prep for dinner.

linda and glenn

Linda and Glenn Eure

We have reservations at Millie’s Diner on Main Street in Shockhoe Bottom. Friend Linda Lauby and her husband Paul Keevil own this and others in Richmond. It’s a quick trip and we find a parking place just down the block. It has started to rain. By the time we reach the door we are close to being drenched. But it’s a diner, we are fine. And not too wet to dry off quickly. We are seated in a booth across from a small pre-wedding celebration. The hostess apologizes for the noise. We don’t mind. We try to pick out the bride and groom.

The next day we have time before the rest of our group arrive for lunch. We decide to walk the dozen+ blocks to school down Monument Avenue. Sandy has brought walking clothes. I have brought everything but. I live in running/walking clothes. I pull something together out of sleep wear and get my emergency running shoes from the car. We set off. It’s beautiful. Trees are in full bloom. We happen upon an estate sale. Pause a moment for those who do not know Monument Avenue. It’s a boulevard style street with a huge tree lined grass medium strip in the middle. If you walk on one side you can see the other but it’s pretty much way over there. Back to the narrative. We decide to go inside this happened upon piece of luck. “Maybe we can find a host gift for the guys,” Sandy reasons. We don’t need an excuse to browse but I agree.

close up of estateaddress bottle doorselfie at 2315  ceiling 2315 tapestry IMG_4960 hidden door tapestrydining room fake wallrooftopside yardestate salefrances and gordonmonument ave

We do find something but don’t want to carry it. Besides everything is marked down the next day. We chance it and go on. We do go back on Sunday and get the piece. We are going our separate ways after that. Sandy has a ride to her funeral with the gals. I am headed home. I decide to wander through the sale and impressive house designed (I later read) by William Lawrence Bottomley (sold for 2.2 million in minutes) some more. It is stunning. I take pictures and post one of me on the nude sunbathing roof on Instagram. Friend Linda (Millie’s) sees it and messages me. “Wait. You were at the 2315 Monument estate sale?” I tell her yes. “The son of the owners was at Millie’s Friday night for his pre-wedding party. Paul & I went to their wedding yesterday. We have been to dinner at that house.”

Like the song no one ever wants to hear says, “It’s A Small World.”

 

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Inner Beauty Won’t Get You Free Drinks

beauty 2

SandraBallART on Etsy

The best I do is make a weak effort. And follow the mantra of my grandmother. She’d powder her nose, put a dab of lavender water behind each ear, eye herself in the mirror and declare, “That’ll have to do. I’ll just rely on my charm to get me through.” Nothing wrong with that.

And then I meet Sandy. Diametrically opposed best describes my college roommate and me. She is a real southern beauty. She spends time on perfecting perfection. It works. All her prep time results in a look that oozes effortlessness. She has it down to a science. That beauty thing. But the best part, she doesn’t made a big deal or any deal about it all. She just knows that a good presentation is worth the work. And people notice.

rpi weekend

RPI Reunion Weekend 2015

Recently we get the annual mailing for our college reunion. I look closely at the pictures. It looks like Sandy right there front and center. Later when I talk to her she asks if I’ve seen the mailing. “Is that you?” I ask. She acknowledges so and we both laugh over the hair. She has nothing to do with the mailing or the photo choices but there she is because the effort she made that day is on solid ground. It still sells.

I learn a lot from her. Even now years later and all of those in between, if I feel too lazy to make an effort, I say to myself, “Nash would do better.” (We become known as Nash & Jett because two Sandy’s with the same middle name even if spelled differently just doesn’t cut it). And I’ll take a few more minutes to primp and enhance that outer beauty.

Inner beauty depends on the best you can give the outer to help it shine. Just that simple. Thanks Nash!

 

 

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I Was a Fifth Grade GYPSY

My classroom was on the top floor in the back corner overlooking the playground

My classroom was on the top floor overlooking the playground

Almost. I really, really, r-e-a-l-l-y wanted to be a gypsy. They have a small camp near my school, Main Street Elementary, in Whitehall, Ohio. The kids keep to themselves in school. I give them wide berth, they are fascinating but odd. It is when the girls  come to school with mecuricome stained threads looped through their freshly pierced ears that they get my full attention. I want pierced ears too. With red colored loops keeping the holes open until they heal enough for the real deal. But it never happens. Mom is aghast that I even aspire to such low depths.

baker

Sandy Baker (Finn). Note stockings top. Pantyhose yet in the future.

 

wallpaper

Better shot of the wallpaper. It was a love/hate relationship.

And then in college I decide it’s time for action. But I don’t know any gypsies. And nobody but nobody has pierced ears, except gypsies. “I know someone who will pierce your ears,” good friend day student Sandy Baker (Finn) tells me.  She says to buy some gold post earrings and meet her at Thalhimers where she works part time in Hosiery. Imagine. A entire department for stockings. You have to buy your choices by size, color, type of fabric. No such thing as stretch. Or cheap. Much of my money goes into keeping a supply of matching hose with no runs. Sandy recently told me that she worked in Lingerie but Hosiery fits my story line better, so I’m leaving it. After all bras are still bras although girdles, a must in our world, have thankfully turned to Spanx.

I do as Sandy says. She introduces me to her friend who tells me to follow her into the empty ladies room. She is on her fifteen minute break. Her directives are simple. She doesn’t have much time. “Sit.” There is a small vanity table, mirror and chair. “Hold this ice cube on your ear lob. Be still.” And then. Oh my god. The unexpected pain.

“Don’t move. Or the holes will be uneven. Give me your earrings.” She stalls. “These have screw backs.” That I didn’t know anything about buying pierced earrings became very clear.

“Here use mine. Sandy will trade off after your ears have healed.” I pay her the dollar an ear she charges. She has ten minutes of her break left.

Friends are impressed. They want their ears pierced, too. I have started a trend and a little business. One dollar a lobe. They line up. All through college I rake in some easy beer money.

Finally a gypsy! At least that’s what mom calls me when I tell her what I’ve done. But hey, I live in a room with hand painted French wallpaper. Hand painted. French. Look at it. Huge red, white & blue decorative plumes. On all four walls. Picture a night of bingeing surrounded by this as you swirl to sleep.

The gypsy life has come to me.

 

 

 

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