Monthly Archives: November 2018

You Will NOT Go Gently Into the Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Let Us Talk About LETTUCE

Interior of commissary at NSD Guam, 28 June 1951.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EPILOGUE

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

AND FUN FEEDBACK

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

AND MORE FUN FEEDBACK

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

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

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The Fabulous BUNDY Boys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zillie’s 538 Back Road Ocracoke Island NC

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

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

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

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