Ocracoke Delivers

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Ocrababes selfie. Jennifer Garrish, Becki Rea, Lora Whitehurst, Liz Teague, moi.

“Wanna go to Ocracoke?” Friend Becki Rea is tempting me with a trip a few weeks down the road. We’re sitting at the bar in Manteo listening to Bill, Doug and Tommy entertain us. Donny’s basketball buddy and his wife have taken over the waterfront eatery, Avenue Grill, and he decides that support all the way around is the perfect evening out. Lora and Ben are a few stools down from us. They recommend a few items which we order. It’s a casual fun evening. Becki explains that friend Liz Teague, she, Lora and I can make a girls’ trip of it. Twenty-four hours. I might just be able to squeeze that in between work commitments. I’m game.

This past Saturday morning sees the four of us head out in Becki’s new Ford to our destination. Hatteras Island is a mess from endless rain water dumped by Bonnie, the storm that wouldn’t quit, for days over the entire Outer Banks. We practically pontoon through pond after pond. There is more traffic headed north than south and we have to yield to most. Finally we reach Hatteras village, make a stop for water, and get in the ferry line. Luck is with us. We are the last car on an otherwise not full ferry. They’re just keeping to the schedule.

The crossing is such a switchback of turns due to so much shoaling that it takes more time than it should. At last we’re actually on Ocracoke. Liz has a good friend who offered her guest cottage aka the overflow for all family things vintage for the evening. We find her house, meet delightful Jennifer and unload. Our little abode is just the right size for the four of us. One couch, two single air mattresses, a foam padding pallet plus two desks, a dresser, boxes of vinyl lps and the room is maxed out. We are shoe horned in and could care less. Bathroom and shower are but a few steps away in the main house.

Jen, married to native Wayne (the main street on the island sports their surname) as well as being a career upper class level science teacher at the island’s one school, hands us our entry buttons (although I never saw anyone check, everything is that casual) and the five of us are off to experience the festival. It’s within walking distance as is most everything, but still golf carts are everywhere. The island favored mode of transportation, along with bicycles and shanks’ mare.

We start out mostly together and pretty much remain that way dividing and conquering occasionally and flowing back together with ease. The festival is low key, fun, and full of high caliber treats. The Green Grass Cloggers start us off. From there between two backyard venues, within short walking distance of each other, we hang with the Oak Grove String Band, Lipbone Redding, De Tierra Caliente, The Bucket Brothers. Every other person we see is from Dare County. Our county is well represented. Friends send their love to Donny. I send him a photo of the house to rent that would be perfect for his porch style listening.

We eat lunch that we buy from food vendors and sit on the deck of the Thai Moon (they are closed choosing to be a food vendor for the afternoon) to the tunes of the Blue Eyed Bettys and Maggie and Cassie MacDonald. We get beer and Lora and Liz sandwiches from The School Road Deli. Lora gets the Vice-Principal. I vow to get Laurie McKay an author gig at the school. Her books will fit right in and lunch at the deli is a must for her. We explore the artisan offerings. I buy a requisite t-shirt and we decide to mosey back to the homestead for a shower before dinner and the evening shows.

Lora and I opt for the outside shower. It’s a cobbled affair I fall in love with. Tiny, it sits right beside a little canal, Jen realistically calls a ditch, that flows to the sound when the wind blows the water the right way. Inside the shower there is barely enough light to see snakes and spiders that probably love it as much as me. I don’t care. I go first to shoo any visitors out for Lora. I only find a few small slugs climbing the walls of the bathtub you must stand in. Refreshed I dash across the yard in my towel to dress in the slightly larger cottage.

Donny’s bag of pistachios that he tossed at me as I’m leaving home work well for an appetizer. We nibble on cinnamon buns and chocolate chip cookies I have managed to bake before leaving home. Dessert out of the way, upon Jen’s recommendation, we walk to the Ocracoke Oyster Company for dinner. We figure everything in town is going to be packed. Becki orders a Mule. Our waitress doesn’t know it but after Becki explains the simple drink she says no problem. We all fall in line except for Jen, who is our DD and also has her stellar teacher image to maintain.  We declare the Mules perfect and before we leave have another round.

We walk back to the house to get the car. Jen needs to check on the mom and pop motel in town that she and Wayne own and it’s right next to the evening venue where Kaira Ba is going to be performing. They’re just getting started. We all begin standing together near the front but as the evening progresses Liz and I inch even closer while Becki, Jen and Lora move in the opposite direction. They want the full experience, we want the Mosh Pit rhythm. Liz has been instructed by Steve to check the group out as potential for the Salvage Station. Almost immediately, Liz and I look at each other and grin, perfect for Asheville. Every member is a dynamic force. They blend well. Senagal native Diali Cisokcho with his 22 string kora is magical. And the universal theme of love is evident in every piece. We are mesmerized.

Show over, we drift off to find the others. Our next stop is the community center where Michael Stanwood is performing. You could not find two more diametrically opposed acts. Michael works alone occasionally accompanied by David Tweedie but the show is his. He’s miked but he really doesn’t need to be. He might just have performed the song of the festival with his, “I’m Breaking Up With Myself.” It’s just so Ocrafolk. The perfect way to end our evening.

Back home we organize our bedding and fall into various states of sleep that bring on morning all too soon. Jen has a pot of rich coffee ready. That paired with the balance of the cinnamon buns and we’re all awake. We pack up and have just enough time to take a quick trip to the beach in Jen’s four wheel drive. It’s smack on high tide, still the beach is wide and beautiful. We soak it all in and decide to stop at the Fig Tree Bakery and Deli and Sweet Tooth for take out breakfast to be picked up on our way out of town. We hug Jen goodbye after she lets up steal some mint (it won’t grow if you don’t steal it) which is overtaking her garden. She loads us up with homemade fig preserves. A better new friend would be hard to find.

We stop for our breakfast and aim for the ferry. There is a line. They’re loading. There is an RV in front of us. Some cars have gone around it. We try and are stopped. Then we are waved forward. Literally last vehicle on. We rock. Liz texts Jen our success. Goodbye Ocracoke. When Liz asks me what impressed me the most about the festival, I say everything and then pause. While that’s true, I’m most impressed that between my last visit three decades ago and now not much has changed. Sure businesses have come and gone and growth has happened. But to the outside observer, it’s still the same quaint neighborly island I remember. Were a golden opportunity such as the one that brought us to our beloved home on Colington Island open up I’d move there in a heartbeat.

 

 

 

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Culper the Culprit

giphy culper

Coquina Beach with perfect waves and his parents home at last make for a happy pup. He’s in the right family, already a natural surfer.

The road from puppy, to pup, to grown up dog (does this even happen) is fraught with tales of mischief, wide eyed innocence and general mayhem as any caretaker can tell you. The stories are endless, most hilarious later, much later, but at the time not quite so much.

And so I enter the world of pup care for young Culper named after General George Washington’s highly successful spy ring. This group was so covert and shrouded in secrecy to protect the members that Washington himself did not know they names of all the spies. To this day no one knows for sure the name of female Agent 355. The name perfectly fits our sneaky clever pup, although autocorrect culprit possibly fits even better through his growing months.

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How innocent is that face.

It is while his parents are on vacation that things get interesting. I am called in to pinch hit for the full time caretakers. I enter the house to find an explosion. A toy explosion. How many pieces of fiber fill can be in one small dog toy? Apparently when shredded apart by pup teeth the answer is countless. I know that his caretakers are taking excellent care of him but also have lives and demanding jobs and so I have already decided to take him on a field trip even before I walk in on the explosion. But Culper won’t get in my car. I can lift him in but not being really sure how the field trip is going to play out anyway I opt out.

The backyard will have to do to run off some energy. I am in the porch area stowing my phone to be ready to frolic with Mr. Energy. I don’t see him. But I figure that he is around the corner digging up plants, a favorite pasttime. Actually no, he is not around the corner digging up plants. He has spied a way out and escaped. I have visions of my charge running onto busy Colington Road, or just running free. Panic is setting in. I call Donny all the while calling his name and running toward the front of the house where I find Mr. Culprit investigating whatever in the side yard. I breathe a sigh of relief and lure him to me with apple bits I have in my pocket to reel him in when yard time is over.

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Freedom trail. Photo credit Donny Ball

Later Donny comes over to repair the fence, a feat unto itself since it was not attached to the house and at that only held up by imagination. It’s getting dark, cold and lack of all but the basic tools challenge this simple job. And rocks in the ground impede any deep digging for the post so Donny Rube Goldberg’s the entire repair using leftovers from Robert’s outside shower construction to create a triangle support system.

My next call of duty reveals plant parts scattered everywhere. Caretaker Ezra tells me that yes, everyday is a different disaster. (He sort of forgot to tell me that the fence was already downed by Mr. Busy. And that he too, temporarily, lost The Kid. “I panicked,” he tells me later. “Lewis would’ve killed me if anything happened to his dog.”) I reason that this pup needs some serious grown up dog chew toys and head to PetSmart for some destruction proof Kongs. They do the trick. He is well behaved the rest of parental vacation.

And then comes the coup de grace. At least in this dog’s life. In my opinion. So far. His parents are home. All is well. I’m asked to go put him to bed. No problem. It’s a short car ride or jog to their abode but I’d do it anyway even if the trip were longer. I arrive, let myself in and greet the happy pup. We head off to the bedroom where disaster has occurred. As Hilarey later describes, “It looked like a huge pile of confetti.” I do not have an incriminating photo but trust me one photo could not have covered the scope. A tasty paperback had been torn page by page. Thoroughly devoured.

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Culper digested, well almost.

Valerie has brought the pup home earlier in the day from his outing on the beach and after seeing how hungry he was for reading material elects not to put him to bed because she doesn’t want him to get into any more trouble. Surely she forgot that this pup, this adorable pup, will not get off the bed without help. He can. He just won’t. He’s afraid of most heights. He won’t get off of the couch. Anything with the slightest height to it. Not for love or food. Maybe Val thinks that Culper has unlocked the Get Down From Heights achievement badge. Nope. Not yet. He makes a few exceptions but the reward has to be high. Like a ride in the Prius for an outing.

So I know that putting him on the bed for a nap will not involve any more reckless recreation. I leave him surrounded by his literature litter. I would have made a photo attempt and cleaned up but couldn’t find the light. And what, you ask out of mild curiosity, might have been his choice of literature. Why, The Genius of Dogs of course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Strange Story of Cousin Tom Jett and the Dare stones

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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.

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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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Wilbur & Orville and Kitty Hawk AND Bähs

It is mid-August 1900. Wilbur Wright after being admonished by his father to find purpose in his life decides to untangle the mystery of flight. It has long been on his mind since that day his father brought home a simple flying toy. After much urging Orville agrees to join him in the quest. And so after getting favorable reports from both the weather master at Kitty Hawk and postmaster, Wilbur immediately leaves from Dayton to see for himself. Orville plans to follow a few weeks later. Here is a letter from Orville to their sister, Katharine, after he arrives in Elizabeth City by train.

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Orville’s letter home and trying to find Wilbur

The Hotel Arlington

Elizabeth City NC Sep 26th 1900

Dear Swes;

It is only two hours since I wrote you from Norfolk, but having got a trace of Will here I send the news on at once. Trying to find Will at Kitty Hawk reminds me very much of a relief expedition to some lost Arctic explorer. The hotel clerk tells me Will was here four or five weeks ago he thinks – in fact is almost sure – it will be just five weeks tomorrow that he left. The hotel people are very accommodating and propose putting a man at hunting up the available way of reaching Kitty Hawk, They say the trip across is pretty much like “life” – uncertain, we know not at what moment we may arrive.

Do not let the store business worry you. Have Lorin attend to it, if he will. Harry Wellon is to be paid $4.50 Saturday night: ie: $4.50 per week. We will settle with Chrls when we get back. If he needs any money, however, let him have it.

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Orville’s drawing of a fish from side and top

The post office here closes at noon so I have not learned whether there is any word from Will. him

I was down on the wharf looking at the little fish in the water. They were different from anything I had seen. One was a long green thing but a pointed nose. Three or four inches long like this: (a drawing). Then like this (another drawing) it managed to move along by working those fins on top cross wise to the way it was going. The life like view given is from the above. That is the reason the tail was wrong first time. I hear the dinner bell ringing which means one o’clock, or twelve by your time.

Goodbye,

Orville

Tell Harry to sell those rolls of tire tape in box back of what he has been selling at 5 cents a roll. They were ten cents rolls, but we must get rid of them. They are tied in tin foil wrapping.


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Wilbur’s letter to Katharine upon leaving Kitty Hawk

Hotel Central

Poindexter Street 

Elizabeth City NC October 23 1900

Dear Sterchers

We have said “Good bye Kitty, Good bye Hawk, good bye Kitty Hawk, we’re going to leave you now.” We reached you here this afternoon, after a pleasant trip from Kitty Hawk of six hours. It took me forty five hours going down there and Orville sixteen hours. We will go on to Norfolk tomorrow and will probably stay over a day to see the ship yards at Newport News. If we do so we will reach home Saturday night at any rate so you must have grub for four Sunday. Poor Bubbo (Little Bubbo) has only tasted beaf steak one or two meals in the last fifty or so, and I suspect he will sink his teeth into a nice tender porterhouse with peculiar pleasure. We are now at the Central, the Arlington being no more. We had a fair supper. I have gained a few pounds since leaving home, and Orville is as heavy as when he left. we both look like niggers by reason of our sunburnt faces and hands. I took a look at myself in a glass today for the first time in five or six weeks and was somewhat surprised. We will have some “amosin” stories to tell when we get home.

Cheer up Sterchens, we will be home in about a day after you receive this. We have missed our little baby sister like anything, you may be sure. Remember we will be home Saturday night and will be hungry as “bähs” Sunday. A fellow warned me not to go ashore going down to K.H. saying he would be afraid of “bäh.” I do not know whether the hungry animals which flew out at me were the “bäh” he meant but they are my standard of hungryness.

Your loving burro,

Will


 

In doing research for a children’s book I’m writing using animal characters to tell the story of the Wright brothers on the Outer Banks I came across copies of letters to their steady supporter, Katharine. These two are among the first they sent to her after arriving in Kitty Hawk. And actually we still have those bähs around.

 

 

 

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Two Girls TRAVELING Life

lighter us

Mom, me & Dad 1952 near Hickam AFB in Honolulu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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The LEGEND of Cousin William Storke Jett

Willie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Branch Leigh Arthur Jett

Mother Leigh & Other Dad

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

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

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

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

Mother Leigh

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

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

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

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

evangeline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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Christmas MAGIC

6416 three chopt

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care

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

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

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

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6416 Three Chopt Road Richmond VA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Presents for everyone from everyone

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

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

 

 

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Some Christmas FUN!

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

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

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

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

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The Things You FIND on the Internet

This is a short story of how 2011 me gives 2015 me a cooking lesson.

A fond high school occasion was making pulled butter mints with my good friend Sandy Winfrey. Her mother always did the cooking part and timed it so that when we arrived from school the candy was ready for pulling. We were willing kitchen maids and went after the task with great anticipation. Those mints never disappointed. Even if we were too slow and the entire mass hardened into one giant mint before our eyes we ate it anyway.

Decades later I wanted to make my own batch of mints and so contacted the source. Never mind that we had not talked for years and years. Becky Winfrey was spot on with her recipe and I was a happy cook.

This year I searched for my notes about her process but could not locate them and so did what we all do, turned to google for help. I found a couple of recipes that sounded right. The recipe is easy enough. It’s the execution that’s tricky. These sources were reliable, one even hailing from Winston Salem where Becky was from and probably where she learned her pulled mints secrets.

I cooked a couple of batches but something was not right. They turned out okay but there was too much handling of hot candy and the aging process was not minutes but days. I returned to google and decided to look for a video. I needed to see the process first hand.

Surprisingly I only found a couple of videos (I mean more times than not there are endless videos for any and everything). Even more surprising was leading the tiny pack was my own video I had made the year I decided to make a vlog entry every day of advent reading a page of the advent story the guys created when they were youngsters. I included something Christmasy to round out the short clips.

As I watched myself make the mints I patted myself on the back for such foresight. Mints, you’re mine now.

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