Tag Archives: Jett Williams

The HEART of Christmas

Christmas dinner at 6416 Three Chopt Road mid 70’s

“Fla’Leigh, I need the table.” This will be my grandmother pleading with her oldest to please move her Christmas present wrapping project so that the big dining room table can be set for dinner. I haven’t quite got the spelling figured out; but, my grandmother is extremely good at blending my aunt’s given name of Florence Leigh, which is what she is always called by her parents, into a one syllable word. Others call her Flo. Most call her I.G. I think I get that tag for trying to say Florence Leigh and coming up with an overly simplified version that sticks, but no one else calls her like her mother does. It’s a definite mother daughter thing.

“Yes, Ma’am,” everything is swiftly moved to a beautiful round cherry side table that collects odds and ends. It would be dining room table enough in any standard size room.

As I wrap up another year of present wrapping using our own long dining room table with gifts stretched out in a long line by family, I.G. and her Christmas present wrapping flurry always comes to mind. After dinner, back come all the presents still to be wrapped and the fixings.

It’s a cozy set up. The dining room is centrally located with its floor to ceiling pocket doors always open. One doorway is a view of the open staircase in the central hall ever busy with eternal holiday bustle. Carolers easily fit there when they stop by to fete us. Because there is plenty of room we invite them in for a moment of warmth.

Another pocket doorway gives access to the living room where an eternal four hand game of bridge rotates between the six adults. It is also where the tree is, so wrapped presents quickly get dispatched to a spot in the ever growing pile.

Placing packages under the tree mid 70’s. The dining room pocket door is on the right.

How did I.G. score this perfect wrapping spot? Mom always wraps presents before we leave Ohio. She plans to be ready to play bridge and shop at a moment’s notice. She even puts on bows and it is up to Dad to see that the car is packed in such a way as to minimize crushing. He could easily have created the game of Tetris. He is an expert at working all the angles. But even so, some bows suffer. Finally after too many years of even slightly smashed bows, Mom compromises. She will add bows in Richmond.

My other aunt, Keese and her husband Martin, always stay in the former maid’s room located next to the kitchen with its own outside door to the second story back porch that spans the back of the kitchen. Thankfully for cold weather this room also has an added tiny access door at the back of the connecting closet that opens into the pantry. It’s like a small apartment complete with bathroom and enough space for wrapping presents.

And so the dining room table is free for the having as my grandmother will have wrapped her few gifts before the thirteen of us arrive. She always give country hams to her three children. We grands get the balance of her gifting attention. My freshman year in college she gives me a much longed for wrap around skirt. They are the current rage. Mother Leigh has no idea what a wrap around skirt is, but that does not deter her. She gets help from a friendly clerk at LaVogue, a high end store out of her shopping league, but it’s where fashion happens. It’s my favorite present that year.

At the dining room table, I.G. can wrap presents and still be part of all the fun activities. She’ll even take a rare break, allowing me to take over after I prove my worth at proper wrapping. Together we will put ribbons on her last gifts mere moments before Santa arrives.

The dining room has one more door. This door leads to all the things that wrap every one of our family gatherings up into a figurative bow. It’s a swinging door to the back hall and beyond that the kitchen. The kitchen is where my grandmother holds court from sunrise (well before any of us are up) to sunset. She sits in the chair behind my dad in the photo and makes biscuits, rolls, and so much more but these two stand out in my mind. She cuts perfect biscuits, a few at a time from an enormous dough ball, with a drinking glass. Alton Brown has nothing on her ingenuity.

My beautiful cousin Jett gone too soon, my Dad and my Aunt Keese in the only picture that I know of that exists showing the kitchen at 6416 Three Chopt. It had our heart and is our core.

Mother Leigh’s cooking is traditional southern comfort food. She gets a real ham deep in the country. Her favorite spot is a dusty two pump gas station between Suffolk and Whaleyville. I take her on this journey one time. Those of you who know of Cindy’s Kitchen sixteen layer chocolate cake procured at the gas station in Coinjock, here’s to gas station food always ringing true. Prior to our arrival, she cooks the ham to perfection. She makes red eye gravy from the drippings. All through Christmas a bit of it will be simmering on the stove, ready to go on a freshly baked biscuit.

The smell of Mother Leigh’s legendary coffee drifts throughout the enormous house and nudges late sleepers awake. There is a steep switchback staircase between the kitchen and dining room that gives quick access to this family hub. Breakfast is an ongoing affair, something hot always waiting for each of us as we stumble down the stairs in haphazard fashion all morning long.

I make myself learn to like black coffee like my adored Uncle Dick (also godfather), husband to endless present wrapper I.G. It’s a drip affair. Eight O’clock blend beans ground to drip specification on the spot at the down the street A&P. Not content to settle for ordinary and not willing to pay more for the richer Bokar Blend, Mother Leigh cleverly pours the economy Eight O’Clock through twice making it even richer than Bokar. My sibs, cousins and I have cut our teeth on her coffee milk, mostly milk & sugar with a splash of coffee. But as the oldest grand it is my responsibility to take up the mantle of adult coffee drinking. Only Dick is a hard core purist. It’s an acquired taste but I persevere and to this day prefer my coffee just this way.

Mother Leigh’s kitchen is the heart of our Christmas. It’s where we air differences. It’s where we make up. It’s where we solve the world’s problems. And we cherish every moment. We know we are blessed.

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Filed under Christmas, family, Richmond VA, Richmond VA West End, Three Chopt Road

The JETT Set

cottage sideReedville, Virginia calls our name in the summer. Home to generations of Jetts since Peter first stepped off of the boat near Leedstown with his wife, Mary, and their two sons and two daughters in 1663, we head there like migrating monarchs year after year.

In the late fifties my grandfather, using free cinder blocks my uncle Dick got from a job, builds us a cottage on the Chesapeake Bay between Reedville and Fleeton, Tibitha to be exact. Other Dad’s (my name for him that stuck) original plan is to buy Bayview at the end of the tiny finger of land the Jett’s call home the family homestead Sunnyside being just around the corner on Taskmaker’s Creek.  A cousin who promises my grandfather first refusal instead sells it out of the family. Decades later a rich buyer razes (my aunt begs him not to do it to the point of laying down in front of the bulldozer) the original home saved from certain destruction during the Civil War by the Sutton sisters, and which was in pristine condition, to build a more modern style. Then he decides the mosquitoes are too horrible and sells. To this day Bayview is still the perfect setting with a yard that slopes to the bay unlike our spot with a steep hill to clamor up and down as well as being a constant erosion challenge. It sits next to the family cemetery where many of Other Dad’s young siblings are buried. The results of two first cousins marrying we are told. Three children survive to adulthood, my grandfather one. He is so sickly his mother promises his life to the church if he is spared an early death. He becomes a beloved minister on the Methodist circuit. He takes his family to Tibitha every chance he can get. The heritage of life on the bay runs deep within his veins.  And he wants his grandchildren to know those same joys so he buys three lots nearby, selling two off to pay down the mortgage on one.

Our cottage is a one level affair, a basic rectangle, with a bedroom in three corners, kitchen in the fourth, a bathroom and one more bedroom between the kitchen and corner bedroom along the back wall. A T shaped open space for dining, viewing the bay through the trees and card playing by the rarely used fireplace make for socializing and overflow sleeping. Rope and pulley stairs to the open attic where we store inner tubes for swimming and snakes seek shelter for sleeping in the off season round out the deal.

cottage backWe have no TV, no radio, no fans, no air conditioning. We use wooden orange boxes from the grocery for clothes organizing and are happy to have real beds to sleep on. Screens only for the big windows. If a bad storm blows in we close the heavy wooden shutters.

We have mosquitoes. We are fair game night and day. We have chiggers. A trip into their territory becomes necessary when the septic system surrenders from overuse by so many people. My uncle rescues us from being total pioneers with a once a day trip to the local gas station.

We measure the success of a night by how strong the wind is blowing the smell of the fish factory away from us. When the ships come in, always at night, we rush in all cars available to see them unload. Such is entertainment. The smell cannot be masked even by perfume held under a nose. There just is no smell like a menhaden fish boat unloading.

reedville beach

Midge Jett (Mom), my uncle Martin Williams, my grandfather Rev Starke Jett II

We spend the entire day on the beach accessible by steps we carve in the sloping sandy drop to the beach dotted with eroding pine trees. Someone goes to the cottage, a short walk through the waving pine trees, to fix lunch for everyone else.

Mom and my aunts, Keese and I.G., make creative shade shelters for nap time. Many years into our summer adventures they haul water washed pine poles from down the beach back to our spot for my dad and uncles to build a dock. We play with black inner tubes that must be constantly turned over to keep from practically scorching a layer of skin off. We never use sunscreen. Sun burns are a rite of passage. Peeling each other’s burnt skin layers a labor of love.

lifeguard

My brother Starke Jett V, me, my cousin Jett Williams, Mom, my sister Suzanne Reynolds, my friend from Whitehall Ohio, Carol Brenning.

We have sea nettles to thwart our best attempts at playing in the water. We have a wonderful tide that bestows awesome sandbars for wading in the already shallow water. We have tricky blue clay on much of our private beach that will humbles us in an instant with a gooey slippery spill. We have endless shards of sharp broken glass that my aunt Keese collects by the bucket full to make our beach more user friendly.

To get to this slice of heaven we, more times than not, hop in the car at our parents command as we spontaneously race to catch the last ferry of the night. We are crossing the Rappahannock River where a bridge now ages. But we only know the ferry. We sit on the dock waiting for it to return from across the river. We spy huge red sea nettles and crabs swimmings. The air is filled with night sounds of crickets and cicadas.

I find a stash of Nancy Drew books one summer and read my way through these originals. I find Ian Fleming another and meet 007. We invent games for our days spent on the beach. Fallen pines are ships and homes. Our inner tubes are boats.

screen with holeDrift wood of amazing proportions is everywhere. Mom loses her bathing suit top trying to hoist a big chunk up the sandy cliff. My uncle pushing from the bottom laughs at his unexpected delightful view. Neither are willing to forgo the goal. They win. Topped with round glass it makes a handsome coffee table.

We thrive on fresh foods. We pick crabs. We savor salt roe herring fried crisp and set aside for the warm roe tucked inside mashed with butter and spread on a hot biscuit. We shell butterbeans. We snap beans. We pop sugar peas. We peel peaches. We slice warm tomatoes. We shuck oysters and corn.

We catch lightning bugs and fill our mason jars with their wonder. We explore along the lane picking Queen Anne’s lace and yarrow blooms. Even when it rains the days are as hot as expected. We know nothing else and life is good.

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Filed under Beach Life, family