Hamilton TO Hadestown

May 18, 2019

It is sometime in the early spring of 2018 when daughter Emily calls me up and asks what we might be doing May 18, 2019. I tell her I’m fairly certain our calendar is clear and she says to mark that date as saved.

I wait for the other shoe to drop and it is a heavy lifter. Son-in-law Marty has managed to secure box office price tickets to see Hamilton. In NYC. At Richard Rogers Theatre. They are going to celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary family style.

Marty has gotten on an email list that periodically offers up tickets to hot Broadway shows at box office prices. But you have to be quick. He jumps immediately and two minutes in gets some of the last tickets. He asks Emily how many he should buy and she tells him to go the limit. That is eight. So his parents, Donny & myself, plus the four of them (they have already gifted the kids with crazy money tickets the previous Christmas but you can never see Hamilton too many times) are the lucky eight. I am beyond excited & immediately start a count down calendar.

The year goes by as most do, sometimes at lightning speed, sometimes at a crawl. And then it is show weekend. The plan is to for us to drive from the OBX to Springfield on Friday. Then the six of us will pack ourselves into Donny’s Highlander Saturday morning to make the trip to NYC. Marty’s parents live in close by Allendale NJ so they will meet us for dinner and the show. The kids will stay with Marty’s youngest brother, Craig & Cynthia in their amazing midtown Manhattan apartment with a breathtaking panoramic view of The Empire State Building (until a new construction goes up in the wrong spot). We have reservations at a hotel nearby.

The view before intervening architecture

Cynthia & Craig have graciously invited us over for pre-dinner hors d’oeuves. Even with The Empire State Building hidden from view their vista is incredible. The delicious apps are hungrily consumed by our travel weary group. We prepare to leave to get ready for dinner and Craig sits down at his grand piano and begins a lovely jazz number. I compliment his command of the keyboard and ask if jazz has always been a favorite. He nods and springs up declaring that he has something to show us. He brings out a treasure passed to him by his music teacher. It is sheet music with much hand notation by Dave Brubeck. A friend of Craig’s teacher, Brubeck wanted her input on a ballet score he was composing. Possibly worth a lot at auction, it’s worth even more as a piano lesson treasure.

It’s time to freshen up for dinner and the show, we head back to the hotel, then on to negotiate through always active Times Square to the theater district restaurant, Becco, where Marty has made reservations. Bob & Karen met us there. Dinner is so good and filling but I cannot resist a fruit type dessert. Bob has asked for a single scoop of vanilla ice cream and is told there is none. My dessert arrives with a side scoop of ice cream. Bob expresses his disappointment to the waitress. She is nonchalant. I give my scoop to Karen to share with Bob. New York City idiosyncrasies can be so oddly charming.

Cynthia & Craig head home, they’ve seen the show, but she takes our photo first. The theater is packed. We are in three different parts. Emily & Marty, Donny & I are in the very back of the mezzanine, the kids upstairs in the balcony, Bob & Karen on the lower orchestra level. The show is worth all the hype and more. Everyone delivers, not one dial in. The lighting and set simple and innovative. It’s easy to see the influence both have on Lydia’s designs for West Springfield HS productions.

It’s been a great trip even riding in the third seat cramped quarters. Lydia and I declare that next trip will be in another vehicle or barring that we bring along donuts, both kinds.

The theater bug is strong with us and when Emily decides that we need to see Hadestown, Donny & I are immediately on board. In early 2019 she & Marty have taken the kids not once, but twice on back to back weekends (it’s a great story) to see the show. She wants us to see it. We begin our plans. It’s still fresh enough that box office prices are possible and tickets obtainable as long as you can make the openings in the schedule. Emily goes for a date post her figure skating competition in early March.

Happy Valentine’s Day from Emily!

We discuss various means of getting there. Drive into the city and valet park. Do the across the river ferry car park thing, the hotel is close. Park in the designated lot and take a shuttle to the hotel. Take the cheap Chinatown bus. Take the train, I offer this as a bad weather option. At one point our text messages look like this.

As it gets closer to time and my joking becomes reality, we decide on Sunday March 8, to cancel our hotel room but continue to discuss us driving to Springfield on Wednesday and then the three of us continuing to NYC the next day to see the show and drive back to Springfield afterwards. I agree with Emily, even with three drivers, it’s a lot of driving. We try so hard to justify and finally completely surrender. We cannot risk bringing anything back to the Outer Banks, and more specifically Hilarey and baby grand Ball number eleven due in September. We will sacrifice our monies for safety.

And then Broadway goes dark. On Thursday March 12, 2019 the very day we are going to see the performance. Reprieve! I chose to believe that the day will come when we do get to see Patrick Page and his colleagues perform this amazing show. I still have not listened to the soundtrack. I’m playing the Donald card. He managed to avoid all Hamilton music until he saw the show. A good two years worth of tiptoeing.

Wait for me!

Epilogue

Turns out the kids are a year ahead of celebrating their twenty-fifth and no one realizes the slight math error until we are practically on our way to New York City. We all laugh and decide that it simply adds another fun layer to our adventure.

Epilogue Too

The day after I publish this story hail & healthy Rhyson Jett Ball joins the family. He is born at Outer Banks Hospital in a speedy eventless delivery. He checks in at 12:53 September 15 weighing 6 pounds 12 ounces and measuring 20 inches long. Welcome second namesake!

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Peter, Paul & Mary and ME

Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, Mary Travers

Nephew Jake sends a text this evening asking if I was ever a fan of Bob Dylan. I laugh and tell him he’s opening a can of fun worms. I dig out my epiphany post and send it to him. He then asks about Elvis. Nada there but I tell him I do have an awesome PP&M story and wander over to my blogspot world to dig it out to move over here.

I first *meet* Peter, Paul & Mary when I am a green freshman in college at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. The monied gals all belong to Columbia Records Album of the Month Club. You get mailed their selection or one of your own. Most gals opt for Columbia’s selection and so it lands on Peter, Paul & Mary to be the chosen album for September or October 1962, I forget which one, the weather is still nice though. I did not have enough money to buy albums then but get a lot of free listening as most dorm room doors stay open all of the time.

After college, which involves my moving to Richmond Professional Institute in Richmond, Virginia in my sophomore year as my folks have left Ohio and out of state tuition is pretty steep but more than that my family too far away, I buy every PP&M album available.

And then, happy day for me, I read that PP&M are coming to the Mosque, THE venue to be at in Richmond in those years. My apartment and work mate Sherrie and I make plans to go. As the day of the concert approaches our plot thickens. I know the Mosque pretty well. All of our college dances and those of MCV (Medical College of Virginia) are held in the opulent basement ballroom. Concerts of all kinds are held upstairs in the massive domed theater complete with two balconies and box seats. There I saw Bob Dylan, Roger Miller. I weaseled my way into a Sam & Dave concert. The Mosque and I have spent many grand hours together. Back to my PP&M story. Sherrie & I want to talk to them, meet them, rub shoulders with them after the concert. But we don’t want to walk home late at night by ourselves even if our apartment is only a few blocks away. So the afternoon of the concert we park my Carolina blue Volkswagen Beetle, Velma, vintage 1962, in the Mosque proper parking lot. It is legal but there is only room for about a dozen cars.

We are ready! The concert is all that we expect. Just the three of them on that huge stage owning the show. Well there is one more, Dick Kniss, their bass player. He is always introduced but remains well separated from the group even though still on stage. That was it, no fancy lights, good sound but no headsets, just acoustic guitars. You know the picture. Simplicity delivering quality music. Then near the end of the sold out concert, Mary announces that as much as they would love to stay and chat, they have to get to Baltimore to catch a plane. They have not one minute to spare. We are all crushed but that is that.

Concert over, Sherrie & I head through the packed crowds thronging the sidewalks. Bumper to bumper traffic clogs the streets surrounding the Mosque. We sigh, we are never going to get out of our tiny parking lot any time soon. Still we forge ahead and beg with Velma’s vintage charm to let us out of the lot. Some kind soul does. We are now part of the bumper to bumper traffic. Suddenly a head pops out of the car window in front of us and yells back to me, “Do you know how to get to the interstate?” Sherrie and I gasp! It’s Mary!!! PP&M are (beat) in front of us! They need our help!

“Sure!” I call out. I hand wave them to a quieter side street close by and our cars switch places. I am thinking fast. I never use the interstate much; old car, not much gas, working girl, all spare money spent on music. I think I remember how to get there. We twist and turn through the fan streets. Surely they think I am taking them on a wild goose chase, but what choice do they have? They are trusting…ME!! Completely forgetting about the Belvidere Street on ramp only minutes from the Mosque, I am taking them to the Boulevard Street ramp. It really is fine though because they will have lost no time, we’re going in the right direction. We get to Broad Street, only a few blocks more to the Boulevard and I-95. We need to turn left. There is a lit no left turn signal. I wave to them to turn anyway as I am doing, certain a cop is going to ticket us any minute even though there is absolutely no traffic anywhere. We are lucky. No cop, interstate ahead. We scoot onto the on ramp, as they do. They wave as they zoom past us in their snappy new car that can move. We consider following them. But, we have no gas, we have a pathetic car for a chase, we go home. We cannot let it go. A few hours later, we have a plan. We call the Baltimore airport and explain that we need to page Mary Travers. We have a message for her. They page her (this is 1967). Mary comes to the phone, surely thinking something is wrong with her family. No, it’s the crazy girls from Richmond. How can we get in touch with you? She is civil. She gives us an address. That’s our Mary.

After Donny and I get married we see them together in Richmond and we even chat with Mary through the window of her dressing room. Us outside in that same tiny parking lot standing on tip toe on the loading ramp that lets you get fairly close to the barred window. Close enough to shout.

We take the kids to see them before we move to North Carolina, again at the Mosque.

And we see them one more time at Wolf Trapp in Virginia in the mid 90’s. Donny has the cool story this time. He hung out with Paul, for real. I am taking a cranial-sacral training course and as PP&M are going to be in town we get tickets to the concert. Donny has time on his hands while I am in class. Here is his story about how he spends that time…with Paul Stookey! “In one of the local handout papers I read that Paul is teaching a songwriting class the afternoon before the concert, and I go to it! There are only 5 or 6 other people there, and mostly we just talk about music.” Can you imagine? You and Paul and a handful of other people, sitting around talking about music. How cool is that!

Thank you Peter, Paul & Mary. I cherish the road we traveled together.

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The Postal SERVICE Rocks

No, not that Postal Service although their original Such Great Heights (covered by Iron & Wine) is on my short list of all time favorite. I mean the USPS, so much in the news these day of summer 2020.

Easter 1948. I am second from left.

My paternal grandmother factors into my life off and on until her dying day. She and my grandfather care for me in that I actually live with them as a young child for months on end at the Methodist parsonage in Farmville, Virginia where my grandfather, Other Dad, is minister. We have a grand time. At Easter Mother Leigh organizes a massive egg hunt in the sloped side yard rife with tree leaves for me and the neighboring children. I love it, but never find the golden egg. I voice that I am entitled, it’s my egg hunt. She smiles and shakes her head, no. She teaches me life lessons that stay with me to this day.

Years later her antebellum home in Richmond is where Donny & I have our wedding reception. And a few years after that, I find myself cooking weekly meals for her and, with young Emily in tow, drive them across town to her when I fear that she is beginning to neglect eating.

She tries to give me her engagement diamond when she knows that she is in her twilight but I tell her I will get it later. I don’t want her to go. I am her namesake. We are Leighs. She is my anchor.

Branch Leigh Arthur Jett

I also live with Mother Leigh my first year at Richmond Professional Institute (my second year in college) in downtown Richmond until a room that I approve of becomes available. I turn down at least one. It’s not good enough for me to leave the room I share with my young cousin Peyton in The Big House on Three Chopt Road.

There is a traditional blue postal dropbox almost directly across residential but extremely busy Three Chopt Road from 6416, or as we call it The Big House. So named to distinguish it from The Little House which is situated directly behind The Big House. A double car garage in its first life it is where I live with my parents until Dad reenlists and we become an Air Force family. The mailbox is specifically at the point Old Mill Road, a lovely steep shade tree lined one block street that intersects Three Chopt Road just south of The Big House. My grandmother uses it religiously. Her mail is delivered to The Big House through the brass front door drop slot and I am sure that she has a means to leave outgoing mail for the postman but throughout the day, everyday, Mother Leigh will post a paid bill, a letter to a friend, a query. It will not do to save up the lot for the postman. It needs to be posted upon completion. And so each goes into the blue dropbox.

Then one day just like that the dropbox is gone. Mother Leigh is horrified. She calls the post office and is told the volume at that location is too low to keep the dropbox in service. She is livid. She explains that she uses it everyday, several times a day. She is brushed off. Her adult children tell her to forget it, that it’s a closed matter.

She is not to be denied. She begins a phone campaign. A letter writing campaign. She calls in all of her favors to anyone that can sway the vote. Judge Powell lives across the street. A retired Episcopal bishop lives in the house at the mailbox corner. Visualize huge trees, privacy shrubs, semi circle driveways with generous homes between all and you can get a sense of the neighborhood. She reaches out to each and every neighbor. Mary Anne & Edmund Rennolds, founders of The Richmond Symphony, live next door. My grandmother will even buttonhole the neighbor on the other side, who is below my grandmother’s standards. Whatever it takes to get her mailbox back. She wins. The blue box is returned.

You do not mess with a Leigh.

Epilogue

That neighbor on the other side of 6416, Mrs McLester, gets on my grandmother’s wrong side shortly after she and my grandfather move permanently into The Big House. Mrs McLester asks my grandmother why she and my grandfather do not sleep in the master bedroom (Mother Leigh plans it as a dorm type room for we grands when the families arrive for holidays). The master bedroom windows faces Mrs McLester’s world and she notes the lack of lights and activity at night. Mother Leigh draws herself up and declares it none of her business.

The rose archway

One afternoon a few years later we kids have been sent out to rake pine tags in the huge side yard situated between The Big House and the Rennolds house. The yard is full of tall pines and beyond it a beautifully defined formal garden to be entered through a wooden arch that is full of rambling roses in season. We quickly get tired of plain raking and decide to make ‘houses’ using pine tag ‘walls’ to define rooms as well as make beds and chairs. We each have our own house and quickly run out of tags for all of our decorating.

Then I get the bright idea to ask Mrs McLester if we can have some from her front yard which is similarly graced with tall pines. My cousins are skeptical. Mrs McLester is off limits. I am not to be deterred. I march up to the front door and knock. Mrs McLester answers. I take a breath, introduce myself and explain our mission. She looks me over. I muse to myself that my grandmother’s character analysis is not off base, here stands a hard woman. I do my best to portray an air of positive expectancy. I should not have worried. Kids raking her yard for free and Mrs. Jett’s grandchildren at that? Still she hesitates. Greed wins, Mrs McLester gives a reluctant nod of approval and much instruction about where to rake and what to leave alone. When we later explain to the adults our clever solution when we run out of pine tags for our project, all they can do is laugh.

B&W Photo credit to John Wesley Perkinson (except the Easter egg hunt)

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ONE Big Family

Donny suggests that I write a blog post about family and how everyone used to pull together without question to help each other out. It went without saying that grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles never hesitated to open the door for days, weeks, months whenever and for however long the need.

I live with my paternal grandparents as a pre-schooler so that my parents can both work. Putting me in childcare is unthinkable. This is not to disparage childcare. This vital resource is now a lifeline to many but time was when it was not even on the radar. In summers I stay on the tiny chicken farm with my maternal grandparents.

Donny recalls his Grandma Lucy walking him most of the way to school every day. She allows him to make the final short leg independently on his own. She is caretaker for Donny & his older sister Judy so that single parent mom, Mary Elizabeth, can maintain her job as a medical secretary.

Mom sees to it that I spend teen summers with my aunts and uncles who live in distant cities so that I can expand my horizons but also so that I can be an in house baby sitter for them.

All of the above vignettes bring us to the meat of this post. And before you read on it’s not written to be a pity post but rather a reminder of how family connections are such a strong vibrant force.

Last summer daughter-in-law Terri brings a friend and her sons along to family camp. We have a puzzle marathon and over sorting pieces Julie & I discuss living the military life in the South Pacific. She relates how while on Okinawa she becomes pregnant with their younger son and begins experiencing unexpected difficulties. She continues with how hard it is to figure out a plan for the older son with no family to help out.

The light dawns on me that this is what has tugged at my memory of a similar time for our family while we were on Guam. The memory always feels slightly off kilter to me and it never once occurs to me that even with a big loving family there is no one at hand to help out. We are familyless.

I come in from school to find a family friend waiting for me. I am told to pack some things that Mom is in the hospital and I can not stay home alone. There is no family to take me in, they are all thousands of miles away. Dad is on flight duty, he cannot take care of nine year old me. I am adrift, at the mercy of friends.

This friend takes me to a stranger’s house. I sort of know the family because their daughter is in school with me but our families never socialize together. This family just takes me in out of the goodness of their hearts and they are wonderful. They apologize endlessly about having nowhere in their tiny house for me to sleep but the couch. I don’t mind at all they are so nice. I miss Mom immensely but I am cared for and comfortable.

And then I get moved to the house of the friend that had met me after school who for some unknown reason could not take me immediately. It is a comfort to Mom to know I am with her good friends but it is simply awful to me. I like the family when we have dinners together, they are fun and cheerful. But living with them and their two rambunctious boys is pure misery. I have to bunk in the room with the boys and they are terrors. Nothing horrifying happens but nothing good either. I am a begrudged duty done for a friend.

I miss all of my home comforts and Mom. Dad takes me to see Mom on his days off but in those times no kids are allowed in hospitals so it is barely a visit. Mom’s emergency resources are available only at the distant naval base and so that is where she lands. Her room is on the ground level of a small building so Dad lifts me up to wave and blow a kiss.

If Mom had been at the base hospital I could have visited her room window at will. Kids roam the base freely without a care in the world. Mom even sends me to the base dentist on my own once. That story goes something like this. When it’s my turn I reluctantly get into one of the many chairs for what is to come. It’s a room full of dental chairs, mass mouth work. I am nervous and fidgeting. I am less than cooperative. Finally the enlisted assistant, none too happy with his job anyway, stops trying to get me to open wider and says, “I don’t want to be here any more than you do, so why don’t you just leave.”

I look at him thinking he is joking. He is dead serious. “Just go,” he stands akimbo with a scowl on his face. I get out of the chair slowly expecting to be yanked back by him or any other adult in the room before I can make my get away. But it doesn’t happen. I gingerly walk to the door not believing my luck. I keep looking back to be sure. My somewhat savior scoots me along with a hand gesture and then turns his attention elsewhere, glad to be rid of me. I am free! I never tell Mom.

It will be determined that Mom is RH negative and in dire straits as is sister Suzanne. Total bed rest is the only recourse and a complete blood transfer for Suzanne when she needs to be delivered early by Caesarean section or die. The hospital has an incubator, not a new device but it is one that is just beginning to come into it’s own in every day neonatal care and that along with the transfusion saves Suzanne’s life.

Mom will spend more weeks in the hospital and Suzanne even more gaining up to the required five pounds she needs to go home and we can finally be a family together.

Postscript

Mom and I are on our return trip from Virginia to see very ill Grandma Boschen. It is January. We board the USS Morton in San Francisco and it embarks. The first night at sea is so rough Mom puts our suitcases in the closet to keep them from constantly sliding back and forth across the cabin floor. We have a roommate but she is close lipped and in a world of her own. The next morning shows no improvement in the weather and the table cloths are soaked by the crew to keep dishes and utensils from sliding off onto the floor.

I love it all. Mom not so much. She gets violently ill and ends up in sick bay. A bad case of seasickness is her diagnosis. She cannot keep any food down. The doctors try to get her to eat toast. I am allowed minimal visiting so I know this. She only wants corn flakes. They balk and so she eats nothing. I am left to my own devices.

Mom has moved us the second day to a room closer to other moms and children, much more fun for both of us, but we do not know any of them and before we can make friends Mom gets sick. The other moms feel some obligation to tend to me but barely knowing me and with kids of their own to chase down their oversight is minimal.

At first I am overjoyed, scant adult supervision for a week until we get to Hawaii! But then my drama creating mind kicks in. If I were to fall into the ocean who would know. I wander all parts of the ship seeing if anyone will stop me. They never do. I truthfully do not go deep into the bowels of the boat but do try a few doors and parts of the deck off limits to civilians. Once I decide to go from the dining hall deck to the top deck with my eyes closed. I have barely started before I walk into a huge steel beam with such force that it knocks me down ending my experiment. I am glad to get to Hawaii and Dad.

Being a kid on your own is not that much fun.

Post Postscript

Mom’s stay in sick bay is not entirely seasickness. Early stages of her unexpected pregnancy with Suzanne as she later finds out.

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Honeymoon Take Two Part 2

In case you have not read Part 1 or if you did but need a refresh click here. If you’re up to speed carry on. We saunter, is there any other walking mode in Colonial Williamsburg really, back to Market Square #3056 (#13 is so much cooler) to get ready for dinner. We chance upon a couple staying in one of the rooms under ours and we exchange stories about how we each become enchanted and attached to Market Square and not only that but to a specific room. Their story is that they vacationed in CW for many a year to the point that their son & his now wife started vacationing there and even got engaged on one of those trips. Both couples always took the room under ours because it is at the back of the building with a covered porch entry. And like ours, opens onto a small courtyard with a stone well & quiet side street beyond. Plus theirs has a working fireplace. We get it. The colonial style rope hand rails on the stairs to our dormer room has always intrigued us. Donny asks the maid freshening up our room why there are wooden rails now. She explains that a friend took a tumble lugging the vacuum using the rope rails and CW replaced the ropes. It’s still a perfect room. Our room.

We get ready for dinner and decide to meet Sherrie outside as we have kept pace by text but not made final meeting arrangements. We are reviewing activities at the magazine next door when a familiar voice calls out, “Does it all look the same?” or words to that effect. Sherrie has arrived and time melts away. The three of us secure a table at Chownings. We have discussed dining elsewhere but we all love it and it is right across the street. After dinner over much catch up chatter complete with some fun memorabilia photos Sherrie has dug out of her archives, the three of us go back to our room. Sherrie has never seen it, only heard the stories of its quaintness and name change and such. She quickly becomes enchanted with Market Square as well. The common room has a piano and games and classic wing chairs and it’s all ours for having a drink but we elect to adjourn to our room and hang out there until Sherrie feels Mr Sandman calling her and she heads home.

The next morning we pack up to leave but are not skipping breakfast at the Inn. As we head to our last breakfast in Williamsburg, Donny & I see our Hawaiian (details in part one) friend again and wave.

As we enter the dining room I spy the couple from LA that were checking in when we were. She sees me at about the same time and we both jump up in glee at running into one another for a third time. She is charmed by my bibs & braids. And now I can get her name and air drop her the photos I have taken of their carriage ride. At the time Donny & I both decide that she must be in the movie business, she has that own the room in a good way air about her. I have even asked her that the day before. She tells me that she used to be but moved on. Of course I look her up when we get back to the OBX and my laptop. She’s Lisa Friedman actress in several movies including Stardust Memories starring Charlotte Rampling (on one of our trips to Paris we walked by a tiny shop daily that had a note in the window saying that Charlotte Rampling was a patron. It, as did she, always intrigued me, but it was never open so I could not find out more). Lisa was in a lobby scene with Brent Spinner. Two of my favorite icons! She’s definitely a star in my book.

It’s been a wonderful stay in Williamsburg but it’s time for the next part of our honeymoon redo. We are headed to the family cottage on the Chesapeake Bay where we spent the balance of our first honeymoon. It’s a simple affair built with free supplies more or less and much love. It has provided the family with a place to have summer vacations for years. Memory upon memory are created there, to be dragged out and laughed over endlessly. Games of Pig, sunburns complete with peeling sheets of skin, a smell from the fish factory that out rivaled any slaughterhouse, trips to Sunnybank via the two car ferry to get fresh orchard peaches. Mom & Keese, my dad’s youngest sister, have cleaned it from top to bottom for our honeymoon. This trip is for a photo op only. The cottage still stands but is no longer viable for staying in. Keese now lives down the lane and has offered us lunch on her porch, the perfect end to our tour.

But to back up a bit we will pass by That Damn Mary where my nephew Starke VI (yes six generations) is brewmaster and a stop is called for. We pull in to the parking lot. It’s pretty deserted. We see someone in the garage like addition. We ask if Starke is around. “No,” we are told. We explain why we are looking for him. “I’m Mary,” she beams. “We all love Starke! I only stopped by to check on something, you got lucky. We open later.” We ask if we can buy a t-shirt and she obliges. Donny takes our picture.

It’s been a marvelous honeymoon take two. Fifty years. And actually this post is being written on our fifty-first anniversary. I tend to procrastinate.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for being a part of our journey. We absolutely do have FUN!

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Surprise AWARDs are the BEST

Middle school grandson Benjamin receives a surprise academic excellence award prompting me to recall two surprise school award events of my own.

The first comes about when I am in the 8th grade at the then brand new Whitehall-Yearling High School in Whitehall Ohio (enclave of Columbus). It is near the the end of the school year and several of us are on stage at an assembly receiving some sort of forgotten award. When he is finished acknowledging the awards, Principal Peel whispers to me to remain on stage which of course I do. Later my friends laugh at me saying they thought that I was choosing an odd time to ask our principal a question.

With me standing clueless by his side, Mr Peel gives a speech about a new academic award, the Charles Palmer Davis Award, going to the student who has the highest grades in history in the eighth grade. He then turns to me and presents me with a beautiful bronze medallion. I am flabbergasted. I have good grades but none of us knew we were competing and I am always beat out by my friend Carol Brenning anyway (she gets to go to Girls’ State when we are in high school, I am the alternate. She was third in our graduating class, I was fourth).

But this achievement is mine. And it is a complete surprise. It has always puzzled to me what Charles Palmer Davis had to do with history or current events but I never asked. In doing research for this post I discover that he was a newspaperman from Pennsylvania where he started a publication called Current Events for his middle school age daughter and classmates. Later he joined forces with The American Press in Columbus to publish The Weekly Reader, my go to reading material as a kid!

Before I move on to my next surprise academic achievement story a tiny addendum. The school year is coming to a close. We only have to come to school the last day to pick up report cards. We have a strict dress code. Shorts are on the forbidden list. Several of us decide that Bermuda shorts, the current rage, are okay for such a short time at school. We even talk some of the guys into joining our fashion protest. Our teacher (self contained classes in those days) will have none of it. She refuses to give us our report cards. We need to get them from the principal’s office. Mr Peel in not amused. He gives me the once over muttering, “You of all people,” as he reluctantly hands us our freedom.

Good sport Ron Paxson

My second surprise award comes during an assembly my junior year at WYHS. Still a new school (we are not the first graduating class but close enough being the fourth) we have yet to establish a National Honor Society. I actually do not even know what National Honor Society is. This assembly is poorly timed by my account as I have last minute homework to polish off. Nevertheless I do my best thankful for my homeroom’s seating assignment near the back of the auditorium under the balcony. I am deep into it, ignoring all going on around me. Suddenly I’m tapped on the shoulder. Rude, I think and do not respond. This time the tap is harder. I look up. Standing behind me is some strange teen indicating that I should follow him. I shove my books and papers under my seat, climb over a row full of classmates and proceed to follow this person to the stage where I join a very small gathering of recognizable students. Four seniors, three juniors including me.

We are the newly formed chapter of our high school’s National Honor Society. We have been tapped into service by students from an established chapter at a neighboring high school. In those days you did not apply, you were chosen by faculty members. We look at each other quizzically. The top two academic leaders in our class are missing. As we listen to the requirements of scholarship, leadership, service and character, we understand how lucky we are. First to be tapped as juniors, as a much higher academic standing is mandated, and second, despite heavy schedules, we take the time to join clubs, run for office, volunteer for interesting school projects, and occasionally even study.

Surprises awards really are a lot of FUN. Congratulations Ben!

Prior to the age of easy burst shots, we decide to toss papers into the air for a final yearbook group picture. Surprise, every face is visible!

Epilogue

Not exactly a surprise award but definitely a SURPRISE this post from a few years back fits in here pretty well.

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Honeymoon Take Two

It’s the year of our 50th wedding anniversary and Donny decides that we will revisit the places where it all started June 7th, 1969. The kids would throw us a party if we ask, but since we just had a stellar command performance (a friend’s term for family events 100% attendance) for Donny’s 70th birthday in September, we let them off the hook. Not being big party people anyway Donny comes up with this perfect redo. We plan to combine oldest grandson’s graduation on June 2 with our honeymoon trip figuring that’s close enough date wise.

Photo 1 We go to see Funny Girl on our first date. Donny has me at buttered popcorn. Photo 2 And fifty years later. Photo 3 He surprises me with our own theater style popcorn popper.

For unknown reasons Market Square #13 (such an iconic number) gets renumbered (now #3056) and trying to book our original honeymoon room becomes problematic without knowing the new number. Donny & I actually take a picture of the room number (for future reference) a few years back when we’re in Williamsburg for the day with Donald & Terri and Sebastian but it lands in the digital maze of lostness.

Donny persists. He gets up with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Architectural history department and they find the answer. He books our room explaining his intent and the reason for the request of our special room.

We have spent the day in northern Virginia with our West Springfield HS graduate and it is late in the day when we arrive. We need to check in at the Williamsburg Inn where reservations are handled.

The Inn has a cozy nook for this purpose with individual desks for the two clerks and plush wing chairs for guests if a wait is needed. Next to us a couple and teen are also checking in. The girl muses aloud about having to get up so early for their trip. We are curious. They tell us that they have flown in from L.A. Because of graduation, we have also gotten up early to make the drive to NoVA. We commiserate with her. The couple explain that they are taking their granddaughter on a trip to include Williamsburg, Washington DC, and lastly Monticello.

Ours is a charming room with its own outside door and narrow staircase to the snug space. Good friend Sherrie’s (yes, wedding dress Sherrie) mom is the public relations director for Colonial Williamsburg when we marry and has made all the arrangements for our original two night stay. She even surprises us with a sweet floral arrangement on our door stoop. And spirits our car away to a safe place to thwart any shenanigans Donny’s younger brothers might devise.

The room has barely changed with its steep stair entry, dormer windows and slanting roof lines. We are just as enchanted as on our first visit. Donny has opted for the romantic package and we are greeted with fresh flowers, amazing chocolate covered strawberries, and champagne. We have dinner at Chownings Tavern a short cobblestone stroll across The Duke of Gloucester Street and call it a very full day.

The following morning we have breakfast in the Inn dining room as part of our Romantic Package. As we leave the Inn, an employee passing by stops to comment on Donny’s shirt. He is Hawaiian and recognizes it as authentic. He has a good eye, I’ve purchased it from Newt’s at the Royal Hawaiian when Suzanne & I take a sister trip there in 2005.

We plan to spend most of our day meandering through the private gardens that connect to each other via low slung wooden gates kept in place with a cannon ball weight on heavy chain. We’ve done the tours before, the gardens are perfect because most people do not know they are open to the public so they are generally quiet with only an occasional other visitor or two. Colonial Williamsburg is fairly compact making our plan perfect for strolling.

We have a carriage ride on our schedule also as part of our Romantic Package. As we approach the carriage stop we are surprised to see our by chance new friends from check in. They have scheduled a carriage ride for the same time (several carriages are in service).

We chat a bit and then their carriage loads up. Ours is quick to follow and periodically we spy them as both carriages clop clop up and down the cobblestone streets. We arrive back first and as I disembark I see their carriage approaching. On an impulse I dash into the street and snap a few photos for them. They have my card, they can contact me later, that is if the card doesn’t get lost, it’s one of those small style ones. They wave thanks and Donny & I wander away.

We get ice cream at tiny Dubois Grocer and I show Donny the garden nearby with huge double hedge rows the guys loved to play in while eating their cones when we would take a stretch stop traveling between Richmond and the Outer Banks. Wandering on we discover a huge flat lawn perfect for croquet behind a lovely home on Nicholson Street. We spy an interesting looking area at the far end. We decide to investigate. We approach the split rail fence and a mason asks if we are lost. It turns out we have discovered the colonial brickyard. We tell him not really and ask him about his about his job and the entire fascinating scene. It’s new to us since we last visited Colonial Williamsburg. Later we learn that you need a ticket to visit the exhibit properly.

He tells us that he teaches folks (mostly kids) how to prepare the wet clay for brick shaping. It’s basically stomping it with your bare feet until nice and blended. Bricks are made all summer, dried and then stacked into a huge hollow rectangle box. This is fired in the fall to such an intensity that the brick shapes become usable bricks. A one time self made kiln.The amateur potter in me is delighted. Conservation at its best. We thank him for our lesson, wave goodbye and head toward our room. It’s time to dress for dinner with Sherrie.

(…to be continued. You didn’t really think that I could put the entire honeymoon redo in one post did you)

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Martin THE Graduate

West Springfield HS graduation at George Mason University June 4, 2019

Grandson Martin leads in many ways. Oldest cousin to a dozen younger. Older brother to sister Lydia. And possessor of eighteen years worth of fun and growth under his belt, much of it earning a Taekwondo 2nd degree blackbelt.

It takes awhile for our kids to get started on the grandchildren track and we’re not pushing. Parenting is a full time job and anyone jumping into that pond needs to be as ready as is possible.

Martin diploma
The diploma
Martin cap and gown
Martin Downing Desjardins

But when Emily & Marty make their announcement we are elated. They live in Louisville and we burn up Priceline auctions after Martin’s arrival getting as many family members as possible west to met the leader of the next generation.

Marty is then in sound design and the job market limited for sustainable work. Still when an opportunity presents itself I suggest that being closer would be sweet and they make it happen!

Moving is a challenge. Marty drives the van. Emily, Martin & I follow as we weave our way east. By Winchester VA baby Martin is done. He will gladly live there. Nothing soothes him. We’re so close. It’s nighttime and stopping will only make things worse, so we keep going. Finally we arrive, exhausted, our sanity hanging by a thread. But now the new family is geographically closer to both families.

And the fun begins. Playing at the National Zoo and all of the museums in Washington. Summer beach visits. And it is through that portal that CampOBX evolves along with a plethora of quotable quotes from Martin.

“My MOTHER is killing me!” shrieks three year old Martin as Emily vainly tries to remove a splinter from his foot.

“I can’t move. I have no bones,” yet another classic from the youngster not wanting to do the task at hand, probably bath before bed.

“NOW we’ll have some fun!” is his mantra as time for CampOBX gets close.

“NOOOO!! How would YOU feel if you had not been to camp in forever,” is the plaintive wail when Emily suggests a side trip to Jamestown on one journey to CampOBX from NoVA.

Sister Lydia joins the family to begin CampOBX in earnest. A few years down the camp path nephew Jake, seeing how much fun Martin & Lydia are having, worms his way into camp time, too, and year after year with little to no advance planning the three manage to circumvent other summer obligations to make camp together happen. Early on they create an only an insider will get it joke list. When I find the list cleaning up, I think it preservation worthy and hang it on a clip. The next year they discover that I have kept the list and they begin an annual tradition of last day add on jokes. Camp cannot officially end until the joke list, still on that same sheet of paper, is updated.

Ashville Drive turtle boil August 2011

Through the years campers have seen a daytime random turtle boil, played at the beach, climbed on Jockey’s Ridge, eaten Cookie Monster Sundaes and more at Kill Devil’s, played at the beach, bounced their way through three camp trampolines, scored a hole-in-one while playing mini-golf, played at the beach, bought countless stuffed toys from the aquarium, evacuated camp early because of an approaching hurricane, played at the beach, been to the tip top of the Wright Brothers Monument (that part is now never open to the public), opened First Flight Adventure Park, played at the beach, pulled all-nighters, walked the mile length of now gone Shelly Island, played at the beach, gotten chased out of H2OBX Water Park by an enormous thunderstorm, discovered a cub while on a bear hunt, played at the beach, encountered Nags Head police at Kitty Hawk Kites past midnight, viewed the prettiest sunsets anywhere right from the camp porch while always, always having FUN!

Of course, Martin’s well balanced life reaches far beyond CampOBX but, Second Christmas aside, it is the pivotal point for our time with him. We do our best to get to birthday celebrations, as well as school and extracurricular events because, as Martin declares, “Grandpa comes to shows,” during one family discussion about whether we will attend or not.

awesome 80s prom
Martin is Louis Fensterspock, one of several amazing leading men, in the Awesome 80s Prom WSHS 2017. I was voted Best Dressed Girl.
monster under the bed
Lydia designed the Dad Monster costume that Martin occupied throughout the show. Martin’s voice alone carried the character.

As he enters high school and discovers his love of acting, Martin’s shows become truly things of amazing talents and wonder. Martin owns each role he is cast in with confidence and ability. He has the makings of a great career in theater. And he has already proven his merit in that field with acceptance into the Bachelor of Fine Arts program in theater at George Mason University.

We love you Martin, awesome leader of the pack!

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Keese & Martin, A LOVE Story of Hollywood Proportions

Act One

“Well, will you or won’t you?” Not exactly a romantic proposal, but read on and then decide if this is not truly a real life Hollywood moment.

The time is 1946, he is a student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She is a student at Mary Baldwin in Staunton. Her daddy is minister at the Methodist church in Farmville. She comes home almost every weekend because it’s where the action is. I’m in this story too. I am a tiny thing living with my grandparents while Mom and Dad work long hours in Richmond making ends meet as there is no child care of any worth or reasonable rate available.

It’s Halloween weekend, Martin comes to visit close relatives that live in Farmville. The dating set congregates at the local drug store. Soda fountain or booth, both hold equal attraction for this young crowd. Keese is there along with Mom and other friends. Jane, a New York city relative of Martin’s, who is more than certain that her big city experience far outdistances any small town take on life, decides that Martin needs to meet Keese.

She steers him to the drugstore where he is instantly smitten with married Mom. He unabashedly flirts. Mom knows her place, but is not above casual flirting and flattery. Keese takes an instant dislike to him. Jane isn’t as match maker savvy as she thinks , she’s wrong about this one.

Act Two

Keese

After a time, part of the group goes to the record store to pick out some vinyls. In those days you could listen to a record before buying it. They take their choices to a friend’s bomb shelter her family built during recently ended WWII. Dancing commences and Martin gets a good eyeful of Keese’s legs and her ability to cut the rug better than most. He is impressed.

Me, Mom and Keese

Later at home, Keese gets a call from Jane asking her if she will go out with Martin the next night. “Nope.” Keese is still peeved that he hit on Mom. Jane will not give up. She calls Martin to get the same answer. Back and forth Jane goes, she is not to be denied her match making. Finally Keese agrees.

The next night when Martin comes to the parsonage to pick Keese up, she is not quite ready. As she finishes up, she can hear Martin downstairs playing with me. Score points for Martin. When she comes down ready for her date, she finds Martin and myself down on the floor having a grand time. Score more points for Martin. Anyone that good with children cannot be all bad.

Act Three

They continue to date throughout the fall, Martin taking the bus back and forth on weekends from Charlottesville to Farmville. One weekend there is a big dance on the campus of Longwood the local girls college. Everyone has a good time, a very good time. Martin proposes to Keese. As high on the sauce as they both are she realizes that time is needed and plays a commonsense card. “Ask me again tomorrow.”

The next day sees them going to church, having lunch, enjoying the balance of the day before Martin has to catch the bus back to school. There is no mention of the night before. Keese is not going to bring it up. And Martin seems to have forgotten that he asked Keese to marry him and her reply.

┬áIt’s time for the bus. Keese walks with Martin to the Greyhound bus station. They say goodbye. Martin gets on the waiting bus. The bus pulls aways. And then before it can leave the terminal it begins backing up. It backs into the spot it just vacated. Keese is dumbfounded. She is still waving goodbye.

The door opens. Martin emerges. He walks up to Keese grabs her by the shoulders and begins shaking her. “Well, will you or won’t you, damnit?”

Me in the dress my grandmother made

The passengers and driver dare not breathe. Then, “Yes!” she beams. “Yes, yes I will!” The audience erupts in cheers and applause. Hollywood could not do it any better.

I am flower girl at their wedding and I still have the dress.

THE END (of the beginning)

Keese, Mom, Martin & Uncle Dick (Keese’s sister IG aka as Florence Leigh’s hubs) in the late fifties still hanging out together. Here at Tides Inn in Irvington VA

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Bill Northern THE Horse Whisperer

Bill explains energy flow

“I didn’t get my apple.” Bill Northern, rookie dowser, stops in his tracks. He is on his way to the house to have a morning chat with a good friend. Her horse has something for Bill to tell her. Bill looks at the horse who repeats, not TV star Mr Ed style, but direct mind to mind communication style. “I didn’t get my apple today.” Bill nods, heads into the house to report. His friend assures Bill that she has given out the daily apple. And then she pauses, “Wait, no I haven’t.”

And with that Bill Northern becomes an official horse whisper. It’s his first real breakthrough. He goes on to make a career out of talking to horses and reporting their needs and concerns to owners. He and his wife travel to New Zealand first class paid by clients he is in such demand. He works in Hawaii and Florida.

Bill only starts out to be a sometimes dowser and takes a class out of curiosity. He isn’t very good at it and decides that maybe dowsing isn’t his thing. He practices at home but with little success until the day the horse speaks to him. Crystal clear, it is animals, horses in particular, that he is supposed to work with.

I read about Bill in a full page feature write up in The Daily Break of the Virginian Pilot. It is fascinating. I am delighted to see that he lives in Warsaw on the Northern Neck of Virginia which is the neck of the woods where my family hails from. I don’t know him but we are already bonded.

This is in the early nineties. A decade plus later I am seeking counsel with a long time lawyer friend, Gordon Wilkins, for help with my mom’s paperwork. He and his wife (dorm mate from college) live in Warsaw. The three of us are having lunch at a local popular always crowded eat and run place when in walks this person casually dressed wearing a dapper gentleman farmer hat. I notice him because he’s noticeable in a quiet but dynamic way. Gordon looks up just then and says, “Hey, there’s Bill Northern!”

Bill teaching dowsing

I cannot believe this. “You know Bill Northern? I’ve always wanted to meet him!” Gordon hails Bill over to the table and invites him to lunch with us. Bill is happy to do so. He gets his lunch. We all chat. I explain how much I am intrigued by his work. He says that he is getting ready to drive to Florida for some sessions and would I like to go. It’s an honest invitation, not at all a come on. I truly consider it for a moment but home responsibilities, although to their credit Donny & Lewis will support any decision I make, tug me to say not this time but ask me again.

Bill and I connect later when I discover through his webpage that he teaches dowsing classes. Donny & I want to take one. I check in with Bill. He explains that the way it works is if he feels like folks are ready for the experience he will add their name to his list. When the timing is right he will arrange a class of four and alert you. If your calendar is clear you will spend a day learning all about dowsing in the comfort of Bill’s home and he even includes lunch and gives you basic dowsing take home tools. Donny & I are accepted together into a class. Even though I’ve taken several cranial sacral workshops and so know a bit about energy fields, Donny does the best. He’s a natural.

Cathie Morrison & Bill. Cathie has tremendous light energy.
Bill explains a point to Lynda Wood

Months later I take a group of girl friends for a class. Bill is elated over my energy field exclaiming that it is so big. Mom brings her dog Molly for a reading. Bill has helped mom with a dog she fostered telling her that the dog needs to be in a one dog family that will fawn over her. Mom is a little skeptical but finds the right home for Ginger and of course Bill is right.

Bill only accepts people with the right energy flow. Once I suggested a friend that actually lives near Bill and he said that she wasn’t ready. Currently two friends have been accepted for Bill’s next class. I cannot wait to hear about it. They are definitely ready and in for an awesome day with the infamous Bill Northern.

POSTSCRIPT: When I ask Bill about Mom bringing Molly to our class for him to assess her, he cordially agrees. As we continue our conversation about whispering with animals in general, I ask Bill if he ever works with cats explaining that we have many adoptees. He shakes his head and says, “Cats lie. They are impossible to work with. If they are very sick, they will tell the truth but that’s about it.”

Bill Northern, horse whipsperer

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