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 lived 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 occurrs to me that even with a big loving family there is no one at hand to help out. We are family less.

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, “If you don’t want to be here just leave.”

I look at him thinking he is joking. He is dead serious. “Just leave.” 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. The assistant scoots me along with a hand gesture and then turns his attention elsewhere, glad to be rid of me. I am free! Of course my neglected tooth decay suffers immensely even landing me in the hospital (but that is later back in Virginia and another story). Meanwhile I am a free spirit. 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 or die. The hospital had 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 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.

 It’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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Oh FUDGE

Mom starts it all. Somewhere along the way she acquires a recipe for fudge that does not involve a candy thermometer. And sweetest of all, it tastes divine.

Her fudge becomes more than legendary. It become a family legacy. To be faithfully carried on by Mom’s only granddaughter, our daughter Emily.

If you know the right people you might score some of your own Midge Fudge.

“Mom, you must get a fudge lesson from Granne. Not by phone. In person. Watch everything that she does. Carefully. Pay attention.” I paraphrase Emily, but not by much. And so I sign up for a private class of Learning to Make Fudge the Midge Way.

I visit Mom in Reedville as many times as I can make the three+ hour each way trip fit into my schedule. It’s usually a day trip because as much fun as Mom and I have together, my life on the OBX needs me too. Mom and I go to lunch, shop for savvy clothes, go to local events. And one time we make fudge.

I have actually never helped Mom make fudge, being a busy teen when she starts her mission and then I am off to college and later become a married gal and mom. So a lesson really is necessary. To get all of the fine nuances down pat.

Mom has been making Christmas fudge for years. It is the sweet treat every one of us fourteen gathered at 6416 Three Chopt (my grandmother’s antebellum home in the West End of Richmond) for the Christmas festivities look forward to bingeing on bit by bit and bite by bite.

But as with most good stories there is the requisite tragedy. One year the bingers are left fudgeless. The fudge is sequestered on the second story (the house is built on a slope) screened in back porch adjoining the kitchen. Any food that won’t fit in the tiny indoor pantry is safely kept on tables on the back porch.

In the kitchen at 6416 Three Chopt (the window opens next to the crime scene porch) Keese tries to pin the missing fudge on Dad. He vows that he did not take it. He cannot believe that it has gone missing either. Cousin Jett wisely keeps to the side.

The six marathon bridge playing adults in this story decide to take a collective break and refuel with fudge. The tin is no where to be found. As Dad’s youngest sister, Keese, tells it, “We all start blaming each other, like three year olds, for taking the fudge. We cannot believe it’s really gone.” They quiz us, the children. We definitely know better than to sneak more than a tiny piece at a time. We are innocent and clueless.

Then, like a lightning bolt, the solution hits Mom. She has marked the tin “Richmond” in preparation for the trip from Ohio not to confuse it with other fudge destinations. She gifts deserving people everywhere.

It is the days of home dairy product delivery. Not wanting to believe her conclusion but having no other answer, Mom decides that the milkman from Richmond Dairy has absconded with the fudge. Of course he didn’t really take the fudge in a thievery manner, he thought it was for him. But the adults are fine with absconded, they have been denied any fudge until the next Christmas, a whole year away!

Emily is determined that the fudge legacy Mom has so faithfully woven into our family cloth will not fade away. She picks up the baton after Mom dies, insisting that as much as she will cherish every physical item Mom wants her to have (Mom’s list of who gets what is as legendary as she is) the one thing she really needs is the fudge pan. It’s nothing special, Mom’s humble cookie sheet pressed into service during her fudge marathons.

But Emily is right, Midge Fudge cannot be made properly in anything else. THE Pan oozes the flavor of all the fudge that has come before. And emits the loving touch of Mom’s hand as she prepared batch after batch.

Fresh fudge setting up in the one and only Fudge Pan.

At first Emily brings the fudge she has made with her for second Christmas on the OBX, individually packaged up. If someone cannot make it, their fudge is left for the next visit to the OBX. Then Emily upgrades everyone. Fudge is mailed as soon as it is made. It’s so much fresher. This year an unscheduled postal closing day vexes her as the fudge packages are en route and thus stuck somewhere aging unnecessarily.

Finally the mail gets moving again but Andrew’s package is lost in transit. Six year old PJ is terribly distraught. So is Emily. Lewis offers anyone else’s fudge to tide them over. No one volunteers. Ours is already consumed. Stephen says that it would have to be their kids portions, as he and Sarah have shown no restraint.

Midge Fudge getting ready for delivery! Emily includes a love note with each delivery so that recipients know the history of their treat.

I put a bug in Emily’s ear that cousin Peyton and I have been talking, among other things, about sneaking fudge at Three Chopt. When I tell Keese this, she says, “We all knew you kids were taking pieces. We just never said anything.” So much for stealth.

I suggest that a package of fudge to Peyton would not go unappreciated. And it is not. “Omg. Your sweet baby girl sent me Midge’s fudge with a cute picture and sweet card. You raised a fine daughter!  I’ll write her!!!!  Yahoo. My inner child will be shoving fudge in my mouth before I get caught!!!!!”

And she on the spot munches through two layers. Which turns out to be a very good thing because not long after the first text I get another, “Guess who got into Midge’s fudge. That’s throw up (she has sent a photo of a small but telling lump on her favorite rug) but I had it (the fudge) way out of reach. This is a dog that can’t climb up on the bed! Oy!!” Thankfully Alfie barfs up the little that he ate. Just proves that Mom’s fudge knows no boundaries. It’s loved by all.

Chocolate is bad for me? But it was so good. I admit it. I absconded. I really did. Guilty.

In fact when Keese and Emily chat at Mart’s memorial service, Keese asks if she can please have more fudge this year. The five or six pieces, while much appreciated, are just simply not enough. Keese is probably still scarred by the milkman denial year.

Oh yes, our girl knows her market, she sends you just enough to want more. “Emily,” as Peyton puts it, “is like the pusher man. First one’s free.” And when asked she says that a text appreciation message is quite acceptable, but a hand written postal note gets you more.

As much as she loved how happy her fudge made people, this photo of Mom in her pre-fudge making years is not far from how she felt after an endless fudge session.

Look what you started Mom! Thanks!! The legacy you built piece by piece over the years binds us all together in such a sweet way.

Epilogue

Cousin Peyton, slightly younger than her brother Rick, Jett & myself just read a short separate post I have put up about the fudge tragedy. When I ask her if there might be any missing details she replies, “I’m sure I was huddled in a fetal position with the shakes and chills jonesing for fudge. That’s probably when you caught me eating that candied grapefruit rind!!!”

Candied grapefruit rind? Yes, it is as awful as it sounds. Mother Leigh made it, not one to waste anything especially perfectly good grapefruit rind. As Peyton points out, it was truly an era of waste not want not. I try to like it. But clearly my personal sugar addiction has a line. Peyton and anyone else is welcome to the entire lot.

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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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Christmas in the SAND

Living on Guam in the 50’s is everyone’s dream life, from kid to adult. We go to the beach, we party, we play, we bond. In later years whenever the subject comes up, my parents always refer to this period of our life as the time when everything is perfect.

We ride out typhoons, one a direct hit. I vividly recall Dad taking me out in the eye to show me how calm everything is. Only moments before the wind is blowing with such ferocity that anything not tied down (he and fellow crewmen have spent hours tying down planes so that they will not tumble like weeds) gets carried along.

Typhoon preparedness on Guam 1953

Almost every night that the weather is good, there is an outdoor movie on base. Folding chairs are set up. Attendance is always full, even if it’s a repeat show. There’s no bathroom so you either endure or go home, which isn’t too far away. Everything on base is within walking distance.

On Saturdays, all the base kids pile onto a bus and get driven off base to a local theater somewhere short of nowhere. We fill the theater, dozens of screaming wild ones with pennies to spend on candy and popcorn that if selected wisely will last the entire morning. I am sure the only adults around are the bus drivers and the film operator. We form new friendships, dissolve old ones, fight over seats, food, and anything that strikes us as worthy. We love it all.

I go to school off base that is a series of quonset huts, one per class all connected by a concrete sidewalk. There is a big hut to serve as an auditorium. And in the middle of the complex a walk in refrigerator where cold milk is served to go with bag lunches. No cafeteria. We eat on the porch of our classroom hut.

On base we entertain ourselves by running behind the DDT truck spraying for mosquitoes, getting as close as possible to the back of the truck so to be entirely enveloped in the cloud of poison. You have to hold your breath, the smell is so awful. I am bad at it and give it up after a few tries. Still our kids marvel at why they are not malformed head to toe.

We sneak into the sugar cane fields behind the base, always leery of the possibility of lurking Japanese soldiers, to get stalks of cane to suck on. The sugar taste is so good.

Dad brings me exotic dolls and clothes from Japan whenever he goes there. A doll with wigs to change her status from young unmarried, to geisha, to wife; covered cloth slippers with a separation for your big toe. And straw open shoes with a velvet thong between the big toe and the rest, you would know the design as a flip flop, but then the concept is totally new to all of us. Learning to walk in them is hard even if they are pretty, the strap is annoyingly uncomfortable.

But the absolute best of all for a kid on Guam, is Christmas. The Navy shipmates decorate their ships within an inch of their smoke stacks. They are gaudy beauties to behold. I never tire of a trip to see them.

Decorated Navy ship on Guam 1953

A huge hanger is set up with presents for every kid on base. We get a collapsible cheap glass wind chime packed in a flat cheaper cardboard box lined with thin tissue. It smells divinely of the orient. I am always sad when mine breaks. We get a mesh stocking full candy. And, as if that is not enough, there are individual gifts. There is a line by age for girls and one for boys. The presents, identical according to specific sex and age, are wrapped and hidden behind screens and carefully handed out by an adult as you reach the front of your line. This glory stops at age twelve. I have figured out that the twelve year old girls get a toy red piano. I really want a piano. I’m only ten plus I won’t be on Guam when I’m twelve, our tour will be up. I get in the line for twelve year old girls and lie my way forward. I have not one bit of guilt about my deception. Mom doesn’t know how I have come by my treasure, she’s clueless about the details of the process, so I’m spared any inquisition.

Christmas 1953 on Guam. Me holding seven month old sister, Suzanne. Note the red piano behind my left shoulder. And next to my knee, the unique Japanese forerunner of the now common as sliced bread, flip flop.

The piano is only eclipsed by a German doll that I get for Christmas. I have sleuthed out my gifts, so this doll, a last minute addition, is a complete surprise. Mom tells me later that she initially passes on one for me because she’s done her shopping. But when she realizes that I will be the only doll age girl on base without a German doll, she picks a simply dressed one for me. It seems that a ship has come in mere days before Christmas with the dolls and there is a scramble for the most elaborately outfitted ones. I am impressed with the girls who get dolls dressed in over the top clothes and accessories but I love mine, simple dress and all. She’s absolutely beautiful.

Just as is life on Guam for those of us lucky enough to have our Christmas moment in the sand.

EPILOGUE

When your past gobsmacks you, in a good way, you just have to laugh and pay attention. Preparing to start a post about Christmas on Guam I see feedback from from the youngest daughter of Dad’s pilot partner in crime.

She has happened upon my blog post about her dad. She’s my sister’s age so I really do not recall a lot about her. Both born on Guam, they were but babies. Her older sister, still younger than me, I very much recall as cute and fun.

Normally I write and rewrite and put a draft aside but like I said when you’re gobsmacked you rise to the occasion, so Merry Christmas Yvonne aka Bonnie and Marianne!

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