Enter Sherrie’s daughter Cary and soon to be fiancé Judd. Cary’s lifelong best friend, Kathleen, lives on the Outer Banks and they visit back and forth regularly. During one visit Cary posts a sunset photo and I comment that I know where she is. Turns out I was not quite right. I thought that Cary was at the Colington Harbour soundside beach when she was actually at a similar small beach near Kathleen’s house in Kitty Hawk. But they both claim stunning water oaks overlooking peaceful waters to frame a good sunset.
We get to chatting, one thing leads to another with Cary and Judd agreeing to swing by for coffee on their way home to Charlottesville. They have never been to our house and as I am giving them the tour I point out the wedding dress to Cary. The story is new to her and she agrees with her mom that she would never have an interest in wearing it. She takes my picture with the dress. This is in May of 2019. In September Cary & Judd get engaged. They set their wedding date for May 1, 2021, well enough into the future to circumvent the pandemic.
Months pass. Cary gets a dress and sends me a photo of it. She tells me that she has a wish to somehow use a piece of her mom’s dress in her wedding attire. I suggest a piece of the Alencon beaded lace or some of the tiny covered buttons incorporated into her dress but neither idea strikes a chord.
Whatever we come up with she wants it to be a complete surprise to Sherrie. My lips are sealed. I look at the dress. As steward of the dress I definitely want Cary to have a piece but I also do not want to alter its integrity.
Then inspiration hits. I do not even ask Cary. I tell her I have the perfect solution and will mail her the finished piece. She trusts me enough to agree.
The dress was too long for both Sherrie and myself and it ended up with a very deep hem. I make a heart shaped template as big as I can to cut into the hem of the dress from top to almost bottom leaving just enough for a cloth patch to be ironed on to keep the cut out area together. The dress is sewn in panels. I snip two hearts for symmetry along the inside of the hem from two of the largest panels. And patch the openings with light weight iron on fabric.
I appliqué stitch the two pieces together. At first I consider leaving the top part open so Cary can tuck in a note but the piece looked prettier completely stitched. Because I want the appliqué to be as big as possible without compromising the dress it ends up being part satin and part horsehair which I think rather interesting because that documents the construction of original hem.
It has taken me awhile to ponder various ideas and decide if the fabric will cooperate, there’s not a lot of margin for error or do overs. The days are advancing and I have assured Cary, even though she does not nudge me, that she is not forgotten and my idea almost finished and ready for mailing.
By the time I gather my courage, make the cuts, sew the heart appliqué, and mail it off to Cary it is late February. Plenty of time for an early May wedding, but she’s a bride there are endless things to do.
Cary is beyond delighted when she gets her surprise. “I LOVE it!” she texts. I envision Cary tucking it into her bra or bouquet but she does that vision one better. She sends me a video, under sworn secrecy of course, showing how she has stitched the heart into the lining of her dress. It is completely perfect. She tells me she has sewn the heart in using blue thread. I tell her that my nod to blue was sewing as well. I gathered my veil with blue thread.
The pandemic has proven rude and relentless, nevertheless Cary & Judd stick to the original date modifying the location to their backyard and the in attendance guest list to family and close friends with everyone else attending by Zoom. We all send video toasts which Kathleen collates into a file for Cary & Judd to watch after the ceremony. I added one of our many outtakes here because Cary & Judd have the best of the lot and we do work hard to make a good one for them. We want to capture an Outer Banks sunset while toasting with the wedding memento champagne flutes Cary & Judd have sent by FedEx to everyone.
And Cary’s surprise for Sherrie goes off without a hitch. Their wedding photographer captured the reveal moment so well
Now this is not the end of the wedding dress story because rather like Star Wars I started in the middle. Watch this space for Act 1.
It’s one crazy summer and midweek in late August veteran camper Jake has had enough. “I’m thinking of driving down for a Kill Devils burger tomorrow. Would love to say a socially distant hello.”
It’s early evening so I counter. “We can do you one better if you like. Stay here. Uncle Donny’s suggestion. Sleep in the pub. On the porch. On the deck. The trampoline (Lewis did that one night). Pitch your tent. Your choice if any of those work for you. And then you might fit in NHPC & Surfin’ Spoon as well. And get cinnamon buns for breakfast ❤️”
He ponders the idea, “Many good options! but I’ve got to be “in class” 8am Thursday.” I remind him that virtual class can pretty much happen anywhere. He agrees but it is the first day of class. He’s in the dark as to what to expect.
Then, “Driving tonight and sleeping out doesn’t sound like a bad idea. How are the bugs?” I send him a photo of the mosquito netting tent and memory foam folding mattress inside already set up, I know he’ll make the right choice.
Jake catches the sunrise on the beach while I make cinnamon buns and more for breakfast. He attends class. We head to Kill Devil’s in separate cars for lunch. Then it’s beach time. It’s a perfect Chamber of Commerce Day.
We leave the beach planning to stop at Kill Devils. NHPC is just that much too far in the wrong direction to even pick up pizza for the drive home and get the day tripper back to Richmond in time for classes on Friday.
I’m in my car just about to pull out of the grassy access at Dowitcher that is town parking for Small Street beach access. “I can’t find my car key.” Jake’s key is literally no where to be found. It’s the kind that only needs to be in proximity to the car to start it but it’s just not anywhere. We retrace our steps. He is confident that he did not put it in his pocket. And if he had the pocket is a very deep one that would have made escape unlikely.
We ask the lifeguard. Jake even tries to find it in the ocean. It’s no where we look. Vanished. Jake calls his mom. She says that Triple AAA will be able to start it. We all know how long it takes Triple AAA to respond so I volunteer to go get Kill Devil’s while Jake car sits. When I get back I find out that Triple AAA cannot help.
Diane has a spare key but cannot afford the time to bring it, she will Fed Ex it overnight.
Jake can barely enjoy his bonus time at camp he’s so vexed at losing the key. During this act Lewis sees my video of the excellent tide pool and they decide bring Felix after nap to play in it. I spy them walking toward Small Street as I return with take out. Opportunity to play at the beach! Jake distance joins while still looking for his key. Later we even check in with the town of Nags Head and advise them that there will be an overnight car at Dowitcher. Then we reason we may as well pack more into the day and step one last time through the original hobbit door at Surfin’ Spoon.
NHPC too is now on the agenda as well as a stop at Jockey’s Ridge for a sunset sprint. And a wrap up moonrise on the beach with a lanterns launch in the distance.
Next morning Jake raises the camp flag and attends his virtual class with an awesome sound side view complete with breakfast while waiting for Fed Ex to deliver the key. We are crushed when the first Fed Ex truck to arrive on our street is the wrong one. “You’re looking for an Express truck,” the driver tells us. We’ll take any truck with the key. Finally it arrives, class is long over so we are good to go get Jake’s car and polish off the day in camp style. Our customary camp hilarity is quite present but I can’t get Jake to put anything on the joke list. “We all need to be here.” He’s right, the joke list requires Martin and Lydia in attendance.
Thanks for holding up camp tradition Jake. 2020 did not defeat us!
From December 31, 1920 to September 30, 2020 a small piece of land on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia offers a tiny slice of beauty, bugs and the best of life to my grandfather, Starke Jett II, and his family.
He inherits this property from his father, Theodore Augustus Jett. There used to be far more land to the tiny peninsular where the property sits than is there now. There was a good size hotel complete with a ten pin bowling alley and guest cottages adjacent to our family claim.
By the time our cottage is a reality the hotel has washed into the bay. Three very small cottages and the bowling alley all grown over with vines and inching closer and closer to the bay with each passing year are all that is left. We kids are discouraged from playing around them but being kids we occasionally get curious and explore the empty tilting buildings. My cousin Jett falls during one adventure and and breaks her arm. After that the properties are declared off limits and truthfully it doesn’t matter too much to us as the beach is more fun. By the next season everything is gone anyway taking away any possible new temptations.
Having no need for the hotel amenities my grandparents stay in their family property about a mile inland in the wee hamlet of Tibitha situated on State Route 657 between menhaden fishing mecca Reedville and end of the road village Fleeton. Then Tibitha was a legitimate postal address for the few houses, church, and store for many years, now it’s just a name on maps. The house is still there and occupied. That’s how little things have changed over the years.
The house starts life as my great grandfather’s general store. When he makes plans for the disposition of his properties he tells my grandfather that he will leave the bulk of his estate, including the family home Sunnyside, also located on the peninsula but not on the bay proper to son Theo. My great grandfather tells my grandfather he has not concerns for his success. He is a well respected minister in the Methodist conference and has also married well. But my uncle Theo, a lifelong fisherman, has fewer prospects for gain. He wife, Maud Eyre Williams, is a local gal who could upon occasion be somewhat self absorbed.
And that is how my grandfather acquires the tiny store plus three lots on the Chesapeake Bay for his part of the inheritance. It all comes into his actual possession on December 31, 1920 upon the death of my great grandmother Florence.
The store, now a summer cottage for my grandparents, my dad and his two sisters has no running water, no power and a two seater outhouse. They get daily fresh water from Maud’s brother (Octavius) Rosser who lives nearby with his sister, Tyther Ethel. Their father is Tibitha’s postmaster. This is the kids’ chore. Then it’s off down the dusty lane to the beach. They spend their days on the bay. Occasionally my grandmother will come down to the bay for a dip which encompasses her gently settling herself into the lapping surf to cool off.
My grandfather joins the kids more often than my grandmother does. He has one bathing suit his entire life. He purchases it when the long sleeved and long legged body suit is in style. Through the years IG snips and trims at the legs and sleeves so my grandfather will not embarrass her as much.
Maybe my favorite family vacation story of theirs though is when Mother Leigh throws a bucket of water on Keese and my dad and IG while they play a game on the porch. She is so hot and wants to cool them off, sensing that they must be at least as if not hotter than she is.
The cottage that I know comes into existence in the mid fifties. My dad’s youngest sister Clarice to few, Keese to most, marries in 1947 and my grandfather reasons that no one will have any interest in vacationing in such a primitive manner and sells the house. My dad is already married and has planned a career as an Air Force pilot. IG is living an urban life as a librarian at Duke University. When Keese finds out about the sale she is aghast, explaining to her father that everyone wants to spend time at the beach.
To right his unpopular decision, Other Dad decides to build a family vacation cottage on one of the three lots on the bay. He sells the other two lots to finance the cottage construction, one lot to Rev Loving and one lot to Rev David Henry Lewis Jr, an Episcopal priest who later becomes bishop. Three preachers all in a row.
Camping and crabbing on the bay in earlier days before the cottage gets built. Mom tells of Dad once falling asleep and getting the bottom of his feet so sunburnt that it is painful for days. We are a family good at finding fun in any situation.
Years into our cottage vacation days, Mom spies a perfectly weathered and worn tree root system that will be easy to turn into a coffee table. She drafts my uncle Dick to help her haul it up a low rise in the cliff and back to the cottage. She’s at the top pulling the last few feet needed to crest the rise, Dick is below pushing. I have been walking on the beach and come along just at the moment when Mom’s bathing suit top falls down. Both adults gasp and then shamelessly start laughing. I cannot scramble up the cliff to help Mom because their project is monopolizing the only easily scalable spot. If Mom lets go to fix the impropriety all of their progress will be lost. Dick saves the moment. “Oh Midge, I’m not looking, keep going.”
My own memories begin in earnest when we begin taking our annual family summer vacations at the cottage. We as a family have just returned from a tour of duty on Guam and this no frills cottage reminds me enough of our flat roof cinderblock base quarters to immediately feel like home. It too is cinderblock with screens for windows. Our base house screen windows have wooden louvers to regulate air flow, the cottage has heavy wooden shutters that have to be shut from the outside when rain threatens to blow inside.
The cottage roof line is A shaped allowing for an attic. The cottage shape is a rectangle with two bedrooms at the front corners. At the back corner is the kitchen joined by the one bathroom, a very small bedroom and the last corner bedroom. The T shaped balance of the space provides room for eating, reading, card playing, sitting by the fireplace on cool nights, and bay viewing. The attic is floored across the part over the kitchen, bath and two bedrooms and has a pulley style drop down set of stairs. There are narrow walkways along each edge for storing tubes and such. The rest is open loft that provides light from windows in the two end walls. Our tiny cottage is airy and perfect.
And it sails us through summer after summer of cherished memories. We have no radios much less TV which is in its infancy, no fans nor air conditioning which too is in its startup years as a home commodity and sometimes not even a working toilet as the unfamiliar overload causes our one toilet to give up. But that’s all minor. What we do have is the bay, each other, fresh decks of cards, and random books brought by one relative or another. It is here I discover James Bond thanks to my Uncle Martin. I fall in love with Big Little Books and original Nancy Drew mysteries.
We deal with mosquitos, sunburns, chiggers and the awful smell of the local menhaden fish factory churning out fertilizer and cat food. The night that the fleet returns finds Dad excitedly calling out, “The fleet’s coming in!” He can see the lights of the boats rounding Smith Point. He hastily loads any of us who want to see them dock and unload into his car and we’re off. It’s a short drive and the dockyard small. This smell really is ungodly. I breathe through my mouth and hold a tiny bottle of perfume to my nose to keep from gagging and barfing. But the wonder of the night with fishermen knee deep in dead fish vacuuming them up out of the hold under harsh bright lights makes it all so exciting and daring.
We visit relatives and occasionally head to the nearest real town, Kilmarnock, a good thirty minutes away where we peruse the goods at the town drug store while having a soda or cherry coke at the fountain. I’m always eager to buy a new nail polish or lipstick with my hard earned babysitting money. For short period of time Reedville does have a butcher shop, a small grocery store and a local pharmacy but they are all limited in merchandise and appeal and they one by one close up for good. Kilmarnock has shops, restaurants and a even movie theater none of which we have time or money to spend at but the street appeal is wonderful.
But mostly we play on our beach, a term very generous in name because it is full of fallen down pine trees, broken washed up glass but not washed enough for collecting as all the shards still have sharp edges (Keese spends every day picking up buckets of broken glass so that we can play safely), drifting sea nettles and slippery clay. Still it is ours and we love it. We pretend the trees are ships, we each have our own, we use black inner tubes to avoid the stinging sea nettles, and the clay is in small patches mostly and thankfully down the beach from us.
We need access to this unique beach from a fifteen foot or so tall bank that spans most of the bay side of the peninsula. All of that is flattened out now due to erosion. But then we have no money for stairs that will wash away in the winter anyway and so dad carves footholds down to the beach and we’re all set. We are on the beach from morning to dusk. We kids are usually sent to the house to pack simple sandwiches for everyone. Peanut butter & jelly, relish, lettuce & tomato, things like that.
Sometimes we walk the beach, the fallen pine trees making it an adventure because we have to go into the sea nettle infested water so many times. Climbing over or under the trees works sometimes but not always. If we get all the way to Bayview at the end of our peninsula the land spreads out into a flat wide beach. We sigh over what might have been. My grandfather really wants this piece of property and a cousin who owns it agrees to give my grandfather first refusal when he decides to sell but then changes his mind and sells it out of the family.
Walking in the other direction gets us to the public beach for the town of Reedville. It’s a small but wide and sandy beach and is very popular. We always feel a bit smug to have our own private beach even if it does have fallen trees and broken glass.
For many years Mom and my aunts lament not having a dock but monies are tight and it is a pipe dream until they realize that they are literally sitting on most of the building materials. They begin shoving and toting water washed pine trunks until they have enough to create a foundation for a modest platform built with lumber yard cheap plywood. Upgrade!
Time marches on like it always does and sees the family going in many directions. Family vacations continue but begin to dwindle. Donny & I spend our honeymoon at the cottage and some of our first vacations as a family there. Years after that my brother lives in the cottage for awhile as does my cousin Mart later still. There is discussion about selling the property that goes on for decades. Keese has built nearby as have IG & Dick, and Mom as well. She and Dad split the blanket years earlier but she will not be denied the beach life.
And now we are here and I purposefully post this piece exactly one hundred years later on December 31, 2020. The property has finally been sold and is in the capable hands of its new owners. They are lovely people according to Keese. They plan to live in the cottage, updating it. She tells them that it has seen a lot of special moments. They tell her that they know, they can feel the love it emanates.
As our final step everyone’s copy of the sale documents need to be notarized and so it’s off to the bank for me. There I am delighted to find Anna Shipley Mccurdy in her office ready to help me. Anna and I share many Outer Banks moments. Her dad is responsible for helping to set the scene to create truly great family memories of our own. When Donny and I are discussing house plans with various builders Jim Shipley looks them over and suggests to Donny that we rework them to make the wraparound covered porch one foot wider. He tells Donny that by adding just that one foot will make a huge difference. Donny follows the suggestion and everyone who knows us knows how much our porch is used and beloved. Anna and her sisters were swimming students of mine, going on to be instructors and lifeguards themselves. And it is her mother Mary Ann that gets us started on home school testing, our current business and life saver when the family lighting store falls to big box businesses and the early nineties savings and loan crises. Mary Ann needed help getting testing materials and I knew the ropes. The world is a wide and an amazingly small place.
PS If you are an avid reader you may recognize some of the photos and episodes from earlier posts. I chose to repeat them here as final homage to The Cottage, our beloved unceremoniously named family getaway. My cousin Jett tried to name it The Other Dad well into its years of unfaltering service to us but it only somewhat stuck.
PPS Aunt Maud’s brother Rosser came into a goodly amount of money playing the stock market and gifted his sisters (one lived with him) with over $100,000 each so goes the story. Aunt Maud did not trust banks and kept her stash in her purse. It makes for a great family bit of trivia.
For generations both my family and Donny’s visit the real and only Santa at the Miller & Rhoads flagship store in downtown Richmond. I am lucky enough to visit Santa Bill Strother, who sells the store suits on spending money on an elaborate Santa set up. Fresh from a career in Hollywood, cut short by injury, local son at the urging of his wife, Bill applies to the store for the role of Santa. But he wants more. He has a plan. Using skills he learns in Hollywood, Bill creates a Santaland where Santa greets every child by name. The plan includes a beautiful Snow Queen seated far enough away from Santa, who sits center stage beside the chimney he has just bounded down to greet the children, leaving his reindeer, who he checks on periodically, resting on the roof. The Snow Queen greets every child waiting in the endless serpentine line and chats with them putting them at ease. Names are exchanged and via hidden mic conveyed to Santa’s also hidden ear piece.
And so with a confident booming voice, Santa summons by name the waiting child or family of children to approach his chair. He gathers the young ones on his knee, poses all for a photo, all kept straight by his faithful little elf who sits on a stool by his side. Wishes are told and Santa always says that he will do his best and maybe some surprises will be in order.
Donny & I both visit the real Santa as kids. We know the magic. It is not even a discussion that we will continue the traditional visits as we start our own family. We live in Varina, Miller & Rhoads a short car trip away. Our first born, Emily loves visiting Santa so much that we go more than once. It is during a period when interest in Santaland is waning and the line not so dauntingly long. Santaland is still popular just not the endless line waiting that could take hours to reach the Snow Queen and Santa popular. We even take Emily to see Santa on Christmas Eve one year because a friend tells me that is the time when there is no line. Few parents dare risk a last minute request to Santa that can not be fulfilled. Since Santa always promises to simply do his best and definitely bring surprises we are not worried.
And so it goes through the years until our family numbers five children all who look forward to visiting Santa and telling him their heart’s desire. Even a move to North Carolina does not deter us from our Santaland visit. One December as we make plans for the trip Emily a coed at UNC-CH by this time says, “Mom, Santa always gives us presents, we should give him something.” We embrace her idea and decide to create a photo montage out of all of our family photos through the years with Santa. We assemble the photos, put ribbon between the rows and columns and have the entire arrangement copied. We frame it, wrap it up with an added note on the back telling Santa who it is from and how much we love him.
The kids know time with Santa is very limited because everyone wants to see him, so they decide to forgo their moment to ask for special desires and use that time to bestow their gift and have Santa unwrap it. Everything goes according to plan. When it is their turn with Santa, Donny hands the present to Emily from the parents viewing section. She explains to Santa how he is always gifting everyone else and it’s his turn to receive. He opens the gift and is moved to tears. He in typical Santa mode does give the three youngest a quick moment to ask for their fondest wishes.
We pull it off. We surprise Santa. But Santa is the one with the last surprise. He calls the phone number we have included. While the family has moved to North Carolina Donny continues to work in Richmond at his family lighting store, Advance Electric Supply Company on the corner of Belvidere and Cary Street, commuting weekly.
Donny is at lunch and his secretary takes his calls. When he gets back she approaches him with an incredulous, “You got a call from Santa!” Donny gives her an oh sure I did look, “You’ve got to be kidding.” She holds her ground. “The REAL Santa.” She gives him a piece of paper, “Here’s his number.”
Donny calls the number. It really is Santa. The real Santa calling to thank us for the gift. This Santa happens to be the father of a hight school classmate of Donny’s. He never knew her Dad had a side job of such extreme importance.
Last year at M&R 1989
We have no idea but it turns out that we have gifted Santa on what is to be the last year for Miller & Rhoads as a department store with its Santaland magic. The next year Santaland moves to rival store Thalhimers just across the street and later to the Richmond Children’s Museum where it continues to this day. It offers new magic for many. For others there are fond memories of a time woven into their hearts.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
Mom’s stay in sick bay is not entirely seasickness. Early stages of her unexpected pregnancy with Suzanne as she later finds out.
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!
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.
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!