Category Archives: family

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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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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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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Let Us Talk About LETTUCE

Interior of commissary at NSD Guam, 28 June 1951.

I am in Harris Teeter shopping when a strangely familiar sight greets my eye in the produce section. Empty, or practically so, shelves where lettuce and other fresh greens should be succulently waiting for me, and others, to bag them up and take them home. No famine has not struck, it is only our local grocery in the summer and shoulder seasons.

The sight brings to mind the base commissary on Guam where we live in the mid-fifties. The produce department is always devoid of anything fresh. Always. A few scraggily heads of lettuce or partial heads, to be more exact, will be all you can ever expect to find. At that they are wilted and a sorry looking lot. There is no such thing as local produce. Well, I’m sure there is, the locals have to eat and gardens are always part of local culture. Still, we are not encouraged at all to mingle with the locals who live nowhere near our base anyway. Tales of Japanese soldiers unaware that the war is over holed up in the mountains waiting to take your life are drilled into our minds. We listen.

One shopping day Mom is doing the weekly pick and choose through the pathetic choices with close family friend John Molchan. Why John is on task escapes my memory. Possibly his wife, Connie, or their new baby, Marianne, is sick. At any rate, he is already out of his element. This is the fifties, wives do the grocery shopping, period. They are combing the meager selections when all of a sudden there is a literal stampede of women heading their way. John is dumbstruck and cannot move. He is almost bowled over. Thankfully he is tall. “What IS happening, Midge?” he shouts to Mom who is holding her own in the middle of the melee. Better still she’s pushed her way to the front. “Ship just came in, John,” she shouts back over her shoulder.

He looks bewildered, “So?” Ships come in all the time. But not a ship with fresh produce. That will be gone in mere minutes. And it is. Mom, I am sure, scores for herself and John, who has retreated to a safer part of the store.

Released from the measles quarantine ship I cruise in style with Mom & Dad around Honolulu.

Dad and John met at the onset of their deployment to Guam. It’s an instant friendship that goes on to span years. Even after both families depart from the eighteen month tour of duty, these two pilots continue to stay in touch. John brings the family to see us in Whitehall, Ohio, where Dad is part of the newly formed SAC program based at Lockbourne AFB. It’s not beyond possible that John finagles this visit as part of an assignment. He and Dad, both, are not shy of work arounds that deal them an advantage, be it an unscheduled stop or something fun like getting me off of the quarantined Guam bound ship in Honolulu.

After a week on board everyone looks forward to shore leave. But we kids are denied, as one among us is sick with the measles. That I have already suffered through every kind of measles known to man, matters not, I am stuck. Until sprung by my heroes, Dad and John. Dad rents a little cottage for us right on Waikiki not far from The Royal Hawaiian.

Besties united. Dad & John, sister Suzanne, Marianne Molchan, me and Bonnie Molchan in our basement at 422 Beaver Avenue, Whitehall, Ohio.

Dad and John are best buddies. With little else to do, parties on base are endless, the men attending when not on duty, the women always at the ready. Spur of the moment at any point in the day come right now wearing what you have on parties, any and every occasion parties, theme parties. It’s a party goers paradise. Dad & John are always the life of every party they can attend. They have duck calls. They entertain everyone with their duck call duets. You have to hear it to believe it. And with any encouragement at all they ramp it up, and up some more. They know how to party.

Time speeds by, especially when you’re having fun. Our tour is up so quickly. We hug goodbyes and board military transport ships for the states. Aboard, in a different type of close knit environment, parties again pop up everywhere, every moment of every day. Dad is supposed to be schooling me. Mom has given up, exasperated at my constantly being distracted by, in my estimation, better things to do; and turns me over to Dad.

The first day into this new routine we’re in the midst of a lesson, when Dad looks at me and says, “We’re not having any fun are we?” We’re outside in deck chairs, the warm sun and salt air definitely making it hard to concentrate. I timidly nod, wondering where this is going. “I say we stop,” he conspires. I break into a broad grin of agreement and dash off before he can change his mind. No chance of that, as Dad shouts after me, “Don’t tell your mother!”

I do not recall where the Molchans land after Guam, but I do know that John keeps up with us. He randomly calls to chat, never mind that it is the middle of the night where we are. He is from Ohio and so a stop by our home in Whitehall is an easy side trip for him and his family. But, alas, he does not bring his duck call. Maybe a good thing, our more churlish than not neighbor has a gun.

EPILOGUE

For future reads and documentation a small bit of clarification need be added. I started this post about a year before finally finishing and publishing. One of the first things that I do when starting a post draft is to title it. Typically the title doesn’t go through changes, unlike the post which experiences many redos before I’m satisfied. And as most, this title is perfect from the beginning. A week before posting I pick the draft back up and begin polishing it. Today I am close but not sure if it is a post anyone will actually find fun. Then I see the nationwide recall of Romaine lettuce promulgated by the CDC and ponder no more. Let us post about lettuce.

AND FUN FEEDBACK

December 21, 2108, “Sandy, I truly enjoyed reading your recollections of Guam! While I can’t remember a thing as an infant there, I was able to return there while working for NOAA 25 years later, and again during my honeymoon to Palau. Yes, those days were the golden days for our parents. My brother, sis and I all have our own duck calls and from time to time locate each other in a crowd by calling one another. It would be great to meet you some day. Is your dad still living? Our dad died a couple of years ago and we buried him alongside mom at West Point. Hope to meet you some day. Let me know your contact info and I will do the same. Fondly, Marianne Molchan”

AND MORE FUN FEEDBACK

“Hi Sandy, this is Bonnie. My formal name is Yvonne but mom and dad renamed me probably at one of those parties. “My Bonnie lies over the ocean” was popular at the time. Like you, I remember the parties and loved it at our house because we were free to have fun too. I also remember learning to babysit when everyone was at another house. I was 5. I called a party on a cruise ship when I turned 60 and dad came for the cruise along with Marianne and more friends. Of course he brought the duck call. He competed in the talent show and the act is posted on the internet YouTube “John calls in the ducks”. He won a bottle of champagne.”

John explaining how he started using duck calls on Guam during typhoons. I’m still working on getting a sound bite of this!

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The Fabulous BUNDY Boys

6416 Three Chopt Road Richmond VA circa 1959 home of Dr Starke Jett Jr and Leigh Arthur Jett

“Your son is d-r-u-n-k.” No words any mother, especially one of a two year old, wants to hear; even being delivered in an easy going southern drawl. My mom is aghast. How has this happened? We are at my grandmother’s antebellum home on Three Chopt Road in Richmond Virginia for Christmas. It’s a family tradition faithfully supported by my dad, two sisters and respective families. We total fourteen counting Mother Leigh, my namesake and family matriarch. Our drive is twelve hours straight through from Columbus, Ohio before the days of interstate. Our only brief stops are for gas, bathroom break and a quick picnic Mom will pack if the weather looks to be good. Occasionally on our trek Dad stops at a Howard Johnson’s for an actual meal. This exceedingly rare treat requires that my two siblings and I, tired of the endless car ride and constantly picking on each other out of boredom, straighten up and put on our best behavior. Once when we stop I am completely fascinated by a traveling family of five children all genuinely enjoying each other’s company and at their parents urging ordering favorites from the menu. I store the vision away in my future family file.

This Christmas, my brother Star (he’s number five unclaimed nicknames are scarce), has picked up some childhood bug. It’s not enough to keep us home but erring for caution Mom gets a prescription and begins dosing him. By the time we get to Richmond, he’s pretty much uncontrollable. He displays endless temper tantrums and fits of flinging himself onto and off of any surface. My grandmother, probably at her neighbor’s suggestion, gets Mom an appointment with Dr Bundy, whose office is a few blocks away near the corner of Patterson Avenue and Three Chopt Road. He is the favored west end proper society pediatrician.

Dr Bundy takes one look at my brother and declares his diagnosis. The medication is not in sync with Star’s system and with each dose he has become more and more inebriated compounded by Mom upping dosages thinking that his tantrums were a result of the illness, never suspecting the medicine. She was sent home with instructions to let him sleep it off  to sober up. The adults came up with a faster plan, coffee milk made using Mother Leigh’s A&P drip grind 8 O’Clock deliciously strong (made so by pouring it through twice) black coffee.

Many years later, when Donny & I begin our family, I will consider no pediatrician other than Dr Bundy. No matter that we move to Varina in the east end of Richmond when Emily is six months old, our family pediatrician remains Dr Bundy. By the time Donald arrives Dr Curry has joined the practice but I still opt for Dr Bundy, who wants to know what we will call Donald. “Athelstan?” his middle name as he is a junior. I never gave it much thought. My grandfather, Dad and brother all have the same name, each generation with his own unique tag. But I guess being from a family of his own with generations having the same name, he has more direct insight into the same name game twists and turns. By the time we move to the Outer Banks the practice has several more pediatricians and Dr Bundy only sees select patients. No matter, we have established our history with this legendary man.

Our next encounter with the Bundy boys is when Donny, upon recommendation from his diabetic specialist Dr Jordan, becomes a regular patient of Dr Walter Bundy III. He is the son of our beloved pediatrician and is making his own mark in the world of ophthalmology at Virginia Eye Institute. When we first relocate to the Outer Banks, Donny commutes to Richmond to continue running the family lighting business, Advance Electric Supply Company. During this time Donny’s right eye starts to give him vision problems and it’s Dr Bundy to the rescue. Several successful laser surgeries save Donny’s eye from complete shut down. By the time cataract surgery is on the horizon Donny and I have our own at home business, Bayside School Services, on the Outer Banks; but of course the only recourse to consider is Dr Bundy. We head to Richmond for the scheduled outpatient operation. It goes well.

As with all of his patients Dr Bundy wants to see Donny the next day for the routine follow up exam. We want to go home. Donny asks if he can send a text photo. Dr Bundy ponders briefly, he admits that it is rather unconventional and nothing he has ever done. But he’s tech savvy. He uses his iPad when piloting his plane. He agrees to be a pioneer with Donny. We head home. The next day I take a close up of the eye and Donny sends it. Dr Bundy is impressed with the photo and how the eye looks.

The perfect Ocracoke get away for us – small, family run with windows that let in the cross breeze & is right in the middle of town

Our latest interaction with one of the fine Bundy boys comes this fall. Donny knows that Walter has a brother, David, who lives on Ocracoke where he began what is now an island favorite and well respected eatery, Zillies. David and staff plan periodic special dinners and one that includes wine pairings with each course catches Donny’s eye at the last minute. He tries to find a place for us to stay on the island but comes up short.

By now it’s the day before the event, I jump in and message friend and local family motel owner, Jennifer Garrish. She is out of town but is fairly sure there is an opening in the six unit business. She says to call in the morning. That is how low key and small they are. There is a web site but no online booking. I call the next morning and get voice mail. I end the call, not wanting to tie up the machine with my explanations. Then rethinking I call back with a short version of the story in my head if needed. I still get voice mail. I leave my note and move on.

Donny has bought tickets late Friday night after we hear from Jennifer, as there are only four left. We are willing to gamble. Saturday morning we see Sunday’s weather calls for high winds, the ferry ride will be exciting, if it’s even running. As we ponder whether to go or not, I get a call back from Jennifer’s niece, do I want two doubles or a king. We’re in, our date night is on. We’ll take our chances with the weather.

We agree not to dash for the ferry Sunday morning either and we don’t. We get great double shot red eye coffees at the Magic Bean Coffee Bazaar, we walk back to our room down Howard Street where much of Ocrafolk takes place, and before leaving the village take a driving tour of the other side of Silver Lake with a photo op stop at the lighthouse.

Finally we head toward home, and find a line backed up down highway 12, ferry dock not even in sight. I’m betting it’s all those sprint for the boat morning people thwarted. Much later we inch within sight of the dock since at long last they’re loading a boat but we’ll not make that one. Much later we miss the last place on the second boat to leave, eclipsed by a priority golf cart in tow. After another long wait we are at last on the ferry. Once underway we are cautioned about a rough crossing and potential over wash. Then we find ourselves stopped mid-crossing for an on coming ferry to negotiate a one way channel. We do know how to rock a date night.

Our delay puts us on Hatteras yearning for fresh coffee and actual food. All the spots that we know are good are closed. We happen upon Pamlico Deli and turn in. It looks great and it is. Nick, the owner, is a real foodie coming from a long line of meat handlers. He cooks all his own and the proof is in the tasting. Hands down the best Ruben sandwich I have ever eaten. But he does not have coffee. A few miles along we find a coffee shop, Uglie Mugs, but they have just closed. We can deal with it, we’re almost home.

Zillie’s 538 Back Road Ocracoke Island NC

But back to our date. Saturday on Ocracoke is charming. The nasty weather is still on the horizon, this day is sunny and just breezy enough for my Nags Head Pizza Company hat to be useful. We check in and decide to take a walk. We find Berkeley Manor and are delighted to see that it’s but a stone’s throw from our abode, especially if you cut through the back yard. Then it becomes a Walk Your Ass Off by Sandra tour. I want to show Donny where the Ocrafolk Festival is set. It’s been a couple of years for me since that fun girl weekend. And decades since Donny has even been on Ocracoke. Neither of us recall much about the layout of the island beyond the basics. GPS in hand we head toward what I think is the festival epicenter. We find ourselves on Back Road. We see Zillie’s. We see the back of the school. At the festival I only recall seeing the front of the school and that from a distance. We need to go right but by the time we have a chance we’re back on Irvin Garrish and at our motel. The festival overview will have to wait. It’s time to get ready for dinner.

We are forty attendees strong with assigned seating. Donny finds himself next to a whipper snapper Naval Academy career graduate, who is more than ready to compare survival stories. I am next to a gentleman whose hobby is native plants. He has the perfect idea for our eternal erosion, papyrus. He and his wife will share when they divide theirs. The six courses starting with shrimp and grits and progressing to prime rib plus dessert are paired with amazing wines all explained to us by our sommelier. It is all so good! I am not going to waste anything and polish off every bite and every drop of wine.

Walking home is more like weaving for me but who cares. I later chuckle that it would not have been incorrect for an apparition of senior Dr Bundy to appear, drawl in Donny’s ear, “Your wife is d-r-u-n-k,” wink and fade away.

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Waltzing Through TIME

Me, Mom & Dad in front of our new home at 6414 Three Chopt Road. We called it The Little House. It was the transformed double car garage of 6416 or as we called it The Big House. Photo credit Donald Loving.

I got an out of the blue email recently from the son of a college friend of Dad & Mom’s. All my life I have randomly but consistently heard of Donald Loving. More from Mom than Dad. It usually was a comment in passing. Donald was my grandmother’s pick for Mom. But not one to listen to her mother, Mom chose otherwise. Still Donald remained in her life. They even renewed their friendship after Mom moved to Reedville and Donald was living in Newport News.

Apparently Dad and Mom never left Donald’s thoughts either. This is note from Lee Loving (we have yet to meet).

Hello Sandra:

 I have struggled with sending this email for months, but being the “family historian” and happening upon your blog; I convinced myself to send it.
Up until my father’s death in 2011; I had heard the name Starke Jett my entire life. My father would talk about those days  on the North Neck of Virginia; growing up with Starke and maintaining a strong friendship through his college years at Randolph Macon.
 
It all came to head one fall day in the mid 1960’s when Dad came home and said this Starke Jett was coming for a visit. My Mother, Brother, Sister, and I were put to the task of “getting the place ready” for Dad’s best friend. My Dad was an Aeronautical Engineer for NASA, so we were used to keeping things in order. But this was a different mission. He pushed us like no other. We double cleaned, racked, cut, vacuumed, and dusted. I mean the placed look like an Embassy Suites by the time we were done.
 
Then, there he was. The man my Dad talked about more than anyone else was before my eyes. He came with his wife and son. He was charming, fun to talk to. His wife was a bit quiet but sweet. We went trick or treating with his son. I’ll never forget the amount of compassion my Dad had for Starke.
 
Now some 50 years later,  I have discovered that Dad kept every letter he received since 1932. What an adventure it has been. Among the many letters were letters from a Margaret Ann. I didn’t think much about it until I saw a letter from Starke Jett saying how much he had enjoyed meeting Margaret. Then they were more letters from both Margaret and Starke to my Dad. Around 1940 Starke was writing from Ohio, having enlisted in the Air Force.
 
I still hadn’t put two and two together until I decided to research Starke. And that’s when I ran across your Blog, your Mom’s and Father’s Obituary.  What a wonderful pair they made.
 
I hope this hasn’t brought up any ill feelings. You seem to appreciate your family’s history and memories. Thus, I thought I would share my experience with your Dad and how my Dad admired him.
A few weeks later a package arrives (Lee has advised me to look out for it). Inside are thirteen moments in time. All are treasures beyond measure. I’ve selected a few to scan. I posted them here  in time order. The first is from my grandmother. The second a fun art letter of Dad’s. The third has Dad already gushing over Mom (they married two years later). The fourth a letter from my aunt Keese (Clarice) to Donald. And the last married lady Margaret Ann corresponding with Donald. She did all of the letter writing after she and Dad married. Before that the bulk of the thirteen were letters from Dad to Donald, mostly of the moment typical guy chatter. On the second page of the shipyard letter below Dad tells about going to Cuba and how desolate it was, although the women were quite something else.
I received the lead photo a few weeks after the letters arrived. Guess Donald did finally get to see me! And Lee promises if any of us are in the Atlanta area and have time to stop in, he and his wife will have the house spotless.

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A RAY of Sunshine

When I was still in single digits, a life event happened that burned a memory in my consciousness that is vivid to this day.

My mother’s cousin, and thus mine too, committed suicide.

She was young. She had a husband. And two small girls. They had a comfortable home in an old farm house. Not on a farm but they had a big a garden and lots of shade trees in their huge side yard and of course a rope swing for us kids. We visited upon occasion. Not a lot but it was always an easy visit, usually for supper or Sunday after church. My grandmother would have baked something to add to the meal. We all ate well and then plunged into amazing desserts.

In the early evening we kids would catch lightning bugs in the twilight while the grown-ups sat in lawn chairs and caught up with what was happening in their worlds.

Then it changed. This visit was awkward. I was scooted outside and told to go play with my cousins and by all means to not to go upstairs. My cousins were fun, but they were younger than me and besides I was intrigued. What was all the hush about.

I snuck inside and eavesdropped on the conversation going on in the sitting room. Phrases like slit her wrists, bled out, right in the bathroom upstairs tumbled over me. This was too much to hear. I clapped my hands over my ears and eased away. Then it struck me. I had to see. I had to see what that bathroom looked like.

I inched my way upstairs being careful not to make a sound. I could hear the grown-ups muffled voices carrying on and my cousins distant laughter in the yard.

The common bathroom was down a short hallway. It was a small room bathed in light from a window over the bathtub that stood to the left of the doorway. The room itself was probably carved out of part of a bedroom when indoor plumbing came into style, that’s how old this house was. The floor was tile. The pedestal sink with a traditional mirrored medicine cabinet was centered inside the door on the wall opposite.

I tiptoed to the stand and just stood there looking around. Being a kid I really wanted to see evidence of what had transpired. An overlooked drop of blood. Or more. Hidden is some corner. But there was nothing of course.

And so I just stood there longer than was safe because I could not move. I could not fathom how this loving person, this mother, this wife could be so desperate. What had travelled into her mind and confused her so? What misery held her so tightly and dragged her down to such a dark bottomless place?

It’s not a new question. But it was new to me then. I had no answer. I have no answer. As an adult I do know this. No one can possibly know what is in another’s mind. What may seem an awkward decision might be the better of a worse one. A final one. And therefore we are wise to not judge. Love is always the truer course.

And if suicide is where desperation leads we can only hope that each story such as this proves to be a nurturing guide toward sunlight and a new day.

Her name was Ray.

 

 

 

 

 

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