Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Bewitching Spell

We’re a Valentine family. We have hearts and sentiments all over the house from years of Valentine gifting. Donny & I have home made hearts hanging from every corner of our awesome four poster colonial style bed. They never get put away. They’re just too special.



Step back for a moment to late 1968. I was a working girl dating a few really nice guys but nothing special going on there. I was also attending and teaching Sunday school at the Church of Our Saviour, a tiny episcopal church miles from my downtown apartment. The choir director and I had casually dated and I liked the church so stayed after the relationship fizzled. Donny landed at the same little church because he was interested in becoming an episcopal priest after his plans to be a pilot in the Navy got permanently sidetracked when he developed diabetes while at the Naval Academy.

The priest, John Upton, had a young family and his adorable wife, Becky, decided to play match maker with Donny and myself unbeknownst to us. She paired us up at the Christmas bazaar and invited us over to the rectory situated directly behind the church as often as she could without showing her hand.

For New Year’s Eve Becky decided to have a family style evening. She invited me. “Will Donny be there?” I asked. By this time he had my attention but I was not sure if I had his. I had an opportunity to go to a fraternity party at the University of Richmond and wanted to be certain my evening would not be wasted hanging out with families. Becky said she would check and call me back. She did. He would. And so I went. We played games, chatted, rung in the New Year and shortly after that most folks started leaving. There were just a handful of us left when Donny took leave. We all gathered at the door to say goodbye and Happy New Year. He bid farewell to everyone, but me. He turned to go and then turned back, “Oh, goodbye Sandy.” Subtly at it’s best.

Still I had a hunch he would call me. After a few days with no call, I had a date I didn’t want to cancel but, gasp, I’d be away from my phone. I pondered what would happen if Donny did call and didn’t get an answer. He won’t call again, he’ll figure he tried, I reasoned. I took the phone off the hook.

I cut my date short, dashed home and placed the phone back on the hook. Minutes later it rang. “Hello?”

“It’s me, Donny. You sure talk a lot on the phone.”

“Yeah, I do sometimes.” Score! He asked me out, took me to see Funny Girl and bought me BUTTERED popcorn. It was the first buttered popcorn I had ever had. Such class. Such style.

The next week he took me to the Jefferson Hotel for dinner because I said I had always wanted to eat there. The tables were set up on the balcony over looking the lobby with it’s stunning Gone With The Wind staircase. I was in love.

Valentine’s Day approached. “Sandy, let’s make Valentines,” my advertising cubicle neighbor Tuppy said. She was a newly wed. I had never made a Valentine. It sounded like fun. Tuppy and I bought supplies from the craft department and set to work. We pasted, we cut, we glued. And then we got to the inside part. What to write. Donny & I were newly dating. I finally settled on this.

first valentine

I planned to cook dinner for him and then give him my homemade Valentine. It all went perfectly until I proudly and shyly handed him my hours of work creation. He looked. He hesitated. “This is so special. I truly love it. But that’s not how you spell my name.”

to donnie

I was crushed. I had never seen his name printed anywhere unless it was Donald. But it didn’t matter. Valentine lovers we became and all time lovers we are.


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How I Got to Be in the Mother Of FIVE Club Part Four

You can’t get pregnant while you’re nursing. Ah, freedom for a few months. I bought it, hook, line & sinker.

And then one day Stephen quit cold turkey on me. Ten months old, he was eating solids but nursing was still the major part of his diet. Our kids loved mother’s milk. All solid nursers, no pussy footing around. But this baby just up and refused. My boobs were dying. “Please,” I implored. He clamped his mouth shut. The only way I could salvage the situation was to catch him just as he was falling asleep and trick him into draining a few drops from my super loaded, super confused breasts.

And then the light dawned. Hormones. He tastes new hormones. Pregnancy hormones. Nothing apparently that he wants anything to do with. Yup! We were on that band wagon again.

Soooo…natural delivery was a success but I could do better. I wanted a home delivery. I’m still trying to discern how I came upon information that there was a midwife in Richmond working through an OB-GYN to do home deliveries. Certainly not any of my girl friends. They were all main stream and this was radical. Not even any birthing centers in those days. Only hospitals. Being in the time well before google searching, I must have read an article somewhere. At any rate I called. My track record was a plus. I was told we needed to be within ten minutes of a hospital. MCV covered that base for us being just up the road from our Varina home. I was in.

Sally & I hit it off from the start. She was amazing. She had delivered babies in tents, in communes, and plain ordinary houses. The months drifted by. This baby was due in late November. At the start of the month, Sally told me that she was leaving town for a few weeks but would be back in plenty of time for delivery. She also told me that she was coming back on Election Day to vote and then was leaving again.

I protested. Did she forget that I was calibrated for early deliveries? Like clockwork every baby had been at least two weeks early. She told me not to worry and gave me her pager number. Election Day rolled around. I felt funny but nothing was happening. Still I couldn’t settle anywhere. I paced. I stretched. I played with Stephen. He napped. I didn’t. And then the mucus plug came out. A new one for me, I had read that meant imminent delivery. I called Donny. He came home. We waited. Nothing happened. And then contractions started rolling in, nice and slow, then picking up speed. “This is it!”

We paged Sally. She called. “We’re having dinner.” We was Dr Fitzhugh, his girl friend and Sally.

“You might want to skip dessert.”

They arrived to find me in full swing. “I’m worried about transition,” I told Sally. I did remember How. Hard. It. Really. Was.


“You’ll be fine,” she said. She was right. Transition came and went. I hardly had time to recognize it. Time to push!

“Stop pushing for a moment,” came Sally’s calm voice. What? Not again. I stopped. “Get me a light,” I heard her say to Dr Fitzhugh who was hovering close by. Our bedroom had no overhead light. Only a small bedside lamp. There was one other lamp in the room but it had a broken shade and so only got turned on when you really needed a bright light. Dr Fitzhugh turned it on and brought it close to Sally. There was fumbling and low conversation. Then, “Okay push now. Hard!”

I did. And I promise just as that little soul entered the room everything changed. He filled the entire room with his presence. I could feel it everywhere. It was ethereal and glorious. We had our baby number four.

andrew born

Andrew Saunders Ball November 5, 1980

andrew s&a

“Why did you have me stop?” I asked Sally later.

“Oh the cord was around his neck,” she replied casually. “I needed to cut it.” So that’s what Andrew had been doing a few weeks prior when I was sure he was working on his gymnastic skills. Tangling himself up. I think early was a good thing. Glad that’s my calibration.

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The Night Was Starry

Recently daughter-in-law Terri sent me this photo with her comment, “Now I want to build this!” She could, she’s a puzzle master. They were at LEGO-palooza in Chapel Hill.

starry night lego


It brought to mind the first time I saw Van Gogh’s A Starry Night. I was an art student but truthfully a dedicatedly lackadaisical one. I sort of knew about the greats but having successfully skirted art history classes (that meant work) specific details were pretty hazy. Maybe this was a good thing. Read on.

I was on a day field trip to Washington DC from school, which was RPI in Richmond VA, with fellow art students and instructors with the sole purpose of seeing lots of art. And we did. We toured the big museums at record speed, had lunch and proceeded to our last stop, a gallery in Georgetown that was having a special exhibit.

It was crowded but not annoyingly so. I browsed through the several small rooms circling back to the main one which wasn’t much bigger. Suddenly something caught my eye. “What is that?” I wondered. I wandered closer. My breath was taken away. I had no idea what I was looking at but it was captivating. I read the title card.  It was A Starry Night. “THE Starry Night?” I wondered out loud. I did know of the piece but for something so revered, so commanding in the art field, I expected it to be bigger. “It’s so small.”

It really wasn’t that small but nevertheless sitting in quiet repose among other lesser known works it shone ever so much more brightly. I cherish that I experienced this amazing art in such a serendipitous way. It was absolutely magical.

moma starry night

And then for my 70th birthday this happened. Thanks to an all nighter by Lewis & Hilarey using tiny forks and infinite patience. Photo credit to good friend and professional photographer Jim Trotman. Photo session a birthday present from the kids.

birthday cake

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How I Got to Be in the Mother Of FIVE Club Part Threeee

Life is good. Donny’s job in the family lighting business allows me to stay home with the kids. We frolic and play. We have fun.
rain play
A few years pass, both kids are in school. I go for my annual ob-gyn check up which also involves getting a new IUD insert. I am on the yearly plan by this time, no more shield. Almost as an aside I ask what will happen if I get pregnant with the insert in place. Termination I am told. No thank you I reply. I don’t want it under those conditions.

That left raincoats (Donny’s term for condoms) and careful counting as the only other options for us. We are careful but the very moment I feel overwhelmingly sick on a ride at Kings Dominion I know we are pregnant. And I am right. Termination is exactly how we landed in this new world and so those thoughts brought on by crazy pregnancy hormones are quickly dismissed.

Okay then this one is on my terms, I decide. The first two were on the doctors’ terms. I was always interested in natural child birth. I mean hadn’t women been doing this since forever? But I was quickly told it was just not a good idea with so much comfort at my disposal. I did not push back. Two epidural babies later and a bonus in the oven I am ready to take the reins.

Dr Knight is the youngest of the doctors in the group I elect to be and remain with because their reputation is that good. Plus Dr Knight and I have a history as he attended Donald’s birth. He agrees to my conditions. No drugs, no IV, all natural.

Such an affable child, our baby number three. He cooperatively scratches a tiny hole in his water sac allowing us plenty of time to bring in child care, get to the hospital (a different one but still on the opposite side of town) as a tiny little stream of water slowly empties the amnio fluids. Eventually we are at the hospital, parked and walking the strange empty hallways trying to find exactly where maternity is. Contractions are starting. The trickle down period is over.

We finally find our place and I settle into a labor room. The nurse tries to prep me for an IV. I tell her no. She looks confused. The doctor comes in and shrugs his shoulders. “Can we put a contraction monitor on you?” I agree. “How about a fetal monitor?” I feel like I might be losing control but agree. We are hooked up to the monitors but that’s it. Labor is getting serious.

“Oh look,” says Donny. “A contraction is starting.” He is fascinated. If I felt better I would have smacked him. I know a contraction is coming well before the stupid machine does.

The doctor wanders off, then comes back in, “How are you doing? Ready for your epidural?” I want to sock him too. I only glare.

I am birthing a baby. How do you think I am doing? I am working hard here. Very hard. I remind myself. Remember. How. Hard. This. Is. Do. Not. Forget. How. Really. Hard. This. Is. Really. Really. Hard.

Finally the nurse announces that I am ready for delivery. “Don’t push.”

What? Don’t push? That’s all I want to do. That’s what I’ve been working toward. Now I’ve got to hold the line. Don’t. Forget. How. Hard. This. Is. And then he is here. We have done it. Middlemost child and I. We are a natural team.


Stephen Dyott Ball April 29, 1979





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