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RPI Revelry & Rebellion

I promised you the story about the first time my picture was on the front page of the Richmond newspapers but posting that turned out to have a few more twists and turns than expected. After searching in vain for the saved clipping, I gave up and tried another tack. A few years back my sister sent me all the letters I had written home during my college years that Mom had lovingly saved along with a trunk load of other correspondence.

Revelers Bigger JPEGThere within those stacks and stacks of letters (I wrote a lot) were details about this very story. Details that I had forgotten. Now even more than before I had to write the post, not that I was going to skip it but it might have ended up on the back burner. Still I needed the photo. The letters gave me the exact date the picture was published. (What Grandma was doing on your to be birthday fifty years ago Martin.) I decided that it was worth the fee for a day of delving into the newspaper digital archives, even with no guarantee, to try and find it. And by all gods Greek I found it on my first try.

A bit grainy but better than a few decades old clipping would have been. Where am I, you ask. See those funny looking paper mȃché guys top left? They belong to me and my dorm mates. We owned them, in so many ways. Rather than paraphrasing I’m going to really take us back in time and quote my letters home word for word.

Dear parents,

Well, we’ve really been busy this week. Sunday night Chris (girl in dorm) and I were playing cards when I noticed something odd outside. A group of kids with a ladder in the middle of Franklin Street putting up a huge sign. It said, ‘Welcome to RPI.’ Then a whole bunch of kids started collecting and dancing on the sidewalk (a girl in the dorm next door turned her stereo up quite loud). About 45 minutes later the police came (that’s what everyone had been waiting for all this time) and the crowd left but the sign stayed although against a city ordinance.

Interject here that our college was/is (now VCU and sprawlingly huge) located on the fringe of business Richmond. The area is called the fan because the streets fan out from downtown. Classes and dorm spaces then were in a group of random vintage buildings with no identification as such. We knew where everything was but any passer by would have no clue. btw That’s my dorm in the photo. Back to the letter.

So Chris and I started thinking about how much fun it would be for all the dorms to put up outside decorations for the dance like home coming. So Monday we asked the dean and she said okay. So I got on the phone (by the way we have free phones now. The number is 353-2711 ext 351) and called all the dorm presidents and told them to have house meetings and join the competition and everyone is! Ours is so great. We have 2 huge gods made of chicken wire and paper mȃché. The dance theme is ‘Winter Dionysia’ so our theme is a great big drunken brawl. One god is hanging over the top balcony (3rd) floor reaching for grapes-the columns are grape vines. And another is sitting on our balcony eating and drinking. They are 20 feet tall and huge. We have been working like trojans for the past 2 nights. My poor hands are so sore from cutting chicken wire with scissors. We also have a few hands and feet showing up on the 3rd floor balcony. The grapes are made of balloons and the vines are crepe paper. We decided to get up at 5 o’clock Friday morn to put it up and so to make sure everyone gets up I’m going to have a fire drill. Isn’t that mean.

I was the dorm president, I got to call fire drills.

stampsBuddy came down this weekend & stayed with Gordon. We watched TV Friday nite. Went to a Sigma Chi party Saturday. Sunday we bowled. 

I dyed a pair of shoes that Ann gave me yellow to match my dress & they look very good. 

I finished reading Fountainhead & it was very good.

Must sleep.



Next post, how we came to be on the front page of the Sunday newspaper.

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Above the Fold

This is the third time my picture appeared on the front page of a major Richmond newspaper.  Here is the second time. I’ll tell you about the first in a future post.

We had plans to take the Church Hill Christmas tour on Sunday and even surprise snow didn’t slow us down. It was a short drive and just some gentle flurries. I had stopped to fix Andrew’s mittens when a guy with an impressive camera asked if he could take our photo for the newspaper. I guess we provided some fun color with all the winter whites and also a nice juxtaposition against the lamplight Christmas decorations.

church hill winter

The ice on the right is what’s outside today

I said sure. He took a few shots, got our information and we all went on our way. Imagine everyone’s surprise the next morning when we woke to find some of ourselves on the front page of the morning paper. It was a big picture and above the fold!

Even today the photo is great, the memory a cherished one, but the point of the story is a building you cannot see in the picture, the reason we were even on the tour. It was (was because while the building is still there the school is no longer in operation) St Patrick’s School. Run by the Daughters of Charity this tiny not upscale community school took it upon themselves to implement a rarely utilized, because it was so much work to put in place, form of education. Just before we landed there (the connection you see) head mistress Sister Mary Dorothy decided to trash regular grade by grade reading and math and put each and every student on an individually guide path. That meant testing each one, sorting them out, matching like groups up with a teacher and making a workable schedule, all while avoiding chaos. It was daunting. But she did it. And we were lucky enough to jump in at the right moment.st patrick's church hill

We tried a private school with Emily which was a bad fit. Then public school for a year and a half until we’d had enough. Home school was for religious exemptions only, not our thing. We heard about St Patrick’s from friends and since it was on Donny’s way to work (ride with Dad to school) decided to give it a try. It was everything we could have wished for and more. We aren’t Catholic but the community embraced us. They elected me President of the Home and School Association (the first non-Catholic ever) and a few years later Donny became Chairman of the school board (again first non-Catholic).

The next school year was to be Donald’s kindergarten year but he was way past that curve. Plus St Patrick’s did not even have kindergarten. Sister Mary Dorothy told us to have him independently tested and provided the scores were good she’d take him as a first grader. Of course his scores were off the chart. He was in but even in an IGE he was such an anomaly that he had his own reading teacher.

We stayed with St Patrick’s until we moved to the Outer Banks. With one tiny exception. When Emily reached middle school age she decided that she might like public school better. More things to do. After much discussion we withdrew and enrolled in the brand new local middle school. Memory is hazy but I think maybe half a day, maybe less, and we were back at St. Patrick’s.

Our last chapter with St Patrick’s came when Andrew reached kindergarten age. Well almost kindergarten age. That was the problem. He was like Donald, academically more than ready, but his birthday was three weeks past the cut off date for Dare County kindergarten enrollment. Next year we were told. Donny was still commuting to Richmond at the time and so he took Andrew with him, and with Sister Mary Dorothy’s blessing, enrolled him in St Patrick’s for a week. Then brought him home, transferring him into the Dare County system.

There’s more much more to our education journey. You will be reading the more.

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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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How I Out Mini-ed Paris

Goddaughter Haley reposted this photo from Lost in History on her Twitter page this week. When I click on it for a closer look, a warning pops up that it might be unsuitable for my viewing. At that point you can only see the top half of the photo. It is captioned Mini skirt in 1969’s Paris. Having no filters on my Twitter feed I am intrigued and then as I click okay and see the entire photo I have to laugh. “I can go one better.”


paris 1969


I dig around in our picture portfolio and come up with my one better taken in December of 1967. I am working as a layout artist in advertising at Miller & Rhoads in Richmond, Virginia at the time. Ed Booth, store photographer, comes into our office and says that he needs a couple of gals for a photo shoot. He grabs me and says to get a friend and follow him. “Come on, Betsy,” I call to my copy writer friend a cubicle away. “This will be fun.”

Ed proceeds to direct us to the first floor and outside the store gathering up empty boxes and shopping bags along the way. “Hike up those skirts,” he commands. I do have a good collection of mini skirts but I am at work, decorum rules. We roll our waist bands over once. “More,” he directs. I comply. Even with rolling over the waist band the skirt still isn’t that short. Betsy balks. But I have her back. I keep hiking and rolling until Ed is satisfied. He tells us that the afternoon newspaper needs a human interest shot for the front page. The photographer will be along in a moment and he wants us to act like we are out for an afternoon of shopping.


M&R 1967


Two years Paris. Richmond, Virginia had you by two years.

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