Saturday, December 31, 2011


Our House on Christmas Eve

In elementary school, we were usually requested by Teacher to recount our holiday experience by standing at our desks and presenting the details.  Even though my parents were at the low end of the prosperity scale, I always felt guilty about how much it seemed I got from Santa compared to my classmates.  Or perhaps it was my being overwhelmed by all the many small wishes I had fulfilled.

Christmas 2011 was similarly bountiful, with all family members in attendance and even our son-in-law, who made everything better.  And lo, and angel of the Lord must have blown a horn in somebody's ear because my Christmas Eve birthday present was ideal - a new "Huffy" bike!

Bright and Beautiful and All Mine

Its whiteness even stirred the interest of Gustav the Goose, who admittedly is easily aroused.

Gustav Takes Stock

Husband and I were thrilled when a guest at my birthday seafood dinner gluttonarama phoned to compliment our family as being one of the few around who have good times together.  We appreciate that and hope we get to have a few more.  Happy New Year.

The Red and Green Room at Our House

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


In the seventies, our family were the befuddled recipients of a feisty black pony with prolific mane and tail, and one large splash of white on her left side (hence the name "Thundercloud"); a white star adorned her forehead and one patch of mane was white.

Thunder in the 1970's

She was an audacious statement of equine good health and ability and stirred her new owner's dreams of being conveyed in this new way by this new friend.  Oldest daughter was attentive to Thundercloud, whom we called Thunder for short, and soon the new acquaintance grew into something more exclusive.

It Was Love and It Was Real

Soon it was safe to plop Baby Sis up and ride off.  What she lacked in pedigree, Thunder made up for in intelligence.

Thunder Loved Pleasing Her Children

When Homer the neighbors' big palomino horse escaped his confines, he always headed straight for Thunder, who would jump her fence and show him to our garage where the sweet grain was stored.  Traditionally this occurred in the wee small hours when hunger seems to trouble everything.  The giveaway was "clip-clops" in our driveway in the dead of night.  It was my responsibility always to correct this situation.  Soon our neighbor Gordon would appear in excited pursuit all apologetic and ready to reclaim his bad boy Homer.  It got to be so routine that we hardly recognized each other not wearing pajamas.  

Homer's Favorite Playmate After an Outing

What a great gift she was to the children and how we all cried when she died in 1989.  Up until she came to us, the family beast of burden was only cooperative sometimes.

Taken Before Husband's Back Gave Out

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I remember Aunt Viola as always behind the wheel, not figuratively but physically.  In gear, hair blowing, and biting her bottom lip.  She was on her way and in a hurry.  Her appearance was instant readiness compared to my mother's long day's preparation into intended perfection.  They were polar opposite sisters, or twisters as they called themselves.

Viola and My Mother at the Beach

Viola had naturally very curly hair, wash and wear, and was a makeup minimalist, until her eyebrows thinned.  At that point, her expressions relied on her artistic prowess of that particular day.  Each visit we were met by either the surprised, quizzical, diabolic, or exasperated Aunt Viola, depending on the artistic brow liner rendition.  No matter what, she came off pretty.

Viola in Her Twenties

My mother's middle sis was always laughing and causing laughter, everyone loved her.  She was the one who caused the black friend taking the girls (as children) fishing, to lose his temper at her moving about the boat:  "Stay where you damn am!" he commanded, and they carried that hilarious admonition with them until they died.  Without life preservers, his concern was understandable.

Viola at About Age 10
My Aunt was the one who took me swimming with her son Gene at Saunder's Beach in Ware Neck.  Those outings were pure joy to a lonely, only child.  She would go in with an inner tube and in her dress, laughing and smoking a cigarette!  It was our little heaven.

As a young adult, I bleached my hair and the result was frightening.  Aunt Viola drove me to her beautician for emergency repair.  On the ride, I covered my effervescent locks with a big fuzzy hat that made me look like a Buckingham Palace Guard.  When a man on the street stared at me I lamented, "Boy, he'd really stare if he could see what's under this hat."  She screamed laughing and so did I.

One of the last times I visited her she said, "There's my baby!"  I was 50 something at the time.  She adored her husband and two sons and lived her time loving and pleasing them.  How we miss her.

Viola in Her Eighties with Me and Grandson Sam

Friday, November 11, 2011


I came into the world while my parents were living and working at Flat Iron Service Station, one of many prototype convenience stores of the Forties, mom-and-pop-stop-along-the-way places providing gas, small inventory groceries and meats, and even lunch items made by proprietors.

Flat Iron in the Forties

They also sold alcoholic beverages to be consumed off premises and installed the pinball machine and juke box, completing the trinity of depravity.  Into this cauldron of sinful consumption I was born, not realizing any of it.  I danced for patrons to the strains of "Pistol Packin' Mama" and was rewarded with money by my fans.  Mother thought I was the next Shirley Temple.  I didn't play the pinball machine, but watched teens bump and whack the thing to influence gravity.  William Johnson used to buy a pack of peanuts, pour them in his cola bottle, shake the mix and watch them explode (I guess the salt reacted with the carbonated water).  I was fascinated by this feat.  My father fumed.

Mother at the Counter

On either side of Flat Iron Service Station, there was Grandfather's shop and his home.  I could choose among my living quarters (two bedrooms, kitchen, and living room); Grandfather's shop (men painting cars, pounding hot metal, welding, or trimming horses' hooves); or Inez (my step grandmother) and her daily household chores.  It was a rich variety and opportunity to learn diverse information.

My First Steps with Aunt Nellie

I tripped about clutching my doll or a vendor-supplied blow-up Jolly Green Giant, courtesy of the canned goods company.  I had a blast with that inflatable playmate.  I kicked him, force-fed him food I didn't like, and ran hand-in-inflatable-hand across the yard sharing joyful play.  He was better than nothing and I miss him.  

Living behind a grocery store had extreme benefits.  We sold Ice cream by the scoop, soft drinks, penny candy, and anything else you might require.  Old men seemed to favor BC Headache Powder (pulverized aspirin), pipe tobacco, and chewing tobacco, which intensely aroused my curiosity.  They really seemed to appreciate Apple or Brown Mule Plugs and I thought it must be delicious.  Being prepared to experiment, I pilfered a plug and hid under Inez's back porch to savor the grown-up pleasure.  If not delicious, why would men stain their mouths and chins so unbecomingly?

One bite was a complete education in people, myself included.  Spat that out and formed the conviction that there is no understanding people and what they do.  While curiosity kills cats; it just makes most smarter.  At least those who lived at Flat Iron Service Station.

Aunt Nellie and I in the Sunshine at Flat Iron

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


After my grandmother died in 1933, Grandfather married his second wife, Inez.  She had a sister named kate, whom I never met.  They wrote each other regularly and were close.  One December when I was about 5 years old, Inez presented me with a beautiful beaded bag, sent to me as a Christmas gift by her sister.  I was astonished that someone who never met me would be go generous with such a rare gift.  I felt reluctant and undeserving of such a kind tribute.  I still have it and keep it with another belonging to my grandmother.

The Beaded Bag from Baltimore

My Grandmother's Beaded Bag

Inez was entertaining as a storyteller.  Two of my favorites were "The Pears" and "The Tragedy of the Titanic," which I alternately requested each day.  She never refused and honed her stories for maximum dramatic effect.  I experienced the crescendo of hysterical expectation  when the children, Inez and her siblings, would beg their father for a bite of the forbidden pears ripening in a trunk in the hallway of their home.  Those pears daily grew more irresistable as they blew forth sweet fruity breath seducing everyone into olfactory madness.  "Please, Poppa, please may we try the pears?" was the repeated stanza in her heightening, frenetic childhood autobiography.  I delighted in it every time and squealed with laughter when they finally fell upon those pears.

"The Titanic" was a sad tale of all the many good people who perished on the doomed ship.  It was our little quiet ceremony of remembrance.  It gave us distance from tragedy and gratitude for that, but respect for its ravaging effect on living humans by the sheer numbers.

The Picture on Inez's Wall Used to Tell the Story

When I think of Inez, I think of feeding chickens, picking wild asparagus and making biscuits in a wood stove.  I think of the day her rooster spurred her on the wrist causing massive bleeding; I was there and ran for help.  I remember looking at the sun with my eyes closed and seeing the many colors the light became under my eyelids.  She believed in everyday magic and smiled big when I showed amazement.

She didn't wear makeup, wearing her long, graying hair back in a tuck, but fragrant floral-smelling powder always dressed her cheeks when she went out.  I don't think I will ever quite find that sweet scent anywhere again.  This is just a big thank-you to her for taking time to amuse a child.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


The ringing of metal striking metal on an iron anvil was my first alarm clock.  It had a rhythm unlike anything else...ding, ding, ding, ding, ding-up, (pause), da-ding, ding.  It was the sound of my grandfather working and it became the background score, the music of my childhood.  It reassured me that everything was right with the world.

That was my grandfather shaping metal into a perfectly fitted horseshoe, or metal rim for a wagon wheel (they still had a few), or some metal part needing to be custom-made.  He was left-handed and pounded for hours a day.  His first shop was the wooden structure (which burned down in the 1920's) pictured below.

A Postcard of Grandfather's First Shop
(He is on the far left watching Frank Kemp, his helper trim a horse's hooves)

Frank Kemp helped my grandfather and has his tools in a wooden carrier on the ground next to the horse he is attending.  The man in the center is unknown to me.  People wait on the side for their work to be done.  To the far right is my grandfather's house, which he built for a grand total of $900 in the early 1900's.  Looking over a statement from his business, all things were inexpensive by today's standards.

He did woodworking, custom metal work, car repair, sales, service, and was a decent farrier.  You never knew what you'd be stepping into at Grandfather's shop.  During the killer influenza epidemic he made wooden coffins and remarked that they stacked to the ceiling in his first shop.  

I recall him saying he had worked for a Mr. Walter Ware, an undertaker, for Mr. Andrew Foxwell, a blacksmith, and had interned with a blacksmith in Virginia Beach before marrying my grandmother.

A Postcard Dated 1903 Sent to My Grandmother from Virginia Beach

My step grandmother, Inez, and I visited the shop daily in the summer, bringing a pitcher of iced water.  Except for the rain barrel, there was no water in the shop, no snacks and eating between meals.  Three square meals a day was all he ever knew.  He ate a sandwich with a knife and fork when it was presented to him because he had never seen one in his life.  He held the phone upside down and talked into the earpiece so it was futile to phone him.  I am so getting to this point with all the I-gadgets.

He wore long sleeved shirts and long pants all year long to protect him from cinders, which flew off the forge occasionally, and clinkers (bits of red hot metal residue from the beating on the anvil).  I managed to find clinkers with my bare feet in summer.  After shaping the red hot metal, he plunged it into the rain barrel with long tongs and it made the neatest shwooshing sound.

I surely loved that forge.  I hand cranked it until I thought it might fly off the ground.  It didn't.  Grandfather never scolded me once.  He had the patience of Job.  It would be great to talk to him again.

Grandfather at 81
(He Died at 94)

Friday, October 21, 2011


(A Lighthearted Look at My Evolution
Along the "Born Alone" to "Died Alone" Existence)

Being an only child is a double-edged sword.  There's no competition, but also no company.  There's no peer pressure, sibling rivalry, or instructive example.  The reason most animals have litters is to insure survival.  They learn by example what to do and what not.  The only child is a bungee-jumping, first kid in the water, experimental crash-dummy in her family.  I bear the scars.

Notice the Troubled Look as I Toddle About Trying to Get Adult Attention

I remember my parents attempts to safely situate me out of their way as they worked.  I was put here or there with something to occupy me, or so they planned.  I would tire of my parental provided project and usually blaze a path down the road seen behind me in the above photo.  This was met with shrill opposition and whirling, blinking lights or so it seemed.  Sometimes there was a "switch" involved.   A switch is a thin flexible branch picked for its ability to wring an audible whistle from the air when waved about like a whip.  I was undeterred in my pioneer spirit.

Finally, my parents resorted to fencing.  When I was found dangling by my underpants on a picket by my grandfather, who offered criticism, they resorted to a harness and tether.  That's right, my spontaneous desire for freedom and novel experience was dampened by equine "persuaders."  Happily, I was not fitted with a snaffle bit (horse mouthpiece).  Once again Grandpa objected, God bless him, and I began spending more time at his house.

About Age 4 

I became a bother to Grandpa and my Step Grandma, Inez.  She taught me to tie my shoes.  She told me about the sinking of the Titanic (a long descriptive story).  She had good biscuits.  

Still, I was a misfit in my world and I never quite solved that riddle of where I belonged.  Today my malaise does not beg remedy.  It begs more isolation.  If I were to be a museum piece, I'd be the medieval suit of armor, empty and immobile, immersed in it all and aware, but an unmovable, non-participant bystander.  It's not a choice, it's just a fact of the conditioned mind.  It's why I had a litter of three.

I Smile for the Portrait Photographer Actually Focusing on Me
(Not Realizing It Was Just His Job)

Friday, October 14, 2011


In 1900 Deeth, Nevada, Gustave Harold Vogel was born to immigrant parents.  His father, Gustave Adolphus Vogel was German, his mother was an Irish McMullen.  Less than a year after giving birth, his mother died.  His father died in his arms on the range (presumably from a heart attack) when he was only eight years old.

Gus in 1900

He was left in the care of his mother's sister and her husband.  Gus had nothing but praise for his aunt Mattie, who was secretary for a congressman and who got him an appointment to West Point Military Academy, from which he was graduated in 1920 at the close of World War I.


Gus in His Twenties

He began his military career in San Francisco, where he brought his new bride in 1928.  They were for a time in the Phillipines before the beginning of World War II.  During the war, he distinguished himself wining medals from several countries for his efforts.

On the left, General Joseph T. McNarney, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, MTO, presents him the Legion of Merit for meritorious achievement in coordinating all petroleum activities in this theater.  On the right Field Marshall Sir Harold Alexander, Supreme Allied Commander, MTO, presents him with The Order of the British Empire for meritorious achievement in coordinating the same.

He was Commanding Officer of Atlanta General Depot in Georgia and from there went to Fort Monroe, Virginia.

Portrait from Time in Georgia

Gus was in his fifties when he was retired from Fort Monroe and transitioned from Brigadier General to gentleman farmer.  From all  accounts it was a less than smooth transformation.  I didn't meet him until he was in his sixties and had mellowed.  My own father was unenthusiastic about his father role and having an only daughter left him unmotivated to parent.  I didn't see much of him after he and my mother divorced.  Gus was strangely defensive of me toward my father and even challenged him to take a more significant role in my life.  This in spite of all the clashes he (Gus) and I had.

Gus, the Gentleman Farmer

I suppose Gus had his own parenting issues, career usually trumping all else.  His wife had four years of total responsibility while he was away in the war.  My husband never laid eyes on his father until he was almost five years old.

He gave solid advice on finances and seemed to thrive on tedious details.  Whether or not we took his advice, we always sought it.  He loved the grandchildren and teared up quite easily.  He had a big heart.  I miss him.

Gus and Baby Sis Pick Daffodils in 1986

Thursday, October 13, 2011


In fourth grade, our teacher was Jean Heath, a dark-haired, clean-scrubbed natural beauty, who often played the guitar and sang for us.  She described her original home in Washington State as one where you could stand and see hundreds of miles through the clear mountain air.  Children were taken by her youth and charm, enthusiastically participating in her favorite amusement - music.  We sang at least 15 minutes a day and were each issued a songbook, from which we chose our favorites.  We favored "Columbia the Gem of the Ocean,"  "Barbara Allen," and "The Erie Canal."

"I've got a mule, her name is Sal,
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal,
She's a good old worker and a good old pal,
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal"

Out of all this singing was distilled the "Bobby Soxtet," a singing group whose members she considered the strongest voices.  She added two sopranos from third grade to make a fuller sound.  In the beginning, we six performed at school functions only, but it grew to community organizations and churches.


We pose for the Gazette Journal photo circa 1955
(I am third from left)

Our focus was the least the white interpretation, which I later learned was a little off the mark as black people saw it.  I remember "Do Lord," "Shine on Me," "Swing Low," and "I Ain't Gonna Grieve" - which may not be the title but it sounds better than what we called it, "The Deacon Went Down."  Language is constantly shifting and we wouldn't say that today without people snickering.  

We adopted a uniform appearance by wearing white blouses and navy blue bib jumpers.  We oozed purity. Soon we were very popular and even had a short radio program on Sundays, which we taped earlier in the week at WDDY, our local Gloucester station.  Some fans described our radio sound as "bees in a jar," but listened just the same.  I know we had at least two black listeners:  "Aunt" Mary and "Uncle" John Smith, who lived near us on Indian Road.  (Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" mentioned them.)  They were both in their eighties, born as slaves, and were very dear sweet people.

The Bobby Soxtet Performing (from the Gazette-Journal)

We actually won a Southern States talent competition and made it to a final in Richmond with Ted Mack as host.  He was a very kind and generous man, who we all knew from his "Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour" on television.  It was a far more civilized version of today's "So You Think You Can Boil An Egg" type of programming.

The Program from Our Competition

We were once and now we're not, but those of us remaining have great and happy memories of our little brush with recognition and approval.  It was a wonderfully innocent and happy place.  The sound of our combined voices will never be heard again since two of us are now deceased, an alto and a second soprano.  I stood with my arms around their waists and I loved them dearly.  We had a good time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


 A brother is a mixed blessing.

He always stands behind you, but is he conjuring up demons?

Deep down you know he loves you, he's just a little unpredictable.

Being by yourself is nice...

But after a while, it gets old.

A party just isn't a party without him.

He knows how to be silly.

He can be quite well behaved.


No words required.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Long ago when I did laundry, I kept lone socks in a box in anticipation of the discovery of its mate.  I was raised to never throw anything away because "You never know when you are going to need it," as my mother preached.

As time went on, the box grew fuller and fuller.  The question arose:  Into what vortex of Hell are these socks disappearing?  That question went unanswered and it was my little secret shame. It was my failure to maintain perfect order in the universe with respect to footwear.  It was my Gordian knot, my sword in the stone, my Shrodinger's cat enigmatic hard task.

I soared whenever good things happened, and they did; but it was somehow that bummer box of socks that plummeted me to earth with the dreaded specter of all those perfectly good socks I had disappointed and  banished to solitary stagnation.  Mea culpa.

Then there was poor Husband, earnestly searching for his favorite socks, whom I hadn't the heart to inform of his more permanent loss.  It haunted me when I was at my weakest.  That box, that box, that unforgiving Hellish remainder in life's equation.

Then one day, I was overtaken by madness and resolved to change my life in a new and wonderful way, to do the unthinkable.  I seized the box, with its multicolored inhabitants (some of whom had holes) and marched to the garbage bin.  What am I doing, I thought, with the numbness of a zombie.

I am cheating and surrendering to my own incompetence.  In the garbage they went without a whimper and I turned my back and walked away, feeling better with each successive step.  New days, guilt-free days, days of buying only one color and style of sock lay ahead.  My vista was new, crisp, and bother free.  All the socks of the world applauded because they know nothing and are happy that way.

Now I think of every challenge I face as a "box of socks."  While the trash bin is the very last resort, located at the brink of insanity, it puts the box of socks in its proper perspective, as a dispensable aggravation.

My new slogan:  If it doesn't match, you must dispatch!


My Favorite Socks (You always know what I want for Christmas!)

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Waverly Lane has its share of lockhorns, individuals who simply can not endure the sight of each other, and who engage in duels of varying intensity in ongoing episodes.  My least favorite is the feud between Leo and Shadow, the nearly identical cat siblings.

Leo De Janero

Shadow (Shaddy Cat)

Even though they are DNA compatible, each has the burning need to eliminate the other even though everybody has been neutered.  They just don't like each other.  Breaking up a cat fight is comparable to separating belligerent  porcupines.  Somebody is going to feel pain and it is usually me.  I have tried brooms, water hoses, and nothing works like pressurized spray cans of flea potion.  The trick is to not go in their eyes with it.  My skill is improving and we get a flea treatment at the same time.  Win, win.

Then as I walked toward my door, I saw another storm brewing.  Steadfastly glaring at each other in squinted-eye contempt was the Cub Cadet and the Toro Zero Turn, our old and new lawn mowers respectively.

A Rumble Getting Started

I froze, as did the wooden wind heron (bottom right), in dread anticipation of the metal-on-metal violence which was surely fermenting.  Insults began flying faster than grass clippings.  I thought I heard the Cub Cadet, who had been the favorite family mower for years, refer to the Toro as an effeminate and degrading
affront to the masculinity of lawn care.  Actually he called it "a hot pink float in a gay parade."

The Toro steeled itself and shot back, "That's to be expected from a gas guzzling, inefficient, insensitive, polluting red neck relic.  

I had had enough.  The heron turned away from the gasoline breath, as a breeze stirred, and  I started in the house, leaving behind what would not be ended soon.  I did warn Husband that one lawn mower was enough.  They see it that way too.

Not a Happy Pair