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 spiritual...at 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

Monday, October 3, 2011


The love between a man and a woman is a high risk love.  I'm convinced only a small percentage of married people are truly devoted.  As a child, I observed such pairs, most of whom seemed to play along a dangerous edge, especially my own parents.

My Parents with Grandmother

As I was going through a bin of old snapshots, the one above appeared along with one of me at an early age, dressed in a too-small winter coat and stocking cap, standing with a group of men holding a horse. With my little hand up, I was reaching to the enormous animal, who seemed to be regarding me with the same indifference he gave everything but grass.  (That picture does not appear here because in a fit of genius, I hid it from myself.  We continue to search every day; meanwhile, enjoy some horsey pictures from our green-pasture days.)

That picture is the only surviving picture of "Why Not?," the racehorse my father bought on a bizarre impulse.  Daddy had a gambling addiction, going off on occasional benders to places called "Jamaica, Pimlico, Bowie, and others; one never knew where he was because he failed to mention he'd be leaving.  On his return, my mother would pelt him for days with rounds of verbal artillery.  I  would assume the position:  eyes closed, fingers in ears.  When it all blew over, all parties would become their former selves and life went on until the next time it happened.

Baby Sis on Taffy; CBW Leading

After one such trip, my father accepted delivery of the rather large four-legged parcel already named "Why Not?."  I was too young to remember, but I have faith that my mother could be heard for miles, weather permitting.  Daddy believed he had struck oil, finally tapping into the mother lode of wealth to be had in horseracing.  I always had a sneaking feeling that the name gave indication of our horse's true capability; but then it is a rung higher than "Why?," who could only have been a dog, as the racing people say.

Being an incurable animal lover, Mother came around and "Why Not?" had a friend.  Daddy, however, had no such luck.  After much consideration, all my "surprise" gifts from Husband (i.e. the drill, the wood-burning furnace, etc.) are probably a lesser sin than surprise-racehorse gift.  I take comfort in this.

My Horse "Jubilee," (who was anything but; he stepped on my foot and took off with my hand in his halter, snapping me like a rubber band.  He's dead now and I'm kind of sorry.  CB Woman's pony "Thundercloud," seen with him, regularly kicked him silly).