Ever have the feeling that something in the universe drives you, or at least pats you on the back in some way to say that you are headed down the right path? I took a break today from writing after receiving a particular email notification. The local estate sale listing had been updated. If you love a good estate sale and do not know how to go about finding them in your area, go to estatesales.net and you will thank me for the time you spend there, or maybe you will curse me for the money you end up spending. My break took me to an upcoming sale close to my home. I reviewed several hundred items and was almost to the end of a sale, one that wasn't really appealing to my tastes. Then, a madonna and child sprung from the pages.
The painting shown is a Robert Ferruzzi, from 1897. So calming and inspiring. I immediately started looking for a place to hang her in my office. I have a particular fondness for Madonnas, they inspire me and remind me of the importance of motherhood and of being devoted to your family. In my office there are six Madonnas. Why six? Because I had just found the seventh!
A thrift store Madonna hangs to my right. Mary and Child are simple, a Hummel portrait. I recently realized that this image was a Hummel print as the signature is hidden by the surrounding gilded frame. Beside this mother and child hangs a single resin Mary from Italy that I have had for years. Possibly a gift from my mom as the figure seems tied to her in my mind. Mary's face is turned in my direction when I sit at my desk, her head bent, eyes closed, hands clasped in prayer. Draped over the haloed head of this Virgin Mother are five vintage rosaries which belonged to a special someone, a person I have come to know but never met.
In front of my desk is a porcelain Madonna which beloged to my mother. On top of that same cabinet is La Virgen del Cobre, encapsulated in a wood and glass vessel. This Madonna is the patroness of Cubans, legendary among the island's inhabitants, a gift from a cousin who was never able to flee. Hemmingway left his Pulitzer prize at her feet in thanksgiving for all of his accomplishments.
To my left is the Sistine Madonna by Raphael which was predominantly displayed for years in the home of the owner of the rosaries. The last is Mary and Jesus, a hand tinted, black-and-white photo that my mother did; an image of the tile mural that hangs outside the Catedral de San Juan in Puerto Rico.
After I made plans to attend this estate sale with my daughter, I returned to the job at hand, writing a historic nonfiction of travel and romance in 1925. Turning the page in my protected binder of letters, leaving a four page letter written to "Mother" from Rome, Italy, dated January 11, 1926, a post card was revealed. It was of the same Madonna and child, called the Madonnina by Ferruzzi, and my heart filled. I could feel the importance of this moment flow through my body, from my heart and then out every finger and down my legs. Was this a higher power sending a sign of thanksgiving for the work I was doing? Something in the universe that was telling me that the 61,000 words written so far were not recorded in vain?
I continued writing that day, feeling that was what I was meant to do iwth my day. In the end, I missed out on purchasing the postcard's twin. Somewhere inside I felt that she would wait for me. Rising early on Saturday to get to the front of the line and ready for the 50% off discount, I searched for her once the doors opened. My sought for mother and child had vanished, already spoken for, and by this point they were adorning the walls of another's home. Madonnina, you warmed my heart and brought me joy. The longing shown on your face inspired a full day of writing about life in Italy in 1925. I too long...to see the completion of this project. If I were unable to complete this story, I can say without hesitation that my life, as full as it has been, would not be complete. I'll keep your image and this vintage postcard to inspire the pages to come.
Photo credit: Abby Van Thullenar
I can't help but use the words from my first book's title, "So, It Happened Like This."
The current book that I am writing has two main characters, Levi and Chloe. Levi's roommate is Van and I have several photos of the two of them, taken between 920 and 1929 when they were both in their 20's. It hit me recently that maybe Van's family had photos of Levi since I have so many of Van. I turned to social media and made two choices of females that were possible descendants.
I am a genealogist so I was pretty sure that at least one of them would be a hit. Turns out that they are both related to Van and are also Aunt-Niece to one another. Abby, the niece, who is Van's great-granddaughter, responded first. Gotta love the youth and technology. She enjoyed the photos that I had of Van and then mentioned that her great-grandfather had been a meteorologist. Yes, he certainly was.
My research showed that Van had been an active member of the American Meteorological Society and in their bulletin No. 4, Volume 58 from April 1977, they listed all that Van had done in his career with the Weather Bureau. I think his highest achievement was becoming the Director of the National Severe Local Storms Research Project (NSLSRP) in Kansas City.
I find it very interesting that the Van that I "know" through researching his life in his early twenties, offers a glimpse into the importance of the man he was to become in the future. His full name was Clayton Van Thullenar and Levi called him either Van or Clay.
At 21 years of age, Clayton accompanied Levi to Bolling Field, July 4, 1925. They were looking at the Martin Bombers from WWI era, which at that time were only a few years old. Levi captioned the following photo, "Clay wants to be an aviator." Little did he know that Clayton, or Van, would oversee the program that sent planes near and through severe storms, collecting data in order to assist in storm prediction.
Since I live near the Gulf Coast of Florida, I am personally grateful for Clayton Van Thullenar's contributions to severe storm detection. This takes me back to the latest conversation online with his great-granddaughter, Abby. Abby shared the American Meteorological Society's article that I sent with her dad, Clayton's grandson. She wrote that he jumped up from his chair exclaiming, "NOW I KNOW WHAT THAT MEDAL IS FOR!" It turns out that the silver medal that the Department of Commerce had presented to Clayton in 1963 for "long and distinguished service in the field of meteorology and for valuable contributions through top level technical leadership in the development and implementation of forecast programs" has been hanging in his office for several years. And now Abby's dad knows the story behind the medal. Congratulations again Van, and thanks!
Pensacola is once again our home; we have returned to the South for good! As we settle into our new place, I am finding pieces that just don't fit. It could be that they physically do not fit in the space. Another problem is that they clash with the style of a one-story brick ranch. You've heard the expression, "She has champagne taste but beer money"? In my case I have too many Victorian/vintage items trying to coexist and shine against a ranch backdrop. A prime example is my beloved Victorian era hall tree. This piece is a show stopper, but not in this home. It does not fit by size, shape, look or feel, and "feel" can be a strong point of contention.
The hall tree in question belonged to my mom. She passed away in 2009 and in 2020, the hall tree became mine. I've loved this piece for years, probably the same number of years that my Dad has spent hating this hall tree. Why? Because it didn't fit in their 1920s Tudor home either. Coupled with the fact that my Dad always butted heads with this piece (literally) I'm surprised that he held on to it as long as he did. If you've never run your head into a wrought iron hat hook then I would say that it is an experience worth living without.
The hall tree did not fit into our new foyer. After using it for a while in the living room to hold the antennae a little closer to the ceiling, I finally decided that this beautiful piece needed a new home.
Enter Facebook Marketplace.
If you haven't used Marketplace before, it is a wonderful place to find just about anything. Some pieces sell quickly and others may take a little while. This particular piece I would have loved to keep forever, so holding out for the right buyer was not an issue.
That buyer was Kimberly. She messaged me an offer and we discussed the possibilities. My biggest problem was my mom's voice playing inside my head, "If you sell any of the items I've collected over the years, I'll haunt you." Though she said this years before she was even ill, I have no doubt that she never changed her mind on that subject. Mom told me to sell my things so that I could make room for her items in my home! She had worked too hard gathering them together for me to sell them.
So here it was, the first piece that I was going to part with from Mom's collection. Yikes! It was even worse since I wanted to keep it. I mean really, who "needs" a hall tree? It's a want item. Even though I listed it, I don't think I ever thought it would actually leave!
Kimberly made an offer, I made a counter offer. She went up and I felt sick. Was I really ready to sell my mom's hall tree? I was about to walk away from the deal but my husband, eldest daughter and my auto shop changed my mind. Yes, you're offer works Kimberly. When can you pick it up?
She came the same day. I felt the need to apologize for having struggled with agreeing on a price. Any buyer would wonder why someone was selling something if they had such separation anxiety. I decided to tell her of my mom's threat to haunt me. This was the first significant piece that would be leaving Mom's collection. Kimberly smiled and said, "Your mom is welcome to come visit her hall tree in my foyer any time she wants."
Now this was a woman that understood me to the core! Her place was going to be the perfect home after all! We hauled the piece outside to her waiting vehicle, a convertible powder blue VW bug! To put the photo into perspective, this piece is six feet tall and two feet wide. Kimberly was not concerned. It fit, barely, and as she drove off, I flashed back to two trees that I had recently hauled in my own convertible.
This seems to be a logical end to the story. A beloved piece was listed, sold, picked up and gone. In this particular case, we are only just beginning.
Kimberly messaged me to let me know she had arrived home. She attached three photos of the foyer that she had recently updated and the piece is going to be a striking addition. Mom was welcome there so her Victorian hall tree was in fact home! I told her about my tree escapade and how her car with the hall tree had looked like my car with the two trees. I sent her a photo which she returned with her own.
Dogs, funny...we just adopted one. Kimberly and I were kindred spirits: we used convertibles to haul stuff, adopted rescue dog. The conversation continued. Kimberly asked me to keep my eyes open for an antique armoire. In asking for the desired style, I took a quick photo of one of mine/Mom's. I use it to hold fabric. That is important because Kimberly wanted an armoire TO HOLD HER FABRIC! "Oh, you sew," I stated. "Then you might appreciate this."
I sent her the wall of vintage samplers that were another part of Mom's collection and highlighted my favorite that is dated 1743! Kimberly quickly returned, "Oh, were these done by people in your family?"
I pointed out the date, being almost 300 years ago and replied, "No, these are from a collection that my mom put together." My mom and a girlfriend started Just CrossStitch magazine many years ago and that gave her an interest in and deep knowledge of vintage samplers. Girls completed these samplers to show a potential suitor that they could read and write and it also gave them a way to demonstrate their artistic and sewing skills to a possible suitor.
Having sewing in common was one thing, but when Kimberly sent the next image and statement that this was the piece that she was working on, I just about flipped!
She does cross-stitch?! Not only is it surprising that we both cross-stitch, but this piece is Gustav Klimt's "The Kiss." Time for another image to go off to Kimberly.
"Kimberly, my daughter saw this painting in person and brought me this postcard from Europe," The painting hangs in what was the Belvedere palace in Vienna, Austria and happens to be one of my favorites! What was Kimberly's response? "Are you sure we are not related?" I too was beginning to wonder. "If you tell me that you're into genealogy and photo restoration/photography, then I'm going to have to wonder," I replied.
"Yes!! My father is a photographer so I have his craft. I am the keeper of our family history from farrrrrrr back. I am sure somewhere we are," she stated. Now this was a crazy response! My mom was a photographer and I've always been thankful that I developed her "eye" for a good photo. Also, it isn't possible that Kimberly is the 'keeper of her family history' because that is MY TITLE! I sent her a photo of the edge of six or seven photo albums from the 1920s and told her that these represented 1/100th of my collection. Her response now? "We should have tea."
Things were certainly moving onto a whole new level. "Out of curiosity, where is your family from?" I asked. "Mine is Alabama and Virginia and my husband's is Wisconsin."
"In the states we are from Rhode Island and Michigan. Virginia too," she responded.
Michigan, now that's interesting. Though my family is not from Michigan, I happen to have been BORN THERE! "I was born in Detroit in the 60s and lived in Oak Park," I shared.
Kimberly's response came in fast, "I too was born in Detroit in the 60s, and lived in Highland Park!" Given the fact that we both live in Florida now, this is ridiculous!
My first thought was, 'Shut the front door,' but then I realized that this cool statement is no longer used today so I responded, "Cut it out!"
"I just said the same thing," Kimberly returned.
At this point you have to know that we had been chatting solely via messenger and every bit of this conversation took place over 15 minutes, max! I had to stop messaging her before she thought I was weird. I mean she was at work after all. She sent me a friend request on Facebook. We agreed to continue the conversation over lunch in the near future.
A few days went by and I shared a photo of a pelican that another new friend had posted.
My post read, "I think pelicans are my spirit animals! A GREAT shot by Jil that I just had to share!" The post was made at 4:19PM. By 4:39 I had a comment from none other than Kimberly, "This is so funny. I swear we are related somewhere, somehow. I collect pelican artwork and photos." Kimberly attached a photo that I do not have permission to place here, since it was not her photo. Then she added that she 'painted this on her office window.'
So she loves pelicans, collects them, paints them. Two can play that game.
Kimberly, "I painted this one for Paul, recalling a great anniversary we spent watching the Blue Angels from Fort Pickens!"
In case you're losing your place at this point, we both were: born in Detroit, live in Florida, have an armoire full of fabric, cross-stitch, love Klimt's The Kiss, enjoy photography, are family historians, love pelicans, photograph pelicans and we PAINT PELICANS! Oh, AND we haul oversized items around town in our small convertibles! At this point we've seen each other in person for a whopping 15 minutes and known that each other existed in this world for one whole week.
Fast forward five more days. Kimberly shared a post about Bonne Maman Preserves. Sounds innocent enough. What could we possibly have in common with a jar of preserves?
I ran to the dishwasher and removed the jar of preserves that I had just finished that morning. I had this jar for a long time, not wanting to finish it because then I wouldn't have any (Does anyone else do that?). My comment on Kimberly's post was, "STOOOOOOOPPPPPPP! I finished this jar TODAY!!!"
She responded quickly, "I think we need lunch."
We did finally have lunch and as expected, it was a blast! She wants to build a greenhouse to which I said, "I'm just throwing this out there...I've always wanted to build a greenhouse out of old windows." We both hollered after she replied, "I'm saving old windows now!
I gave her a copy of my book. The biggest problem is that now she'll know most of my stories and I won't have any to share with her as this friendship develops further. Somehow it seems like it will be alright. She texted me the other day, "I have to tell you...I'm nearly done with your book. I have laughed, cried, and gasped. However, I have resorted to using a red pencil for everything we have in common!"
I'll leave this story here. I reserve the right to add to the story as it develops in the future. Though we aren't twins, that part I'm sure of, I'm equally assured of the fact that we are certainly kindred spirits.
I simply couldn't help myself.
From what I've read, Bernie is not bothered by the memes. He seems to be a man with a great sense of humor. I hope that he has enjoyed a chuckle or two. On inauguration day, he was simply a smart man who knew how to stay warm. After living 11 years above the Mason-Dixon line, I too have picked up tricks for surviving the cold. Good mittens and a scarf, made of natural fibers, not acrylic or polyester.
I've probably laughed hardest at the memes of Bernie with the Beverly Hillbillies, sitting atop the old familiar truck filled with family treasures on moving day. Or maybe I laughed harder when he had the nerve to sit in Sheldon's favorite spot on the sofa!
As I thought over my enjoyment of Photoshop and many infamous photos that longed for their own mittened Bernie, I laughed at several possibilities. The history that swirled through my mind abruptly stopped. As the dust from fragmented images cleared, only one remained. Not an image that is known to the world, but one that is intimately familiar to me.
I laugh again as I share with you the image straight from my mind's eye. Bernie and I, sitting on my swing, sharing a sweet iced tea and swapping stories. So Bernie, It Happened Like This!
I recently had a birthday. It wasn't a milestone, like turning 50 had been. Just a plain ol' wonderful time to celebrate ME!
My eldest daughter, Madeline, made a cribbage board out of my book! What a unique gift! If you want to do the same, it involves a lot of resin, some wood and clamps to compress it for a few days, sanding, drilling holes in groups of five and BAM, ready for cribbage!
This photo comes from the end of our inaugural game. I was 30 points away from the finish line and Madeline only needed a few more points. I was fine losing until Madeline started in with, "It's such a shame that you are going to lose your first game on your new cribbage board." This was certainly a loss that I would not forget, especially with her pointing it out for me!
I had one sucky hand after another as we rounded the corners of my book's cover. The silver pegs are mine. The peg that I'm pointing to was my location when this memorable conversation began.
"Well, at least you won't get skunked on your first game with your new board," she continued. If you play cribbage you'll see that I am ONE point above the skunk line!
It was my "crib." After dealing I had to compose myself as a 2, 6, 7, 7, 8 and a 9 made up my hand. Two cards had to go into my crib. I didn't want to break up the 7's and the 8, since the goal is to combine cards to make fifteen. I parted with the 2 and the 9.
Madeline cut into the deck and the cut card was a SEVEN! I worked hard to conceal my joy.
A run of 6, 7, 8 would have been worth three points alone. Since I had two 7's in my hand that gave me 8 points; three for each run and another two for the pair. That didn't take into consideration the points I would get from matching the 8 individually to each 7. Every combination of cards totaling to fifteen was worth two points.
If you play cribbage then 15-2, 15-4 and 8 makes 12. If you don't play, then with the 6, 7, 7 and 8 alone I had 12 points. Adding the third 7 turned the count of 12 into 21!!
If you are confused, don't worry. I had 21 points with that cut card being a 7. Wait, that is 21. Madeline and I counted it in that moment to be 27.
Now I have recounted it ten times. It is still only 21! My crib was a 2, 2, 6 and 9 with the cut card being a 7. That gives me 15-2, 15-4, 15-6 and two for the pair is 8. Though that is a FANTASTIC score, I am now seeing that my overall total was 29 points which would have left me needing one point for the win.
What a pickle.
Fork in the road.
What to do now?
The road to Hell is paved with wrong decisions.
We are going to have to reset the board and play again. I can't possibly, for the rest of my life, know that I took the first win by cheating. The good thing is that all I need to do is peg one point.
I did win our second game of cribbage on the new board. Could that second game count as the official first game? No matter how hard I try to convince myself, IT JUST CAN'T!
So, wish me luck. I need to peg one point before Madeline pegs three. I'll post an update in the comments below in the near future.
All of this to tell you about my new board, made from my book. My celebration of joy; having a child that searched for the perfect gift and showed up with something made from the heart.
Now to beat her, officially!!! (:
Recently, on a Facebook group page, a photo was posted for my high school classmates to see. The event? Our all girl retreat from senior year. Since I lack permission from all 83 attendees from the class of '84, a description of the image will have to suffice.
We were all comfortably dressed, as the retreat took place out in the woods somewhere in Alabama. The 80s aren't totally noticeable in our apparel. I mean really, just how different could a t-shirt and shorts be? A few hair styles reflect the desired volume of the times, but the wash of amber over the entire photo seems to reflect its age the best.
If you have been a friend of mine since college, then you'll have a hard time finding me in this photo. In high school I went through my short hair phase and let's suffice it to say that longer has definitely been better over my lifetime.
The original post from Felicia made me laugh. She noted that if it were not for the photo, and being able to find herself in the crowd, she wouldn't have recalled having attended. Cindy chimed in that she didn't remember anything either, but obviously she was there. The reason for the use of the term "obviously" is that Cindy's was one of the few unmistakable faces. She was in the front row, actually seated a few inches in front of the front row, if you aren't counting the two girls reclining front and off-center. The general consensus was that nobody seemed to remember what happened on retreat. I guess that whatever happened on retreat, stayed on retreat. Well, that's not an option with this story.
Rogelio chimed into the comments saying, "I can't remember what I did 5 minutes ago, how do u remember what happened 35 years ago?" This made me laugh aloud as it was the response to a memory that I had, and one that Cindy was testing for validity.
I had dropped in a few lines that would spark a memory, if it was still lingering in there somewhere. Rosie was the first to respond, "OH MY GOSH KRIS, I do remember that now." So for Cindy and Rosie, and now the rest of you, here is, in Paul Harvey fashion, the "rest of the story."
It was springtime, 1984, in a rural setting, filled with trees. A campsite with several cottages, of all green painted wood, built off-grade by about 1-2 feet, allowing for a variance in the slope of the ground. Each cottage wall was solid up to about 5 feet, and then screen covered openings allowed the tops of various bunks to be visible from the outside. There was a door to each, or maybe two. Sleeping here was just like sleeping out under the stars, without the stars.
Father Arnold invited us to listen to a story or two in the main hall. It wasn't mandatory as I remember, but just about everyone was there. He spoke of two girls, who had won a doll at the fair. Images of the doll shown in "Toys of Terror," an earlier story on my blog, come to mind.
They were roommates. The girls took the doll home, sat her in the infrequently used chair in the corner, and didn't think much more about her. She sat there, nameless, as it had been many years since either had actually played with dolls.
Monday morning came and both were off to work, or school, that I do not recall. I imagined them in their 20s.
Father continued with his story, there in the woods, as we listened intently. The sun was down, the day had been long and all were focused on the cadence of the monk in our midst. His voice dropped and slowed.
When the girls returned home, they found the doll on the sofa. Assuming that they mistakenly remembered placing her in the chair, agreeing that one of them must have moved the doll and simply forgotten, they intently placed her on the hearth the next day as they headed out.
Returning home, with all of the day's activities still fresh in their mind, their first thought was not on the doll. As you are expecting, she was no longer on the hearth. She was seated instead on the counter in the kitchen. The bar where they prepare their food and often grab a snack before heading out in the morning.
It became obvious that the girls were not to blame for the movement. They had not forgotten. They had not returned home and moved the doll. Their home had been empty, or had it? They wondered who else may have come into the apartment in their absence. The cleaning lady? One of their parents?
The girls set a trap to catch the culprit and prove the source of the prank. The doll was placed on the banquette in the bay window. They vacuumed the shag carpeting and left all of the fiber tendrils facing the same direction so that any footprints leading to or away from the doll would be captured.
Both returned home, and this time any thoughts from the day's happenings vanished immediately. The girls were focused on the doll that they had won at the fair. She had again moved, this time from her perch by the window, back to the chair where they had originally placed her. The carpet was untouched. No footprints were present. No human form had moved the doll.
A different solution had to be found. They considered disposing of the doll. The girls were afraid that the doll would not only be able to move across rooms but may also be able to traverse walls. That would certainly send both girls over the edge. No, they had to find a final solution.
A friend knew of a couple in a nearby town who dealt with demons and sprits and exorcisms. A quick phone call and a plan was in place for the couple to retrieve the doll. They arrived by the end of the week and the girls did not even bother to say goodbye to their new found fiend.
Returning home with the doll, the couple had to re-cross a bridge over a nearby creek. The bridge was under repair and only one lane was available. To manage traffic 24-7, a light was placed at either end. One lane of the two-lane bridge was maneuverable. When the light turned green, traffic was allowed to continue in that direction. If the light was red, any traffic from the opposite side of the bridge was given the ability to cross.
The couple waited in the dark, a slight fog rose from the creek bed below. The red light looked almost orange in the haze. The light must have been on a timer as no traffic was visible. Other than their own headlights, the landscape was dark.
The light turned to green and they approached the bridge. As they reached the center of the bridge, headlights appeared. The other lane was filled with cones and sporadic construction equipment. Had the car not stopped for the red light? Were the lights out on the opposite side? As they searched for a solution, the headlights grew closer. Just before impact they closed their eyes, the couple grasped hands and images of their many years together started to flash past and they instinctively began to recite the Our Father aloud.
"And lead us not into temptation...but deliver us from evil...Amen." They reached the end of the prayer and nothing had changed, no crash, no sound of tires on the bridge, no collision. As the gathered their thoughts and investigated their surroundings, they came to notice the taillights of the approaching car, in the rearview mirror. The car had passed them, but how? The cones were not disturbed. The bridge was not wide enough for the car to have passed. The doll was no longer in the center of the back seat!
We had all been silent, until this moment. Nobody screamed, but it was obvious that we were all affected by the story. It was time for bed. Bed? Heading to bed meant heading out into the dark. Father Arnold had told the story, he was a monk, wearing the cloak of authority for the telling of such a story. Many tried to appear unaffected. I'm pretty sure that I looked shaken. I don't do scary movies, I don't do haunted houses, I don't do Ouija boards.
I scurried to my cottage as fast as my trembling legs could carry me. We all seemed to scatter like roaches, looking for a new place to hide. We all instinctively ran to our Bibles, a required item to pack on this religious retreat. Looking for a reading for solace and safety, a few of the unaffected girls came up with a plan. They decided to leave our cottage and crawl under a neighboring cottage to scare hopefully the literal shit out of some of the other girls.
I've never been happier to be in the group of people hatching a plan for a prank, even though I was too scared to join them.
They left, with a soft creak of our screen door as the only alarm. A few leaves rustled but you wouldn't have noticed if you had not been part of the initial plan. Then there was silence and BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM, as they beat and kicked the floor of the neighboring cottage from underneath.
Screams filled the air and then laughter, from the girls on the prowl and the scaredy cats they'd left behind.
Yes, Rogelio, some things do live on in the brains of women some 35 years later. Some things you just cannot forget. I should find Father Arnold and investigate further. I wonder if he remembers telling the story?
About the only other thing I remember is some rendition of Flashdance where Joan was the lead, Alex Owens (Jennifer Beals). I remember her leaning back in a chair and pulling an imaginary rope, but instead of being engulfed in water, her performance was celebrated by the reactions of many. I don't know if that happened on retreat or at some other location during that same time period, but I hope that yet again it has sparked a memory!
We are finally settling down again, returning to Pensacola, FL after 12 years in Illinois and two additional years spent searching for a few bricks and some grass to call our own. Unpacking after a major move is unimaginable. We parted with many items to avoid the expense of storing and moving them. No matter how well I thought we thinned things out, there were still many boxes and items that should have stayed behind. And then came the toys.
The girls are now in college or graduated. Thoughts of future grandchildren and wonderful memories of playtime keep SEVERAL boxes in my midst. But can't some of these items go to the person to whom they belonged? Granted, many of the toys were played with by all three girls, and those will stay together and wait for actual grandchildren to arrive, but there are some items that were particularly their own.
Enter the creepy voodoo doll without a name.
I don't know what I was thinking when we made these. Was I teaching the girls to sew? Maybe we had read one book too many describing the life and times of Laura Ingalls Wilder. At any rate, we made two dolls. The girls made outfits for the dolls and drew the faces themselves. They chose yarn to mimic their own hair color and wallah, creepy doll completed, times two.
Years ago the dolls were packed away. With the move they finally resurfaced. I pulled this one aside for Madeline, to return to her among many other items. The doll had barely cleared the flaps of the cardboard box that held her when I heard, "Oh heavens, well I think we can throw that out."
"You most certainly cannot throw her out," I exclaimed. "Do you know how many years I've held onto this doll for you? The least you can do is take her home and throw her out in the peace of your own garbage can." Honestly, inside I was thrilled because I knew that Steven, her husband, would never let her part with this doll. She had tried to throw away countless paintings and other art that she had completed over the years, and Steven always hauled it right back in before the garbage man arrived. Several boxes traveled back home with her, freeing up some cherished storage space of my own.
Early one morning, a few days after Madeline had returned home, I received a phone call. Madeline was pissed.
The doll had appeared as she and Steven emptied her last box. In perfect Madeline fashion, she grabbed the voodoo empress by the neck and chucked her into the trash. Steven inquired, "What was that?" She then explained that it was this horribly ugly, actually creepy doll that she had made when she was young. Madeline told him of how she had tried to throw it away when she was in Florida but that I would not let her. It may have taken a 16 hour drive home to Maryland, but the doll was going into the trash where she belonged. What a sense of accomplishment she must have had in that triumphant moment as the doll hit her final resting place.
That night, as Madeline prepped for bed, Steven offered to tuck her in as he wasn't quite ready to turn in himself. She found it odd. Though they haven't been married for much over a year, this was not something that Steven traditionally did for her. Actually, it was something that he had never done before. She simply attributed it to the fact that he had missed her while she was away. Madeline settled into bed, rolled over to get perfectly set and comfortable, with her one true love leaning over her expressing feelings of tenderness and care.
Two important things had gone unnoticed, Steven's phone camera set to video and the voodoo creeper who shared her pillow in the dark.
How she recovered and actually fell asleep afterwards is beyond me. How long it took her to do so is also unknown. It isn't the first prank that he's pulled on her, though it was a very good one. Note to reader: I love a good prank!
The purpose of the phone call was to tell me all about the event. It was a video call so I was able to enjoy her facial responses to each and every part of the story. But it did not end there. Steven took the doll out of their bedroom, a smart decision I would say. The reason for Madeline's call was that he had stuffed the doll down into the bag of dog food. Madi always feeds their dog Pepper at 6:00 in the morning. Suffice it to say that the anger of the previous night had tripled with the reappearance of the creepy doll of wonder in the early morning hours.
Madi was desperate to throw the doll away immediately, but there were leftovers in the garbage and she was sure that Steven would only dig her out again. She was waiting for garbage day and the security that the doll would be gone for good. I told her that instead of disposing of the beloved toy, she should hide it in his car.
Her faced morphed into the happiest, most evil plotting mad scientist that I've ever seen or imagined. She was absolutely giddy. Down the stairs, without wasting a moment, she found the keys to his car. Racing to the garage she opened it. As I waited and chuckled in the background, Madi seat belted the 12 inch terror into the center back seat.
Thanks to Covid we had a while to wait. Steven goes to the office one week and then works from home the next. Of course this was Monday of his week at home. The doll sat, the full week, in the car while we anxiously waited. The following week finally arrived. Steven went to work, returned for lunch and went to work again. Back home at 5:00 and NOTHING! He did not say a single word. Tuesday went to Wednesday, then Thursday. The voodoo wonder doll made every trip and went completely unnoticed.
Over the weekend Steven cleaned out his car and Madeline was sure that the doll had been found. Steven tried hard to pass it off as if he had seen her immediately and that he just left the doll in place to drive Madeline crazy. He could not admit to her that she had pranked him back, and good. She did not need video evidence, she simply needed the knowledge that the doll had driven back and forth to work with Steven for a week!
As I sit here, I wonder. Where is the doll now? We now refer to her as Bessie Boo, which is another story in and of itself. A whole new tradition has begun. I wish I could see into the future and see how soiled and foul smelling this doll is after years of pranks between these two. If she returns here, we'll certainly have words, and there had better NOT be any video evidence!
In times of Covid and this pandemic, we try to find ways to keep traditions alive and celebrate milestones. Krispy Kreme really came through to help with graduation, providing each Senior with a box of doughnuts free of charge. This year there's no final walk through the hallways, no exchange of yearbooks to sign and say how much you'll miss each other, good luck in the future or record some crazy high school memory that you don't want to forget. As for my Senior, she has received her cap and gown, tassel and chords, but her yearbook and diploma have not made their debut.
While sitting in the long line up 9th Street to Cervantes, I recalled a similar moment that happened in this exact spot more than 20 years ago.
My girlfriend Suzanne and I were on the way to the airport. She remembered, though much too late, that nothing had been purchased for her husband Mark. Whenever Suzanne traveled alone, she always brought Mark a little something from the area. We had five minutes to spare, if that. My mind raced. Shrimp? No, not only would that take too long, who wants to travel with raw shrimp? BBQ Sauce? No, that's more Alabama than Florida. I couldn't come up with any options between Cervantes and Airport. We stopped at the red light.
"What is a Krispy Kreme?" Suzanne asked.
This question made no sense to me. It's a doughnut. As a matter of fact it's THE doughnut in my personal opinion. Surely she was kidding and simply trying to find a way to get me to go in for a bite. Though it is harder to envision today, in that time period those circular lovelies were still a southern secret.
"It's a doughnut. Have you never heard of Krispy Kreme?" I asked.
"No" was her simple but shocking answer.
"Well, we just figured out what you're taking home to Mark!" I responded. One quick turn of the wheel and we were in the parking lot, parked and headed in.
I didn't need any time to decide. My favorite is a Glazed doughnut with Kreme Filling. I ordered one of those, a doughnut of Suzanne's choosing and then we picked out a mini box of four for Mark. Selected, paid, singles half eaten, Mark's box in hand, we returned to the car and zipped off to the airport. Crisis averted!
Suzanne called that night, not just to say that she was safely home, but to ask, "What in the hell is with those doughnuts?"
Great, crisis not averted. Didn't he like them? Seriously, what sane person couldn't love a Krispy Kreme? Was he allergic to sugar and greatness? My mind raced. All I could muster to say was, "He didn't like them?"
"Oh no, he loved them. That's not the issue," she continued.
As I searched for some sense to this situation, Suzanne went on to tell me the story. You see, it seems that when she had a layover in Memphis, the guy running the sandwich shop tried to trade Suzanne for the doughnuts. Before he rang up her order he offered an even exchange. He would trade her sandwich, drink and side for the unopened box of four undisclosed doughnuts. Suzanne explained that these were a gift so she was unable to trade for lunch. She paid, and continued on to her gate.
That may have been enough of a story, but as she checked in at the gate the attendant spotted the box. She offered Suzanne a seat in First Class in exchange for the doughnuts. It had been easy to pay for lunch and retain the gift for Mark, but FIRST CLASS?!! Suzanne loves first class! Suzanne is first class!
Suzanne gave one thought to the fact that Mark was unaware of the doughnuts. She could simply say that we had looked but didn't find anything to bring him. Shrimp could be her savior, presenting the opportunity for details as to how we'd thought of him and looked, but found it too difficult to fly with raw shrimp.
No, there was only one solution. Suzanne turned down First Class, retained the box of sweetness for her sweetie, and begrudgingly walked through first class towards coach.
Tired, disappointed, even sad, Suzanne placed her sweater in the overhead bin. The tiny seat beside hers was already occupied, amply so, by another passenger. Filling the remaining space, which is never enough when you are in coach, she placed the box in her lap. As her body settled, her eyes began to blink more slowly than before. Suzanne critiqued the decisions which led to this point. The still figure sitting next to her pronounced, in a low menacing voice, "You fall asleep and those doughnuts are mine."
In a little town on the Gulf of Mexico you could find Staff's Restaurant from 1931 until it closed in 2013. I'm proud to say that I had a meal in that family owned restaurant. An amazing slice of history for the Ft. Walton Beach area, resting now with the ages.
We took our daughter Madeline to Staff's for dinner in 1997, shortly after moving to the panhandle of Florida. She was a little thing, not quite two. Though she did well through dinner, she was ready for a change of scenery about check time. Since we had just moved, our credit card seemed to think it odd that we were dining in Florida. As Paul waited for the payment to go through, Madeline and I stepped out for a needed walk.
The only thing between Staff's and Highway 98 was a narrow sidewalk. We had two choices. We headed East which seemed a little more open and lit. Hand in hand we walked until we came to a large Live Oak tree. Madeline stopped for a little acorn collection. Once her hands and pockets were filled, we continued.
In the not-far-enough distance, I spotted a man walking West on 98. He was easy to notice as he stumbled and talked aloud to himself. Turning back to the safety of the restaurant seemed a bad idea, as he would then have been out of sight and behind us. I sized him up and decided that with the adrenaline of a mama bear, that I would surely possess if needed, I could take him. He was pretty thin and drunk.
The gap between us continued to diminish. Finally, there were only about ten feet left until the dreaded pass, on this narrowing sidewalk. We met. He stopped. We stopped. Madeline held out her hand and his met hers. She loaded him up with all of the acorns that could fit into such a tiny hand.
He smiled. It was actually a beautiful moment. He reached into his pocket. My adrenaline started to rise. I began to figure out what my best angle of attack was going to be.
He pulled out a wad of cash. Rolled in some sort of peel-off, easy access, billionaire style. As he removed what to many could have been a life savings, he said, "Now let me see what I have for you."
I quickly responded, "No, that is not necessary."
He replied, "No, it actually is. It is never too early for a child to learn the value of a dollar. She gave me these beautiful acorns and she deserves something in return." He removed the outermost dollar bill and handed it to Madeline.
My next thought was, "I wonder what she's going to think of this. Has she even seen a dollar bill? Have I taught her anything about money?"
Much to my surprise, and shredding any other thoughts I could have, Madeline SHOVED that dollar bill into the recesses of her pocket! I don't know if she knew what it was, but she certainly knew that she wanted it. Even more than the acorns!
We thanked him and said goodbye. He continued East toward Staff's and we walked a little farther West, allowing the distance between us to widen enough to warrant turning back.
Within minutes I noticed a police car passing. His lights turned on. He pulled over and stopped the man who had just educated Madeline on the value of a dollar. We turned, stayed back out of the way, but close enough to intervene on his behalf if necessary.
The two spoke for a moment. The man continued on towards Staff's and we were close enough by this point to engage the police officer in our second lesson of the night. I began, "Madi, this is a police officer. See the clothes that he wears. He is here to keep us safe."
We approached the officer, he smiled. I asked him about the man and let him know that he had not been any trouble for us. He assured me that he was simply doing his job and trying to make sure that all was well. While we were making small talk, Madeline noticed that she was once again under the Live Oak tree. She filled her hands once more. In perfect toddler style she quickly lifted her hands and offered her newly acquired goodies to the officer.
He graciously accepted her kindness and said, "Now, what do I have for you in exchange for these lovely acorns?"
My only thought was, "Where in the world have we moved to? Do these people never stop and pick up acorns? Do they not realize that they are free and ALL OVER THE GROUND?"
He pulled out a quarter and offered it to Madeline. She promptly added it to the pocket that contained the dollar. Our ten minute walk had earned her $1.25!
I turned to the officer and our eyes met. He said, quietly, so Madi wouldn't hear, "You know, that is the most that I've ever paid for a handful of acorns." I looked at him and replied, "You know the man that you stopped? He gave her a dollar!"
We both agreed that there was a lot more to the human heart than meets the eye. You never know where you will find kindness.
Humor is starting to make a comeback as we settle into "Life After Covid." At first it was surreal. Covid soon became so real that it certainly wasn't funny. Now there are moments where we think, "Wait, that was funny. Right?"
March 21st brought a change to life at the beach. All access to the green waters and white sands were removed, whether you were a visitor or a local. This certainly wasn't funny, but several things have made me smile. As much as I dislike seeing the yellow police tape spanning the access to the beach, the words "Crime Scene Do Not Cross" make me smile. I think to myself, "Perfect choice! This certainly is the scene of a crime!"
As the beaches have become off limits, locals have taken more walks and bike rides around the neighborhoods. I recently passed another walker and we kept to opposite sides of the street. He donned a t-shirt showing his allegiance to my rival football team, the Auburn Tigers. I couldn't hold back my laugh and then had to explain. I told him that normally I wouldn't chuckle at this moment, at his Auburn shirt. With Covid and all that was happening I shared my bizarre thought, "Darn, even in a pandemic I can't escape the Auburn Tigers." He laughed, I continued to smile and then we returned to our walk. Still rivals, but happier in some strange way.
This reminded me of a time at Lambeau Field. Eddie Lacy, a Green Bay Packer, had played for Alabama. I wore my houndstooth ball cap to the game along with my Packer gear and settled into our family seats. Within moments the guy behind me chuckled and asked if he could borrow my ball cap. A strange request. No true southerner could say no, so I complied. I was surprised myself to see my fingers remove my beloved ball cap and hand it to this stranger. He had the biggest smile and I was concerned. He looked at it, almost glowing, and then called to his buddy five seats to his left. "Hey Jim, check this out!" Jim turned, took one look at my cap and said, "I drove over 1,000 miles to get here and I STILL can't escape AL-A-BAMA!" We all laughed!
Will these Covid times allow for laughter? We must laugh because the body cannot survive on stress and tears alone. Find humor. Look up Covid memes. My personal favorite is the empty toilet paper roll that has been skewered with three toothpicks and placed in water to root, like an avocado seed. What about the mass celebrated by an Italian priest who accidentally activated his Facebook filters. Inappropriate laughter? YES! But it is STILL FUNNY!
Though empty shelves are not fun to look at, I did smile at the empty floor to ceiling bike section at Walmart. That was a sign that families were getting out, getting fresh air and exercise, together. Find laughter, it is out there. And don't worry, you're not a bad person for enjoying it.