Friday, July 30, 2010

July 29, 1971

There are dates that trigger memories... July 29 is one such date.

I had just turned 13 years old, and for my birthday that year, 1971, I received an olive green suitcase.  We had moved into a hotel in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire in England, preparing for our return to the U.S. July 29, 1971 was the day we left England, and I left my friends who had made living in that country so enjoyable.

To this day, I recall those friends:

Simon Dean -- lived around the corner and was "cute" with his freckled faced self,
Michael Poraj-Wilczynski -- lived directly behind us and was so fun and friendly...a comfortable friend,
Anna Gartell -- lived across the street and had a little sister Ruthie -- Anna was my best neighborhood girlfriend,
Sarah Lily-White -- lived up the street and was a "sometimes" member of our loosely defined group of friends,
Jennifer Allen -- my English best friend at school,
Linda Sullivan -- my American best friend at school.

Living in England in the late 60's and early 70's was a great experience for me.  None of my friends from my "block" went to the same school.  In fact we all went to different schools.  That was a distinct difference between the U.S. and England, for me.  In my neighborhood in the U. S. everyone either went to the same public school or to the same private school.  In England we all wore our different school uniforms and never once thought about whether one school was "better" than the other.  I suppose our parents DID consider those things, but we only considered whether we liked each other.

Particular neighborhood memories I have are of Mike, Simon, Anna, Sarah and myself
  • playing cards in Mike's garage, 
  • playing sort of a lone ranger game, wherein one person would ride the bike under the willow tree down by the bus stop, and the others would jump out of the tree to try to knock the rider off the bike and take over the bike, 
  • "saving" a cat, a deceased cat, from the road and carrying him by wheelbarrow to Anna's yard for a proper burial, 
  • "hanging out" on the wall that ran adjacent to our yard, hitting the tennis ball against the wall as we chatted about things of importance to  12 and 13 year olds. 

And I have fond school memories of Linda and myself breaking the rules of the Charlton Park Convent where we attended school, doing such daring things as wearing our "indoor shoes" outdoors, and singing "Leaving on a Jet Plane" in chapel, where we were SUPPOSED to be praying after lunch, and of Jennifer and myself laughing and playing in the fields on the convent property, eating clover, as we "skipped" the school lunch, preferring the rare and glorious sun to the shepherd's pie that day (of course, getting detention when our transgression was discovered).

But on July 29, 1971, I left these friends behind, moving on to the new friendships that would shape my teen years in the States.  I maintained some sporadic pen pal communications with these kids, and stayed good friends with Linda, who also returned to the States that year or the next, but eventually lost track of these friends who made those years such a pleasure.

In 2005 I managed to find Mike, and we communicated a couple of times via email.  In 2010 I found Mike again, through Facebook and for the first time in 39 years, got to see photos of my old chum....I had to laugh when I saw this distinguished looking man...for in my memories, he is still the tousle-haired boy with the impish grin.  I have never reconnected with Anna, Simon, Sarah or Jennifer, and have lost contact with Linda.

Still, with each July 29th my memories of these friends are triggered, and for a little while I am again 13.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tan Lines

As a freshman at FSU in 1976, in Florida, the sunshine state, away from home (far away from Maryland), I discovered my FIRST priority was to become tanned.  Yes, I was there for my enlightenment in the field of "Political Science"  (ARE YOU kidding me???) and I wanted to get through college quickly so I could get on with REAL life, but the MOST important thing to a girl from Maryland who is lucky enough to be accepted into a Florida university, is to come home well tanned.

Smith Hall, the dorm of my freshman year, offered me the perfect place to get that tan, without ever leaving the building,  The roof of the ten-story dorm was fenced to prevent jumpers and accidental drunken tumblers, but it was NOT shaded.  And so, in lieu of actually ATTENDING my Meteorology 101 class (eGADS how BORING can it get?) I would often be "studying" on the roof.  And I was rewarded with the first decent tan I'd ever had.  Previously, fun in the sun had resulted in wicked burns for this once-blonde-and-fair-skinned kid.  I had inherited my father's red-head complexion which is better suited to "sun avoidance."

So there I was, Winter 1976 and Spring of 1977, happily tanning and nearly failing the most basic of science classes, and very proud of my tan.... I will not subject you to photos of those days, as I simply do not have any...otherwise, I can assure you, there would be photos of my tan lines!  Sadly, however, that was the LAST decent tan I ever had.  Once I moved out of Smith Hall and that wonderful roof was no longer at my daily disposal, I returned to the "overdo it when you actually get a chance to sunbathe" mode that had been my life experience.  And, with that came the return to the burn-and-peel Judy.

As an adult, working mother with young children, wife to love-to-fish hubby, I experienced MANY more sunburns and even managed to get sun poisoning, just in time for my brother Ray's wedding...let me just say that standing in pantyhose and heels in front of all of the friends and family who had gathered to attend this event, singing the "Our Father" with my brother Tim, was PAINFUL with feet swollen to twice their since from the sun poisoning.

But, I have always enjoyed the outdoors, so I take advantage of it as often as I can.  At 52 I have already had several little reminders of those burns removed by the dermatologist...thankfully, so far, they have only been the basal cell carcinomas.

I was looking at photos Joe took of me in the past few days, as I tended my plants in one of the gardens, and I thought how things have changed over the years.  I seriously do not even OWN a swimming suit any more.  If I am going in the water anywhere, it is in a pair of shorts and tank top.  And I literally LIVE in my overalls...they are baggy enough to be cool even in this sweltering heat, and they help keep the bugs from chewing every inch of skin-real-estate.  And when I catch a glimpse of my "tan lines" I have to admit, they are not something I would go around bragging about!  I think when we were young and oh so willing to laugh at everyone who was not like us, we referred to what I now sport as a "farmer's tan."  Well, good thing I'm now beyond caring whether I have a beautifully bronzed body...because that just ain't happenin' any more.

Baby Melon July 22

Same Melon July 23

With this intensely hot, humid and sunny summer we are having we have LOTS of opportunity for outside work (and play) but sun bathing is just not an option......Good thing too, since this week has been filled with, gardening, painting, raking....BARK fallen from the giant sycamore, mowing, mowing, mowing....ummmm, working on lawn mower, cleaning out sheds, wiring my eBay trailer for lights and A/C...and more...

You call THOSE "Tan lines????!!!!"

Friday, July 23, 2010

Cleared for Take Off

As planned, I brought another large load of boxes from the pond house to the farmhouse today.  I did my work early so I could make my doctor's appointment in the early afternoon.  The day was HOT (go figure) so running up and down the stairs, in and out of the house to the van, was better done in the early morning.  By 11:30 I was on my way back to the farmhouse. For the record, I have now "de-cluttered" the pond house....well, except I still have the garage, and storage sheds to complete.

Joe drove me to my doctor's appointment, which is a great help because no matter what they say, Williamsburg, VA, where my surgeon is located, is NOT a fun place to drive, even with a completely functional right arm.  It is congested, and drivers are all either very old or very confused (tourists) or just plain impatient....the end result is that I really am not fond of driving over there.

We arrived only ten minutes late for my appointment, and they repaid the favor by making me wait 20 minutes, being "entertained" by CNN on a huge TV with the volume ALMOST loud enough to hear OVER the "soothing" wall fountain in the waiting room.  I swear, the sound of the "waterfall" makes everyone head to the bathroom within just a couple of minutes of arrival.

I did not actually get to see my surgeon today, although his was the name on my appointment card.  I saw the "other guy"...nice enough, but I since harbor painful memories of his injecting cortisone into my extremely painful elbow... still, he asked how the elbow was doing and I answered honestly.  It is pretty good.  I have essentially no pain during the day, and I am using it a lot.  But at night... well, there is just no such thing as sleeping more than two hours without waking in pain.  The ONLY cure I have found is not in the form of liquid or tablet.  No, I must simply GET UP and start moving.  I stay up for a while and when it is comfortable again, I take another two hours of sleep.

The doctor prodded it and noted it is still very painful when actually touched and he gave me some anti-inflammatory patches to apply.  Each patch is to be left on for 12 hours.  He also prescribed more physical therapy, with some specific directions to the therapist...something that involves some sort of jelly and a prod????? egads, what AM I subjecting myself to???  But the bottom line, and the answer to my MAJOR question was YES, I am cleared to return to work on Tuesday.  I won't lie and say I haven't enjoyed the time off, but I also know very well that there is nobody completing my work and it will all be piled up awaiting my return... so, I'd better jump in and get it done!

On the way home, we picked up pizzas and stopped at the pond house to eat and do some chores.  I showed off my "full" extension of my repaired arm as I served up the pizza. (Please ignore the somewhat "pained" expression on my face....stealing that fallen piece of pineapple took a little too much speed and agility than I currently possess!)

And when we returned to the farmhouse, we applied the first of the patches to my elbow.... I'm curious to see if it has a positive effect on my pain while sleeping.  I mean, it can't be any worse than some of the other methods suggested by the therapist...the most recent of which is to sleep with my arm inside a pillow case, using the pillow to make sure I don't bend the arm up, tensing that area....of course, I keep waking up to discover my arm has escaped the pillowcase jail and is off bending at will....I locate the pillow and return the arm to the pillowcase and start the whole game again....I SURE hope the patch works!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Butterflies, Spiders, Boxes and Moons

The old beater van is getting a workout, to be sure.  She has hauled several loads in her short time on the job and is still loaded from today's haul.  I'll unload her tomorrow morning before picking up another load.  Since we take pictures of just about everything here, it should not be surprising to discover we have photos of .... the load of boxes (please don't focus on the FACT that one of the boxes was not loaded with the proper side up....)

Of course, to get the FULL load, we needed to get those seats out of the van....unfortunately, that also exposed just how FILTHY this van is!  Yes, I know I bought it to schelp boxes, but this is just gross!  I think a piece of carpet will replace this mess....

Still, with each load of boxes, we are coming a little closer to getting the excess contents out of the pond house.

Meanwhile, back on the farm, all creatures great and small are busy entertaining us.  This spider is one of MANY around these parts.  They make a big web, which isn't too orderly looking, but which clearly gets the job done.

This butterfly was hanging out on the steps of the eBay trailer, and I just had to see what he would do if I put my finger down next to him....

Benson was not impressed.  Now mind you, Benson is the cat who seems to be DETERMINED to have an audience when he is doing his business.  No matter where we are in the yard, he will saunter over to a location nearby and proceed to dig his potty, use it and cover his tracks.  And since he IS the king of the castle, as soon as that butterfly was off the eBay trailer steps, Benson took up residency.  I think I should call him "eBen."

And summer, hot as it is, is still beautiful...with flowers blooming everywhere.

The days are hot and humid and the typical summer afternoon skies are full of character....

And still, we get to see the moon, almost every night......  Moons are so much more enjoyable without the competition of city lights.

So, tomorrow, before I return to the surgeon for my follow-up (and the authorization to return to work), I will pick up another load of boxes in my nasty beater van and bring it down that pretty country road to the old farmhouse.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Satisfaction Does NOT Bring it Back

Always, always my mother would say, "Curiosity killed the cat..." whenever I asked something she didn't want to answer. Usually that meant it was none of my business, but that never satisfied me. I was not a cat and being curious was simply my nature. Some time in my teens, I learned the second part of that old saying, "Satisfaction brought it back!" And now I was able to not only irritate my mother with my questions, but also "back mouth" her with my retort to her, "Curiosity killed the cat," line. If you glean from this introductory paragraph that my mother and I had a somewhat adversarial relationship, you gleaned somewhat correctly.

Nevertheless, I have gotten no less curious with age and no less determined that "the answer" -- the "satisfaction" -- is necessary to continue on. So it was that when I learned of my husband's passing last month, I needed to know how he died. The coroner telling me that he passed in his sleep was not sufficient to satisfy my curiosity. Since his mother had listed herself as next of kin rather than me, his estranged wife, but wife, nonetheless, I had to battle the Spartanburg, SC coroner's office, jump through multiple hoops, before they would accept I AM the next of kin and therefore the toxicology and pathology reports should come to me. I was successful in my hoop jumping and ten days ago when I spoke with the coroner's investigator, he assured me that as soon as the reports were in, he would send them to me.

My husband was 55 years old and was presenting himself as being in such poor health he could not work, and he and his attorney would have the judge believe and agree that I should support him for the rest of his life. I knew better, or at least I thought I did. John was not in poor health...he was an alcoholic and prescription drug abuser. He didn't WANT to work, because, in his words, "I can't leave my comfort zone." Still, there was a little part of me that wanted to be wrong about him. I truly WANTED him to get a hold of his life and make something of it. And, after being separated for two years at the time of his death, I did, in a way, hope the pathology and toxicology reports would prove me wrong, prove that he had changed.

Yesterday I received the notification that I had a certified letter from the coroner's office to pick up today. I picked it up on my way to physical therapy. I've read only one other such report in my life...that of my brother who died one month before his 25th birthday. His was a vehicular accident and the report was pretty straightforward. John's was full of words I had to look up to fully understand their meaning. Some things sounded just awful, but when I looked them up, turned out to be perfectly normal.

The toxicology report had a list of 11 compounds found  in his blood. Each was measured and reported with reference to therapeutic levels, toxic levels and lethal levels. Only two were outside of the therapeutic levels, and one of those was almost at the lethal level. The pathology report found nothing particularly "wrong" with John... In his summary, the examiner wrote, "Therefore, based on the history and the autopsy findings, as stated in this protocol, it is my opinion that this individual died as a result of respiratory insufficiency secondary to synergistic drug intoxication/overdose."

There it was. My curiosity made me want to know. The coroner provided me with the answers, "satisfying" my curiosity. But it is not "satisfying" to discover I was right. Yes, I am satisfied I made the right move in terminating the relationship after unsuccessfully trying for so long to make it work, but it brings me no pleasure to discover I was right. I suppose when, in a couple of weeks, I get the death certificate, I will discover whether the coroner will rule it as intentional or accidental.... either way, the result is the same -- a long list of compounds in blood no longer flowing to provide life.  Such a waste...such a waste.

Monday, July 19, 2010

1976 -- Old Friends Found Again

The year was 1976.  The month was September.  I was taking that Mother-May-I giant step that many 18 year olds do...I was leaving the relative comfort of my home in Bowie, Maryland and traveling to Tallahassee, Florida.  I was anxious, and excited at the same time.  I had moved several times in my life and moving was not scary to me.  However, every previous move had been in the company of my family.  While it was true my sister was already in Tallahassee, already attending FSU, she and I were not exactly "friends" in those days.  I knew I would be on my own in that new place.  I liked the idea and was a little overwhelmed by it.

Dad drove me down and explained everything about everything to me.  You know, those father-daughter talks where father is sincerely attempting to impart wisdom and daughter is sincerely certain he has no clue about life in the "modern era."  I mean college was not going to be like it was when HE attended FSU way back in Burt Reynolds, then "Buddy" Reynolds college days.  Things were different these were "cooler" than they were in Dad's day.  And therein was the problem.  Kids WERE cooler than they were in Dad's day, but I was not one of the "cool" kids.  Until this time, being cool was not important to family knew me as I was and loved or hated me (depending on the moment) for who I was.  But now I had to face the world who had not yet met me.

(I wrote another blog about this subject more than 2 years ago which explains how I got the nickname "Fletch" which friends from that era still use today. )

Perhaps it is just something about college and 18 year olds, but I felt at home almost immediately.  I liked my roommate and it seemed like no time at all before we met and became friends with Colleen and Betsy, two girls who roomed together down the hall.  In those days, a co-ed dorm, which Smith Hall was, had separate floors for male and female residents.  We were on the 7th floor.

That freshman year at Smith Hall was a lot of fun, a lot of work and holds a lot of memories for me.  After we all graduated and went our separate ways, we eventually lost track of each other.  Over the years we have made some contacts with each other, Dottie and I connected soon after the birth of her son, and then lost contact again, Colleen and I connected soon after her marriage, and then lost contact again, Bets and I connected and stayed connected through annual Christmas greetings....

But this year we apparently all found our way to Facebook and there we, once again, discovered each other.  It has been wonderful getting to know again these girls, now women, who had such a positive impact on my life, my acceptance...and one day soon, I hope we can get together for a reunion...they are all in Florida... I think a Florida vacation sounds really GOOD!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Overalls, Lizards and Post Offices

This morning, after feeding the menagerie (goats, dog, cats), I was standing in the carport, talking with Joe about removing the back seats from the beater van I just purchased to schlep boxes from the "pond house" to the farm house.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw something dart by.  Joe saw it too, and, as he made clear to me, the lizard was on my overalls pant leg.  I looked and saw nothing.  Joe told me to turn around, it was on the back of my leg.  I obliged and he tried to grab it, but it was too fast. "It's gone inside your overalls!" he told me, "take 'em off!"  LOL, I would normally not just start stripping out in the great outdoors, but this place is so secluded, it was not a problem.  "I don't feel any lizard in my overalls," I assured Joe, who was determined the interloper had, indeed, escaped in there.  With the overalls down below my knees and still no sign of Mr. L, I glanced at the back of my arm, and there he was...just looking at us!  Joe grabbed him and returned him to the lawn, while I proceeded to pull up my overalls!  It's always good to start the day with a little action!  No photos of the little guy, I'm afraid... the photographer in the crowd didn't have his camera ready!

I needed to ship a package to an eBay member, one who lives in Canada.  Since shipping internationally requires in-person presentation at the post office, I headed to the post office at 11:30, having completed my morning chores at the old farmhouse and having successfully banished Mr. L from my person.  I was testing my driving of the "beater" van.  The van was easy enough to drive, even with my right hand limitations, but Joe went with me, to make sure I had no trouble making the two mile drive.

We arrived at North Post Office at 11:45 AM.  It was closed and nowhere on the door or walls were the hours of operation posted.  A little bummed out, I returned to the van and told Joe what I'd discovered.  I knew the Gloucester Post Office was open until 12:00 PM, but knew also, it would take me longer than 15 minutes to drive the 12 miles.  Joe was confident he could get me there in time, so off we went....

The road from Mathews to Gloucester is a two-lane road with a double yellow line.  It doesn't widen until it crosses the county line.  Today, on that road, six cars ahead of our beater van, was a guy in a pick-up truck, pulling his trailered boat.  He was not quite achieving the speed limit but nobody could pass him.  Finally, we made it to the county line and the boat toting truck pulled into the slow lane....and so the speed in the other lane picked up and sure enough, we pulled into Gloucester Post Office at 11:59 and I headed in with my international package.  I got in line, as the clerks were both helping customers.  One of the clerks, who knows me well, because I ship packages there daily, asked me, "is that ready to go?"

I told her I needed to pay for it there (I usually print my postage on-line) because it was international.  She continued helping the customer as she declared, "Oh, because we are's 12 o'clock."  Well, I didn't know how to respond to that.  It was clear I was not going to be served today, and my package would require another day and another trip to the post office.  I would be lying if I said I was not miffed, but I decided it was not worth ruining my day over.

We decided that since we were already now in Gloucester, we would drive to the pond house and pick up another load of boxes, and do some more yard work.  For the next four hours, Joe worked outside and I worked inside and when the heat and humidity finally took its toll, we packed the boxes in the beater and drove back to the old farmhouse.  The 15 minute round trip to North Post Office had turned into a nearly five hour excursion.

On the positive side, we did get a lot accomplished at the pond house and we did manage to get back to the farmhouse before the thunder and black clouds developed into rain.  The dog and the goats were all happy to see us, and ready to be returned to their shelter...they are not happy campers in the rain! Benson, the "mouser" cat, is unperturbed by just about anything.  He just watches as the others go ballistic to get into shelter at the first rumble of thunder. And our third sunflower opened today....

After eating our first meal of the day, we are now just relaxing and editing photos to add to the listing for the pond house.  I think I'll take a nap and do some more work later this evening....

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Plats and Photos

It's been a long time in coming, but I have finally listed the house for sale.  In fact, nearly four years ago I started the process, or, shall I say, conceded to the plan to sell the house and move to SC near my husband's recently widowed mother.  I awoke the morning of September 6, 2006, planning to begin the process of interviewing real estate agents, and choosing one to list the house.

I checked my email that morning, as is my practice, and found an email from our Pond Association president... the dam for the pond was failing and the water was rushing out, diminishing our 78 acre pond to a 78 acre mud flat.


That began a series of events that inhibited the sale of my "pond front home." Suffice to say that in the four years since that dam failed, I have:

  • Worked as an association member to successfully get the new dam/spillway built ($320,000 thank you very much!)
  • Separated from my husband (after spending enough years dealing with his alcohol and drug addictions and resulting domestic violence against me to know I could no longer live that way)
  • Filed for divorce after living apart for more than 18 months
  • Been notified of his death by my attorney, six days after he died, three days after he was buried....and so, never actually divorced
The natural disaster, tropical storm Ernesto, that caused the dam to fail, was just that, a natural disaster, but it meant that trying to sell the pond front home would be ludicrous....without a pond.  By the time the dam was rebuilt and the water was back in the pond, I was constrained from selling the house I alone had purchased, because the Commonwealth of VA had to decide how much of everything I had worked and paid for was to be ruled as "marital property" and "equitably distributed" between my husband and me.  (I was NOT a happy camper about this process, I might add.)  And so, I continued to work to pay the mortgage on a house I would no longer enjoy.  But this waiting game all came to an abrupt end with his death.

So now, one month from the day I was told of his passing, I have listed the house for sale.  There is some sadness, to be sure.  It is a beautiful place and held so much promise.  It was to be the home in which I/We retired.  But life has a way of changing our perspective on things and this is one of those perspectives that has, for me, forever changed.  I will (I hope) go fishing in the pond a few more times before the house is sold, but if I don't get that opportunity, I will have good memories of last summers' endless days and nights of good fishing.

I will always have good memories of autumn days spent hiking through the beautiful woods, collecting the more that 1000 lbs of hickory nuts I would then sell on eBay, and the spring walks through the newly leaved trees, following the sound of water splashing in the creek that marks my property line, to discover the spawning carp, big and beautiful and BUSY!


And to the family who purchases the property, I will betroth my canoe and jon boat.....may they enjoy many years on the pond and catch many, many fish!


For me, it is now the final closing of the book for that era of my life. Last night I sent my listing agent photos of the plats for the two parcels of land, one of which is developed and the other which is ready for the new owner to build on.....

I expect it to take a long time to sell in the current economy, but, with it finally listed, I can start to focus more on the old farmhouse and less on the "pond house."