memories, nostalgia

Repost: My brush with the rich and famous in rural Gloucester, Virginia…

I’ve been a little bit homesick, lately. It’s been years since I was last “home”. So, as I think about what fresh content I want to write today, here’s a repost from 2018. The featured photo is of me, running in my first race in April 1982. I won first place for my age and sex– which, at that time, was nine. It was a four mile race. My, how times have changed. Now, I feel great when I manage to walk a mile.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I grew up in Gloucester, Virginia in the 1980s.  We moved there in June 1980, the day after I turned eight.  I remember very clearly that in those days, Gloucester was very rural.  I seem to remember just a few stoplights in the entire county and maybe a McDonald’s and a Pizza Hut. 

Decades later, I see that it’s a lot more cosmopolitan than it was in my day.  Areas that used to be nothing but trees are now home to big box stores and chain restaurants.  Both the Pizza Hut and the McDonald’s that were there in 1980 have been torn down and moved.  And there are now many stoplights in Gloucester and there have been for probably thirty years or more.

I didn’t appreciate Gloucester when I was young.  In fact, I hated living there for most of my youth.  When we first moved there, I was mercilessly bullied by a group of my classmates– the smart, “preppie” kids whose families had lived in Gloucester forever.  Many of those kids rode the same bus I did and made my life a living hell.  I didn’t get along with most of the kids who lived on my dirt road, either.  They were a different group of kids.  They weren’t necessarily smart.  What most of them were was very “redneck”.  We didn’t mesh.  They probably thought I was too highfalutin’ and snobby.  There’s no telling.   

The one thing that saved me from succumbing to despair was my love for horses.  I wasn’t especially horsey when we lived in Fairfax, Virginia, which was where we spent the first two years after my dad retired from the Air Force our of Mildenhall Air Force Base in England.  My sister had taken riding lessons in England, but I wasn’t necessarily into horses myself…  but then we moved to rural, country Gloucester, where many people owned horses.  My neighbor, mother to one of the hoodlums who used to harass me, used to let me ride her horse every once in awhile.  I will never forget the intoxicating aroma of the horses and the thrill of sitting on one for the first time.  I fell deeply in love.

Within a couple of years after we moved to Gloucester, I started taking formal riding lessons.  I continued riding throughout high school, finally giving it up in 1990, the year I graduated.  Although Gloucester was, and probably still is, a rather provincial place, there were actually some interesting people living there.  In fact, there’s a lot of old money in Gloucester and many historic plantations are located there.  You could spend all day driving around the county looking at them if you wanted to.

Little me on Rusty, the pony who got me through high school still innocent.  I think I was about twelve in this photo.  The year was 1984.

In the 80s, the Sadovic family from France owned a big fancy plantation called Eagle Point.  I don’t know what their business was, but they were very French and apparently very wealthy.  Their son, Greg, was about my age.  He showed horses.  I believe he and the rest of his family now live in Palm Beach, Florida and he now shows horses professionally.  In the 80s, he was involved in 4H, like I was, and he sometimes rode in the small shows, like I did.  But his family owned beautiful horses and were very serious about the sport. 

For several years in the 1980s, the Sadovics employed an expert French horseman named Francois Lemaire de Ruffieu.  Francois was a bit of a “rock star” in the horse world.  He first trained and graduated from the Cadre Noir, one of the oldest and most prestigious riding academies in Europe.  During his six years in the cavalry at Saumur and Fontainebleau, he studied and showed extensively in dressage, stadium jumping, three-day eventing and steeplechase.  He was awarded the title of Master Instructor of the American Riding Instructor Certification program in 1996.  Given that he was born in 1944, Francois has been in the horse business for many years.  But I knew him during his prime.  In fact, I distinctly remember falling off my horse, Rusty, right in front of him back in the 80s.

In those days, Francois was in his 40s and he lived in Gloucester.  He’d give riding clinics at Eagle Point.  I know I attended at least one or two of them.  In those days, Eagle Point had a number of events that we’d attend– horse shows, competitive trail rides, and fox hunts.  It wasn’t located far from where I took lessons.  My riding coach took lessons from Francois and passed on some of his techniques to us when she taught us.  I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but it was actually really cool that she was able to do that, especially in a place like Gloucester.

In 1988, right after Rusty and I won first place in a huge Hunter Pleasure Pony class in Richmond, Virginia.

In 1984, Francois published his first book, Handbook of Riding Essentials.  It made quite a splash locally, but I believe it also sold well internationally.  I see that Francois is still in business, too, giving riding clinics in places like Vermont.  I see on an old Facebook page that someone who worked with Francois in the 80s mentions having known him in Virginia.  He evidently also worked at Beau Shane, which was a beautiful farm in next door Mathews County (which I think is now defunct).  I knew it because the woman who used to run our 4H horse judging group was a horse trainer there and we used to visit Beau Shane to study conformation.  They had beautiful Swedish Warmbloods.  Mathews County is even more rural than Gloucester, but there were some really high caliber horses there.

This topic comes up because last night, I was noticing all the boat pictures and videos posted by some of my Gloucester friends and I felt a little bit homesick.  Gloucester is also home to several rivers and many people who live there own boats.  I joked that maybe it was time to move back to Gloucester.  My old riding coach mentioned that mosquitos are a thing there and maybe I’d forgotten that.  I was being a bit facetious.  I can’t see myself moving to Gloucester again.  It wouldn’t be the same as it was when I was growing up.  But another friend, a guy who lived there in the 70s, started talking about the plantations and mentioned Warner Hall…  He said it’s for sale.

Warner Hall is located right next to Eagle Point and, in the 80s, one could board their horses there.  It is now a five star B&B, but in the 80s, we rode our horses through the property while participating in events put on by Eagle Point.  I didn’t know it back in the 80s, but George Washington’s grandparents lived there.  Actually, Gloucester is a very historic place.  It’s also where Pocahontas was born.  And Dr. Walter Reed, a U.S. Army physician who led the team that postulated and confirmed the theory that yellow fever is transmitted by a particular mosquito species, rather than by direct contact, was also born in Gloucester, Virginia.  Gloucester was also used in a couple of films, notably Zelly & Me starring Isabella Rosselini, and Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise.  And John Lennon once owned a plantation in neighboring Mathews County called Poplar Grove.

When I was about eleven, I also used to occasionally visit Lisburne, another plantation that was restored by the Peebles family.  Their daughter, Laurie, showed horses on the A rated circuit and a church friend, also wealthy, hooked me up with her.  I remember I used to visit this marvelous home in Ordinary and play with Laurie’s horses.  This was before my mom got me into lessons with the woman who taught me all through high school. 

I think about all the places I could have grown up… places not as interesting or historic as Gloucester County is.  When I was a child, I thought it was a boring place.  Now I realize that Gloucester is pretty fascinating.  I still don’t know that I want to move back there, but it was a cool place to grow up.  There’s an interesting mix of old money, old redneck, and military transients in that county.  I still have a lot of friends there, although my family has moved on.  If it weren’t for horses, I don’t know that I would have had so many opportunities to see some of these wonderful old homes. 

Of course, I also got to see a few of them thanks to being a Presbyterian.  I think in Gloucester, a lot of Presbyterians were somewhat well-heeled and connected to old money.  But I see now, even the church I grew up in has changed.  I remember when that sanctuary was built, back in 1980, 100 years after the church was founded.  And now, it’s no longer First Presbyterian Church.  Now it’s Grace Covenant Church, affiliated with the new ECO branch of Presbyterianism because apparently, the minister didn’t want to have to marry gay couples, and disagreed with some of the other changing views of the PCUSA branch.

Anyway… I just heard the chimes go off, signifying that it’s time to move the laundry to the dryer.  I guess I’ve rambled on long enough this morning.

Here’s a link to Francois’ book…  I see it’s significantly more expensive these days!  But it is very well-regarded… Maybe I should buy a copy for old time’s sake.

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memories, musings, nostalgia

A few notable memories of past December 27ths…

The featured photo today is one of me when I was about three years old. It was not taken on December 27th, 1975, but it does appear in my Facebook memories today.

I happened to be awake last night at midnight. That’s something that doesn’t happen so often anymore. I’ve always been more of a nightowl than Bill is. His brain has a tendency to go down with the sun. By nine o’clock, talking to him is like trying to listen to a Walkman with dying batteries. His eyes roll back in his head and I have to tell him to go to bed. I usually go with him, and he wakes me up very early in the morning. He can’t help it. So now, after eighteen years of marriage, we tend to go to bed somewhat early and rise early… and I sometimes have to nap, because I’ll stay up and read.

As Bill slept next to me, I looked at my Facebook memories, freshly available at the stroke of midnight. December 27th has historically been a memorable day. There were quite a few great memories from over the years. And there was also a not so great one from last year. As we were coming back from seeing my friend in France, we stopped at a rest area near Beaune so we could pee and call the people who owned the gite where we were going to stay. As we were about to leave, some jerk slashed our tire. We were driving our brand new car that, at that point, we had only owned since July 1, 2019. I wrote about that incident last year.

Flat tire caused by criminal jerks in France last year. This cost us a lot of money, but at least we got an extra day in France.

At the time of the tire slashing, it wasn’t such a good day… but now I look back on it and realize that some good came out of the slashing. For one thing, we got a taste of French good will. The gite owners let us stay an extra night free of charge, and the guy at the tire shop went out of his way to help us find the right tires. I discovered a love of Pommard wine, and since we didn’t know what was on the horizon in 2020, we got an extra day in a country we’ve come to love. I would love to be stuck in France today… minus the threat of the coronavirus, that is.

The next notable memory was from December 27, 2018. I posted “I am in serious need of fun.” To that, I now say, “I really had no idea.” In 2018, things were still open. Ah well, maybe next year, things will be less fucked up than they are in 2020. Maybe… one can hope and pray. I do have a sense of realism, though. On the other hand, maybe 2020 has taught me to appreciate the small things more. Going out to eat at a restaurant next year would be a great pleasure. Maybe it will happen.

The next notable memory was from December 27, 2014. We lived in Jettingen, having moved there in September of that year. We moved back to Germany in August 2014, but spent the first month in alternative lodging– a hotel for a week, then a temporary apartment that was a little too cozy for us. I was happy to have a home of my own, even if I didn’t love the house we rented and later came to despise the landlady.

Anyway, on December 27, 2014, we had a lot of snow. Zane and Arran were still youthful, and both having been born in the South– Zane in Georgia and Arran in North Carolina– they were not too familiar with the white stuff. Zane had encountered snow once, around the time we first got him. The storm in Georgia had happened in January 2010, I think… Zane was barely out of puppyhood and loved the snow! So I wasn’t surprised by this joyful reaction in 2014…

Zane and Arran in the snow. Zane was a fan, and Arran was not so much.

When we lived near Stuttgart, it wasn’t unusual to get decent snow at least once a year. Actually, where we lived, we got more than a lot of people did, even in the Stuttgart area. Jettingen was a higher altitude than some of the surrounding areas, so the snow tended to stick around awhile. We’d still have sleddable hills long after people in other areas had a sloppy, muddy mess.

Here in Breckenheim, we’re kind of in a valley. It doesn’t snow as much here anyway, so it’s been awhile since we last had a good snowstorm. I miss it. Arran doesn’t. Noyzi seems to like snow, though. A couple of weeks ago, we had some snow that melted after a day or so. He had great fun running around in it. Noyzi has been more playful lately, anyway. He seems to be settling in nicely.

And finally, the last notable memory I was enjoying last night occurred on December 27, 2010. A high school classmate of mine shared this photo of our third grade class…

I’m in the front row, wearing the 70s era hand me down dress and clogs.

My German friend immediately picked me out of the crowd, and I started to explain the context of that photo. We had only recently moved to Gloucester County when this was taken. I was eight years old, and my parents had moved us from Fairfax County (a suburb of Washington, DC) to Gloucester. I was actually born not too far from Gloucester, in Hampton, Virginia. A lot of my classmates were born in Hampton, or nearby Newport News or Williamsburg, but they had spent their whole lives in Gloucester. I, on the other hand, was an Air Force brat, and we moved to Dayton, Ohio not long after my birth.

Anyway, two years after my dad retired from the Air Force out of Mildenhall Air Force Base in England, my parents moved to Fairfax, Virginia. Fairfax was a very suburban place in the late 70s. We lived in a neighborhood where there were sidewalks and playgrounds. I had lots of kids to play with and could walk to and from school every day. My school in Fairfax was also diverse, and I had classmates from all over the world. I remember learning about Japan and Thailand in first and second grades. We even had culture days at school where we’d taste foods from different countries (I wasn’t a fan because I was a very picky eater). I remember learning about Vincent Van Gogh and other artists, too. Fairfax had a lot more money than Gloucester did, so the school experience was very different.

Gloucester, by contrast, was like a different world. In 1980, it was still extremely rural. My parents bought a house with a business attached. On one side of the house there was a dirt road, where there were no playgrounds or sidewalks, and the kids would act like they were on the set of The Dukes of Hazzard. Yes, there were plenty of Confederate battle flags everywhere, and instead of playing childhood games, the kids would ride bikes and motorcycles, shoot BB guns, and play in the graveyard (seriously, we did this). It was decidedly “redneck”, and not what I was used to at all.

On the other side of my parents’ house ran Business Route 17, a busy road that led to Gloucester Courthouse. It provided my parents with a supply of customers, but it wasn’t the best place to live. In Fairfax, there was a shopping mall on the other side of the woods behind our house. I could walk to the mall with ease. We were also really close to a meeting house for the Mormons. Little did I know that I would someday marry a Mormon. Now he’s an ex Mormon! In those days, I remember thinking that church was mysterious. In Gloucester, I had to walk about two miles down Route 17 to get to the crappy shopping center. In those days, I could do it– even as a young kid– and no one cared.

My first year in Gloucester was very difficult. I experienced a lot of bullying that year. In Fairfax, I had my cousins nearby, and while we weren’t close friends or anything, they were family. I had friends in the neighborhood. I didn’t have to ride the bus. In Gloucester, I knew no one, and people thought I was weird. I’m still weird, but people appreciate it more now than they did then.

So looking at that photo is a little painful for me. That teacher, Mrs. Thompson, didn’t like me much. That was supposedly the “gifted” class. Half the class wasn’t gifted, though… We were divided into two reading groups. I was in the more advanced group, having been moved there a week or two after I started at Botetourt Elementary School. I had originally been in Miss Booker’s class, but I could read better than the other kids in that class. So I was put in Mrs. Thompson’s class, where all the “cool kids” were. These were mostly kids who were born and raised in Gloucester. Their parents were community pillars. Some of them rode the school bus with me and made every day a living hell. I often came home crying.

In third grade, we were in these big open classrooms that could be separated by an electric divider. Our divider was always open, and the teacher in the other room, Mrs. Holstrom, was a lot louder than Mrs. Thompson was. My attention would often drift to her class. Mrs. Thompson would then call on me, and I would be lost. So the kids would make fun of me, and I would get upset and cry. They took perverse delight in tormenting me for having a short span of attention and being easily upset. And my parents did nothing about it. I remember one of my older sisters used to coach me in comebacks. I’m now pretty good at verbally putting people in their places, but back then, I didn’t have a clue.

I seem to also remember feeling like I needed better clothes. The dress I’m wearing in the photo above came from my former Fairfax County neighbor, Sarah. She’s two years older than I am and Canadian. We ended up friending each other on Facebook! She now lives in British Columbia, but for two years, she was my friend. I inherited a bunch of her clothes, including that dress. I remember liking that dress because it “spun” so well and was comfortable. But all of the kids in Gloucester were wearing oxford shirts, Levis, and Nikes, Docksiders, or saddle shoes, and monogrammed sweaters. They all had combs in their back pockets, too. I never got into the comb habit, nor did I ever own a pair of saddle shoes. I do remember having “Topsiders”, which was a rip off of the vastly superior “Docksiders” shoes people wore back then. It’s now funny to me that I was so into brands when I was 8.

I see that photo was also taken in what we used to call “The Pit”. It was a room where we’d watch films, take music class, and have class pictures taken. That was also the room where we had the horrible “Growing Up and Liking It” discussion. Yep– I learned what menstruation is in that room! The Pit no longer exists. It was “filled in” some years later because the school officials needed another room for normal classroom use. Years after I was a student at Botetourt, I taught an after school enrichment horse class for my 4H club. I was 17 at the time, but still had such vivid memories of going to Botetourt.

I also have curls in that photo. Why? Because my sisters used to curl their hair and I wanted to be like them. I slept in pink curlers the night before that photo was taken. I thought it was a good look. I wore clogs for the same reason. My sister, Sarah, had them and I wanted to be like her. She was in high school then, and used to come of Botetourt to teach the “cool kids” French. That was fourth grade, though, and by then I was out of the so-called “gifted” group. Mrs. Thompson had me put down a level. I ended up being the best reader and speller in my fourth grade class. That was when I had Mr. Almasian, who was very popular and young. He was also of Armenian descent, and he used to talk about it in class. Little did I know that I would eventually go on to live in Armenia. But I could devote an entire blog post to his class, so I won’t continue with that tangent, except to say that being in his class helped put an end to the bullying, at least. But Mr. Almasian had a whale shaped paddle that he used on us. He’d paddle us in front of the class. Yes, it happened to me, and yes I’m still pissed off about it. Again… a story I’ve already written, and one to rewrite and embellish on another day.

Anyway… it’s already after 1:00pm, and so far the most exciting thing that has happened is that I finally vacuumed. So next year, if I write another post like this one, I’ll have to pick another day to do it. At least I’m still married to this guy…

And we no longer live in that house…
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teen help, true crime

Repost: Creepy Christian caregivers from my hometown…

Yesterday, I read a news report out of the Salt Lake Tribune about the “teen help” industry, and how it’s burgeoning in Utah. One controversial facility that regularly comes up in Provo Canyon School, which Paris Hilton recently said she attended in the 1990s. I am currently reading a book by Cameron Douglas, son of actor, Michael Douglas, who also had experience with the school. Many “troubled kids” from around the country are sent to Utah to get “straightened out” by abusive schools, sometimes with disastrous results.

As I was reading, I was reminded of a “teen help” facility located very close to where I grew up. Many “troubled children” from around Virginia were sent there, and some suffered horrific abuse. I’m reposting my comments about that today, as/is. This post was originally composed October 26, 2017.

I’ve spent the past couple of hours digging up old news about churches in the county where I grew up.  Gloucester, Virginia was a pretty low key, rural kind of place back in the day, but there was the occasional scandal.  Today’s story has a long history that came to a head in the 1990s.  It’s a bit juicy and convoluted.

I moved to Gloucester County in June 1980.  I was eight years old.  That was the same year Hopesville Boys Ranch was closed, because new therapeutic methods were allowing families to keep their troubled kids at home instead of sending them to “homes” to live. 

Hopesville Boys Ranch was opened in 1967 by the late Reverend Frank Seal and his wife, Ruth.  Reverend Seal was a Methodist minister who had worked in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia for years before he and his wife purchased 30 acres of land in Dutton, right on the border between Gloucester and Mathews counties.  When the ranch closed in 1980, it was later reopened as a Christian school, Hopesville Christian Academy. 

About thirty years ago, when I was about 14 or 15, I went through a brief phase when I rode my bike from Gloucester to Mathews just for kicks.  I’d go twenty or thirty miles just because I felt like it, which seems especially weird, since I had a horse at the time and probably should have been at the barn.  I remember riding through the small, rural community of Dutton and saw the signs for Hopesville Christian Academy.

I remember wondering what went on at the school.  I knew it was really tiny.  Even back in those days, religion kind of gave me the creeps.  I knew very little about the Christian school, only that it sat kind of eerily on the side of the road.  I didn’t know anyone who went there, though, and in time forgot about it.  The school closed at the end of the 1988-89 school year.  Other Christian schools had opened in the area, diminishing the need for Hopesville Christian Academy.  I graduated from Gloucester High School in 1990 and spent the next nine years moving back and forth to Gloucester. I went to college, served in the Peace Corps, and finally, in 1999, left for graduate school.  I have not lived in Gloucester since 1999 and have not visited since 2010.

Many years after I rode past it on my bike, I suddenly remembered that Christian school and home.  I didn’t remember the name of the place, but I remembered what it looked like and where it was.  I started obsessively digging and finally found some news reports about it reopening as a children’s home back in the early 1990s.  A 1994 news article reported that the facility had been reopened as a home for abused, abandoned, and neglected boys and girls. 

Frank Seal and his wife still ran Hopesville, although they also had help from two daughters, Joyce Clarke and Sheila Boettcher, and Boettcher’s husband, Gerald.  Gerald Boettcher had been in the Coast Guard and, I gather, had ties to nearby Milford Haven, a tiny Coast Guard station in Mathews, Virginia.  In all my years living in Gloucester, I don’t think I ever visited Milford Haven.  I doubt there was much to see there, anyway.

The facility, renamed Hopesville Ministries Children’s Home, was granted an initial permit that allowed them to accept six children.  Later, they were licensed for up to 36 children, and had community support in renovating the facilities to include two cottages, a gymnasium, and an office.  Sheila Boettcher had said that residents would be referred from across the state by the Division of Social Services and privately by parents and grandparents of children in dysfunctional home environments.  Eventually, there were also plans to reopen the Christian school, although the first residents would be attending Gloucester County public schools and getting therapy from local practitioners.  It all sounded so… “hopeful”.

Just five years later, in June of 1999, the director of the home, 46 year old Gerald Boettcher, was in the news.  Mr. Boettcher, who had left the Coast Guard and was also working as a contract driver delivering mail, had attempted suicide. 

Boettcher had been accused of committing sex crimes against two girls who had been living at the home between June 1, 1995 and June of 1999.  Aware that he was being investigated, Boettcher threatened to kill himself by placing a gun in his mouth. 

Boettcher was taken to Riverside Walter Reed Hospital in Gloucester, where he was later arrested.  For some reason, he was later taken to Central State Hospital, the state run psychiatric hospital in Petersburg, which is south of Richmond.  I would have expected him to go to Eastern State Hospital, in Williamsburg.  Williamsburg is closer to Gloucester than Petersburg is, but perhaps the state divides these cases by region.  I know Gloucester is often lumped in with Richmond, even though Richmond is not closer as the crow flies.

Boettcher was accused of forcible sodomy, sexual penetration and indecent liberties with both girls and, it seemed, more charges were likely.  At the time of Boettcher’s arrest, the victims were 16 and 17 years old.  The Division of Social Services took the six children who were at the home and sent them back to their parents and/or relatives.  None of the children were from Gloucester; apparently, the local social services agency had never referred anyone to that facility. 

Interestingly enough, I was living in Gloucester at that time, but I don’t remember this story in the news.  Back then, I read the newspaper every day.

In December of 1999, Boettcher pleaded guilty to five sex charges, bringing his grand total of guilty pleas to eight.  His mother-in-law, Ruth Seal, and the rest of his family and friends reportedly “seemed stunned and angry” at the outcome of the trial.  They repeatedly said that he didn’t do it.  Ruth Seal was upset that she didn’t get to testify.  Boettcher’s wife, Sheila Boettcher, told the mother of one of the victims that she hoped she “rotted in Hell.” 

Despite his family’s outrage and horror, it does appear that the evidence against Boettcher was overwhelming.  Boettcher admitted to both a Gloucester County Sheriff’s Office investigator and a hospital crisis worker that he had been having sexual contact with the girls.  Additionally, a computer forensics analyst had hacked into Boettcher’s computer and found documents for the “Golden Hearts Club”.  One of the victims, then sixteen, also testified that Boettcher had her stand naked and recite vows to enter the Golden Hearts Club.  He had evidently told her that she “had qualities he hadn’t seen in anybody in a long time.”  The victim said she had moved to Hopesville when she was fourteen and Boettcher had started having sexual intercourse with her two months later.  The offenses took place at the home, in Boettcher’s vehicles, and at a construction site where Boettcher and his wife were building a home.

Boettcher was finally caught when another resident saw him kissing the girl intimately.  The resident told a housemother, who then contacted social services.  At that point, local law enforcement became involved.

Boettcher faced up to 45 years in prison for his crimes.  In Mach 2000, he was sentenced to 19 years, with ten suspended.  I see Boettcher was defended by Michael Soberick.  I remember in the late 1980s, Mr. Soberick ran for public office in Gloucester.  I only remember that because I was taking a high school journalism course at the time and, as part of that course, attended a question and answer session he gave.  I remember it being boring, except that there was a guy in my class there upon whom I had a massive crush.  My dad had taken me to the session, which was held at Rappahannock Community College.  My dad said my crush looked like a “wimp”.  Good thing I ended up with Bill, who did meet with my dad’s approval.     

I see Boettcher is now listed as a registered sex offender and apparently lives in Dutton.  His neighbors evidently aren’t too pleased, although he has apparently not caused any problems since he got out of prison.  I also found the Hopesville property listed for sale, although there appears to be a discrepancy in the years reported when the buildings were erected.  Frank Seal, who founded Hopesville in its many incarnations, died in 2003.

It’s amazing what a long memory, a little morbid curiosity, and a lot of nosey proclivities will get you.  Incidentally, this is certainly not the first time a trusted man from the area where I grew up turned out to be a pervert.  In 2008, there was a huge scandal in nearby Middlesex County when it turned out that the recently retired social worker, Arthur Bracke, had been molesting boys in his care for years.  I have written about Mr. Bracke, now mercifully deceased, several times.  Although I would be the first to say that men are often unfairly accused of being monsters, the evidence is clear that sometimes the ones we trust the most turn out to be total creeps.  It also drives home the fact that kids who go to foster care sometimes wind up in situations as bad or worse than the ones they’ve escaped.

I don’t know much about the late Reverend Frank Seal, but it does sound like he was probably a good man who had good intentions when he started his boys’ home and Christian school.  I’m sure this whole catastrophe was awful for him and his family.  In more than one article about his school/home, he is quoted as saying “It has been my life…  Jesus said, `Suffer the little children to come unto me.’ I’ve tried to live up to that.”  

There were even some people testifying in favor of Mr. Boettcher, who, like many sex offenders, wasn’t a complete monster.  Of course, they almost never are “complete monsters”.  If they were monsters, they would have a much harder time getting access to their victims.  But anyway, I do remember Hopesville Christian Academy and how creepy it seemed as I passed it on my bike thirty years ago.  I guess my intuition was dead on again. 

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disasters

Is it me, or does it seem like Noah’s Ark these days?

Today’s featured photo is a screenshot of a public domain photo of “Noah’s Ark”, painted by the American folk painter Edward Hicks in 1846.

Maybe this is a simplistic thought. I probably ought to flesh it out some more before I write about this subject, especially since I am no Biblical scholar. What I remember about the Noah’s Ark story is that God decided there was too much violence and awfulness in the world and he was going to destroy it with a great flood. But he liked Noah, so he decided to spare him, his family, and all of the world’s animals. He had Noah build an Ark to his specifications.

Noah and his family, as well as pairs of animals and their mates, all boarded the great Ark and were saved from the great flood that destroyed everything else. After 150 days, the floods stopped and Noah, his family, and the animals all came to land on Mount Ararat… special to me, because it’s in what was once Armenia and is now Turkey. There’s more to the story, of course, and if you’d like a pop version of it, just listen to “Rock Steady” by Sting.

I’ve always liked this song. Clever songwriting by Sting.

As I sit here reading the news about Hurricane Laura about to make landfall in the United States, as people are grappling with COVID-19, wildfires in California, watching Trump’s insanity at the Republican National Convention, and worrying about joblessness, potential evictions, racially motivated riots, and no school for kids, I’m reminded of the Noah’s Ark story. It’s almost like everything is being thrown at us to see what sticks.

I don’t know if there is a God, or if God has anything to do with the disasters that have occurred in 2020 so far, but it sure does seem like hellfire is about to rain down. But then, I’m probably thinking this because I was born in a relatively peaceful and prosperous time in history. Yes, the Vietnam War was going on when I came around in 1972, but after that, it didn’t seem so bad. Or maybe I was just shielded from the news better. That’s probably it.

I don’t remember any other leaders as horrible and toxic as Trump has been… I truly do fear for what may come if voters don’t get their shit together in November. I also don’t remember the weather being nearly as weird and destructive thirty or forty years ago, and although I did live through the AIDS epidemic, that wasn’t a disease that spread through the air like COVID-19 does.

So far, we’ve been fortunate enough to live in areas that haven’t been horribly affected by most of the disasters that are hitting the world right now. I’m not arrogant enough to think that God likes us. I think we’ve just been really lucky so far. Even as I write this, I hear the winds outside whistling. I think the weather is about to change in Germany, too.

Growing up in Virginia and living a significant portion of my life in the southeastern United States, I have experienced my fill of hurricanes. So far, I’ve always managed to be in places that haven’t been badly hit. Even in April 2011, when a tornado ripped through Sanford, North Carolina (where we lived at the time), and then traveled 200 miles northeast, hit my hometown of Gloucester, Virginia, and destroyed where I went to “intermediate” school, we were not horribly affected. We saw the tornado and heard it, but it didn’t damage the home we lived in at the time. However, it did strike the Lowe’s hardware store and decimated homes about a quarter of a mile away.

On my old blog, I wrote about how a little girl in Gloucester’s life might have actually been saved by that tornado. She was badly abused and neglected by her parents, who had two other children, one who was a healthy baby and the other who had died and was buried on their property. The little girl was probably days from death herself, but her parents had taken the opportunity to loot when the tornado destroyed homes. They had tried to pawn a gold bullion they stole, and a police officer came to their trailer to speak to them. He saw the little girl, emaciated, covered in feces, and sitting under an upturned crib that had been fashioned into a makeshift jail cell.

The little girl, aged six, was extremely malnourished and small for her age. She was saved and eventually adopted, although she may not ever fully recover from her ordeal. Her parents are now in prison. I guess that’s one more example of how good things can happen even in the worst situations. I’m sure there are similar stories coming out of today’s disasters…

I guess I have to repost that blog entry about the little girl now. It was a good one. Anyway, stay safe out there in this era of disasters. I’d like to hope there isn’t going to be a great flood that wipes out civilization, but we certainly do seem to be living in “interesting” times.

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memories

The times my dad taught me about enemas, hemorrhoids, and prostitutes…

Today’s post may be disturbing or triggering to some people… Personally, I choose to laugh at these memories, but some readers may not find them very funny, since technically a couple of them are about what many people would consider child abuse. Anyway, you’ve been warned… proceed with caution.

In the interest of writing something that doesn’t have anything to do with current events, I’m going to share a few stories about my dad. Regular readers of this blog may know that my dad and I didn’t have the easiest relationship. He was basically a very good man and he was an excellent provider. But he was also controlling, uptight, and an alcoholic who was occasionally abusive to me. Despite that, he definitely had his moments of hilarity… especially since he was so uptight and military, and I was… well, I was kind of outrageous and frequently shocked him. Case in point, people who know me well, regularly send me this kind of stuff on social media. For some reason, they think I’ll like it.

For some reason this morning, I was reminded of South Park and the episode during which the South Park kids ask Chef (RIP) about prostitutes. He doesn’t want to tell them, and expresses exasperation that they’re putting him in the position of having to explain such a thing. The kids finally goad Chef into bursting into a song about prostitutes, which includes a poor impression of James Taylor…

“Dagnabbit!”

This morning, after I enjoyed a hearty laugh at this memory, I was reminded of the time I asked my dad about prostitutes. Picture it. The year was 1981, and I was about 8 years old. I’d been riding on the bus, where I endured daily bullying from the asshole kids who had grown up in Gloucester County. My parents had just moved us to the county months before, so to those kids, I was a “come here”. However, as Gloucester didn’t then and still doesn’t have a maternity ward in its hospital, a lot of those kids were born “over the rivah”, like I was.

I was born in Hampton, Virginia, as were some of my Gloucester native classmates. A lot of the other “natives” were born in Newport News or Williamsburg. Those nearby cities all have maternity wards. The difference was, they were raised in Gloucester from birth, while I moved there when I was eight. But since my parents ended up staying there for 29 years, I think a lot of them think of me as a “native” now. Anyway, I digress…

Those kids picked on me mercilessly every day, both at school, and on the bus. I used to come home in tears all the time. I was different. I was also obnoxious, but I was just trying to fit in and make friends. For some reason, one day I told one of the kids about the time one of my male cousins offered me money if I’d show him my private parts. To put this in perspective, when this incident happened, I was six or seven years old. He was two years older, so he was eight or nine. I doubt this was anything more than pure childhood curiosity. It was definitely innocent on my end, although I don’t know what my cousin was thinking. We never got along and I’ve never asked him about it. He’s probably forgotten all about it.

Before we lived in Gloucester, we lived in Fairfax County, up near Washington, DC. University Mall, a glorified shopping center that was kind of like an enclosed mall without a roof, was right behind our neighborhood, and I was allowed to go there by myself– completely unthinkable today. There was a Giant grocery store and a High’s convenience store, where I could get candy. My aunt and her family lived in our neighborhood, so I saw my cousins regularly. They were close in age to me and used to walk me to and from school. So when my cousin offered me what seemed like a lot of money just to show him my vagina, I trusted him. Because, at that point, I was not taught that any part of my body was “private”, per se… Remember, it was the late 70s, and he was my first cousin.

Some hours later, my parents found the money and questioned me about it. I told them what happened, and they returned the money to my aunt. I think she gave my cousin a spanking, and that was the end of it. I never came away with the idea that there was anything weird about the story, so I guess I told it in an attempt to fit in with those kids. But the kids on the bus laughed at me, and called me a prostitute. I had never heard that word before, so I didn’t understand why it was so “funny” for eight year olds to call another eight year old child that.

That afternoon, my dad was working in his frame shop, the business he ran out of our house. I asked him what a prostitute is. Our conversation went something like this.

“Dad, what’s a prostitute?” I asked.

“What?” He was pretty shocked at the question, and his brow furrowed because I was so young to be asking.

“What’s a prostitute?” I repeated.

“Where did you learn that word?” he demanded.

“I heard it on the bus.” I replied.

My dad got a look of disgust on his face as he explained.  “A prostitute is a woman who sells her love to people.”

I was a little confused, since love is supposed to be a good thing.  Selling is legal.  So is loving.  So is fucking, for that matter.  But I didn’t press him for more details, because he looked kind of pissed.  

This was the very first issue of Mad Magazine that I ever read. I recently read that Mad has ceased production.

A few years later, the neighborhood pervert, who used to refer to his penis as “the home of the Whopper”, gave me my very first issue of Mad Magazine. I loved reading Mad, back in the day, and I still enjoy it, even though it was introduced to me by a person who used to regularly show me pornography, completely unbeknownst to my parents. They thought of him as a good neighbor and a friend. He even babysat me once or twice, even though he used to show me Penthouse, Playboy, and a strange quasi-medical book called The Sex Atlas. Again, I was very innocent, so I didn’t think what he was doing was wrong. I used to watch whatever I wanted on HBO and was rarely monitored by my parents. It wasn’t until I was much older that a mental health professional told me that what my neighbor did was technically considered sexual abuse of a minor.

Anyway, there I was reading Mad Magazine… I was maybe ten or eleven years old. And I came across yet another word I didn’t know. The word was “enema”. There was a feature on doctors and the running gag was a physician who would prescribe enemas for everything from a sore throat to hemorrhoids.  Naturally, as a somewhat sheltered kid, I didn’t know what enemas were.  I also didn’t have access to Google in those days, so I asked my dear old dad.

My dad was a somewhat formal guy.  He had a sense of humor and could be funny when the mood struck him.  But he was also very military and conservative and he didn’t approve of my raunchy sense of humor. To put this in perspective, my dad– who served almost 22 years in the Air Force– once blushed seven shades of red when Bill told him what “Charlie Foxtrot” is a euphemism for in the service (cluster fuck). My dad didn’t like swearing or other “inappropriate” talk. In retrospect, he probably didn’t like it because it reminded him of his father, who was also an abusive alcoholic, and swore a lot. He and his father did NOT get along.

Still, I was totally innocent about enemas, and my dad didn’t mind teaching me about such things.  I had never heard of them and simply wanted to understand what they were so I could get the joke in my favorite magazine. Our awkward conversation went something like this…

“Dad,” I asked, “What’s an enema?”

Dad put down what he was doing and said, “What?”

“What’s an enema?” I repeated.

He got a strange look on his face and said in a rather matter-of-fact tone of voice, “An enema is a very uncomfortable and unpleasant procedure in which someone forces a tube up your behind and flushes out your bowels with liquid.”

“Huh?” I asked, suddenly shocked and grossed out.

“It’s very unpleasant and uncomfortable.” my dad reiterated.  I guess he hadn’t heard of Fleet’s, which are somewhat less horrifying than the old fashioned enema bags he was likely thinking of.  

I started thinking about it and wondered if my dad was speaking from personal experience.  He probably was, come to think of it.  But somehow, I knew better than to ask him more specific questions about enemas. To this day, I haven’t yet experienced an enema. Certainly not one like he had described. I have witnessed Bill going through them, though, since he’s a man of a certain age.

And then there was the time I asked my dad about hemorrhoids, but all he told me about that was that your intestines come out of your ass and bleed on your underwear.  That happens to be factually incorrect as well as disgusting. 

I really could have used Google when I was growing up, but if I had, I wouldn’t have these funny memories of asking my dad about inappropriate things like enemas and watching him struggle to tell me about them without blushing.  At least I never asked him about douching.  And at least this post has taught me how to spell hemorrhoids. It takes practice, that’s for sure. 

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