Bill, Duggars, family, love, marriage

You’d never know it to look at him…

Today’s featured photo was taken last night, at the edge of a vineyard. The photo looks idyllic, but there’s actually a very busy Autobahn next to the vineyard. It struck me as applicable to today’s post, which is about how things aren’t always the way they look to the naked eye. This post may be upsetting to some people. If you’re a relative of mine or Bill’s, and you don’t want to be alienated, you might want to quit reading right now…

My husband is one of the kindest, most sensible, most decent, most easy going guys I have ever met. In over twenty years of marriage, I’ve very rarely seen him genuinely angry. I’ve never seen him completely lose his temper. He’s never been violent or reckless, and he’s very slow to get upset. He’s like an oasis of calm. But, as they say, still waters run deep, and he is a very deep guy who, in his lifetime, has been influenced by quite an interesting array of characters.

I will be the first to admit, I am among the many odd characters in Bill’s life. My whole life, people have been calling me weird, peculiar, strange, obnoxious, outspoken, inappropriate and uninhibited. For some reason, instead of reining in my weirdness, I’ve mostly let it all hang out. I’ve found that many people don’t know what to do with it. Some people, on the other hand, seem to enjoy it. Bill is one of those rare and special people who likes me for who I am… and who has taken the time to look beyond what’s obvious. It’s one of his many gifts.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you already know he has a very unusual ex wife who is highly toxic, very manipulative, and just plain mean. I’m sure she would be offended that I call her mean, but what would you call someone who forces her children to divorce their fathers? What would you call someone who leaves a man with literal scars in places where the sun doesn’t shine? What would you call someone who does her best to ruin her husband’s relationships with his family of origin and friends, and spoils his career? When the inevitable divorce happens, instead of owning her part of it, she alienates the children to the extent at which they literally disown him and legally change their names. Yeah, she’s definitely leading the conga line of “interesting people” in Bill’s life.

Bill also had two stepfathers. One was a guy who looked like Charles Durning and wasn’t too bad, except when it came to money. When he had it, he was great. When he didn’t, he wasn’t great. The other was a very talented artist who married his mother because s/he was transgender and wanted her to teach him/her how to be a woman. Bill’s mom didn’t know her second husband was transgender when they married, nor was she aware that her husband resented Bill so much. Bill’s first stepfather used to tell Bill that talking to him was like talking to a brick wall. That marriage, which lasted for about four years, occurred right in the middle of Bill’s childhood, and it had a profound effect on him.

Bill’s mom had a friend who obviously thought Bill was gay. She’d tell him, straight up, that it was okay for him to be gay. However, Bill clearly ISN’T gay. He’s just very gentle and sensitive, and in tune with the softer side of his personality. Even if he was gay, it wouldn’t be appropriate for some random woman to tell him it’s okay to “out” himself, especially when he’s still a teenager. Sexual orientation is a very personal thing, isn’t it?

Bill has another close relative who is quite immature and emotionally manipulative. She’s been known to send him guilt trips via text message or voicemail. She was pretty homophobic for a long time, although I’m not sure if she still is. She once told Bill that she believed homosexuals go to Hell… and yet, her best friend and her daughter are both lesbians. I don’t know if her views have changed, but there was a time when she was very open about these views… which could just be from being an Old World American Catholic who lives in the mid South and was raised in the 50s and 60s.

Then there’s my family, which has its own parade of weirdness. Most people in my family appear to be very normal and accomplished. However, it’s a hotbed of dysfunction, with a smattering of extremely politically conservative people, colorful, artistic personalities, functional alcoholics, and deeply religious Protestant folks. Bill actually fits in better than I do, because he’s a military veteran from the South, and he has a very normal appearance in terms of his looks and demeanor. He doesn’t make waves the way I do. My grandmother once famously told Bill that his “charm” was wearing off on me. And yet, compared to some of the other people he’s known, I’m probably among the most “normal” of the bunch.

Bill’s life has been seasoned with a vast array of eccentric people, both in terms of his family of origin, and people he’s met along the way. Almost everyone is basically “good”, or at least mostly harmless. But they’ve sure been unusual and kind of fascinating. I could probably write an interesting book about some of these characters. He’s also been exposed to Mormonism, which a lot of people would truly consider a “weird” religion. I’m sure practicing Mormons wouldn’t because they’re in the church. But, if they were to look at it in a detached way, they might see that it’s weird to do baptisms for the dead, wear special underwear, or allow other people to dictate what beverages they’re allowed to drink and whether or not they’re allowed to masturbate.

Looking at it objectively, I could probably say that even Bill’s ex wife and his first stepfather weren’t all bad, although they both did some very toxic, damaging things to Bill… things that were completely uncalled for, and just plain wrong. They both grew up in terrible dysfunction and took it out on Bill, probably because he’s not very threatening (in spite of his military career).

This morning, as I was watching an old episode of 18 Kids and Counting (before Josie was born), Bill walked into the room and observed some of the smallest Duggar children sitting on the floor, barefoot. It was easy to see that their feet were pretty dirty, as they were kind of blackened. Someone had poured Cheerios on the floor, and the kids were sitting there, nonchalantly eating them. The older Duggar sisters shrugged and laughed as their baby siblings were munching on the cereal. I’m surprised Jim Bob allowed that to air, given how obsessed he was with his family’s image, before his eldest son, Josh Duggar, wound up in prison for receiving and possessing child pornography.

As we were watching this Duggar spectacle in dismay, Bill quipped, “That’s the kind of family where I’d expect the dad to take the kids to the landfill for a day of fun.” Bill told me that’s what Ex’s mother’s family would do… take the kids to play in the landfill. He added that she also had a relative who used to put his kids up on the roof and shoot at them with a BB gun. They would run around the roof, trying to dodge the BBs. It sounds crazy, and in this day and age, it no doubt would be reported if anyone ever saw it happen. But back in the 70s, it probably wasn’t considered a big deal in rural Texas, where her adoptive mother’s family were from.

I’ve seen some pretty redneck stuff myself, although the craziest thing we did in my family was ride in the back of my uncle’s pickup truck and go to the local swimming hole or go fishing with homemade rods and worms as bait. I did have some neighbors that did crazy redneck stuff, though… like the ones who would let their kids ride down the dirt road to their trailer on the hood of their car. That was deemed not so weird in the 80s, but I’m sure it would merit a call to CPS in 2023.

I don’t know if everyone is surrounded by people like this… I have read a lot of posts on the Internet in which people describe their families falling apart when someone leaves their religion, dies prematurely, comes out of the closet, or does something else that is considered taboo or devastating. Then I look at Bill, who has had a whole string of interesting events and eccentric people in his life. You’d never know it to look at him. He looks and behaves in a completely normal and sober way… He says that was the way he was trained to be, in order to avoid being abandoned.

Bill’s unusual background is probably why we’re so perfect for each other. He likes my inappropriate, uninhibited, eccentric side, even if I do make him blush sometimes. We always manage to have genuine fun. For proof on that, check out today’s travel blog post. We had a blast last night. I am always grateful to have him in my life, especially since he’s such a decent person. And I’m especially glad I didn’t meet him at church. ūüėČ

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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 I think is now defunct), which was an amazing farm in next door Mathews County.  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 gorgeous Swedish Warmbloods.  Mathews County was even more rural than Gloucester, but there were some really high caliber horses at Beau Shane.

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 in Gloucester. ¬†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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