family, memories, obits

Repost: Godspeed Uncle Carl…

I wrote this piece on January 22, 2015. I am sharing it again because of yesterday’s post, which reminded me of a 2018 post that was “fathered” by my homage to Carl. I’ll probably repost those 2018 posts later, just to preserve them. Carl was a wonderful man, and it was nice to remember how kind and generous he was, even until the end of his life. I’m grateful I was able to speak to him one last time in November 2014.

As I woke up this morning, I checked Facebook, which is my usual habit.  My cousin, Lori, posted that her dad, my Uncle Carl, had passed away.  I wasn’t surprised by the news.  He was suffering from leukemia and my mom told me a couple of days ago that Carl was on hospice and had been told there was nothing more to be done.

Carl was one of my dad’s four brothers, younger by about seven years.  He was a great dancer, very friendly, loving, and warm.  For many years, he worked in Natural Bridge, Virginia, running all the tourist attractions.  Later, he worked in Luray.  Carl had a son and a daughter, eleven years apart in age.  He also had five grandchildren, three of whom are now grown and two that are still very young. 

Over Thanksgiving in 2014, I sat down with Carl and we had a long talk.  One of my other uncles, my aunt’s husband, Bill, interrupted us briefly to comment on a “houseguest” Carl was hosting, a young guy with serious OCD issues who had gotten his girlfriend pregnant.  The guy couldn’t live with his girlfriend because she was getting welfare and it was against the rules for her to co-habitate.  Uncle Bill said, “Carl, that guy at your house is a POW.”  I looked up at him questioningly and he clarified, “Piece of work.”

Carl then started telling me about this young guy who had moved into a spare apartment on his property.  He didn’t pay rent and couldn’t keep a job.  Carl told me his wife, Betty, could barely stand to be around him.  But Carl was determined to help this young fellow.  He did all he could to try to hook him up with people who could help him… ministers and social workers, even though the guy wasn’t interested in that kind of help.  He let him live in the apartment, even though the guy didn’t pay rent.  Carl said the guy did pay for his electric bills and food, at least. 

As Carl was telling me about his “guest”, he focused on the positive, saying that the apartment was kept immaculately clean, thanks to the guy’s issues with obsessive compulsive disorder.  He liked having the apartment lived in rather than sitting empty.  If no one lived there, he still wouldn’t be getting any money for the place.

I got the feeling that Carl just wanted to be kind and helpful, even though many people told him that he was being used and was enabling his houseguest’s irresponsible behavior.  Many people told him to toss the POW out on his ass.  But Carl wouldn’t do it.  He wanted to be a positive force in the young guy’s life.

I have a feeling that Carl’s “POW” is about to lose his free ride.  My Aunt Betty has been ill with Alzheimer’s Disease and Carl had been taking care of her.  When we saw each other at Thanksgiving time, Carl told me that his wife’s illness was getting worse and they often had the same conversations repeatedly because she would forget.  Betty can’t live by herself, so arrangements will no doubt have to be made.  That will likely mean that Carl’s POW friend will need to move on. ETA: Aunt Betty passed in October 2018.

I will miss my Uncle Carl.  He was a very loving and decent person.  He loved his family very much and was always smiling and laughing.  He was deeply caring and empathetic, yet he had a fun loving side, too.  I wish I had access to my wedding photos.  I have a hilarious picture of him at my wedding with a red rose between his teeth and a big toothy grin.  Every time I saw Carl, he was happy to see me.  He always gave me big bear hugs and he loved to just sit and talk and tell stories.  He told a funny story at my dad’s memorial just two months ago.  I will always treasure that memory and am grateful that he was able to spend his last holidays with his loved ones instead of in a hospital room.

I am not a very religious person, but I picture my dad up in heaven, waiting to show Carl the way to the rest of his loved ones who passed before him.  Four of Granny’s nine children have gone home now.   

The featured photo is of the ceiling at Mount Stuart House in Scotland. Below is what I wrote about the photo in my original post about Carl’s death.

This is a picture of the ceiling at Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute in Scotland.  Bill and I visited there in 2012.  We had a wonderful little Scottish lady giving us a tour and she was a great storyteller.  She told us about how the house was used as a Naval hospital during World War I.  As she was telling us about the house under this beautiful ceiling, she talked about sick and injured military men, waking up to see that ceiling.  She said, in her delightful Scottish brogue, “One look at that and you would surely think you’d crossed the bar!”  I like to think that Carl and my dad both saw something amazing as they slipped away beyond the bar…  Maybe they saw something even more amazing than the ceiling at Mount Stuart…

This video reminds me a bit of Rockbridge County… where my dad’s family is from…
I think Carl would have liked this.
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family, love, memories, nostalgia

“We’re all gonna be here forever…”

This morning, I woke up to a delightful surprise from one of my cousins. He sent me a private message with a photo that was taken during the summer of 1981. I smiled with instant recognition, as I gazed at the picture of me, at age 9, with a bunch of my cousins and a friend of my cousin’s family.

Years ago, on my original blog, I wrote a blog post called “Family Reserve”. It was about a couple of relatives I lost in 2015. The post’s title came from a Lyle Lovett song by the same name that seemed appropriate. I wrote in those posts how I came to discover Lyle Lovett– courtesy of Mormons, no less. Maybe I’ll repost those old memorials today, since I’m referencing them in today’s post. Anyway, his song “Family Reserve” reminded me of my own family… but since I already used that title in another post, I decided to use part of the chorus as the title for this one. If you don’t know this song, and can abide Lyle Lovett’s music (and I certainly can), I would encourage you to listen to this great song by him.

Seems appropriate for today’s post… I’m glad someone made a stir on that summer day in 1981.

My cousin, name of Bruce, could not have known that I still have many vivid memories of that day at Tank Hollow, as well as the ones that surrounded it. I had just had a birthday, and Bruce and his brothers, all of whom were adolescents, had traveled from Texas to Virginia with their parents to visit other family members. Because they lived in Texas, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with them when I was growing up, even though my family almost always has a family reunion at Thanksgiving. For three years of my early childhood, we lived in England, so of course we didn’t go “home” for the Thanksgiving party. Prior to our time in England, I was too young to remember what we did. We were in Ohio before England, but I was a baby then, having moved to Ohio when I was about six months old.

When we came back to the States, I slowly got to know the relatives I never spent time with. And in 1981, I was acquainted with the “Tolley Boys”, as they were called– four sons of my Uncle Ed and his wife, Nancy. They came to visit my parents first, in Gloucester, Virginia. At the time, two of my sisters worked at Busch Gardens, which is located close to nearby Williamsburg, so we had a bunch of free passes. I remember we all went there for the day and had an absolute blast, even though I lost my wallet. The “Tolley Boys” were like my big brothers. They treated me like a princess, and of course, I ate it up. It was not a normal or usual thing for me to be treated like that.

After their visit to my parents, Ed and Nancy were going to be visiting Natural Bridge, Virginia, which is where the “family homestead” is. My grandmother lived in the house that has been in our family since 1935, along with my Uncle Brownlee, and his wife, Gayle, and their two kids, Justin and Suzanne. I don’t remember why, but there were other family members there that summer. Nancy and Ed took me with them to visit Natural Bridge. Later, my parents came to get me.

Below are some much more modern photos of Granny’s house. It’s been fixed up a lot since 1981. My Uncle Brownlee was extremely handy, and he really made the house a showplace before we lost him in 2019.

I remember that trip was so much fun! I mean, I got in trouble a couple of times… but Uncle Ed was a really fun uncle in the early 80s. He knew where all the best swimming holes were, and he liked hanging out with us kids.

One day, we all got into the back of my Uncle Brownlee’s pickup truck and rode to a place he called Tank Hollow, in Natural Bridge. It wasn’t very far from where my great grandmother lived (she died the following year, in 1982). As a matter of fact, I think we visited her on that trip. I seem to remember her house as a brick structure near a creek, much as Granny’s house is. There are lots of creeks in Natural Bridge, as it’s in the mountains and near the James River. Edited to add: I see there are other falls in Virginia called Tank Hollow– in a place called Cleveland in Russell County. Please note, this is not the same place— I think Ed called the falls “Tank Hollow”, because they were located off of Tank Hollow Road in Natural Bridge. I don’t know if the falls we went to even have an official name.

Tank Hollow was in the woods, and it consisted of a waterfall that overlooked a murky pond. We were all wearing tennis shoes, because of all the rocks and such. Next thing I knew, we were all jumping off the waterfall into the cold, mountain pond. I remember being so enthralled by the experience. The waterfall seemed huge to nine year old me, and I felt so brave jumping into the water and swimming in the creek. It was one of those days when I experienced “pleasant exhaustion”. You know, when you play so hard that you wear yourself out… That’s how it was that day.

Me and nine out of my 21 paternal cousins (plus a friend of the Tolley boys), circa 1981.
Not unlike aspects of my childhood. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I remember the next day, we all went to the James River. We made homemade fishing poles with sticks and string, baited hooks with worms, and fished in the middle of the river. I don’t remember why, but I recall Uncle Ed threatening to spank me for some reason. He never did, but I do remember the threat. I probably mouthed off one too many times. I also remember my Aunt Nancy threatening to send me home. Still, that was also a fun and memorable day, spent with a bunch of my cousins. Ed and Nancy had driven a big Suburban, and it got stuck in the mud.

Here are a couple of other memories from that trip…

My cousin played this repeatedly during that visit.
This song was a huge hit that summer, and I remember hearing it a lot during that visit in 1981.

Granny’s house was located next to a “hollow”, that had once been part of the original property my grandfather bought years earlier. I remember we weren’t supposed to go walking “down the hollow”, because it was no longer owned by our family. Brownlee once lamented to me about that, because it really was a heavenly piece of property, with two creeks that met each other and flowed to the river.

Anyway, sometimes we would walk down the hollow. I went with my cousins, Jeff and Jeff. One Jeff was the son of my Aunt Doris, and had once been my neighbor, as we had lived in Fairfax County for two years before we moved to Gloucester. The other Jeff lived in Natural Bridge with my Uncle Carl and his wife, Betty, and very little sister, Lori. Natural Bridge Jeff was telling the other Jeff a really dirty story. It was the kind of story that adolescent boys tell each other. Of course, I was nine, and eager to grow up. I heard the story, laughed with them, and later repeated it to two of my younger cousins, then aged 7 and 5.

My Aunt Gayle overheard me repeating the story I’d heard from my older male cousins on that walk. She promptly “blessed” me out, as she put it. She told her kids that I had a “dirty mouth” and they shouldn’t listen to me. I remember crying, because I didn’t know I’d done anything wrong… She later apologized to me and said her kids “didn’t know what to do with that stuff”. Hello? I was only nine years old myself. I didn’t know, either. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Oh, I probably knew it was “forbidden” stuff, but I was still just a child in need of guidance, right?

In spite of the few negative incidents that happened during that visit, I remember it to be a really fun time and a happy memory. For many years, I remembered going to Tank Hollow and fantasized about visiting again and swimming there. Years later, I asked my uncle about it, because I didn’t even remember where it was located. I said I remembered it to be a big waterfall we jumped off of a bunch of times.

I clearly remember Ed saying, “That was Tank Hollow. And the waterfall wasn’t that big.”

I had such a hard time believing that, because I remembered it to be huge from my memories as a nine year old child. One day, during the summer of 1993, I visited my relatives in Natural Bridge, and we went to Tank Hollow. I was there with Aunt Gayle, and my cousins Justin and Suzanne, and one of Justin’s Army buddies. Sure enough, I saw that Ed was right. The waterfall was a lot smaller than I remembered it. But we jumped off it anyway. Somewhere in storage, I have photos from that day, not that I’d necessarily want to look at myself in a bathing suit, even when I was 21 years old.

When Bill and I were dating on Labor Day weekend in September 2001– the week before 9/11, actually– he came down to Natural Bridge and met my extended family. I took him to Tank Hollow, which now seemed even less impressive. The water was even murkier than it was before, and I wondered if there were snakes there… that thought hadn’t crossed my mind at all, when I was a child, or even when I was a younger woman. I also took him to another local swimming hole called Straw Pond, and we went swimming there, and at Cave Mountain Lake, a park area with a lake where we used to go when I was a kid… I loved it then, but saw it through different eyes as an adult.

A photo of Goshen Pass, dated November 2014… when I was last “home”.

Then, we went to Goshen Pass, another special place in my past, as I remember having my sixth birthday party there, with members of my huge, extended family, and my Granny giving me Sweet Honesty perfume in a bottle shaped like a sheep. Goshen Pass is a beautiful place, and it’s probably where Bill and I realized we were in love. We had a magical day enjoying the gorge. Then, the following week came 9/11. Bill was in the Pentagon– in the area that was hit by the jetliner. When he survived, we realized we should probably go public. It wasn’t long after that that we were engaged.

Natural Bridge has always been such a special place to me. And yet, I haven’t been there in almost nine years… I never thought I’d stay away for so long, nor would I have ever expected to feel “weird” about being there now. But, I have to admit I do feel weird. So much has changed since those days in the early 80s.

My Aunt Gayle still lives in Granny’s house. I hope it will never leave the family, because it really is a magical place, and there’s so much family history there. The road it sits on is actually named after my grandfather, Lloyd Tolley, who used to run a store there that sold basic essentials.

In fact, in the old wax museum (which closed in 2014), there was a wax depiction of one of my distant relatives– my great great great Uncle Archibald “Bar” Tolley. I think his nickname was actually “Bear”, but because of the Scottish-like hillbilly accent in those parts, it sounded more like “Bar”. I see another blogger has written about him here, and a bunch of my apparent relatives are chiming in. He was famed for hunting and killing a lot of bears, and was said to be known for his honesty and “salty” tongue (so that’s where I get it).

By coincidence, last night, I was reading about “Bar” Tolley, and figuring out how we’re related. I can see his father, Ezekiel, was my 3rd great grandfather, and his brother, Thomas Milton Tolley, was my great great grandfather. So, that would make Archibald “Bar” Tolley my great great great uncle, I guess. ๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s so funny that he was immortalized in the Natural Bridge Wax Museum! The link leads to a video someone made about it. I’m so glad I took Bill there over that special Labor Day weekend in 2001.

Well… it’s always a delight to see old photos and remember things through rose tinted glasses. I do have some fabulous memories of when I was a child. We did have a lot of fun, especially during those less “regulated” times. Or maybe it just seems that way to me, because I was a kid, and I wasn’t worried about the things that worry adults of every age. I’m grateful that my cousin, Bruce, shared that long ago photo of us on that awesome day in the summer of 1981. I miss those times… and those people.

Here are the lyrics for Lyle Lovett’s old song, “Family Reserve”:

When I saw the ambulance screaming down Main Street
I didn’t give it a thought
But it was my Uncle Eugene
He died on October
The second, nineteen eighty-one

Now my uncle Wilbert
They all called him Skinner
And they said for his younger ways
He’d get drunk in the morning
And show me the rolls of fifties and hundreds
He kept in the glove box of his old gray Impala

And we’re all gonna be here forever
So mama, don’t you make such a stir
Just put down that camera
And come on and join up 
The last of the family reserve

Now my second cousin, his name was Calloway
He died when he’d barely turned two
It was peanut butter and jelly that did it
The help, she didn’t know what to do
She just stood there and she watched him turn blue

And we’re all gonna be here forever
So mama, don’t you make such a stir
Just put down that camera
And come on and join up 
The last of the family reserve

And my friend Brian Temple
He thought he could make it
So from the third story he jumped
And he missed the swimming pool only by inches
And everyone said he was drunk

And there was Great Uncle Julius
And there was Aunt Annie Miller
And Mary, and Granddaddy Po
And there was Hannah, and Ella
And Alvin, and Alec
And he owned his own funeral home

And there are more I remember
And more I could mention
And words I could write in a song
But I feel ’em watching
And I see ’em laughing
And I hear ’em singing along

We’re all gonna be here forever
So mama, don’t you make such a stir
Just put down that camera
And come on and join up 
The last of the family reserve

Sigh… :'(

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communication, family, holidays, karma

Thanksgiving thoughts… or, why I like holidays in Germany.

Here’s another too personal, introspective story about my psyche, and why I am the way I am. It’s probably not very interesting, but it’s what’s on my mind. The featured photo is of me in 1979, visiting Granny’s house. It was probably for my maternal grandfather’s funeral. I see there’s snow on the ground, but I’m not wearing a jacket. Seems pretty much par for the course. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Traditionally, Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday. I grew up going to my Granny’s house in Natural Bridge, Virginia, where my dad and his brothers and sisters were raised in a cool farmhouse by two creeks and surrounded by mountains. Granny died in 2007, but my Uncle Brownlee and Aunt Gayle have kept the tradition going. We lost Brownlee in 2019, which was very sad for me. Brownlee was probably my favorite relative. Gayle and my cousins are still throwing the annual shindig, which will no doubt include good food, dancing, singing, live music, and card playing… and probably some beer drinking. I wish I could be there, but for obvious reasons, I can’t… And actually, given the politics that are going on right now, maybe it’s for the best. I come from a long line of Trump admirers. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Today, we’ve been invited to go to one of Bill’s co-worker’s homes for Thanksgiving. This guy is kind of special, because he’s someone Bill knew when they were both in the Army back in the late 80s. They served in Germany together, back when they were young and single. Now they work together again, and get along great. It was because of Bill’s co-worker that we were able to spend our 20th anniversary together in France and seeing James Taylor perform. Otherwise, Bill would have been in Las Vegas at a conference.

Bill will repay the favor to his friend for Christmas, since we almost never go anywhere for the holidays. The lone exception was 2019, when my hometown friend, Audra, invited us to France. She lives there, but we met in Gloucester, Virginia, when we were in high school. I have another hometown friend who lives in Stuttgart now. We met in the third grade at Botetourt Elementary School, in Gloucester. Sometimes I wonder if my hometown friends moved to Europe for the same reasons I did. I suspect at least one of them did. ๐Ÿ˜‰

The funny thing is, I think we only spent one Thanksgiving in Gloucester out of the 19 years I lived there (Mom and Dad lived there for about 29 years). The rest were spent at Granny’s house… except for one year I went to a former friend’s house. I was 17 years old at the time. I remember my dad gave me a ration of shit for staying home that year, even though there were many times when he acted like, and even outright stated, that he couldn’t stand me. He was mostly concerned about what other people would say, worried that he would “look bad”.

I called my mom yesterday. She sounded terrible. She said she thought she had a cold, having been out with some friends of hers. She said she tested for COVID and the result was negative. Frankly, I suspect she didn’t wait long enough, especially since she said she had no energy. But aside from having a scratchy voice, she didn’t sound super sick. And she said she would be making herself a Thanksgiving dinner and eating it alone, since she doesn’t know what illness she has. She has plans to go to my sister’s house for Christmas next month.

We mostly had a good talk. She said she enjoyed my song for Bill… the one I did last month, not the more recent “Secret O’ Life”. Then, as I was about to sign off, she said she would like to see me. But then she said, “I know that won’t happen, though.”

I said, “I never said I wouldn’t come home. I said I didn’t know when we could come.” She hasn’t specifically asked me to come home, either… although maybe she asked my sister to invite me to Christmas. I had to decline because of Arran’s chemo, and because boarding the dogs at this late date would be a challenge.

Mom said she loved me and to take care of Bill and the dogs. Then we ended the call.

When our call ended, I kind of sat there dumbfounded. My mom isn’t usually one to pull guilt trips. It’s one of the things I like about her. She’s very pragmatic. I have explained to her that I find family gatherings very stressful and overwhelming. But I also remember how, when I needed understanding and support as a young woman with crippling anxiety and depression, she kept telling me she wanted me to leave. I actually wanted to leave, too. No one wanted me to move out more than I wanted to be gone. But she was very vocal and impatient about it. Now, that I’m gone, she wants me to come back again.

I am grateful that she and my dad let me stay in their home when I needed treatment for depression and anxiety… although I probably could have used that treatment when I was still a minor. A lot of it was caused by growing up in a very dysfunctional, alcoholic home, and having parents who made it clear to me that I had disappointed them. I know they love(d) me in their own ways… but breaking out of that place was very hard to do, and one of the best things I’ve ever done.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized a lot of things… maybe I’ve just become pragmatic like my mom is. I realize people are often disappointing on many levels. One of the great things about being an adult is that you don’t have to stick around or show up for disappointing people. I don’t like being around people who can’t accept me for who I am. My mom is probably more willing to accept me now, since we’re both a lot older… and I’m happily married and no longer a burden to her. I’m still a little traumatized by the past, even though it’s been 8 years since I was last “home”. I don’t want to spend hours on a plane to go back into a toxic situation. That’s less likely with my mom than it would be with my mom and my sisters together. But there’s still a risk.

I would like to see some of my family members. Some of them would probably like to see me. I would like to see my mom, too. I know I’m running out of time. But it’s kind of like making an appointment to see a doctor. Sometimes, it’s what you have to do for your own good, even if it might be unpleasant. I could probably use a doctor’s appointment, too. I have never been one for taking care of my physical health, because it wasn’t really a priority back when I was a child. It’s easier to stay where I am and just ignore everything…

Anyway… I’m sure we’ll have a good time with Bill’s friend. He lives in a beautiful home, and I remember him to be a lot of fun. Hopefully, Arran won’t get into any trouble while we’re out. I’ll still miss my family today. I do love them. Maybe someday, I can go home again. It’s not going to happen this year, though.

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family

Happy 100th Birthday, Grannyโ€ฆ Sep 11 ’06 (Updated Jul 24 ’07)

I wrote this piece for Epinions years ago. It was saved to Ancestry.com without my knowledge or permission. I recently got access to it, so I am preserving it for myself and other interested relatives. Ancestry.com has no right to charge people for the right to read something I wrote to be read for free. Especially ME! Granny died in July 2007. She was six weeks from her 101st birthday.

I may add a photo at a later date… like tomorrow. (ETA: The featured photo is of Granny in August 1972. She was holding me. I was born two months earlier.)

The Bottom Line 100 years on Earth is a great reason to have a big party!

Although today is the fifth anniversary of the September 11th attacks on America, my thoughts are somewhere else this morning. In just two days, my grandmother, Elizabeth Brownlee Barger Tolley, will be 100 years old. Everyone, even people who are not related to her, calls my grandmother Granny or Mama. This weekend, most of my family will gather in Natural Bridge, Virginia for a birthday party to end all birthday parties. It will, of course, be more than just a birthday party. It will be a celebration of a great woman’s 100 years on the planet.

My grandmother was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia on September 13, 1906. She is one of ten children, and the last one still living. Having graduated as valedictorian of her high school class of fourteen students, Granny went on to marry my grandfather, Lloyd Tolley, otherwise known as Pappy, in 1925. The following year, she became a mother when my late aunt Jeanne was born in St. Petersburg, Florida. Jeanne got to be an only child for a few years, until Granny and Pappy moved back to Natural Bridge, Virginia. My dad was the next child, born on February 9, 1933 in Natural Bridge, Virginia. Granny went on to have a total of nine children, five sons and four daughters, eight of whom survived to be adults. My aunt Susan, who was born with Down Syndrome in 1948, died of a brain abscess when she was fourteen years old. She was Granny’s last child.

Although the Tolleys were a relatively poor family, every single one of Granny’s kids graduated high school. Most of Granny’s kids also graduated from college and most of the men served some time in the military. My father made a career out of military service, having spent almost twenty-two years as an officer in the Air Force. His brothers served stints of varying lengths in either the Air Force or the Army.

Though Pappy died in 1974, Granny still lives in the house my grandfather bought many years ago. She’s lived with my Uncle Brownlee and his wife, Gayle, for as long as I can remember. Although Granny’s house now officially belongs to my Uncle Brownlee and his wife, I will always think of the place as her house. The place is very special to me. It sits right off Route 130 in Natural Bridge, on a country lane that was named after my grandfather. A creek runs in front of the house, flowing under a stone bridge that Brownlee built with his own two hands. Another creek runs perpendicular to the property, meets the creek that runs in front of the house and flows down the holler’. At one time, my grandfather owned the property that makes up the holler’, but the land has since been sold several times. Weather permitting, whenever I spend the night at Granny’s house, I crack open the window and listen to the creek trickle past. I don’t remember ever not sleeping well at my grandmother’s house.

Granny’s house. It’s been in the family since the 1930s, and the road that runs in front of it is named for my grandfather, who owned a small store on it.

Granny is still very sharp and, though she seems tired these days, she’s remarkably healthy for being 100 years old. Every day, she reads the newspaper from start to finish. She always has, for as long as I can remember. It keeps her mind sharp. I can always count on Granny to have opinions about everything in the world. She watches CNN and plays freecell on a battered computer that’s useless for any other purpose. She bakes a mean loaf of bread and most years, she remembers my birthday with a card. Considering the fact that Granny has 22 grandchildren and at least 22 great grandchildren, I consider that to be quite a feat!

Five years ago, my Aunt Gayle’s brother, Ralph, took Granny, then 95 years old, for a spin on the back of his motorcycle. He drove her 15 miles, from Natural Bridge to Lexington, Virginia, where they enjoyed lunch at a little restaurant. Ralph took pictures of Granny on the bike and sent them to his favorite motorcycle magazine. They got published, along with a great article! At the time, I was studying social work at the University of South Carolina. I took great pleasure in telling one of my classes about my 95 year old motorcycle riding Granny, especially since my professor was a gerontologist.

Just a week before the 9/11 attacks, Granny met my husband Bill for the first time. She met him even before my parents did. It was Granny who told me in no uncertain terms that I should marry Bill. She liked him from the get go. On September 11, 2001, Bill was in the Pentagon in the wedge that got hit by the airplane. Luckily, he survived intact. It wasn’t long before we were engaged. I probably would have married Bill even if Granny hadn’t so overwhelmingly approved of him. It still makes me feel good that he vetted well with a woman whose opinion I so highly value. And it was Granny who paid for our marriage license with her wedding present of $100 cash.

It’s mostly because of Granny that I know my aunts, uncles, and cousins so well. Every Thanksgiving, for as long as I can remember, our family has gathered from far flung places to celebrate Thanksgiving together. Each year, aunts, uncles, and cousins drive to Natural Bridge, Virginia and spend the Thanksgiving holiday talking, eating, laughing, dancing, singing, playing cards, watching football, and hanging out. I have always looked forward to those gatherings, although Bill and I haven’t been able to attend since 2003 because of other commitments. It’s a wonderful tradition. Everyone is welcome. In fact, in 2001, when Bill and I were still dating, he brought his mother to our Thanksgiving party. I can’t help but think that letting Bill’s mom hang out with my family helped score me some points!

Over the years, Granny has rescued small children who have locked themselves in bathrooms and killed snakes with hatchets. She’s served as the long arm of the law in her house, catching and punishing my uncles when, as young men, they used to sneak behind the barn to smoke. She’s comforted the injured and sad, cooked many meals from scratch for her family, and worked hard to support her loved ones. She always tells the truth, too, even when the truth hurts. I don’t always appreciate hearing Granny’s truths, but I know that she’s usually right.

My grandmother is a grand lady and my family is very proud of her. I don’t know how many years she has left. Although her mind is still very clear, Granny has had a slow growing form of leukemia for some time. I sense that she’s very tired, especially since she lost her younger sister, Estelle, on Halloween 2002. Estelle was a hilarious chain smoking, trash talking, diminutive woman who never failed to make me laugh. Like Granny, she was blessed with an amazing constitution and lived to be 90 years old. I can’t help but wonder how long she would have lived had she not smoked so much. Her voice was like steel wool, harsh and abrasive. One of my fondest memories of Granny and Estelle was when they visited us in England, where my dad was finishing up his time in the military. I remember Estelle holding me up to a mirror and saying, “Who is that monkey in the mirror?” Estelle was, in many ways, Granny’s polar opposite, although every once in awhile, Granny can surprise people with a dirty joke or two. I think I take after Estelle more than Granny, though.

I look forward to seeing Granny this weekend at her birthday party. I hope it’s not the last time, though something tells me it probably will be. I imagine that this shindig will be very well attended, not just by people from the family, but by people in the community who have known Granny for years. I pray that she feels the tremendous love that others feel for her. I feel very blessed to have such a special, classy lady in my family tree.

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musings

I don’t like Meat Loaf…

Today on my music blog, I wrote about how I got a mild ration of shit for not enjoying Janis Joplin’s music. It always cracks me up when I express an opinion, particularly about a certain food or type of music, and someone tries to convince me that I’m wrong. There’s no accounting for taste. Opinions differ. I know a lot of people like Janis Joplin’s music. Many people think she was extraordinary. A lot of people feel that way about Barbra Streisand, too. I like songs by Janis and Barbra, but I think they’re overrated singers. It’s just my opinion. I’m entitled to it. You’re entitled to yours.

Anyway, as I was writing about the contentious Janis Joplin thread I had going last night, it occurred to me that I don’t like Meat Loaf, either. I mean, I don’t like the singer– not the dish. I actually LOVE meatloaf, the dish. I make a mean one, stuffed with cheese, ham, and loaded with Italian spices. It’s been too long since I last made one, too. Maybe we’ll do it this weekend. As I look for a photo of meatloaf, I see that it doesn’t look appetizing… but damn, it tastes good!

In fact, here’s the recipe for Stuffed Italian Meatloaf. You can’t say I never gave you anything.

2 eggs, beaten

3/4 C soft bread crumbs

1/2 C tomato juice (or tomato sauce– I have used leftover Ragu sauce successfully)

2 T parsley

1/2 t oregano

1/2t salt

1/4 t pepper

1/2 clove garlic

2 lbs ground beef

6-9 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

3 slices mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (176 Celsius). Combine all ingredients except meat and cheese. Mix in ground beef, form 10×12 rectangle on waxed paper. Sprinkle cheese almost to edge. Beginning at short side, roll up meat, sealing edges and ends. Place seam side down in 9×13 baking dish. Bake 1 1/4 hours. Place cheese slices over top and return to oven to melt. Serves 10 to 12. If you want to, you can also put thin broiled ham slices under the shredded cheese as more stuffing. This recipe comes from the Virginia Hospitality cookbook and Iโ€™ve served it to many people with great success!

Back to Meat Loaf, and why I don’t like him. There’s a reason I’m not a fan of Meat Loaf, also known as Michael Lee Aday. It’s not because he’s a bad singer. I fully recognize that he’s a great entertainer and a talented singer. I know people love his music and appreciate his theatrical style. He has a powerful, operatic voice, as well as a sense of humor that appeals to many. I don’t own any of his music, though, and I own music by lots and lots of musicians from a broad array of genres. Meat Loaf was popular when I was a child and I heard him on the radio a lot. I probably could have taken or left him, if not for an incident that occurred in early 1994.

One weekend, during my senior year in college, I had gone to visit my relatives in Natural Bridge, Virginia. It was cold outside, so it must have been in the winter– I think it was February, because I remember telling my aunt that graduation was coming up in just a few months. My cousin, who was then a senior in high school and very popular with males, was invited to a party. She asked me to go with her. We went to some guy’s house… I don’t remember his name, but I do remember that he had a son named Brian who was about my age. My cousin is four years younger than I am, so that would mean Brian was an adult, while she was still a minor. They were apparently dating at the time.

So there we were at Brian’s father’s house. We had gone there to pick up “dad” so we could all go to the party together. As Brian was getting ready for the festivities, dear old dad struck up a conversation with me. He told me that he’d gone to high school with my Uncle Steve. Steve was born in 1945, which means that he’s 27 years older than I am. Steve has two children and they’re both slightly older than I am. My cousin and Brian were making eyes at each other. Dear old dad was apparently making eyes at me. I was oblivious.

He turned on the stereo. Meat Loaf’s hit song, “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” was playing. I remember it was the first time I’d really heard that song, although I’d heard about it from my friends. I don’t know how I missed it, since it was probably Meat Loaf’s best loved hit.

I HATE this song, however it’s notable since the female solo part was done by Ellen Foley, who went on to star on Night Court in the 1980s.

I remember listening to the music as Brian finally got finished gussying up. We went to the party in Brian’s car, while my cousin’s car was left at Brian’s dad’s house. Brian and my cousin eventually disappeared together, and I was left there alone, talking to people I didn’t know very well. I remember meeting a woman who went to Randolph-Macon College and was roommates with a woman I’d gone to school with in Gloucester County. I wasn’t good friends with her roommate. In fact, we’d had a very contentious history. Her younger brother ruined my very first Walkman knockoff by putting it in a swimming pool, and her mom got angry at my dad for requesting that she pay for the damaged item. I don’t think their mom ever forgave my dad, even though her son had purposely ruined my radio. He’s probably completely forgotten that incident, but I haven’t.

Anyway, it was kind of interesting that my old schoolmate’s roomie was at this party, which was clear across the state from Gloucester and Randolph-Macon College. That was probably the coolest thing that happened that night. She eventually got up to get some beer, and I was suddenly confronted by Brian’s father, who was EXTREMELY drunk. He’d apparently spent a couple of hours at that party just sitting there getting hammered. He was so intoxicated he couldn’t keep his eyes open. It was not an appealing or attractive look for him, and frankly, it made me nervous to talk to him.

Brian’s dad then proceeded to hit on me. I was 21 years old. He was in his late 40s and piss drunk. Here I was, sitting alone while my cousin made out with Brian. Brian’s dad slurred, “You’re sooo cute… Let’sh go to my housh and wait…” He wanted me to accompany him to his house and hang out there with him, alone. I don’t think he would have harmed me, unless we died on the way out of there. He was so wasted that he was close to passing out.

I told him I didn’t want to go with him. For one thing, he was dead drunk and had absolutely no business driving. For another thing, I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in him, especially in his inebriated state. I didn’t want to hang out with him when he was that drunk. I doubt I would have wanted to get to know him when he was sober, either. He quickly revealed himself to be an asshole of the first order. So I said no… more than once. He wouldn’t take it as an answer.

“Aw come on…” he begged. “Let’sh go. You’re shoooo pretty… I knew your Uncle Sh’teve in school…” Those beer goggles were strapped on tight!

“No.” I said. “I need to wait for my cousin.”

“She’s okayyyy…” he slurred. “She’s with my Sh’ON!”

Yeah… that was what I was afraid of, especially if his son was anything like him. So I said, “I’m not going anywhere with you.”

“Bitch!” he shrieked, suddenly not finding me so “cute” anymore. “You’re jusht a bitch!” He finally staggered off in a rage.

At that point, I got distinctly uncomfortable and decided to remove myself from that situation. I found the party’s hostess and asked if I could borrow her phone. The hostess was very apologetic as I called my aunt to come and get me.

My aunt showed up a little bit later, very upset. She hissed, “I feel like taking her to the emergency room!” referring to my cousin.

“Why would you do that?” I asked.

“What do you think they were doing?” aunt said, fuming. Clearly she assumed they were having sex.

I looked over at Brian’s car and sure enough, the windows were fogged up. I could see him on top of my cousin. It looked like they were kissing passionately. I don’t know if anything else happened that night, and I never asked. I do remember trying to drive my uncle’s truck home with my cousin in it, as her mom had gone to retrieve my cousin’s car. The truck had a “three on the tree” gear shift, so I kept shifting wrong, making the ride home even less comfortable than it otherwise would have been. I apologized to her for “ratting” her out, but I didn’t see any other way to get out of that situation with Brian’s drunk dad, who was making me very uncomfortable. I didn’t have my own transportation and didn’t know where she was, so I had to call for help.

Another song by Meat Loaf that I’d pass on… especially now.

My cousin was surprisingly chill about it and didn’t get angry with me. Maybe she was relieved that I called her mom. Unfortunately, Meat Loaf’s music is now completely ruined for me. I didn’t really like most of his songs that much anyway, though. I remember right before that incident, he had a hit in “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)”, a song that I never liked. After meeting Brian’s dad at that party, I can say that I like it even less!

Isn’t it funny how music can trigger memories? Some are good. Some are distinctly bad. I know people love Meat Loaf and hate meatloaf. I love meatloaf, but would rather pass on Meat Loaf. Every time I hear his music– especially “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”, I’m reminded of Brian and Brian’s drunk ass dad. Come to think of it, I don’t really like parties that much, either.

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