Williamsburg Hill

Williamsburg Hill

Monday, November 26, 2012

Just in Case Uncle Sam Should Take Me

One of the best things about finding an antique or vintage item is learning the history or story behind it.  As a former owner of an antiques' business, I found many relics of the past but the ones closest to my heart came with names, notes, dates and photographs.  Maybe my love of history compels me to feel this way, but it's pretty special when a unique piece brings historical events and people to life.

Certain items catch my eye over others, including particular types of vintage jewelry.  When I had my business, I would attend auctions and estate sales looking for good quality pieces to resell.  I came across one with a meaningful history that I couldn't part with:  a double-strand necklace of blue and pink translucent beads (moonstone in appearance) in beautiful, mint condition from the early 1940s.  In its original Carson Pirie Scott & Company Chicago box, it also came with something extra.  Inside the box was a note in an envelope with the name "Eleanor" written on the front.  The gift giver lovingly wrote:

 "Darling,  Just in case Uncle Sam should take me. This will be my substitute to hang around your neck.  Love, John." 

I learned the man's full name and that the gift was intended for his wife, prior to him leaving for service during World War II.  No one could tell me his fate, whether he returned to Eleanor or if she lost him during the war, but I guessed it might have been the latter.  I came to that conclusion because of the note, and the necklace appeared to have never been worn, but carefully stored away. A symbol of special memories preserved for later generations to enjoy.

I also love particular vintage jewelry designers and knowing their history makes finding one of their pieces special too.  Miriam Haskell created some of the most exquisite and feminine pieces of costume jewelry during her time.  She was born in 1899 in Indiana and opened her first boutique in New York in 1926, working with the likes of designers Coco Chanel and others.  Even though she has passed away, the company she founded still bears her name and each Haskell creation continues to be made by hand.  I came across a Miriam Haskell bracelet (pre-1950) at auction and was fortunate to walk away with the winning bid.  Deciding to keep it for myself, I wear it for special occasions, its taupe seed beads and flowers delicate and unique.  I'm always on the lookout for vintage Haskell jewelry, particularly necklaces and bracelets.

Furniture and vintage photos also catch my eye.  My home is an eclectic mix of antiques and new, with the older furniture blending well and being used as much as the newer pieces.  From a unique drum table to a vintage piano that contained original sheet music and photos from the 1940s in the piano bench, I recall how and where each one was purchased and the stories behind them.  My dining room furniture came from an antique store in Detroit.  I like to think of the previous owners and the families who enjoyed Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners around this same table, or the children who learned to play piano while sitting at the one I now own.  It's the same with the other antique furniture I own and the ones I come across in stores.  My imagination comes up with all kinds of stories.

A particular vintage photo lot I won at auction contained an interesting photograph.  It was an 8x10 photo of a mock wedding held, circa 1900, at Bellevue Place in Batavia, Illinois.  This was the same Bellevue that hosted Abraham Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, when she was committed there by her son in 1875.  Bellevue Place was a private sanitarium for women from 1867-1965. The photograph I acquired came with a description and names of those featured:  all females, the photo was taken at a shower of one of the attendees, while a mock wedding was held and most of the women in the photograph were employees of Bellevue (groom and groomsman were women dressed as men).  I've no idea if the "bride" and "groom" were employees or patients, but it is a very interesting and unique photo.  Bellevue has now been turned into condominiums and apartments.  I imagine its walls have a lot of stories to tell.

A little whimsy and nostalgia would keep me from parting with certain items too.  At one particular sale, I came across a 1960s blow mold Santa Claus intending to resell immediately.  Standing nearly four feet tall, something about its blue-eyed stare prevented me from sticking a price tag on it.  After my husband rewired it, Santa now graces our front porch every Christmas season.

My personal collection also includes vintage perfume bottles.  Whether deco, ormolu or lovely cut bottles and stoppers made in Czechoslovakia, I find these items beautifully designed and worth displaying.  Sometimes the faint scent of perfume still lingers leading me to wonder what that meant to the woman who wore it. 

Even though I made the decision to close my business, I still love going to antique stores and browsing the rows and shelves of collectibles and artifacts.  Part of the joy of the search is always wondering how these items fit into the lives of the people who once owned them.  John's love for Eleanor spoke from the wonderful necklace I now own.  To think that every item from our past had meaning to someone adds significance to preserving and learning about our history.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wobblers Still Hurt if They Hit You in the Head

In January, this blog will have its first anniversary.  Started as one of my 2012 New Year's resolutions, I had no idea how I'd come up with material to sustain it.  Yes, I'm a writer but I would rather work on my latest book instead of posting here in order to keep things updated and fresh.  It was suggested to me that I should start a blog to get my work "out there" and to sell books.  So I did and the appropriately named "Reluctant Blogger" came to be.  Everything I've written has been varied based on my own interests.

Which brings me to the topic of my latest post....Peyton Manning.  I have been following the Denver Broncos quarterback since he played in college at the University of Tennessee.  I'm not "All Things Manning" or a stalker and I don't hang out waiting to catch a glimpse of him (well, I live in Chicago so the latter wouldn't even be a possibility).  But I appreciate the person Manning seems to be and the fact that he's a UT graduate probably magnifies the admiration.

A little history is in order to explain that even though I'm female, I get football.  I understand it.  Growing up in the heart of Southeastern Conference football, the college sport consumes the south on Saturdays in the fall.  Everyone I knew bled UT orange, but like all other SEC backers, we supported "our" team first, then the rest of the SEC second.

Back in my day (yes, that sounds old), satellite and cable television did not exist.  Three networks, ABC, NBC and CBS provided entertainment.  The only SEC team that occasionally had a game broadcast was the University of Alabama.  That was a sad fact for the rest of us.  But it was the Bear Bryant era and Alabama always won.  Looking back I wonder if anyone else in the country knew about those other Southeastern Conference teams then.

So the lack of television coverage meant all other SEC fans depended on radio broadcasts for game coverage.  The University of Tennessee's John Ward was the voice of the UT Volunteers and the link for people who couldn't view the games to visualize the action on the field.  His "It's Football Time in Tennessee!" announced to all of us that the one thing that drew people together in front of the radio was about to begin.  And it didn't matter where you went on a Saturday afternoon in the fall, the radio would be tuned in to the football game.  If you had to make a quick trip to the grocery store or gas station, the game would be blaring for all to hear.  And if you happened to miss any action, someone would happily give you a play-by-play.

When I attended the University of Tennessee as a freshman, UT played Alabama at home that year.  I remember having to camp out for student tickets to the game.  Of course, it was near the end of Bear Bryant's run, so if you wanted to go to the game, there were things one had to endure.  And camping out for student tickets was one of them.  Game day was miserable.  It poured rain and Tennessee lost.  But I was able to see the legend in person coaching the opposition.  Since being an SEC supporter, even though the Vols lost, that was meaningful.

Fast forward approximately a decade and a half.  I was living in Michigan and Peyton Manning was quarterback at UT.  There was no orange in the "Mitten State".  Loyalty was to the blue and gold with the University of Michigan's only competition for support coming via Michigan State.  Little attention was paid to teams outside of the Big Ten (similar to the way it was for us in the south).

But I remember sitting in a restaurant one Saturday night with ESPN (which was alive and kicking by that time) tuned to one of the television stations on the wall.  Peyton Manning's photo appeared and the announcer was relaying the statistics for the game that day.  Tennessee had won and Manning put up incredible numbers, indicative to what he'd accomplish in the NFL.

Sitting behind our table, another group was watching the television too.  "That guy's a beast," someone exclaimed when hearing Manning's stats.  And it startled me.  Not because I didn't believe it, but because a little bit of orange had reached past the SEC and impressed someone.

Shortly after that, I was walking my daughters to school one morning.  Then I saw an amazing thing.  A little boy, waiting to cross the street, proudly wore a ball cap and sweatshirt in big orange colors with "Tennessee" emblazoned across the chest.  Orange in the land of blue and gold.  Yes, the media got the word out, but I couldn't help but think Peyton Manning had something to do with it.

During Manning's rookie year with the Indianapolis Colts, my husband and I were able to go to the last game of the season.  They played the Carolina Panthers, a team Manning's current coach, John Fox, would eventually lead.  It was the only time I've been able to see the former UT quarterback play in person and even though the Colts lost that game, it was still special for me. 

This season found Manning's return to the NFL after missing a year due to injury.  The season also started with him on a new team.  Many wondered if he'd be the same great player we were used to seeing the last fourteen years, and it appears he hasn't missed a beat.  When too much seemed to be made by the Denver media about his passes being "wobblers" instead of spirals, the quarterback's wit spoke loud and clear.  He quipped at practice one day to the members of the press standing nearby to watch out, "...wobblers still hurt if they hit you in the head".  It's a pretty funny quote taken out of context.

I've never met Peyton Manning but I appreciate the fact that he's a college graduate, and that he went to the University of Tennessee.  Education is important to me.  His intelligence and respectful demeanor underline what he accomplishes on the field in my opinion.  Manning is the reason I became a fan of the Indianapolis Colts.  But now that's changed for me.  I've always liked the Denver Broncos but his addition to the team is why I now watch all of their games (even if we have to pay the outrageous price for DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket).

Wherever Manning plays, I'll probably follow.  I'm not sure what I'll do with my Sundays when he retires...probably support the nearest local team, I guess.  But I'll always appreciate the memory I have of the little boy in Michigan wearing Tennessee orange during Manning's UT run.  Whether Manning had anything to do with it or not, I like to think he did.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Joliet Public Library's Regional Author Fair

For anyone in the area of Joliet, Illinois on Saturday, October 13, 2012, consider stopping by the Joliet Public Library's Regional Author Fair.  Held at the Black Road Branch of the library, it will run from 11 am - 3 pm and will feature a number of authors selling and signing their books.   For a list of authors and their websites, please check out the following link, sponsored by the library at Joliet Public Library Author Fair 2012.

This will be my second year to attend and I look forward to meeting everyone who stops by and says hello.  I'll have copies of my books, Billy's First Dance and Funny Pages, for sale and will be happy to sign copies.

This is a great way for the public to meet authors and learn about their work.  If you have any questions, contact the library via the above link.  To learn more about my books, check out the links I have here or visit my website at www.veronicabatterson.com.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Monero Mustangs Sanctuary

Research for my next book took me on an enlightening journey to New Mexico last year.  Driving up from Santa Fe, my husband and I stopped in Tierra Amarilla, a small town off US Highway 84, near Chama.  The route took us through Georgia O'Keeffe country and some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen.  With steep mesas that stretched as far as the eye could see, it was no wonder the artist chose to live her life there.  Add white clouds on the horizon and a deep blue sky free of pollutants and the view is breathtaking.

It was in this setting that we found Monero Mustangs Sanctuary, a haven dedicated to the preservation of the American Mustang.  Located on approximately 5,000 acres at Yellow Hills Ranch, the sanctuary is operated by Sandi Claypool.  Sandi and her late mother started the sanctuary in 2000 and it is now home to over 120 wild horses.  And the number continues to grow.

It is believed that horses roamed North America 10,000 years ago.  At some point, however, they vanished from the landscape and no one knows why.  Considered part of the American West's heritage, mustangs are believed to be descendants of horses imported here from the Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th century.  For various reasons, the horses eventually escaped into the wild or were "freed" by Native American tribes who resented the Spanish conquerors' ways.  Those surviving the hardships of living in the wild were the progenitors of the feral horse of today.

The mustang's (mesteño - from the Spanish word meaning "wild") plight is heightened by the number of horses grazing public lands and the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) need to control the herd population.  When settlers started moving west in the 1900s, cattle ranching operations often competed with the mustang for grazing space on public lands.  Horse slaughter was too often the solution.  But in 1971, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act to protect the wild mustang and stated in part that "they were living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the west".

A few years later, the BLM began a program which allowed wild horse adoption.  Controversial in part because of the cruelty associated with the roundups, the BLM asserts the necessity of its actions in controlling which and how many horses remain wild on public land.  The organization also insists this allows an environmental balance to the landscape and prevents depletion due to over foraging.

Enter Monero Mustangs Sanctuary.  Some of the horses found at Monero Mustangs Sanctuary were acquired by this adoption process, while Sandi has also taken in horses through other means.  Allowed to roam freely, the horses remain wild.  They naturally group and live within bands or herds.  They graze off the land but are only fed hay to sustain them through the winter months.  This keeps the horses healthy and also contributes to conserving the landscape.  Over 3,000 bales of hay are used during this period and most are obtained through financial donations, which are tax-deductible.

Visiting the sanctuary was a unique experience for us.  The day was spent locating and viewing several bands of horses, seeing them interact with each other, learning some of their mannerisms and the reasons behind them.  My new favorite word for that day was "snaking", a movement the stallions make with their heads to keep their herds in line.  We were allowed to take as many photos as we wanted and Sandi was more than happy to answer our questions.  The day was relaxed and informative.  While not finding all of the bands in residence (some were people-shy, some avoided humans altogether), we still left feeling it was well worth the cost of the tour.  In fact, as a Christmas gift, our family sponsored one of the foals born on the premises in December.

Monero Mustangs Sanctuary is a non-profit organization and is one of several wild horse sanctuaries located around the country.  Good work is performed there everyday but there is always need.  They appreciate any and all donations and if you live nearby, they're happy to have you as a volunteer.  Tours are available by appointment.  For more information, visit their website at www.moneromustangs.org.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Aurora Public Library's "Catch a Bunch of Authors"

It's that time again...time to meet and greet some local Illinois authors who will be signing and selling their books for the general public.  

This Chicagoland Author Fair will be held Saturday, September 8th, 2012 from 1 to 3 pm at the Prisco Community Center in Aurora, Illinois.  "Catch a Bunch of Authors" is an annual event sponsored by the Aurora Public Library and has become quite popular.

This will be my second year to participate.  I'll have copies of my books, Billy's First Dance and Funny Pages for sale and I'll be happy to sign copies.  I've met some nice people attending these fairs, while receiving wonderful feedback from people who purchased my books.  I look forward to seeing the folks who come out for this one.

Admission is free and you'll be able to register for a raffle to win some books.  Most genres are represented as are age groups, from children to adults, so there's something for everyone. 

If you're in the area, make plans to stop by.  Say hello, catch a new author or an "old" one and by all means, take the opportunity to read their work (mine too).  I hope to see you there.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Power of a Review

Recently a friend of mine gave my book, Billy's First Dance, a very nice review on Amazon.  It wasn't solicited and I didn't ask him to buy or read it.  He just did.  Quite frankly, when he told me he'd ordered the book, it made me nervous.  I worried that he would think I'd made light of a serious topic.

The subject matter paralleled with my friend's life in that his late son had Spina Bifida.  Billy, one of the characters in my book, also has this congenital defect of the spine.  I created a quirky little story, incorporating a cast of characters around Billy, that portrays life with humor and sarcasm.  It touches on coming of age during a more innocent time and it's fiction.  My friend liked it.  He was also gracious and kind with his review.  I'd like to share his words with you...please read what he had to say by either going directly to Amazon and searching my name/books or by clicking here at amazon review.

I shared his thoughts on various social sites and, as a result, sales are picking up again.  It's interesting to see how words are capable of making things happen.  Many of us spend months, even years, working on and nurturing a manuscript.  We release our baby to the world and then wonder what happens to it.  We're grateful when it's read and overjoyed when someone likes it.  It's "icing on the cake" when we get a positive review.  Readers have a lot of power when giving kind feedback and authors appreciate it.

Someone asked me once if I wrote about my life or people I knew.  At this point the answer would be no.  As for topics, particularly with respect to Billy, my books aren't autobiographical in nature and they aren't biographies.  I had a cousin with Spina Bifida who lost his life at an early age.  Perhaps that gave me the idea to create such a character.  But the stories are just fiction.  I guess this made my friend's review that much more heartfelt.

My books, Billy's First Dance and Funny Pages, both for the middle grade and young adult readers, have received positive reviews on various sites such as Goodreads, Buybooksontheweb and Amazon.  I do appreciate all of them and would appreciate even more.

Right now, I'm working on a book for "grown-ups" that takes place in the American southwest.  It's an ambitious endeavor, involving a great deal of research.  When I allow this child to take flight, I want to know what kind of impact he/she is having on anyone taking a look.  Feedback and reviews are always welcome.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


A few years ago, I wrote a short story that takes place during the Jack the Ripper era in London. Written from the servant's perspective, the fictional piece, titled Jack, addresses the crimes of that period from a different angle. Thanks to all who take the time to read my fiction and posts.  I do appreciate it.  As always, copyright applies to all content. (©Veronica Randolph Batterson)


The darkness of the night was coal black, created by a dense fog that enveloped the air suddenly and without warning.  It was difficult to make out figures before one’s eyes but the sounds of the evening were keen and crisp.  The creatures of the night had emerged and with them the raucous sounds followed.  Bellicose laughter and loud propositions rang out, along with drunken swearing and then the shrill whistles made by police officers.  A piercing female scream shattered the blackness and then silence.  Immediately, the quiet was followed by shouts, which seemed to emanate from every direction.  Shivering, I drew my cloak around my shoulders and returned inside, shutting the door firmly behind me.
The following morning brought the usual rituals that greeted servants of London’s upper class.  Yet an uninvited twist marked the atmosphere with dread and expectation.  Mr. Dalton returned from his morning walk, face flushed and out of breath, with a newspaper tucked under his arm.  All eyes turned questioningly toward him, and all he did was slightly nod to no one in particular and avert his own eyes, affirming what we already knew.  Trembling, I spilled some tea as I poured it into Madame’s cup, but she said nothing.  She was as distraught as everyone else and her silence at my clumsiness betrayed her distraction. 
“It is time we moved, Richard,” Madame said tensely, as Mr. Dalton removed his cap and tossed it carelessly onto the sideboard.  He sat down next to Madame at the dining room table and his breakfast was placed before him.  His traditional early morning meal was devoured heartily as usual, and his ever-widening girth portrayed a person who enjoyed good food.
“Evelyn, in good time we will move.  I had my eye on a place further in the city but it was snatched up before I knew it,” Mr. Dalton said, snapping open the newspaper with a jerk of his wrists, displaying the disturbing headlines of the day.
“In good time might be too late,” Evelyn cried.  “We’re much too close to those horrible Whitechapel events!  We must move, Richard, the sooner the better!”
I cleared the dishes carefully, praying I would not drop a cup or saucer as any broken dishes would come directly out of my wages.  Usually I was calm in the tensest circumstances, but the recent events involving a madman calling himself Jack the Ripper was too close for comfort.  The china clattered together as I held each dish tightly to my body, glancing nervously at the blaring headline raised in front of Mr. Dalton’s face.
Routinely, I completed all of the morning work required of me and retreated to my room.  I had been in the employ of Mr. and Mrs. Dalton for many years and while Madame could at times be gruff, she was actually a kind person.  As long as things were done in a proper manner, she generally would not get agitated.  I thought she was fond of me in her own way and found her very generous with gifts and wages.  Mr. Dalton was kind-hearted to a fault.  Too often he was taken advantage of by individuals with less than honest intentions.  Madame was always chiding him for his gullibility.  By all respects, I was fortunate to have respectable employment and to have maintained it for as long as I had been in London.  I shuddered, thinking of those poor souls and their line of work, falling victim to a faceless monster successful in eluding authorities.
Reaching underneath my pillow, I retrieved the letter.  It was addressed to me in the still childlike hand I would recognize anywhere as being that of my younger brother.  Fortunately, no one else had seen the letter as I received the post on the day it arrived.  I still had not read it.  Something about its arrival coinciding with the current tragic events blighting the city made me uneasy.  It was an unwelcome premonition.  Still, I was curious about its contents and opened the letter.
The note was brief and to the point.  My brother had arrived in early March after completing his studies in the medical field.  He said he finished training in Edinburgh and found work assisting a physician at a clinic in the city, and he hoped to see me soon.  It was signed, “Affectionately yours, Jack”.
My hands shook and my palms were cold.  It had started again.  The same unfortunate events, which occurred in Edinburgh, and now what I feared the most, had followed me to London.  I left Scotland ten years prior, with speculation and mystery running rampant as to some unsolved murders occurring in the area.  Authorities never discovered the person behind the crimes, yet how could they?  What would possibly lead anyone to suspect a young boy from a good working-class home and with no criminal past?  But I knew.  Too many hints, too many stolen glances and far too many unexplained stories and disappearances pointed right to my dear adored sibling.
Each time a murder occurred, Jack suddenly acquired a trinket or two.  Often a pocket watch or piece of jewelry materialized in my brother’s possession.  He was always mysterious about the circumstances surrounding those acquisitions, but I knew.  I could not face the truth and fled, leading no one to believe, not even my mother, that I suspected Jack.  And now, he was in London and had arrived shortly before the new batch of crimes started. 
I felt a rush of panic and knew I must find Jack and confront him.  I would threaten to go to the authorities, anything to cease the violent sprees wrecking havoc across London.  The following day I would have a few hours to myself and I was determined to locate my brother, yet how to go about it would prove a great obstacle.  He was not specific as to where he was working, so finding him would not be easy.  But ultimately, the search was not mine.  Jack found me.
As I made my way down the front walk the following day, I inhaled the morning breeze, still thick and acrid smelling.  It was a rare day in the city to experience clear fresh air, as the soot and smog blanketed the atmosphere, choking all who ventured outdoors unprepared.  Some days it was necessary to cover one’s mouth and nose with a handkerchief to escape the heaviness, which seemed to fill a person’s lungs to the point of asphyxiation.  The sensation of suffocating was often a common experience when greeted with the stifling air.
“Hello, Penelope,” a masculine voice said from behind me.  It was deep and smooth and had always reminded me of what honey and dark cocoa mixed together might sound like.  I knew it to be Jack without turning around.
“You have not changed a bit,” he continued, as I turned to face him.  Neither had he.  My brother was still as beautiful as ever, with neatly trimmed dark hair and eyes that penetrated to the soul.  His features were delicate and feminine looking, yet he stood tall, towering over his average male counterpart.  Women had always been attracted to him. Jack, with his charm and good looks, knew how to take advantage of that fact.  It was in his nature to use anything to his benefit, even if it meant sacrificing his own family to further his gains.  Our mother too often fell victim to his trickery, believing all he said and holding him accountable for nothing.
“Jack, you startled me!  I have not seen you since Papa’s funeral.”  It was all I could say to him as I regarded my own brother with suspicion and trepidation.
His eyes did not waver from my face, and so intense were they that it felt as if he were reading my every thought.  Could he tell I believed him a cold-blooded criminal; one so heartless as to commit murder?  Did he know?  It seemed impossible to discern what was truly in the heart of this man who was connected to me solely by blood.  A stranger stood before me who I had known since his birth, someone who had shared my parents and my childhood, yet I knew very little of him.
“I brought you a gift,” he said unexpectedly, handing me a small box tied with a white ribbon.
Inside was a brooch containing a large red stone resting in the center, surrounded by smaller, green ones.  I did not think it of any value as the stones held no luster and were glass-like in appearance.  I wondered why he had given it to me.  As if to answer my thoughts, he said it had been our mother’s and he thought I might like to own it.  I recalled she had very little jewelry and I did not recognize it as being hers.  But I did not express this to my brother.  He seemed to be waiting for my reaction, his intense eyes searching my face with amusement.  When I did not provide him with a response he wanted, he grew impatient with me.
“Look, Penelope, the least you could do is thank me.  After all, our dear mother passed away last year, and you failed to even show up to give your respects.  I have made a decent effort to come by and visit with you and give you something of your own Mum’s, and you treat me like this!  Might as well just say my goodbyes then,” he said, looking at the ground, but making no move to leave.
“Jack, thank you for the brooch.  It was very kind of you to bring this to me.  I am sorry I missed the service for Mother.  I hope you can forgive me,” I said, a little too humbly, I thought, but perhaps he would believe it sincere.
Again, the intense scrutiny.  It seemed he was playing a game.  He was trying to bait me into revealing my thoughts to him.  Then without warning, he would use those reflections to his advantage even if that meant against me. There is no doubt he wondered why I left abruptly after Papa’s funeral ten years ago.  There had been the occasional letter sent to Mother, but never had I corresponded with Jack at any time over the years.  It struck me that perhaps I was too secretive for his comfort.  That would certainly be true if in fact Jack were guilty of those heinous crimes, as I believed him to be.  It occurred to me then that maybe I should be concerned with my own safety.
“Well, Jack, I really should get on with my day.  It has been good seeing you and thank you again for the brooch,” I said, gathering my cloak around me and stepping a little farther from him.  “By the way, where is it you are working?” I remembered to ask.
The amusement returned and with a twitch of his lips he replied, “Over in Spitalfields, not too far.  Take care of yourself, Penelope.”
Touching the brim of his hat, he turned and left, just as quickly and quietly as he had appeared.  I watched his retreating form slowly disappear into the pedestrian traffic along the street.  The encounter left me uneasy and I had not done what I had intended.  It was one thing to think someone guilty of murder; it was certainly something else to verbalize the accusation.  Perhaps the police would like to hear my theory, but without proof I was not sure I had a leg to stand on.  It was a frightening prospect to actually formalize my suspicions about Jack.  What if I happened to be wrong?  It would mean the authorities investigating an innocent man who would no doubt be furious with me.  But the brutal attacks on innocent victims outweighed the inevitability of my brother’s scorned pride.
Without knowing where I was going, I suddenly found myself standing in front of Scotland Yard.
The inspector had heard it all before and sat across from me with eyes glassy from lack of sleep, and a weary expression displayed on his face.  He was middle-aged and wore his spectacles low on the bridge of his nose as he wrote down the information I gave him.  His disheveled appearance indicated to me he had been working around the clock on this case; and his lack of enthusiasm for what I had to relay suggested I was giving him nothing new.  I gathered every other citizen of the city had already been in, offering opinions, suggesting leads and implicating neighbors or distant relatives due to some odd behavior or unexplained activity.  Nothing I said about my brother or my suspicions created any interest from him.  After he finished jotting down the last note, he readily dismissed me.
“Well, I think that is about it, Miss, er,” he began, looking again at his notes to recall my name.
“Miss Thornbury,” I said, “Penelope Thornbury.”
“Right, Miss Thornbury.  Thank you for coming in and we will keep in touch.”
I gathered my belongings about me and wondered if I had done the right thing.  The inspector did not take seriously my account and probably thought my brother posed no threat.  I made my way through the sea of people trying to find the corridor, which would lead me outside, while someone was hurriedly trying to get my attention.
“Excuse me, Miss Thornbury?” a male voice asked.
“I am Inspector Sedgwick,” he continued, “I overheard your conversation with Inspector Brindle and I wondered if you had a moment.”
He was younger than the other officer and possessed a friendlier disposition, which led me to eagerly recount what I told Inspector Brindle.  Inspector Sedgwick appeared very interested in my brother and what had happened in Edinburgh.  He asked many questions, writing notes as he did so.  I noticed too he was attractive in a comfortable looking way, with fair hair and an easy smile.  He readily put me at ease.
“So, may I call on you if I have further questions?” he asked, ending our interview.
I thought about my situation and how it might appear to Mr. and Mrs. Dalton.  Under no circumstances could I afford to draw attention to myself with respect to these matters, and an inspector from Scotland Yard inquiring of me at their home would do just that.  I explained to Inspector Sedgwick the reason for my hesitation and he was quick to offer a solution.
“I will just send around a note first.  Then perhaps you might meet me somewhere.  Would that work?” he asked.
I assured him it would and left feeling as if I had done the right thing, yet experiencing tremendous guilt at betraying my brother.  The best thing that could happen would be proof of Jack’s innocence, but innocent or not, I knew that he would be very angry with me.  I did not know to what extremes he might express his fury.  It made me feel very uneasy.
It was not long before another horrible crime was committed and the household was once again on edge.  Madame fretted more so about moving and Mr. Dalton patronized her with promises of a better place as soon as something became available.  I had heard nothing further from Jack and wondered if Inspector Sedgwick followed up on my story.  It seemed certain that Jack would have called on me if he had been questioned.
Two days later, Inspector Sedgwick sent a note asking if I might meet him.  He set the time and place and told me if I did not appear, he would assume I could not get away.  Fortunately, I was able to sneak out that afternoon.  Madame had taken to her room, a habit that was increasing in frequency.  I welcomed the interlude and the thought of Inspector Sedgwick caused me to take a little more care in my appearance.  As an afterthought, I grabbed the brooch Jack had given me and tucked it inside my pocket.  It had not occurred to me to show the inspector the jewelry when I first met him.  I thought it best to do so as I could not remember my mother owning that pin.  Perhaps it could prove relevant to the case somehow if Jack were involved.
Inspector Sedgwick was waiting for me in the park where he said he would be and seemed genuinely pleased to see me.  I wondered though if that was my imagination as I was happy for some reason to see him, and hoped he felt the same.  There was no reason to assume he had a personal interest in me, but I did.  I knew the meeting to be purely professional and relating to the case, yet secretly I took pleasure in meeting him if only for a brief amount of time.
“Inspector Sedgwick, have you seen my brother?” I asked.
“Honestly, no.  Are you sure he said he was working in Spitalfields?”
“Yes, but he didn’t give me a specific place.”
He looked tired, as if the pursuit of the phantom killer haunting the streets of London preyed upon his own dreams, robbing him of much needed sleep.  I felt the sudden urge to touch his hand in reassurance, but restrained myself, not wishing to appear forward or revealing feelings that might not be reciprocated.
“I’m afraid I can not find anyone in Spitalfields who has heard of your brother.  I do recall those events in Edinburgh, but it seems nothing was ever officially reported.  Apparently, it was hushed up by someone.  Can you tell me about your father, Penelope?” he asked. 
The fact that he had called me by my given name was not lost on me.  I explained to him that my father had been the rector of a small parish and a well-respected man in the church.  Both he and my mother doted on Jack.  I recalled that my father would not allow us to mention those horrible events and shortly after the last murder, Papa died quietly in his sleep.  I suspected my brother of the crimes, but I did not know if my father had.  Shortly after my father’s funeral, I left with very little money and found myself in London, and quickly under the employ of the Daltons.
I remembered the brooch and handed it to the inspector, telling him I had not remembered my mother wearing such a piece of jewelry.  It was possible however that she acquired it after I left Edinburgh.  He looked at it closely, turning the pin over in his slim hands, examining the back as thoroughly as the front.  Was it possible Jack had taken this item from one of the victims?  I could not ask but I knew Inspector Sedgwick wondered the same thing.  I shuddered at the thought.
“Were there any suspicions concerning your father’s death?” he asked.
“No, although I knew Papa and Jack had argued quite violently a few days before Papa’s passing.  But I did not know the reason for their argument.  I had my own suspicions when Papa died, but no one else did.  Perhaps Papa doubted Jack’s innocence as well,” I said.
He handed the piece of jewelry back to me and clasped my hands together in his own.  “You must take care and never find yourself alone with your brother if he seeks you out again.  It could be very dangerous.”
I noticed the look of concern on his face and oddly it comforted me.  I barely knew the man standing before me but I took solace in his words.  No one had ever truly cared about my safety.  It pleased me to know he did.
“I must get back, Inspector Sedgwick.  Mrs. Dalton will be wondering about me,” I said.
“Please call me Martin,” he said.  I nodded and turned away, knowing he was watching me as I walked.  I did not have to look to be certain.  I just knew.
November 1888 seemed to bring the last round of escapades brought on by Jack the Ripper, at least any that were publicized.  Little was mentioned of the maniacal atrocities in the press from that point on.  But unsolved murders of similar origins continued to occur and most concluded it was the work of the same madman.  No suspects had yet been arrested nor had I seen my brother again.
I did, however, receive another gift from Jack.  Wrapped in plain brown paper, the parcel arrived early one morning.  Immediately, I recognized Jack’s handwriting and went to my room to open it.  Inside were a pair of earbobs, each containing one small black stone.  Upon closer inspection, I noticed one of the stones was chipped on the edge.  There was no note accompanying the package and I quickly rewrapped the unwanted delivery.  It would be turned over to Martin, I thought, along with the brooch and samples of Jack’s handwriting.  I wanted nothing more of my brother, yet I feared there would be more in years to come.
Martin Sedgwick had become a strong comforting force in my life.  Without knowing the particulars, Mr. and Mrs. Dalton welcomed his presence in their home, even though his visits were with me.  They felt safer, as I did, in his company.  So Madame did not question me about any unfinished work when he chose to drop by to see me.  During the troubled times known to our city, he was happily received with open arms, due to his occupation on the Daltons’ part, but on a personal level for myself.
Perhaps it was too coincidental to think my brother would use his actual name when leaving his mark on the poor victims of those unsolved crimes.  Yet it was like him, really, to taunt the authorities and think himself invincible and far too clever to be caught.  It was clear to me that Martin highly suspected Jack as well.  Fortunately for me that suspicion led to him being part of my life permanently.
Martin Sedgwick and I married quietly at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in May 1889.  It was a small service with very few people in attendance.  As we left the church on an unusually glorious and clear morning, a man approached me holding an envelope.  He was unkempt and dirty and smelled of liquor, with a sneer of his lips that belied the contempt he held for anyone who had better fortune in life.  Saying he was paid to deliver the message, he handed it to me and limped away.
I opened the letter and all that was written in the childlike hand was, “Stay safe, Jack”.  If it had a double meaning, Martin and I certainly took notice of it.  Taking my hand in his, he led me to the waiting carriage and said, “You will be safe, with me.”

(©Veronica Randolph Batterson)    

Friday, June 29, 2012

Tuckahoe Plantation

The other day, my daughter reminded me we had never visited Disney World as a family.  She didn't say it as if we'd deprived her of something during her childhood.  Rather, it was mentioned as part of an appreciation for all of the places we did visit.  She did go to the Magic Kingdom with a high school orchestra group once.  I went to Disneyland when I was pregnant with her, so maybe that counts for something.  However, most of our family vacations involved seeing things.  Visiting museums and art galleries, touring historic homes and places are things we always worked in when traveling.  How many kids can say they had their photos taken in a cell at Alcatraz or posed with a Beefeater at the Tower of London?  Our girls can.  Yes, we did take off to the South Carolina beaches on occasion, namely Hilton Head and Kiawah Island.  But the side trips to Charleston, Savannah and Beaufort were made each time, touring the antebellum homes whenever possible.

All of this made me recall one of the prettiest plantation houses we ever visited.  Tuckahoe Plantation in Richmond, Virginia was built in the early eighteenth century.  The 640 acre working farm is a National Historic Landmark and served as the childhood home to young Thomas Jefferson.  Open to visitors by appointment, it is privately owned and now a self-sustaining property.  Is it as stately as Jefferson's Monticello, the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC or any of the summer houses in Newport, RI?  Of course not.  I highly recommend touring all of these beautiful homes too.  But Tuckahoe has an understated and quiet presence.  It isn't trying to impress anyone.  It's surviving in the 21st century while maintaining its impressive history.

Today Tuckahoe Plantation raises and markets grass fed beef, lamb, rabbit, eggs and holiday turkeys; the wool from their flock of sheep is spun into yarn to sell; a greenhouse is on the premises; weddings and receptions are held on the grounds and the plantation hosts annual Easter egg hunts and Christmas tours.  For more information, visit its website at Tuckahoe Plantation.

For a little history please read the following essay I wrote several years ago about the plantation house. (As always, content and photos are copyright protected.)           © Veronica Randolph Batterson


The little school house now serves as a gift shop, but in the mid-eighteenth century it served to mold the early mind of our country’s third president.  Thomas Jefferson spent seven years of his young life living at Tuckahoe, an H-shaped clapboard plantation house established circa 1715 high above the James River west of Richmond, Virginia.  The school house is but one still existing structure standing on Tuckahoe’s grounds.  Also reminding visitors of the home’s beautifully preserved history looms the outbuildings and gardens.  Nearby is the family burial plot where many of the original owners of Tuckahoe rest.  Yet, Tuckahoe’s existence is virtually unknown. 
Thomas Randolph, builder of Tuckahoe, was one of the sons of William and Mary Randolph of Turkey Island.  Many perceive them as the founding family of Virginia while they were progenitors of some of the most famous names in this country’s history.  Peyton Randolph, President of the First Continental Congress, Edmund Randolph, Secretary of State and Attorney General, John Randolph of Roanoke, as well as Thomas Jefferson all descended from William Randolph. 
Thomas Randolph’s son, another William, inherited Tuckahoe from his father and was a friend of Peter Jefferson.  Jefferson married Jane Randolph, William’s cousin.  In 1745, due to William’s premature death and personal request, Peter Jefferson took his family to live at Tuckahoe and care for the parentless Randolph children.  William’s wife had died in 1742.  Young Thomas Jefferson was only two years old.  It is written that he was sitting upon a pillow astride a horse when he and his parents, Peter and Jane, first arrived there.
Prior to reaching Tuckahoe that very first time, perhaps he traveled down the cedar-lined lane that now introduces visitors to the historic dwelling.  Just what kind of visuals this impressive home stimulated in the young scholar can only be imagined.  One wonders if the architecture of the fine house influenced his foresight in designing more famous structures such as Monticello and the Rotunda of the University of Virginia.  Jefferson did learn to read and write in the little school house on the grounds, a place he would later refer to as the “English school”, and he shared his early learning experience with his Randolph cousins and siblings. 
In 1752, the eldest Randolph child was considered old enough to handle the daily responsibilities of running a plantation.  It was then Peter Jefferson returned with his family to Shadwell, their home some sixty miles away.  Thomas Jefferson was nine years old when he left Tuckahoe, but the formative years he spent there more than likely inspired his multifaceted interests, talents and abilities as a musician, scientist, architect, politician and lover of books.
Fortunately, this lovely home still stands proudly, displaying where Thomas Jefferson the child lived, learned, observed and thought.  It is a most impressive image especially when one thinks just how much Thomas Jefferson the man achieved.  

© Veronica Randolph Batterson 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

June Bliss...Cue Weeping and Pachelbel's Canon

 "April Showers bring May Flowers" as the saying goes.  Then the month of June thunders its entrance in a torrential downpour.  Figuratively, of course.  No other month has the potential to create the greatest emotional turmoil than June.  It's the month of brides and graduates; it holds pride for accomplishments and hope for the future.  It matters not if I personally know the "vision in white" or the one carrying the diploma.  All it takes is to hear the music and I become a sniveling mess.

When Wagner's Bridal Chorus (Here Comes the Bride) is performed as the bride makes her entrance and all turn to see, the on-switch for the waterworks display clicks.  The featured one could be wearing a beautiful designer dress or one made of duct tape.   It doesn't matter.  It's the music and the symbolic meaning that make tears well in my eyes every time I hear it played (and those tears usually spill down my face uncontrollably).

It's the same when I attend graduations.  Who knew Pomp and Circumstance could be so moving?  I'm determined each and every time not to shed a tear.  I'll stand without blinking for as long as my eyes can take it (the zombie/not enough sleep/under the influence look), then the lids close in relief and the dam breaks.  It's probably a good thing everyone is dressed the same as focusing is a bit difficult at that point.

And why is Pachelbel's Canon usually included as part of the wedding music repertoire?  Johann Pachelbel's little ditty creates emotional issues for me.  Perhaps it's because my older daughter is a violinist (or fiddler, depending on your preference) and was classically trained for a dozen years.  She performed Pachelbel's Canon so often over the years that she could play it in her sleep (I probably could too since I heard it just as much, and I don't play a musical instrument).  It is one of those pieces that will always cause me to turn nostalgic simply for the association to my child.  So the probability of tear duct action is great.

In all fairness to the season, the calendar doesn't have to indicate the month of June for a song or event to induce weepy eyed syndrome.  Simply standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. with its historical significance is emotional.  The same can be said about visiting a National Cemetery and viewing the simple uniformity of the landscape.   I have grandparents buried at one, so it may hold a little more significance for me.  Didn't John Denver sing, "I know he'd be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly" in one of his songs?  Well, seeing an eagle soaring freely is one of those touching times for me and the eyes get a little misty.  

Hearing the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne (attributed to the Scottish bard Robert Burns) creates an air of wistfulness for some reason, as do the July 4th celebrations when seeing fireworks synchronized to Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, particularly if performed by the Boston Pops.  (By the way, Boston has to be the most patriotic city to visit for Independence Day, but that's for a future blog post I think.)

So June has its moments of sentimentality, perhaps more than the rest of the year, but the other eleven months are not without the need for a hanky on occasion.  It doesn't mean I'm a blubbering simpleton.  I suppose I just get carried away by the emotion and meaning.  Innocence, new life, hopefulness, pride, patriotism, honor.  These are words that evoke feeling and meaning to life.  They should stir something in most people.  Some of us just feel a little more deeply.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Boxed Life

The following is a flash fiction piece that I wrote a couple of years ago, called Boxed Life. As with all content here, copyright applies (©Veronica Randolph Batterson).

                                 Boxed Life

She turned on the light and allowed her eyes to adjust.  Thirty years.  Nice and neat, stacked compactly in a corner of her basement.  Three decades taking up as much space as the treadmill, an old rocking chair and dog crate, none of which were used anymore.
Are memories like collectibles, packed with bubble wrap and put away in storage?   Were they fragile things to recall when nostalgia demands a person to reminisce after a certain song is played on the radio?  There were some things she wished would never resurface, many too painful for her heart to recall.  Other recollections provided a sense of accomplishment only she could understand.
            She opened a box.  A first date, an engagement and a marriage leapt from the contents.  Photos of a large wedding and a honeymoon in Italy were tucked away.  A series of new jobs, vacations and living arrangements, until the perfect house for a family was found, were scattered within the memorabilia.
Pregnancy was not kind to her, with three miscarriages, until she finally gave birth to the perfect son.  There would be no more children, but her life was consumed with her only child, often to the exclusion of her frustrated husband.  Birthdays and holidays followed, year after year and shared with family and friends.  Many times her husband found excuses to be absent.  With each one, his absence was reflected in the photographs, which did not contain his image.
There was kindergarten, a traumatic time in her life. How could she possibly give her five-year-old to a stranger nearly every day for nine months?  She suggested home schooling until her husband put his foot down, stating a child needed to interact with others his own age.  Elementary school followed with play dates and Boy Scouts.  When middle school entered their lives, her husband barely acknowledged her presence, and her son suddenly changed from the angel she knew him to be to a stranger she tried desperately to get to know.
Attitude and anger nearly drove her out of her mind when high school made its presence known.  Disposition improved but other issues loomed.  Driver’s education classes and a learner’s permit tested her patience sorely.  Her husband always fought with their son when he had to be the designated passenger, so it fell on her shoulders to be the driving instructor.  School concerts, parent-teacher meetings, basketball games, homecoming, summer jobs and dating packed into four years of her teenager’s life.  Suddenly graduation loomed and her own life stared back at her, laying bare emptiness and few possibilities. 
On the day they took their son to college, it felt as if her heart were being ripped from her chest. She walked blindly through his dorm room, helping him unpack, keeping busy to prevent the tears from flowing.  She remembered conversation was light but strained.  No one wished to discuss how she was feeling.  When it was time to say goodbye, she promised to call her son after they made the four hour drive home.  He promised to call and text message whenever he could.  Her husband said little.
Two hours into their drive, her husband said that he wanted a divorce.  She felt nothing but numbness. He had found someone younger, prettier and more successful, someone with a career and independence.  He said she could have the house.
So here she was with that house, in the basement that contained thirty years of her life, boxed nice and neat, as if that had been a reflection of the years she had lived.  She stared, hardly believing where time had fled and fate had taken her.  She was happy once.  Could she ever feel that way again?  Her husband was gone, her child was grown and her house was too quiet.  Suddenly she was no longer needed in the capacity she had known for nearly nineteen years.
Turning off the light, she left the boxes.  They would be there tomorrow, just like her memories.    

©Veronica Randolph Batterson       

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

La Dolce Vita...Living the Good Life

Often I've been asked where and how I come up with story ideas.  It's difficult to answer as there is no set pattern or method to the madness of creative writing.  Life experiences, observations and imagination play together, mixing and blending just enough to produce something you hope others will read and enjoy.

I've always been one to have my "head in the clouds" as some would say.  As a child, I was a dreamer, imagining stories and putting them to paper.  My mind would soar simply from listening to a song on the radio. It was easy to create a storyline from the music I would hear.  I still do that, along with the daydreaming, but observing what goes on around me fuels my writing the best.  Simple, everyday life occurrences can make the most interesting stories.  Sometimes you learn a bit along the way.

On a recent trip to Italy, I was in full observation mode.  Of course the language barrier aided this somewhat (I don't speak Italian), but I learned to get by with the basics.  It helped that I was visiting my younger daughter who was studying in Rome.  I'll give her credit for the assistance.   I found how easy it became to watch and absorb when you couldn't communicate well orally.  Sights were more vibrant, sounds became sharper.  One saw the action and understood without uttering a word.

One day, my daughter and I were enjoying some gelato as we walked down the street (we did that a lot, by the way, gelato and walking and not necessarily together).  A young boy of about ten was skipping along quickly, a cone of multicolored gelato in one hand, when suddenly he tripped.  Now I'm not exaggerating when I say his little form became airborne.  It did.  A couple of one-handed cartwheels followed until momentum slowed enough that he rolled to a stop.  At first, the look on his face reflected shock at what had happened.  Then glancing at the hand holding the gelato cone, his expression changed quickly to something akin to male pride.  He had literally saved the cone.  Not one speck had been lost in that tumble.  And just as quickly, his mother rushed to his side, checking for bumps and bruises.  He glanced at the other hand, realizing he'd hurt it, and burst into tears.  I didn't need an interpreter to explain the conversation between mother and child. There was no need for an explanation of what I'd just witnessed.  That scene was purely simple and innocent and could've occurred (and does occur) anywhere in the world.

Another gelato story (I have a few) came during a very crowded visit to one of the more popular gelaterias.  As I waited for my daughter to receive our order, I stood in a corner, leaning against the wall and watching customers.  One lady in line kept holding up something that looked like a camera phone.  She pointed it in various directions of the room, so I started following the objects of her interest.  It was then I realized she had a small video camera, not a phone.  I saw her focus on the young men filling the orders...it made me wonder why no women were behind the counter.  I probably wouldn't have noticed otherwise.  Then she would record various customers; some waiting, some chatting with friends.  The place was so packed that I seemed to be the only person who noticed what she was doing.  Then she zeroed in on a man eating a gelato cone and he was thoroughly enjoying every minute of it.  He was focused on the pleasure of eating and his face reflected bliss.  At that point, something about it struck me as being very funny.  So I laughed out loud.  It caught the woman's attention and she looked at me and laughed too.  She continued to record the man, laughing with me as she did so.  The gentleman was never aware he was the object of our attention but he took great delight in finishing his gelato with relish.  Again, words weren't needed to share the meaning of something humorous.  I've no idea why she was using a video camera. Perhaps it was for a class she was taking or maybe she had a great sense of humor.  But it was something we've all seen regardless of where we might call home.

When visiting some of the more popular tourist attractions, we often encountered school groups.  All would be led by a teacher or perhaps a parent.  On one occasion, there were kids who appeared to be in middle school following an adult who looked like a caricature of Alan Alda.  He held up a cardboard cut-out of an unknown female whenever he moved.  This was so the kids could find and follow him in the crowds.  They spoke Italian and the boys and girls seemed to enjoy being in the company of their leader.  It then struck me that he was probably a teacher who everyone liked.  The kids were laughing and appeared to be having a good time.  Even though I couldn't understand a word of what they were sharing, I knew they were happy.  I recalled many times over the years, my children taking school trips in the company of their own teachers.

Observations lead to many things.  Knowledge.  Understanding.  Realization.  In my quest to write a story or two, I saw that simple experiences connect us as human beings.  We all worry about our children, laugh at something funny, cry at sorrow and want a good life.  We share compassion and feelings without sharing the words or speaking the same language. 

La Dolce Vita...Living the Good Life.  Interpreted in various ways and also the name of a 1960 film by Federico Fellini.  But universal and straightforward in its meaning.  Living a sweet life.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Things That Go Bump in the Night

For nine years we lived in a haunted house.  An honest to goodness, noise-making, door-opening haunted house.  It was a lovely Cape Cod style home in Michigan that had been built around 1938.  We were only the third family to own it but we coexisted with who knows how many unseen inhabitants.

Personally, I might be a little predisposed to paranormal belief, but my husband had a practical side to those things.  There were always logical explanations to be discovered for the unexplained. Until "The House".  It made a believer of him.

Our interest in the home came from its potential.  It had a full, unfinished attic, which had already been plumbed and framed.  Our intent was to add more bedrooms and a full bath, which we did, but with some interesting discoveries.  Strange things began as soon as we moved in, but when the renovations started, the activity level became pretty lively.

The first thing of significance happened to me shortly after we moved in.  One morning after I'd walked my daughters to school, I was sitting alone in the kitchen, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper.  I should explain that the entrance to the attic had a full sized door from the kitchen.  Behind the door were the steps leading upstairs.  We kept the door closed because there was no heat upstairs (we hadn't started renovating at that point).

As I sat quietly at the kitchen table, with my back to the door, I suddenly heard a "click".  Jumping, I turned around and watched as the door slowly swung open. Creaking as it did so (it really did), I stood, about to bolt because I was sure it had to be an intruder.  But a quick glimpse on the other side of the door revealed nothing.  It scared the "blank" out of me (any word inserted here will suffice).

The clicking sound was the noise the bolting mechanism made as the door handle turned. There was no draft upstairs, the windows weren't open (it was too cold), and that door was sturdy.  It didn't open on its own.  There was no logical explanation for what had happened.  Eventually, we removed the door once the renovation was finished, but I always looked at it with trepidation from that point on.

The obvious spooky stuff like the television turning on and off, temperature fluctuations in certain areas and our dog staring at an empty room while wagging her tail, were common occurrences, as were other things. But the sounds were baffling.  They were loud, blatant attempts at what seemed like communication.

The noises started in a downstairs bedroom.  It began as scraping on the floor near a window.  The apparent assumption was that some animal must be creating it.  But we checked in the basement underneath the room and outside the window, all along the foundation of the house.  There was no sign of any unwanted critter to be found.   And the sound never moved anywhere.  It was only in that one location in the bedroom.  This continued until we completed the attic.  Then it stopped as suddenly as it started.

Or I should say the party just moved upstairs.  The strangest noise came from one of the finished bedrooms.  It was the sound of knocking.  We would stand in the middle of that room and the knocking would start at one end and loudly go the other.  It was always on the same wall, as if someone was rapping on the surface of the wall with his/her knuckles. It was frantic in nature and the sound moved quickly, often lasting for several minutes.  Was someone communicating with us?  Perhaps they didn't like the walls or felt trapped.  It was strange and one of those unexplainable occurrences that continued until we moved out of the home.

The most frightening occurrence happened after we'd decided to move. I was packing boxes in the bedroom where the original sounds started, and without warning, the light fixture that was attached to the ceiling fell to the floor.  Shattered glass was everywhere.  I was lucky.  Had I been about a foot closer to the center of the room, the fixture would've hit me over the head.  It was the only time I had really felt threatened by our experiences. Needless to say, we were happy to move.

We had been told by a neighbor that the original owner of the home was a widow who suffered a serious fall in the house.  The accident ultimately contributed to her death, but she passed away in the hospital.  If you believe in those things, one might wonder if she was the instigator of the mischief we experienced.  I personally felt a few poltergeists took up residence in our home.

If the popular paranormal show Ghosthunters had been around back then, we would've gladly turned our house over for an investigation.  Instead, we're left to speculate as to the "who" and "why" regarding our experiences and believing with certainty there were no logical explanations.

Monday, March 12, 2012

"I want to be a horse when I grow up" and "You mean I have to eat vegetables to be a vegetarian?"

Kids say the darnedest things.  Bill Cosby showed us with his comedy series of the same name during the 1990s.  Art Linkletter implied as well decades earlier.  Those of us who have raised children know it's true.  My two daughters are no exception.

Looking back, I couldn't pick which little nugget was the darnedest but two came to mind...one from each child.  So I'm using both for the title of this post.  Both girls get equal time.

My husband and I were never ones to discourage our children.  If they had dreams, we said anything is possible.  The word "can't" was not used in response to those kinds of discussions.  Imagine our surprise one day when our younger daughter, aged 3 or 4, blurted, "I want to be a horse when I grow up".  I should add that the child had an obsession with horses at that time of her life.  She had toy horses of various sizes and colors. They slept with her, ate with her (she'd arrange them around her dinner plate; pretend they were going to dive into her cereal bowl) and she carried them with her wherever we went.  So it shouldn't have been a surprise when she made that little proclamation. But it was.  How to respond to it was tricky.  Those negative words (can't, impossible, never) started swimming through my head as I looked at her innocent face.

Her sister, on the other hand, had different ideas. Two and a half years older, she was precocious and outspoken.  I knew by the look on her face that she wasn't going to put up with such a statement.  She was wisecracking at an early age.  So as her little eyes bored a hole into her younger sister, she loudly announced with hands on hips, "You can't be a horse when you grow up!". 

I then looked at my youngest and I couldn't help myself. "She can be whatever she wants to be," I meekly responded.  The older child gave me that look of, "You're the grown-up. I can't believe you just said that".  And always getting the last word, "It's not possible," came her confident little voice.  

It was quite some time until the horse loving child realized the probability of being a horse wasn't in her biological favor. But until that point we listened patiently as she proclaimed that it was her life's ambition. Her sister wasn't so patient, but got used to and enjoyed rolling her eyes whenever the subject was mentioned.  

A few years passed and the older child went through an identity crisis.  It happens to the best of them.  The mid to late elementary school years introduce a need to belong, which follows them into the "heathen" years (middle school), when all parents wonder who the stranger is that's eating their food.

So it came with great surprise when, after school one day, our oldest professed to being a vegetarian.  Shock is a better word.  You see, the child had an aversion to vegetables.  She was a meat, starch and cheese (especially cheese) kid.  Vegetables on the plate?  No problem.  Depending on the type of veggie, it was scooted, scraped, smashed or isolated like a fort surrounded by a moat.  But not eaten. Never eaten. Once, on discovering she'd ingested a few diced carrots that were mixed in with some rice, the child's gag reflexes went into overdrive.  Drama and vegetables were synonymous to her.

When the new vegetarian entered our household, I learned from her that so-and-so from school was one so she thought she would be too.  The look on the vegetarian's face when told the meaning of being a vegetarian was priceless.  "You mean I have to eat vegetables to be a vegetarian?"  Yes.  It would probably be a good idea to like vegetables too.

No vegetarian in the world converted to eating cheeseburgers as quickly as our daughter did upon that discovery. I've often wondered just what she thought the meaning was.  Perhaps it was artistic sounding to her and just enough to make her feel different but accepted in a "cool" way.

Kids.  They say the darnedest things. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Joining the World of Ebooks

The title of this post might be misleading. I personally haven't purchased a Kindle or Nook...yet. But my second book, Funny Pages, is now available as an electronic download. So, in that respect I have joined the electronic age.

For only $3.96, readers can download the story as an ebook on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.  I'm told  it will eventually be available to ipad users as well through Apple.  So, Kindle users, here is the link: Funny Pages - Kindle Edition - Amazon and for Nook owners: Funny Pages - Nook - BarnesandNoble. Or, you can just check out the links to the right. If you don't like clicking on links (I don't either), then search Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com for my books. You'll find them...I promise. Also, if you enjoy the book, please leave a review. Authors always appreciate them.

Billy's First Dance isn't available as an ebook...but why not just enjoy an old fashioned paperback? That's what we all used "back in the day", along with manual typewriters, rotary telephones and snail mail. Modern technology is wonderful, but I still love holding a book while I read it.

I might be convinced, however, that it wouldn't be too bad to own one of those e-readers...someday.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

You'll Just Know

About four years ago we faced a decision that any pet owner dreads. Our family dog was ill and it was "just a matter of time".  No one really explains what that phrase means. You know the outcome...one day you'll no longer have that sweet family member by your side.  But it's how you get to that time and what it involves that have no instruction manual for guidance.

When Charlotte, our previous golden retriever, became sick, the veterinarian tried easing our worry and delaying the inevitable with suggestions of changing her diet and trying various "specialty" prescription medications. We became acquainted with the Compounder, a pharmacist who creates specific prescriptions in doses and consistency geared for individual patients. This patient just happened to be a canine.  I lost track of the number of times I drove to the Compounder's office building, located in an industrial area of town, picking up refills and new medications to try.  Often, the meds were as "hit or miss" as the food concoctions. They seemed to work for a while but it was never constant.  We tried all of the over the counter food the vet suggested and when that failed, we resorted to cooking bland food for her...chicken, rice, anything to give her sustenance.  She often refused eating from her bowl so hand feeding became the norm.  We were determined to get her to eat, so that didn't really matter to us.

Each visit to the veterinarian was always the same. The latest symptom was documented but there wasn't anything that could be done to stop the progression. At one of our last visits, when explaining how difficult it had become to get her to eat, I broke down in tears saying that I knew she had to be hungry. The doctor looked at me with sad eyes, and I wondered how many times he'd repeated this same scene in his long career.  His response of "As long as she's still drinking water..." gave me hope.

After receiving the terminal diagnosis, the one question we always asked of our veterinarian was, "How will we know when it's time?".  The response never changed. "You'll just know," he'd say.  That answer frustrated us.  How could we possibly know? The struggle became one of keeping our pet with us as long as possible versus preventing her from being in pain. She couldn't tell us she was hurting. And we were selfish. We wanted our dog with us forever.  What if we ended her life too soon?

I'll never forget the day when the time did come. It was the slightest little whimper that spoke volumes. I couldn't remember when she had last eaten and it had been days since she'd taken any water. Mobility was rather non-existent by the time. She had lost so much weight that we were able to pick her up and carry her, very telling since, at her healthiest, she'd weighed around 80 pounds. But her coat was still glorious and she remained beautiful...yet she spoke to me that day. The little cry that I hadn't heard until then and I knew. She told me she was hurting and I couldn't bear it. "You'll just know," the voice said, and I did.

Getting through the following weeks were difficult because everywhere we turned we saw our precious dog. Her toys, dog bed, collars, tags, leashes, dog food and medications were reminders. Those were easily remedied, as the meds and unopened dog food were donated to the local humane society and the rest disposed of.  But the intangibles hurt.  The memories were there.  Her enthusiasm, love and companionship filled our hearts with such joy that her physical absence made us feel empty.

We've since invited a new golden retriever into our home and Lily's capacity for life and love is as great as Charlotte's was.  There are times when "you'll just know" replays in my mind.  Now I'm certain anyone who has ever faced such a decision did know, in some way, when the time came.