Friday, November 29, 2013

Sepia Saturday: A Nod to Movember

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt picturing a mustached swimmer with his trophies pays homage to the “Movember” efforts to raise awareness of men’s health issues.  This November Matt Lauer and Al Roker of the “Today” show grew beards in support. They even agreed to have prostate exams live on national television because prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men and second most common cause of cancer-related deaths.

Prostate cancer is one of several cancers my dad had to deal with (although it’s not what killed him).  But you would never have known it.  In fact, Momma made everyone promise to pretend we didn’t know.  Daddy put on a brave face and kept to his regular routines, ever on the go.  I don’t know if he was embarrassed or just didn’t want us to worry.  So pretend, we did. 

However, it was difficult to fake nonchalance during the summer of 1998.  My daughter’s Little League Fastpitch Softball team had won the district tournament and then traveled to Gainesville for the Virginia State Tournament.   Daddy was undergoing radiation treatments at the time; nevertheless, he drove three hours to Gainesville and then back home almost every day just to watch her play.  I knew the trip was especially hard on him, but I couldn’t let on.

Fred Slade and John Bell Virginia State Little League Tournament
My dad (left) probably discussing strategy
with Coach John Bell.  No doubt Daddy once
again argued against the sac bunt.

Our team won the State Tournament qualifying them for the regional tournament.  They won that one too which meant a berth in the World Series at Louisville, Kentucky where any dreams of a national title were quickly dashed. 

But back home the friends and family of our Little League were still very proud of our first State win, quite an accomplishment for a league that was a mere three years old.  So how does a League reward its All Stars? 

Western Branch Little League
Virginia State and Region 4 Champions

With a party and trophies.

The League bought BIG trophies for the girls to thank them for bringing home some recognition at last and giving the League some clout in the local district.  Not surprisingly, Daddy was there for the party to see that granddaughter get her trophy.

Maybe it is the awareness of one’s own mortality that makes a cancer victim determined to be a cancer survivor.   In my dad’s case, his presence at the tournament was really no different from his behavior in healthier days.  My parents were always their grandchildren’s biggest cheerleaders, never missing a game or performance if they could help it.  Still I wonder if that pesky cancer didn’t amplify the urgency to be there to see the winning pitcher in her glory.

Where trophies go to die -- a big bin in the garage

For more stories and photos of moustaches and trophies, please visit my friends at Sepia Saturday.

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Thanksgiving Note

Wordless Wednesday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers that asks family historians to create a post in which the main focus is a photograph or image.

As usual, while looking for something else I found this note written by my daughter to her grandmother, my mother. ("Ming" was her "grandmother name.")

Blessings to you all on this Thanksgiving!

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Sepia Saturday: Where Were You?

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt commemorates the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy by asking participants to reflect on where they were on that date or on other significant dates that serve as historical markers.  Indeed the world changed on November 22, 1963.  I was 12.  Before then I had never heard of such an act of violence.  Now never a day goes by without a news report of a murder, abduction, bomb threat, or mass killing. 

That Friday in November began like any other lovely autumn day for the students at Cradock Junior High in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Cradock Junior High School, Portsmouth, Virginia
Cradock Junior High School
Portsmouth, Virginia

My classroom was in the right wing.

I was sitting in the last row over by the windows of my classroom, and like I always did, I was paying close attention to Mrs. Ann Mancuso’s grammar lesson when the principal, Mr. Slade Phillips, came over the loud speaker with the horrible news that our President had been shot and killed. 

Snipped from Google Maps
the route from school to my house on Gillis Rd.

We were dismissed early and ordered to go straight home.  It was usually a 15-minute walk from school to home, but on that day I ran. 

I was petrified.  The tone of the principal’s voice was so urgent that I thought for sure the killer was driving around Cradock shooting randomly at people.  Whenever a car rumbled down the road, I held my breath as I prepared to be shot.  

This crazy world has given me several chances to get over that irrational fear of being the target of an assassin.

May 13, 1981, Portsmouth, Virginia
Me and Jordan, May 13, 1981

A couple months before my first daughter was born, President Ronald Reagan was shot in Washington DC, just a few days into his presidency.

Then on the very day my daughter was born – May 13, 1981 – Pope John Paul II was shot as he was entering St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.  

Naturally, I’ll always remember WHERE I was on May 13, 1981, but I will also remember the assassination attempt because THERE WAS NOTHING ELSE ON TV and I was stuck in the hospital with all-day news coverage.  (The Pope forgave his would-be assassin, so I hope he forgave me for being annoyed at this bad timing of events.)

I had better luck with Daughter #2.  No assassination attempts on February 27, 1983, thankfully.  The next night was the biggest night in tv history with the final episode of "M.A.S.H." The hospital served steak to all new parents. (I could hardly wait for the nurse to take that fresh baby back to the nursery! Yep, Mother of the Year ~)

February 27, 1983, Portsmouth, Virginia
Me and Zoe, February 27, 1983

So where will you be today?  I hope you’ll be visiting my friends at Sepia Saturday

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sepia Saturday: Doppelganger for Velma

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt invites all Homo Sepians to share photos of people framed in a doorway. 

While not exactly IN the doorway, the 1925 varsity basketball team of Harrisonburg Teacher’s College posed framed in the archway of the porch leading to the doorway of their home away from campus while on their Southwestern Virginia basketball tour. 

Harrisonburg Teachers College Basketball Team in Tennessee 1925
HTC Basketball Team
Nashville, Tennessee 1925

The quality of the photo is so poor and the size so small that the who’s and why’s for years failed to pique my interest until I noticed that the people are the same ones as in this official team photo glued to the last page of my grandaunt Velma Davis Woodring’s college scrapbook.

Harrisonburg Teachers College Basketball Team in Tennessee 1925
Official Team photo 1925

Now THAT picture grabbed my attention.  Look at Aunt Velma kneeling on the front row (2nd from the right).  She made the varsity team as a freshman.  What an athlete she must have been!  

So what is a dutiful niece to do but search for the story of her aunt’s contributions in the glory days of the HTC basketball team?  Fortunately, the 1925 yearbook printed a summary of the winning season declaring 6 wins, 2 losses, and 1 tie.  

Culminating the 1925 season was the week-long Southwestern Virginia tour.  It was a real road trip, too, beginning at Roanoke and moving on to Radford, both in Virginia.  Then the team went to Nashville, Tennessee where they lost to Peabody College but not before Peabody exhausted all its reserve players to defeat the Purple & Gold Basketeers of HTC.  HTC then finished the tour in Knoxville with a win over the University of Tennessee.  Velma must have been thrilled to be part of such a season and such a team. 

Then this dutiful niece saw THIS page of the yearbook:

Harrisonburg Teachers College Basketball Team page in the 1925 yearbook
from The Schoolma'am 1925

Then I studied the names of the players:

That’s curious.  Velma’s name isn’t there.  Nine names.  Nine girls in the photo plus the coach.   Certainly Velma didn’t quit the team – the photo was taken by a photographer in Nashville.

With the help of the yearbook, I started matching names to faces.  And then there it was:

Jessie Agnes Rosen 1925

Not Velma at all!  It was Jessie Rosen.  Shoot!

But wouldn’t YOU think it was Velma too, knowing Velma looked like this:

Velma Davis 1925

Please visit my friends at Sepia Saturday – they’ve left the door open for you.

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Cat Dancing

Wordless Wednesday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers that asks family historians to create a post in which the main focus is a photograph or image.

Catherine Walsh Barany and friend 1937
Cat Barany (left) and friend

My grandaunt Catherine “Cat” Walsh Barany and an unidentified friend seem to be dancing on the sidewalk somewhere in Washington DC in 1937.

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sepia Saturday: Kreepy Kewpie

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt shows a couple at the beach posing with a stuffed animal known as Korky the Cat.  Even though I have plenty of beach photos, I’m seizing the opportunity to feature something almost as kwirky and kreepy as Korky.

It’s a Kewpie doll. 

UUnknown girls Harrisonburg, VA in album of Violetta Davis Ryan 1920s
Two friends of Violetta Davis
on the steps of Spotswood Hall
Harrisonburg Teachers College 1923
(now James Madison University)

The photo of two young girls with a Kewpie doll is in a photo album belonging to my grandaunt Violetta Davis Ryan.  Who they were and whether they were in costume are a puzzle.  They look too young to have been Violetta’s college friends.  Maybe they were students she befriended while student-teaching. 

 image from

Even more puzzling is what that girl is doing with a Kewpie doll.  And how can she look so lovingly at it?  I’ve never been a fan of the Kewpie doll.  Something about those tufts of hair, wide side-glancing eyes, and overly-sweet smile make the doll look like its hiding a devilish secret.  

The girl in the photo seems to love it though.  After all, the Kewpie doll was a popular toy in the early 1920s and is still quite collectible among doll enthusiasts today.

Unknown girl Harrisonburg, VA in album of Violetta Davis Ryan 1920

The Kewpie doll was the creation of writer and illustrator Rosie O’Neill about 1909.  At first the Kewpie was a comic strip character, a baby Cupid complete with blue wings.  Then came the Kewpie paper dolls.  Expanding on that idea, O’Neill traveled to Germany to assist a toy manufacturer in the production of bisque dolls.  By the 1920s, the more affordable and durable composition dolls were manufactured and sold in the United States. 

Most likely a composition doll is what the girl in Violetta’s photo is holding.  The straight legs indicate the doll is one of the early models.  All Kewpies were sold without clothes, so any dresses or coats were added by the proud owner.  If the doll weren’t dressed, the trademark red paper heart would be visible on its chest. 

What do you think – kreepy or kute?

Be a doll and visit my friends at Sepia Saturday for more stories of quirky photo props and beach scenes.

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Croquet

Wordless Wednesday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers that asks family historians to create a post in which the main focus is a photograph or image.

Men playing croquet, Shenandoah, VA about 1925-1930
Click to enlarge

From the album of my grandaunt Violetta Davis Ryan comes this photo of the fine gentlemen of Shenandoah, Virginia stopping to pose for a photo op during a rousing game of Croquet.  As is so typical of these old albums, no one is identified.  However, the man second from the right looks a lot like Violetta’s oldest brother Millard Davis.  

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Sepia Saturday: First Home

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt is the ancestral home.  Oh, if only someone would invent a gadget that would translate “Beginning at two red oak saplings on a hill thence east one hundred and ninety-two poles to a white oak in a glade” into a Google map complete with street view of that ancestral home!  In the meantime, I am just grateful for a few photos of my parents’ and grandparents’ first homes.

My maternal grandfather Orvin Owen Davis (1899-1963) grew up on Third Avenue in Shenandoah, Page County, Virginia.  It is likely he was born in that house too.  This photo of the Davis children with their Sullivan cousins is the only one that I can confidently claim shows the ancestral home.  

Davis home on Third Avenue, Shenandoah, VA before 1920
Back row:  Floral Sullivan, Orvin Davis, [unknown photobomber],
Laura Jollett Sullivan, Mary Frances Jollett Davis
Front row: Violetta Davis, Velma Davis, Elta Sullivan, Leota Sullivan

Davis home today, Shenandoah, VA
Snipped from Google Maps
And here it is today, still looking quite good for her age.

Velma Davis at 411 Sixth St, Shenandoah, VA 1922
Velma Davis in front of the
house on Sixth Street
By 1920, though, my granddaddy’s daddy Walter Davis moved his family into a “modern” Sears & Roebuck Craftsman bungalow which he built at 411 Sixth Street.  It’s where my grandaunts Violetta and Velma lived while they were in college and where Granddaddy lived until he married Lucille Rucker

Violetta Davis at 411 Sixth St, Shenandoah, VA 1924
Violetta Davis 1924
A low wall has been added
to the front porch

Here is the house today, still well-kept and loved.  I know that because in the 1970s Walter’s only grandson – my mother’s brother – bought the house, and my aunt still lives there. 

411 Sixth St, Shenandoah, VA
The house Walter Davis built at 411 Sixth St
Look closely and you can see where the fence used to be.

When my grandparents married in 1923, they moved out of 411 Sixth Street to rent part of the house across the street.  That’s where my mother was born in 1929.  The house shows up in many photos because the Davises seemed to have prefered posing in the front yard.

Violetta Davis and "C.M." 1924
"C.M." and Violetta 1924
Momma's birthplace in the background
Velma Davis 1924
Velma Davis 1924
Momma's birthplace in the background

She didn’t live there long because her grandfather Walter Davis was a carpenter, a builder of houses.  In fact, many of the houses in Shenandoah are Walter’s creations.  He and Granddaddy built the house next door at 414 Sixth Street.  It became my mother’s childhood home.  Apparently the house was built between 1930 and 1935 because in the 1940 census Granddaddy said they lived in the “Same House” in 1935. 

Mary Eleanor Davis about 1934 at 411 Sixth St, Shenandoah, VA
My mother Mary Eleanor Davis about 1934
at her grandparents' home on Sixth St.
Two things to notice:  (1) the fence is now gone, and
(2) Momma's childhood home is across the street. 

Mary Eleanor Davis, Shirley Temple doll, and friend Shenandoah about 1936
Momma with her Shirley Temple doll and friend.
The retaining wall, brick pillar and fireplace
indicate this is Momma's home at 414 Sixth St.

Today both the house where Momma was born and the house where she grew up look cheerful and well-maintained.  
412 and 414 Sixth St, Shenandoah, VA
412 and 414 Sixth St, Shenandoah, Virginia
Snipped from Google Maps

Meanwhile across the state in Portsmouth, my dad’s first home was with his maternal grandmother Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh.  The house on the corner of Charleston and Palmer Avenues is barely recognizable today with its addition of vinyl siding and absence of landscaping.

2017 Charleston Ave, Portsmouth, VA about 1920
Helen Killeen Parker at the Walsh home
2017 Charleston Ave, Portsmouth, VA
early 1920s

2017 Charleston Ave, Portsmouth, VA
The house at 2017 Charleston Avenue today
Snipped from Google Maps

But years ago Daddy remembered it.   He even had the nerve to march up to the front door, knock, and ask the current owner if he could come in and look around.  (Sounds much like Miranda Lambert’s song “The House That Built Me” – promising to take only a memory!)  But these are different times, and the only memory Daddy took from there was a door-slam in the face. 

As you can see, many of those first homes can still be visited, even if only from the street.  However, not all my ancestral homes were so lucky.  The home of my great-great grandfather James Franklin Jollett hosted the much anticipated family reunion for many years (although not during MY lifetime).  So far I have not found a “full frontal” view of the house, but pieces of the house can be seen in the background of many photos giving me a sense of what it was like:  a tall 2-story white clapboard house outlined with an irregular picket fence; a grape vine arbor shaded a back porch. 

4 Generations Jollett Reunion
4 Generations 1925
Orvin Davis
Mary Frances Jollett Davis
Orvin Jr.
James Franklin Jollett
Jollett Reunion 1923

James Franklin’s home came to be known as “Jollett Springs” because of the fresh water springs on his property.  People came from miles around to fill their gallon jugs with his water. 

Today the house is gone.  In its place is this:

Jollett Springs Mobile Home Park, Grottoes, VA
Jollett Springs Mobile Home Park
Grottoes, VA
Snipped from Google Maps

Jollett Drive
Snipped from Google Maps

A mobile home park.

The only reminder that James Franklin Jollett was ever there is the street that bears his name.

Addresses inside the park are either North or South Jollett Lane. 

I’m glad for the ancestral homes I can still see and sad for those long gone until I remember this:

“Home is people. Not a place. If you go back there after the people are gone, 
then all you can see is what is not there anymore.”

The Sepia Saturday HOME TOUR starts now.  Enjoy your visit.

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.