Wednesday, January 29, 2020

52 Ancestors - SO FAR AWAY: Velma's Great Korean Escape

When people ask if we are going to sell our home in Chesapeake and retire to our vacation home at Smith Mountain Lake permanently, I respond with an emphatic NO. My daughter’s family is here. My SISTER is here. I cannot imagine being far from either of them. My sister and I are not close in age, but we are every bit as emotionally close as our grandaunts Violetta and Velma. You can’t say one name without saying the other.

Violetta and Velma loved one another deeply and enjoyed being together. They especially loved traveling. In 1939 they traveled together to the New York World’s Fair.
New York World's Fair 1939
Postcard belonging to Violetta Davis Ryan
They were on a motor trip to New Orleans when they received word of their brother’s death in 1951.

Violetta traveled to Hawaii just a few short years after it became the 50th state. 
Violetta's trip to Hawaii 1953
Honolulu Passenger and Crew List 1953
from FamilySearch
In 1954, Velma arrived in New York aboard a ship from Rotterdam.
Velma's trip home from Europe 1954
New York Passenger List 1954
from Ancestry
It is no surprise that Velma always imagined that the two of them would travel the world together. That is why it is so puzzling that in the late 1950s-ealry 1960s Velma took a job teaching in Korea for the Department of Defense Dependents Schools. DoDDS serves the children of military stationed overseas with the purpose of ensuring that American children get an American education.

Velma was widowed young, so there was nothing keeping her in Harrisonburg except the love for her sister. So why did she leave?

The only theory my cousin and I can devise is that Velma HATED Violetta’s business partner with a passion. We know Violetta rented a building to John for his piano and guitar business (I am withholding his full name to protect the privacy of his family who, frankly, do not deserve protection but so be it). Somehow Violetta became entwined with John’s wife and child as well. Wherever Violetta went, they were sure to follow. Violetta often arrived at my grandmother’s house with John’s wife and son in tow, much to everyone’s dismay.

Nobody liked them. NOBODY. NO. BO. DY. They were leaches. Violetta, a well-educated, well-respected woman, was somehow sucked into being a benefactor to this low-life family that always reminded me of the Snopes clan in William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha trilogy. (“They were just Snopeses like colonies of rats and termites are just rats and termites.”)

What hold they had over Violetta is a mystery. She was too smart and too good for them. Why couldn’t she see them for the money-grubbing users they were? Had I been Velma, I might have gone to Korea too.

 Actually, she seemed to enjoy teaching and serving as principal for the DoDDS.
Velma DoDDS Korea 1959 or later
Velma with students of the DoDDS Korea
Some of these photos may have been taken when she was principal. The classroom looks typically American. The artwork displayed neatly on the bulletin boards and stapled artfully above the blackboard reminds me of every classroom I ever sat in during my own school days.
DoDDS in Korea

A unit on the Vikings would not be complete without drawings of ships.

DoDDS in Korea

Snowflake snowmen? The perfect activity for a lesson on um, er, uh, weather? Geometry? Whatever, you have to admire the kid who put the snowman in a hammock.

DoDDS in Korea

Playground equipment at the DoDD School looked exactly like what I enjoyed at recess in Virginia in the 1950s and 60s.

DoDDS in Korea

DoDDS in Korea
That is probably Velma cut off in the dark coat.
Velma’s job in Korea made traveling to Japan and India easy.

Velma's trip to Indian
Velma is in the hat, 6th from the right
Velma's trip to Indian
What an adventure!
Velma is sitting in the middle
Ill health eventually brought Velma home. She lived in one of Violetta’s apartments where Violetta took care of her in her final days.

Love wins.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved. 

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Sepia Saturday: Playing Around

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

This week’s Sepia Saturday photo challenge presents a most delightful scene: children at play. Long before everyone had a trampoline in the backyard and bounce houses and ball pits for birthday parties, there was the swing set.
Mary J and Susan 1966
Our backyard 1966
My sister Mary Jollette on the right with her friend Susan
A couple swings, maybe a glider or seesaw, a slide if your parents could afford it provided hours of fun in their simplicity. If you pumped hard enough you could force the supports out of the ground. Thrilling!
Sears ad 1960s

My children came along in the early 1980s when notions about good parenting seemed to be changing, or maybe I was just more aware being a new parent myself. Lamaze classes promoting “prepared childbirth” promised a more fulfilling birth experience and bonding with your baby. Breast-feeding was making a big comeback thanks to groups like La Leche League. Fathers were given greater emphasis as an equal partner in raising happy, healthy children.

Parents were challenged to prepare children emotionally, physically, and intellectually for a changing world. Playtime was to be learning time too. Conscientious parents made sure to provide educational toys, not anything silly or frivolous that failed to challenge the future leaders of the world. 

Given the attitudes of the day, it is no surprise that the common metal swing set was snubbed in favor of wood structures that inspired creativity. The message was clear: the ideal play equipment should help children develop their large motor skills AND their imagination.

I drank the Kool-Aid.

I even purchased a book about fatherhood written BY a DAD so that my husband would know exactly what to do and how to act. The dad-author shared wonderful stories of playtime. He even provided instructions for building a playset.

We can build that!
Playset 1989
Photo taken in 1989, the year we sold our house
and left the playset behind. 
And we did. 
Barry 1983 building the playset
Barry 1983
Barry 1983 building the playset
Drilling holes for closet poles 1983
Poles for climbing. 

Two levels of platforms. 

A rope for climbing or swinging. 

A tire for a target or a lookout. 

Surely we were doing what it took for our girls to to become chemistry professors and business executives.

We were determined to be the best parents. But we still had to have REAL swings so we added this monstrosity.

Our play equipment seemed pretty big in the 1980s, but it does not compare to the set Santa brought my grand-baboo this past Christmas.


Hmm – she has a rock wall, rope ladder, AND a telescope. Why didn’t we think of that?

Please visit my friends at the Sepia Saturday playground.

© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

52 Ancestors - CLOSE TO HOME: Camp Sherwood Forest

As a child in the 1960s, I loved being a Girl Scout. Every week I was proud to put on that uniform and walk down Gillis Road to the little green Scout building on Afton Parkway.
The Woman's Club building AND Scout cabin
are now gone - made way for progress and new houses
One of the best parts of Girl Scouts was going to summer day camp. I used to have to bug my mother to get me registered. Invariably on the first day of camp when we gathered at the flag pole for our day troop assignments, I was always one of maybe three girls whose names were not called (I guess their mothers were procrastinators, too), so we had to be assigned after all the others skipped happily off to their campsites. After the initial embarrassment of having to find my group, I was the perfect happy camper. 

Day camp was like a different world for me. I was doing things my parents didn’t do with me. I was learning things most of my friends were not learning. It was adventure. It was independence.

Here is what I liked about summer camp:
  • Preparing for camp and making my own sit-upon by weaving folded sheets of newspaper into a not-so-comfy square mat covered in oil cloth 
    NOT mine - These are my daughters' sit-upons
    from when they were in Girl Scouts
  • Taking part in the flag ceremony and it didn’t matter whether I got to raise and lower the flag or serve as an honor guard 
  • Reading the daily duty list to see whether my group was in charge of cleaning latrines, clearing weeds from the walk paths using a little hatchet (yes!  A hatchet!), setting up for lunch, or cooking
  • Hearing the bell ring when the milk truck arrived delivering little cartons of milk to all the campers
  • Doing wood crafts and art projects around a big picnic table with other campers
  • Learning to identify trees – I still amaze people with my ability to tell the difference between red and white oaks, and to know a Sassafras tree by its three different-shaped leaves
  • Cooking on an open fire once a week – usually Hunter’s Stew
  • Making our own stove out of a #10 can and a tuna can with rolled corrugated paper and paraffin wax, called a Buddy Burner 
  • Learning First Aid, in particular how to make a tourniquet and a sling for a broken arm
  • Learning to load a bow and shoot an arrow
  • Singing Taps in a Friendship Circle at the end of the day before boarding the bus to go home

Part of the fun was just getting there. Brownies and Girl Scouts ages 6-12 rode together on a bus. An older Girl Scout was in charge and she always led us in fun songs like “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,” “The Bear Went Over the Mountain,” and “Make New Friends.”  

We sang lots of songs because the ride to camp was a long one. We wound through my neighborhood Cradock, and then out to other parts of Portsmouth – West Cradock, Highland Biltmore, Simonsdale, Park Manor, and other places I have since forgotten. At the time, I probably had no clue what the neighborhoods were. They just seemed so far away. It must have taken well over an hour to pick up everyone and then head out across the Hodges Ferry Bridge.

The former Hodges Ferry Bridge
The Hodges Ferry Bridge was definitely at the edge of the world for me. My family never had a need to go that way. There was nothing but farm land, woods, and wide-open fields.

And Camp Sherwood Forest.

Far from home in the middle of nowhere. 

Or so I thought.

It was my last day of camp EVER because I was aging out of day camp opportunities unless I wanted to be the older girl monitoring young campers on the bus. Parents were invited to a program where the day campers displayed their crafts, performed dances, sang camp songs, and led the singing of Taps in the closing ceremony. Instead of riding the bus home, I hopped into the car with my parents.

I was surprised when my dad turned left out of the long gravel path instead of right as the bus driver always did. In a few minutes time, we were on High Street in Portsmouth. There was Churchland High School! There was the Churchland Bridge! All very familiar and just minutes from my home. Camp Sherwood Forest was NOT in the middle of nowhere. Indeed, it was much closer to home than I thought if you go THIS way instead of THAT way.

What a disappointment. It was akin to learning the truth about the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny.

Flash forward 50 years. Where I live today is part of the former farm land, woods, and wide-open fields that once defined “the edge of the world” beyond Hodges Ferry Bridge.
Just a small part of Western Branch community in Chesapeake, VA
My house is marked by the blue circle, upper far right.
Camp Sherwood Forest WAS in the upper left part of the picture. 
Neighborhoods, shopping centers, businesses, gas stations, schools, churches, and a YMCA now fill the area that once was the middle of nowhere. In fact, I can actually walk to the neighborhood where I learned to handle a bow and arrow. The tell-tale power lines are still there just as they were those summers so many years ago.

The archery range was
where the power lines
stood even then.

Of course, now I’m wondering whose house was built over the latrines at Camp Sherwood Forest.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.”

© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Sepia Saturday: I Swanny

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

My first thought when I saw this week’s Sepia Saturday prompt was, “Well, I swanny.” That is an expression I have heard my entire life. Is it just a Southern “thang”? Do people in other regions of the United States say it too?

Do people in Boston say “I swanny”? I can’t imagine. However, when in Boston, one must take a ride on the Swan Boats. It’s an iconic thing, a must do, like kissing the Blarney Stone when in Ireland. 
Wendy and Swan Boats 2007
Copied from my Boston Vacation scrapbook
Me 2007 at the Swan Boats
A cruise around the pond in the Public Garden was the first stop on a mother-daughter trip in 2007 with my younger daughter Zoe. 
View from our seat on the Swan Boat
The boats are a pontoon boat powered like a bicycle just as they were when first introduced in 1877. The driver sits on a paddlebox hidden by a fiberglass swan.

Yes, the Swan Boat ride is a bit corny, but it is a peaceful and pleasant way to spend 15-minutes.
Photo courtesy wikimedia commons
On our Rhine River cruise last May, we saw plenty of swans. As we headed into the locks, the swans wisely got out of our way. 
Swans on the Rhine 2019

The ducks? Not so much. They often were stuck in the locks with a couple of river boats and barges. That’s one way to migrate.
Ducks in a lock on the Rhine 2019
Ducks in a lock on the Rhine 2019
On a post-trip to Lucerne, we knew right away that the city loves swans. Near our hotel, the floral centerpiece of the median is a swan.
Median along Schweizerhofquai, Lucerne
 The REAL ones in Lake Lucerne were enchanting too.
Swans on Lake Lucerne 2019

Swan on Lake Lucerne 2019

Please visit the other bloggers at Sepia Saturday. How they find so many wonderful old photos and delightful stories is beyond me. I swanny!

© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

52 Ancestors - LONG LINE: The Normal Line

Violetta Davis 1923
Violetta Davis outside her dorm 1923
Casual Photo for the yearbook

The year was 1923. My grand-aunt Violetta Davis (later Ryan) was graduating from the Harrisonburg Normal School (now James Madison University – Go Dukes!). The traditions surrounding commencement had been in place for over ten years. Five days of activities were planned. The entire student body stayed to share in the excitement of their friends’ achievements and to dream of the day when it would be their turn to join the “Normal Line.”

What a cast!

On Friday, June 1, 1923, the Senior class presented “The Lamp and the Bell” in the outdoor theater. It was a poetic drama by Edna St. Vincent Milay based on the fairy tale “Snow White and Rose Red.” Milay wrote it specifically as an outdoor production with a large cast, colorful medieval period costumes and a great deal of spectacle.

On Saturday night, June 2, the Seniors were entertained with music by the music students and dramatic readings by students in the expression class. 

Normal Line 1923 leaving Spotswood Hall
The Normal Line
Walking from Spotswood Hall to the gates at South Main Street
Sunday was Baccalaureate in the morning and Vesper Service in the evening. For many years Baccalaureate rotated among the various churches in Harrisonburg. As long as the service was downtown, the people of Harrisonburg showed up to watch the procession of faculty in academic gowns and seniors in their white dresses as they walked in a line from campus to the church. It came to be known as “the Normal Line.” The Normal Line stretched for blocks. It must have been an impressive sight.

Normal Line processing down South Main St 1923
The Normal Line on South Main Street Harrisonburg, VA
You can see people in the yard watching the parade. 
Since the students were on display, the faculty and administration required a uniform look. The girls wore white dresses with white stockings, white shoes, and white hats. Sleeves had to be at least half way to the elbow and the hem had to be fourteen inches from the floor. The rules were nothing to mess with. Graduates had to pass inspection conducted by a committee of students and chaperone of each dorm. For Violetta, inspection day in Spotswood Hall was April 30, 1923. 

The Vesper Services were held Sunday evening in the amphitheater, concluding with a candlelight service in which the graduating class relinquished their seniority to the Juniors. The ceremony was usually accompanied by a great deal of sadness and tears.

On Monday was the annual tennis tournament between the two clubs on campus, the Racquet and Pinquet clubs. Homecoming for the alumnae was always during commencement week, and in 1923 the Alumnae held their banquet on Monday evening, June 4.
JMU 1923
Gates at South Main Street
Spotswood Hall on the left
Harrison Hall second from the right
On Tuesday evening, June 5, 1923, Commencement was held in the Blue Stone Dining Hall in Harrison. Finally, Violetta and the other Seniors had triumphed in their studies. They crossed the finish line.


Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Sepia Saturday: The Reunion That Started It All

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

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt is the ever-popular GROUP PHOTO. The oldest such photo in my collection is from 1914. The occasion was the first Jollett Reunion. Likely it was held at the home of my 2X great-grandfather James Franklin Jollett in Harriston, Augusta County, Virginia.

Jollett Reunion 1914

It was not a good photo. Fortunately, some were better than others enabling me to identify a few of the people. Since my grandaunts Violetta and Velma were there, I can assume my grandfather was likewise, but I do not see him.
Jollett Reunion 1914
Reunion 1914
It is clear from the pictures taken over the years that the group photo was an important tradition.

The WHOLE Group
Jollett Reunion 1921 or 23
1921 or 1923
Just the “Children”
Jollett Reunion 1914
Children of James Franklin Jollett
Standing: Burton Lewis, Victoria, Sallie, Mary Frances (my great-grandmother),
Leanna, Laura, Emma
Seated: Eliza Jane (James Franklin's 2nd wife), James Franklin, Ulysses
Jollett Reunion 1921 or 23
1921 or 1923
Standing: Ulysses, Laura, Leanna, Mary Frances, Sallie, Victoria
Seated: Emma, James Franklin and wife Eliza Jane
The “Children” and Spouses
Jollett Reunion 1919
Standing: Decatur Breeden and Victoria, Jack Coleman and Emma,
Sallie Clift, Laura Sullivan, James Franklin, Mary Frances Davis,
Eliza Jane, Walter Davis
Seated: Will Sullivan, Ulysses and wife Sadie
Jollett Reunion 1934 at the latest
1934 at the latest
Standing: James Knight, Sallie Clift, Leanna Knight, Walter and
Mary Frances Davis, Decatur and Victoria Breeden,
Laura and Will Sullivan
Seated: Jack and Emma Coleman
4 Generations
Jollett Reunion 1925
My grandfather Orvin Davis
with his son, mother, grandfather
Orvin Jr., Mary Frances, James Franklin Jollett
The Jollett tradition lives on in my family today but not at a reunion. We take a group photo every Christmas Eve. Each one is now a record of family coming and going, weight gain and loss, and, of course, happy times.

Our Christmas Eve parties are not like most people’s holiday gatherings. We have a theme each year. Sometimes the theme suggests a specific way to dress. Although I never intended for the party to become a costume event, sometimes we can’t help ourselves. Take a look:
2010 - Black & White Party
2012 - Redneck Shindig
We were wearing plastic "Bubba teeth."
We laughed so much that it was hard to get a picture.
2015 - Christmas in Whoville
2016 - Christmas PJs
2018 - Groovy Christmas
2019 - Putting on the Ritz
(the girls did better than the guys)
Please join the group at Sepia Saturday. There is always room for one more.

© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.