A House, A Mouse, And Antics of a Grandchild


This video of a cute little live “Ratatouille” rat.  It brings back memories of what was supposed to be a funny joke and a memorable family story. Well, it was memorable, but not because it was funny.

There we were, a close knit family–the patriarch, the matriarch, their three children, and all nine of their grandchildren.  It was a typical Sunday, which in the 1980’s meant the parents hosted family time and dinner for the children and their grandchildren.  Our son, Jeff, was about 12 or so. Jeff  as usual had found an animal.  This time, it was a field mouse and he brought it into Mammaw’s house to share his find with the rest of the family.

As a joke, Jeff placed the mouse on the end table next to the chair where she always sat. And, when she sat down, Jeff said something like “Hey, mammaw, don’t be a-f-r-a-i-d–and don’t look to your r-i-g-h-t, but there’s a m-o-u-s-e–.” Mammaw instantaneously reacted with fear and panic as soon as she saw Jeff muttering the word “afraid,”  which triggered a seizure and in no time she was laid out on the floor, passed out, and recovering while her body was still tremoring.  And, it wasn’t until then, that the family advised Jeff that mammaw was deathly afraid of mice and that any startling situation might lead to a seizure.

Despite all the things that mammaw can no longer remember, I think she still remembers this incident.  And, in fact, she has never forgiven Jeff for one of her most embarrassing moments in her life.  She still believes his actions were mean and intentional vs. just another funny antic from her preteen grandson.

If only Jeff had placed this poor defenseless mouse near someone else’s seat.  Then, we probably would have partaken of a scene similar to the one in the video, above.

Christmas Traditions in Our Nation’s Capital


One of my former colleagues posted this article from a pamphlet he picked up at the Mary Surratt House Museum titled, “Christmas of Yesterday: A History of Our Treasured Traditions and Holiday Customs.” (If you recall, Mary Surratt was an alleged member of the Abraham Lincoln assassination conspiracy, and holds the dubious distinction of being the first woman executed by the U.S. government. She was hung for treason in July 1865.)

Some of us who are natives or have lived in and around Washington, D.C. (Congress on July 16, 1790, declared the “District of Columbia” as our nation’s capital). may already be familiar with some stories about Christmas traditions just because of our close proximity to The White House.  Others, maybe not so much.  So this post is intended especially for those of you who may be interested in Christmas traditions  in our nation’s capital during the Georgian (1714-1837) and Victorian (1837-1901) Eras.  I added parenthetical and bracketed information to further clarify the times covered within the quotes from the Surratt Museum pamphlet.

[Our second president {1797-1801} and first vice president {1789-1797}], John Adams, inaugurated the custom of holiday parties at the White House. The Oval Room was decorated with greens, and the tables were laden with cakes, punch, and other refreshments, while the children sang, danced, and played with the Adams’ grandchildren.

“Under Thomas Jefferson [President from 1801-1809],  Christmas parties became adult affairs where his guests feasted on imported cheeses, preserved fruits, and other delicacies and where vintage wines accompanied the meal. His six grandchildren wandered among the dignitaries, Congressmen, and Ambassadors, an informality which shocked many in Washington society.

“When Andrew Jackson came to the White House in 1829, he was in mourning for his wife; but his family put up a stocking on a White House mantel and the morning found it stuffed with small presents – including a corncob pipe. His nieces and nephews also had stockings filled with cakes, candles, nuts, and fruits.

“Because President Jackson had been raised as an orphan, he threw a party for other orphans. Among the treats were ices shaped like apples and pears to eat, and snowballs made of starch-powdered cotton to throw.”

“The first Christmas Tree entered the White House in the 1850s during the administration of Franklin Pierce (1853-1857). This official presidential sanction helped to popularize the custom in America.”

Our 16th president’s young son, Tad, reportedly rounded up street waifs during his father’s administration (1861-1865), and brought them home for turkey dinners.”

“By 1885,  President Grover Cleveland (1885-1889) had added new-fangled electric lights to the White House tree.”

“The tradition of Christmas season receptions spread throughout the area into homes not so grand as the White House.”

“On New Year’s Day, our early Presidents generally held an open house in the best democratic tradition. It was open to all, no matter the political and social differences.”

Even the simplest of homes in nearby Southern Maryland (where I grew up and still reside), could be simply decorated with pine, cedar, crowsfoot, running cedar, laurel, bay and holly from the nearby woods. Ivy and rosemary were, surprisingly, the most prized Christmas decorations of the Victorian era. Fresh fruits from the Washington Markets, abundant osage oranges, and pine cones and pods could all be added to the arrangements. Some accounts of the period refer to cedar boughs being dusted with flour to achieve the ‘snow’ effect that we spray on today.

“Mistletoe, shot from trees, abounded. New Englanders had to pay for mistletoe for it grows only in warmer climes, but Marylanders found it abundant in neighboring woods.”

“The proper Victorian was not too staid to enjoy a stolen kiss! And there was a proper way to kiss under the mistletoe. As the man kissed the lady, he was obligated to pluck a berry from the branch and present it to the lady. This practice continued until the berries were gone. The mistletoe then lost its power of love, and no more kisses could be had.”

Huh. That seems to be the Victorian version of the expression, “if you snooze, you lose.”

“Many a Christmas romance started under the mistletoe and led to a Christmas wedding the next year. The season was a popular time for weddings because family and friends traditionally gathered at Christmas and it was easier to get everyone together. The night before the wedding, a party was held at the bride’s house. The next morning the wedding procession began. The days following the wedding were filled with parties, for the bride and groom of the early and mid-19th century did not take honeymoon trips.”

“But, back to our customs…In the nearby hearth burned the traditional Yule log – or Christmas log as it was called in the south. This had been an English custom, and the Southerners stuck with their English ties.” [The Yule Log was believed to bring beneficial magic and was kept burning for at least twelve hours and sometimes as long as twelve days, warming both the house and those who resided within. When the fire of the Yule Log was finally quenched, a small fragment of the wood would be saved and used to light the next year’s log. It was also believed that as long as the Yule Log burned, the house would be protected from witchcraft. The ashes that remained from the sacred Yule Log were scattered over fields to bring fertility, or cast into wells to purify and sweeten the water. Sometimes, the ashes were used in the creation of various charms…to free cattle from vermin, for example, or to ward off hailstorms.]

“One practice on the plantations called for the Master to allow a Christmas rest for the slaves. The holiday lasted as long as the Christmas log burned, so slaves were often caught sprinkling water on it to keep it burning slowly.”

“A Victorian Christmas was bright and cheerful, and the decorations and parties were as simple or as elaborate as the people cared to make them.”

But, no matter the year, where you live, or how you and yours celebrate this season, let us all not forget, the true meaning and its reason!

Wishing everyone a Very Merry Christmas!

Ob La Di, Ob La Da . . . Life Goes On!


It’s been over a month since I last posted–an unusually long time for me to step away from family history and happenings. If you read my September 19th post, you will recall that I wrote about recent “Tumultuous, Terrific, Tragic, and Treasured Times . . .” Life still is going on, often out of my control, but God still is in charge, and in Him I trust.

Roy, Joanne, and Mam-ma's Boston Bull - About 1949

Roy, Joanne, an Mam-ma’s Boston Bull – About 1949

Today brings back a couple memories–a dichotomy of memories if you will. You see, 61 years ago today, October 24, 1955, my maternal grandfather Robert Gideon Ford, “Roy,” as most called him passed away in our living room while we weren’t at home. I was just about 60 days shy of my ninth birthday and in third grade. Roy called us at my aunt’s where we were visiting, just about half an hour away from our home. He and his son, Johnny, had traveled from upstate New York to pick up the remaining items following their move from Glenndale, MD, to Beaver’s Dam, Elmira, New York–just a few short weeks before. He told dad he had indigestion and was thinking about “stealing” one of his last beer’s from the refrigerator. Only minutes later my uncle called us back to say that Roy had taken a swallow of beer and then fell off of our couch. Turns out his indigestion was a heart attack and he passed on, on our living room floor. Roy and I were very close. I’m told as an infant, that Roy called me “pudd’n” and “pumpkin head.” I was born six weeks premature and I had no hair on my head, eyebrows, or eyelashes on my eyelids. I spent most weekends with my grandparents on their farm and enjoyed every minute of time together with them and my uncle Johnny and his house filled with five other children. We helped plant vegetables, climbed and pulled fruit from the trees, dug up potatoes, pulled vegetables from the garden just before meals, walked around barefoot, including into the chicken coop, to get eggs that the hens had laid, got chased by a bull while we were bent over picking strawberries, played hide ‘n’ seek in the dark, and sat outside on the screened-in porch and counted the number of cars on the trains as they passed by just outside the yard. Yes, it was difficult for me to understand and to cope with Roy’s absence, but he and my grandmother enter my thoughts nearly every day. They suffered and survived many difficulties and hardships together–about 30 years, I’d say. Roy was only 57 years old at the time of his death. I still love and miss him, and hold onto to so many fine memories of this man who didn’t attend church, but paraphrased 1 Peter 3:10 “If you can’t say anything nice about people, don’t say anything at all.”

Now, let’s fast forward about nine years and a happier time in my life. It’s October 24, 1964, and I’m approaching my 18th birthday in early January. I started working part-time in my senior year of high school and I’m dating a 20-year-old marine who I met at work. When we were first introduced I could feel my skin melting, my knees shaking, and my stomach quivering. I just knew my parents wouldn’t approve and the chances would be slim that we would ever date. I was wrong, but they weren’t all that eager about it either. It was a whirlwind love affair that began at first sight. With me still attending school and him stationed at Quantico, our dating was confined to weekends–mostly with friends after the store closed on Friday nights at the home of the more mature workers. And, it was in North Forestville, among our friends, when we sat off to the sideline and became engaged. I was so stunned by the proposal, that nothing could bring me down off of “cloud nine.” Not even my mom. In 1964, October 24th was the night the clocks were turned back from daylight savings time to eastern standard time. My curfew was set at 1:00 a.m. Well, we pulled up to the curb outside my home and we were talking about this being the anniversary of my grandfather’s death and our plans for our future, and when and how we would break the news to my family.

March 27, 1965

March 27, 1965

Suddenly, my petite mom comes out from inside our house to the car and yanks the door open, grabs me out, and says in a very angry and stern voice, “Good Night, Mr. Dickinson!” As she’s pulling me by my arm into the house, I’m being asked if I knew what time it was, and what do I think the neighbors will be talking about tomorrow. Turns out, we had been outside my home in the car at the curb for an hour–but the clocks had been turned back, so it was still 1 o’clock. She wasn’t buying it, thought I was being smart, and she wanted to do battle. She went so far as to tell me that “You think you’re being smart not talking to me when I’m talking to you. Well, young lady, you haven’t heard the last of this!” Unlike other boyfriends Bob wasn’t scared off by my parents. I’m not sure why, but he returned the next day and he talked (hiding behind a newspaper) about marrying me. All my dad had to say was “Well, Good Luck, cause you’re going to need it!” My mom said, “Frank! Is that all you have to say!” And, that was it. Of course, mom interrogated me after every date, and if the facts be known, we married sooner than we had planned because the tension was just too much for me to deal with. And, here we are 52 years later, loving each other and life more than ever, and still chuckling over our engagement night. Our eldest son will celebrate his 50th birthday in December and his eldest son, just shy of 30, is a first-time father of a newborn son and posting about “cleaning up puke, poopy bottoms, and getting peed on,” by both his infant and his 8-week-old shepherd pup! Ob la di, ob la da, and life goes on . . .

Tumultuous, Terrific, Tragic, and Treasured Times . . .


The word “tumultuous” best describes my personal little world over these past 30 or so days. I know my family’s events pale in comparison to the tragic and horrific events precipitated mostly by mean-spirited, greedy, and angry people of our world at large. To maintain my sanity and not be overwhelmed or sickened inside by these larger tragedies I choose to focus on my biological and spiritual family and how we love and support each other through the good and sometimes challenging times.

chesapeak-beachSo, let’s start with the obvious, that is the “tumultuous” August weather along the Delmarva coast.   We experienced severe periods of record setting weather – from the very high temperatures, to threats of tornadoes and hurricanes, high winds, and unusual flooding conditions due to heavy downpours of rain in very short periods of time. Roads were closed, trees were toppled, electricity came and went, but together, we “weathered” these days.

Among the Dickinson and Boling extended family we celebrated still having five living generations – a rarity in today’s world.  And, on this rare occasion we gathered everyone available from down the east coast and across the world from among our family total of 42 members.  In fact, we celebrated five of them on a single day in August at our daughter Jen and her husband, Brian’s, beautiful and spacious new home. The birthday celebrants ages were 16, 24, 25, 48, and 89 – a broad mix of personalities and generations that range from the millennials, (16-34), to generation X (ages 35-50), to me, (the only baby boomer), and then the silent generation (ages 72-93).  From a gender split perspective, only 2 out of every 5 family members are female.  The youngest and the oldest of those being celebrated were females; three were born under the sign of Leo, the Lion (the earlier mentioned two females and one male); two of the guys birthdays fell under the Virgo sign (a father and son).  And, when all of us converged, it made for more fun times, great memories, and interesting, often amusing, conversations.

fr-worch-in-heartsOn the day of the big birthday party, we learned of the death of a very near and dear family friend, (he passed on our son’s actual birthday). Father Don pastored to our family during some challenging times in the 1970’s and early 1980’s.  He was the man in our lives that most closely followed in Jesus’ footsteps and lived his life as Jesus would have wanted him to.  So now,  just four short days after spending good times with family, it was time to switch our attention and emotional gears from celebrating birthdays to attending our friend’s very large and sobering funeral in Potomac, MD.

Following the funeral, God came to me.   He said to me in but a whisper;  “I’m adding an item to your bucket list.  You are to get up on your church’s stage and publicly share my word among your biblical community.” Next, Satan tried to steal me by infusing great FEAR into me. But, God was there as He always is. He said “I am calling you to do this!” And, the next week, at the meeting of our EDGE drama ministry, it appeared that most everyone would be off doing end of summer vacations or had other business and family commitments.  The EDGE was one actor short of completing its cast for next week’s message.  So there it was, God’s plan for me once again put in place.

So, this weekend, at my age, I took to the stage for my very first time.  The experience was well worth it.  I’m told that not only am I now an “actor,” but that I should ignore all those who have told me that I can’t sing – or, that I should sing “solo,” i.e., so low no one else can hear me. – I think I might possibly return to that stage at some point in the far distant future, but I probably will forego the singing, (because I think someone fibbed to me about my singing talents).

jackson-dickinsonAnd, on the evening of my first acting experience, our family got some fantastic news. Our eldest grandson, Joe, and his lovely wife Corrie had become a family of three, with the birth of their first child, Jackson.  This means I’ll have to add a trip South to my bucket list so we can meet  face to face with our fifth great grandchild.

Although I married very young, and am no longer a spring chicken, this baby boomer’s count of grandchildren and great grandchildren has already exceeded my wildest dreams at 14!   chelsea-six-monthsAnd by thanksgiving, we’ll likely add one to this number, making it 15. That’s when our second oldest grandson, Justin, and his wife, Chelsea’s, little boy is due, making them a family of five.

And, despite my attempts to end this post on a happy note, we have just contacted the FBI to report that we have been scammed out of half of our property tax savings for this year.

BEWARE:   If you are in search of a part time job and come across an offer to be a mystery shopper for “Applied Research Masters Center,” it’s a new scam out there.  They will send you a check for $1,850 which you are to deposit in your savings account; keeping $350 as your commission.  You are then go to a store that sells iTunes Gift Cards and purchase $1,500 worth among three cards, to ready yourself for your next assignment.  Here’s the crux of the scam:  you send them photos of the newly purchased cards with the serial numbers on them and the place of purchase.  Needless to say, after the bank returned the check  to us this morning and we called iTunes, we found that the cards had already been redeemed.  We can only pray that this is where the scam ends.  My husband is at our bank now as I share this post with you. I guess this final event, puts the capital “T’s” on “tumultuous” and “tragic.”  And, a big “L” on “Lessons Learned.”