Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My Poem Collection

In the early 80’s, I returned to school (Virginia Commonwealth University) to earn my BFA, and as an elective took a writing class……wrote some poems for class projects and later in the 1990’s while living at Virginia Beach for a class given by Lyn Hunter, at our Episcopal church, for those interested in writing…..three that I am listing were published in a Journal for Virginia poets; one received 4th place mention in Poet Society of Virginia….so here goes!

And the last one “My Amen” has gone far and wide…..was read in Europe, one of the Baltic countries, by a friend at a Genealogical convention….


This little poem was inspired by my memories of being so happy finding a pencil stub with which to draw a picture …….but the child in this poem is a boy!  I love little boys…(and big boys)…had three brothers and 4 tow-headed sons.!




………a bit of crayon

                        a pencil stub……….

The Artist finds a scrap of paper on which to


                       his Masterpiece.

A Sunset, a Rainbow, a Flower in Bloom…

Or the Magnificent Oak in the front yard?

He steadies his hand, squints his eyes,

Takes a deep breath and carefully draws a



Lyn asked the class at Eastern Shore Chapel to take an inanimate object in the classroom and make it come alive…!   This was my offering:




The door knob tastes of adventure,

With a tantalizing scent of places unknown,

Feeling like a golden treasure in my hand,

Cool, yet hot as a trumpet’s blast

Heralding a forgotten dream.


The next poem of rhymed couplets  was an assignment at VCU….. I imagined myself as a Southern Belle…the inspiration came from a faded photo of a young woman….…:.



 Papa gives me ‘most anything I fancy.

Once when second-cousin Mary Nancy

Came to visit all the way from Olde Town,

She was driving her new caramel brown

Rig embellished with real silk tassels

And leather seats the color of Uncle Russell’s

Favorite Port.  Well, Papa went right

Out and bought me a marvelous sight

To behold---the very latest in Horseless

Carriages! Obviously, Papa was making it a


Another time, when I was studying the ancient

Classics, Papa asked Cousin John and Aunt


To escort me to the Grecian Isles, and, as a


(as Papa was wont to do without compromise)

He tucked in an introduction to the famous


Dr. Clarence Soames, No 2 on the Who-who’s


When Papa and Mama went to New York City for

Little Herbert’s christening, my throat was sore

From exposure to inclement weather and I

Had to stay behind. Papa thought he would buy

Me a ruby ring from Tiffany’s, even though

     Mama thought

Garnets would do. Persistent-like, he went

ahead and bought

It anyway, remarking to Mama (as though he

    were addressing the world)

“I want only the best for my  little girl.”

My coming-out gown had lace imported from

     Paris, France,

And Papa ordered extra.  He said it was for

another dancing dress.

Really, Papa had something else in mind.

A gentleman, a Southern beau, was part of his


That lace is lying fallow in the bottom of my

Hope chest.

Crammed and packed with the finest, and

certainly the best

Papa couldn’t buy me everything I fancied.

  Poor Papa.


The next poem is a bit naughty….depending on your imagination!

..entered in the Cenie H. Moon category of the ’98-’99 Poetry Contest, The Poetry Society of Virginia….I love the title…to brag a bit!  Took 4th place.

      ….the inspiration is my secret!!!!!!!!!!!!.



 There I was….

Laced and corseted with Mammy’s foot

At the small of my back, than a tugging

Conforming my innards to Pappy’s thinking

That I might not waste myself being me.

Me, mine, pronouns discarded early on

In favor of you and yours, his and hers.


Then along came someone promising love;

That ice cream concoction of whipped cream,

Slathered with caramel and cherries piled on top

Sliding down the slope of the Promised Land.

I bought his line, this Moses.  The years I gave

Him tightened the Yoke for he branded me

With the iron of yet another’s will.


So, here I am…

Someone new has come along.  He scorches

My eyes looking for the Me in faded blue.

The taste of the shrouded wildness

Is on my tongue and in my nose.  There is

A slow heat, and than a boiling down to the

Small of my back erasing Mammy’s footprint.


The following poem was  selected as a Foreword in a historical novel for young people….the author of the novel, Murphy Gordon,  heard the poem read at a DAR meeting in California…he was a guest…he contacted me for permission to use “My Amen”  in his novel  “ Lucy Kilgrew” and I was happy to do so…

This  poem  won 2nd place in National DAR Heritage competition in 1999.  At that time, I was a member of the Adam Thoroughgood Chapter, NSDAR, Virginia Beach, VA.  



                                     MY AMEN


You who haunt my house, disturb my dreams,

        tug at my soul,

I sense you beside me in my mirror, reflecting,


Ghostly figures in gray and sunlit silver.

You beckon me and bid my soul to give you credence.

My heart is filled and swells with your persistence.

What of these shadows that make me and all of mine

What we are, cradling our past and shaping

        our future?

Is my daughter’s shining face the legacy of

        the English woman

Smiling back at me? Is there a Celtic lilt in her

        childish voice,

Rejoicing, glorifying, imitating, inspiring her to dance

The music of harpists, flutists, that only her soul

Can hear and only her spirit can understand,

\      embracing that

Wild song from afar?  Is my son’s love of

       this fragile earth

The gift of those of you who roamed our

       Virginia woodlands,

Or his canoe trip down the James as exciting as that

       of the young sun-bronzed brave I see now and


Is our love of freedom born of stuff from twelve

        generations ago

When a score of Dutchmen waved goodbye to friend

        and family

For adventure or death, bestowing on us the

        legacy of discovery?

I hear your footsteps on the march of the Revolution

        your drums

Beating in unison for valor and honor.  I hear the

        dull clank of the

Loosening of chains of slavery, I hear your

        joyous laughter

And eagerly skip to your lively tune…

        skipping, skipping.

I will not suppress you, my Ghosts of the Past..

You rise with me in the morning, kneel beside

        my bed in

Evening prayer and guide this pen as I write.

You tantalize me with glimpses of another time

        and with your promises

Of wondrous tomorrows!  Hold my hand,

       give me your vision

And walk with me into those tomorrows.    Amen


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Getting My Goat......

…and giving it away!  On October 4th (my 81st Birthday) “Billy” was presented by our grandchildren, Micah and Sam,  to Meadow Farm Museum, for placement in the children’s bedroom in the circa 1860 farmhouse.   We have enjoyed “Billy”, a late 19th century riding toy with iron wheels, and even a brass bell at his neck, as a decoration in our home for many years.  Billy needs some repair to a horn and the replacement of a glass eye. Rather than try and put the Goat on a gift list since more than one of our children may want it and like Solomon we cannot cut him in half, we like the thought of the public enjoying Billy in the old farmhouse. 

 In December, Billy will be joined by a beautiful China head doll, another gift we will be making to Meadow Farm.

Before I  tell you something about the doll, here is a bit of history on Meadow Farm, located on Mountain Road, in Henrico County, Virginia.

that you may wish to know.  I have permission from a County official  to quote the following:


“In the early 1700’s. Dr. and Mrs. John Mosby Sheppard established their home, Meadow Farm (the farm is located on Historic Mountain Road, Henrico County, Virginia).  They raised nine children. Four generations of the Sheppard family owned Meadow Farm.  From this site, Tom and Pharoah, Sheppard family slaves, warned Mosby Sheppard of a proposed slave rebellion on August 30,1800, later known as Gabriel’s Rebellion. During a Civil War raid, family legend has it that the Union Major General George Armstrong Custis tied his horse to a cedar tree right in front of the farmhouse.  In 1975, Elizabeth Crump, wife of the late Adjutant General of Virginia, Sheppard Crump, donated Meadow Farm to Henrico County. The County turned the farm into the Meadow Farm Museum, a living history farm open for public visitation and which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Among Meadow Farm’s many farm animals, there are two pigs that were acquired from Mount Vernon.  Their names: ” George and Martha.”

 As a family, the Hunters have a bit of history with Meadow Farm.  Our son, Robert Jr. (Rob) did  student archaeology on the grounds….he used the experience in his dissertation for a Graduate degree at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA…..and his mother who is writing this blog, was born a few miles “down the road” near Mountain Road in 1928.

Over the years, we have presented Meadow Farm with a few country items,  all 19th century, including blacksmith tools, a hide covered trunk, lined with early newspapers;  brass buckets, fireplace tools, farm tools, etc.


Back to the china head doll….as you can see from the photo, she is quite beautiful….she was made c. 1850-60,  25  inches long, her dress is of the period, and her shoes are original.   She will be presented with an early ladder back child’s chair of the same period.

We hope to give her to the Museum sometime before Christmas…she will eventually be placed in the girls’ bedroom, after some repair to the shoes and the replacement of a leather hand.



Monday, September 7, 2009

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


My husband and I designed and donated this  Ornamental Herb Garden to our parish:  Historical St. John's, Richmond, VA.......the church is on the National, State and City registers of Historic sites.  We had the garden installed by our friend Steve Cline, Landscaper/artist.  This is the 3rd garden we have given to historic places  in Virginia.  A real pleasure!  St. John's Church, where Patrick Henry made his famous speech .."Give me liberty or give me death" is the 2nd most visited historical site in the city of Richmond, the State Capitol being the lst.....the Capitol was designed by Thomas Jefferson.

The 8’ x 14’ garden is divided into two Rectangles; the smaller one is defined by ENGLISH BOXWOOD.

Surrounding the sundial in the middle of the smaller rectangle are Catmint/Catnip and Germander.

GERMANDER was much beloved by GEORGE WASHINGTON, who used it in his garden at Mount Vernon.   It is also called Poor Mans Boxwood as it can be trained into a small shrub. Germander was once used as a cure for gout.

CATMINT/CATNIP is planted in memory of CHARLIE THE CHURCH CAT, a Siamese who would greet visitors, and often made his way into church during a service. He also liked to sun himself on the flat tombstones.   He had his own trust fund established by a former owner who moved to Europe.  Charlie was loved by the Parishioners, and is buried on the Church grounds. Catnip is much favored as a medicinal tea for babies in many parts of the world.

THYME… the creeping variety was selected to form a green carpet in the smaller rectangle. The word “thyme” is derived from the Greek meaning incense or to fumigate, and thyme was probably so named because of its clean aroma.  This herb came to our shores with the earliest settlers.

LAVENDER, an English Hidcote variety, has been planted around the perimeter of the larger rectangle.  Lavender is used for potpourris and sachets.  The shrubby plants are indigenous to mountainous regions of both Eastern and Western Europe, where they are cultivated as commercial crops for distillation of their fragrant oil.

ROSEMARY has been planted at the corners of the larger rectangle.  It is one of the best loved herbs and probably has more tradition associated with it than any other herb in Western civilization.  “Rosemary, that’s for remembrance” are oft-quoted words from Shakespeare.  Greek scholars wore rosemary garlands to stimulate the memory. Garlands of rosemary were used as a symbol of fidelity for lovers and the plants were gathered into wedding bouquets and bridal wreaths.  The herbal branches were also used at funerals. 

(A bit of Virginia Lore:   It is said that the Rosemary herb was brought to Virginia and specifically Princess Anne County-now the City of Virginia Beach-by the WITCH OF PUNGO in the early 18th century.  It seems that Grace Sherwood known as the Witch of Pungo was jailed and one dark night, she slipped through the keyhole of her prison door and flew to England in an egg shell and returned with seeds of the Rosemary!!!!!!!!!.)

CHIVES:  two onion chive plants are planted at the rear of the larger rectangle.  Their lovely lavender-pink globelike flowers are useful as garnishes and are especially effective when floated in clear soup.  The chives were planted for use in the Parish Hall kitchen.

LAMB’S EAR: the two plants at the front of the garden in the larger rectangle have felty-white leaves, as soft as a lamb’s ear.  This plant is said to act like a styptic pencil in stopping the blood flow of minor cuts and nicks.

The leaves were used during the CIVIL WAR to help stem the flow of blood of wounded soldiers.  Surrounding historic St. Johns parish are many remaining buildings that were used as hospitals or prisons during the Civil War.

COSTMARY:  Four of these plants are located in the larger rectangle near the larger Boxwood.   Costmary in medieval times was used as a strewing herb to cover odors, as well as a flavoring for ale.   Later, in Colonial times, costmary leaves were used as bookmarks, mostly in Bibles and hymnals, giving it another name: BIBLE LEAF.  It seems that during long church services the parishioners would take a refreshing whiff or sometimes chew on the leaf.

Please note:  Much of the information (some verbatim) is from SOUTHERN HERB GROWING by Madalene Hill & Gwen Barclay with Jean Hardy.

We recommend this book as a must’ for Southern herb gardeners.

Springfield Farm

 Photos of Uncle Bill and Aunt Minnie who gave me some of the stories about the great grandfather's farm in Hanover County, VA....Uncle Bill was 10 when the family moved to Virginia from Passaic County, NJ.  Aunt Minnie was a native of Hanover County and she remembered many stories about the origins of Springfield Farm....perhaps factual and perhaps a few myths?

Springfield Farm was located on Elmont Road, about 3 or 4 miles north of Elmont, Virginia and one mile south of Ashland, Virginia. It contained approximately 330 acres at the time our great grandfather, Horatio C. N. Johnston bought it.  It may have been a larger tract in its day.  The first owner, was a Colonel Winn, noted for his inhumane treatment to his slaves. This information came from my Uncle Bill and Aunt Minnie who are pictured above.  Then after Winn died, a number of others owned the property and in 1907 HCNJ purchased it, moved down with his daughter Marion Markert, her husband, and grandchild. He was 78 at the time, but as the story goes, the Markert’s planned to farm the property.  How successful they were I do not know.

As with other places, Springfield Farm fell on hard times and there was no money for upkeep.  The country was in a Great Depression, and its former glory had vanished by the time I was a small girl. I was very impressed with the grand house as a girl 9 or 10….the pre-Civil War house stimulated my imagination and I thought it quite wonderful even in its despair …despair was quite evident everywhere in those days…who could buy paint, nails, or even have the energy to keep up a front?

 The house itself was a 3 story octagon shaped building with an English basement.  The lot on which it sat was surrounded by a fence...this could have been iron…and in the front yard there were Mahogany trees. The seedlings or beans came from South America as the story goes by Ashlanders traveling there...and large English or American boxwood.

 A flight of steps took one to the front porch, and into a hall flanked by staircases. On the left on this hall was the room occupied by Aunt Mary. I just remember it as being dark, and a bit warm.  A wood stove was used to heat the room.  To the right may have been a bedroom occupied by her son Johnston Vreeland Markert, his wife and two children.

At the back of this hall, was another hall which ran from the west to the east, the house itself faced south.   At the west end of this hall was a room, which was kept closed off from the rest of the house.

 On one visit, I decided to have a look at this room.  It was filled with light, and was part of the octagon shaped walls. There was a fireplace draped with a fancy material; several black horsehair sofas...many pictures on the walls, and I remember a gaudy pillow in pink which  Sonny Johnston Markert had bought his mother many years prior to our visits   This room was closed off, not used probably too expensive to heat, so everything in the room was in good order.   I am trying to remember if there were bookcases in this room, as Aunt Mary was well educated, and owned many books, some of which we were given later on.   I remember many of the books were in German, but what an education I got from some of the English written ones.

Back in the hall again, there was a Silent butler, or a Dumb Waiter (there is one at Monticello).  It could be pulled on ropes from the English basement the location of the original kitchen  and lowered again for service. This was located on the north wall.   What was at the end of the east of this hall, I dont remember or maybe it was off limits.    In the center however there was a small room the Markerts used for a kitchen with an kerosene cookstove...I remember it was closed off by a curtain at the door.  As the story goes, the fire that destroyed the house started in this room.

 My grandfather died in 1937, and Daddy in his old car with rotten tires would drive us to the cemetery which was located at Elmont to pay our respects to this beloved man, and then over to the farm to see Aunt Mary.   I remember the road to the farm as being very rutted, and many flat tires.   I dont remember ever having a meal at the big house; we probably were on the giving end, taking foodstuffs, etc.

The farm property was land-locked which meant the land did not run to the main road, but needed an easement to enter/exit the farm.   As one entered the easement from the main road, on the right stood a two-story tenant house. There may have been two of them.   This is where the Markerts took shelter after the fire. I remember Aunt Mary sitting at a table in front of a window with her white hair and black dress, and still smiling.  She must have been a beautiful woman in her day.    And the walls were covered with newspapers to keep out the cold...tough times in those days!

 Then back on the easement road to the farm...making a sharp right, one went past the well with its windmill...we children were warned not to go near this well as the boards were rotten and we could fall in.

I have described the first floor of the house as I remember it, the second floor may have been closed off and I never did see it.  However, my brothers and I ventured into the ground level door of the English basement at the rear of the house..what we saw scared us so much we peeped in and ran!   There were slave chains embedded in concrete on the basement floor!     At the rear of the house  was an avenue flanked by slave houses in disrepair.  If only someone had taken pictures of these surroundings but my memory will have to do!!

I remember Johnston Markert coming to our house in Longdale with the news that the house had burned.   Evidently he was able to salvage a few things i.e. paintings, pictures.  At that time, or maybe later, he came to our house with many of these items and stored them in our tiny hall.   He gave Mama the large photos of Petrina & HCNJ which you see today, and several other paintings, and he took the rest somewhere.   

The furnishings in the house came from Passaic New Jersey.  Most of the items probably belonged to Petrina Vreeland.   Grandma used to describe Petrinas house in N.J. as being very nice with fine things, and carpets on the floor!!  As you know, Petrina died in 1906, and the family left the area for Virginia.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dear Robbie:
Re: Bishop Richard Vaughan....He is a direct ancestor.....so he would be your great (I don't know how many ..I will have to count.....16th century?) grandfather...(he was born in Wales) ...his daughter married Thomas Mallory, who was Dean of Chester.....the Mallory family had a Royal Line back to the kings of Scotland....and one of your grandmothers is St. Margaret, whose son St David became a King of Scotland.....St. Margaret's Chapel (we have visited it) is in the castle at Edinburgh.....we were able to see her prayer book....all these lines come from my father's side through his mother.
I will have to get you the 16th century dates...and earlier to King Malcom of Scotland..(who was slaughtered by MacBeth) .St. Margaret, his wife, is the one who "Civilized the Scots"...she was English...she established many Monasteries....and then Henry the 8th tore them all down......I LOVE ENGLISH HISTORY!!!. SO ROMANTIC!!! Off with their heads???? Chop, chop, chop!!!!!!
 I will have to go through my notes for more info........we have been to Chester Cathedral, and I had more info on Dean Mallory than they did!!!!  He was supposed to have been buried in the choir, but with the Civil war in England at that time his body could have been removed.
The Royal lines go back to Charlemagne...and kings of Europe!!!   Once an American finds a royal line, all the research has been done....and my sources come from the early Virginia lines.....there is an ancestral hall through the Battes of Virginia in Yorkshire....OAKWALL HALL...will have to get you the address if you are interested in visiting it.....we have also been there...the Battes, who married into the Mallories (orig a French name..came in with Wm the Conqueror ) were not as prominent as the Mallory line...came into Virginia around 1632...and settled in the Charles City area with over 4000 acres.....
Ray Nance, one of the Bedford Boys of WW11, who died recently as the last of the Bedford Boys, was a cousin....we had the same great grandfather Preston, and he was the one who told me about the Royal line...and then we went "to town" visiting the sites in England and Scotland....however, the research on Bishop Vaughan came later and we did not visit the chapel in St. Paul's.  Lord Admiral Nelson is also buried there by the way.....Christopher Nelson Hunter has two of his names...my great grandfather was Horatio Christopher Nelson Johnston...whose parents must have had a devotion to Nelson!!!!!!!! Ah, these English!!!!!!
Your Dutch lines are also important.........they were sturdy, conservative people, some were Dutch Reformed ministers....a good contrast with the flamboyant English.....
We all need a "good mix".....truly American!!!!!  And you have your wonderful Arabic ancestry as well!!!! 
 Now, Robbie, see what you have done.....I am really into it this a.m....and thank you for it...as I need a diversion!
 Love you and so happy for you........be young...we get old too soon!!!

Friday, July 24, 2009

My Favorite Things

Photo by Gavin Ashworth

I was just a skinny little thing, about 7 or so, my grandmother allowed me to use an empty  chicken house as my “store”, trading with neighborhood girls.  The “store” was actually a shed built by my Uncle Bill in which to raise pullets for sale.   When the pullets were sold off, and it was not time to buy the little yellow baby chicks for the next season, I could use the chicken shed, or the ‘brooder house’ as it was called  for my little business.  But first I had to sweep and sweep the brooder house until most of the gray dust was gone, and the feathers swept away.  Some of the feathers refused to budge from the cracks in the floor.  I didn’t think about “sanitary” in those days of the Great Depression.   Besides, the kitchen pump had to be primed just to get a basin of well water to help with the chore.

 The year was 1935, and sometimes everything seemed to be colored gray except the gorgeous sunsets I would watch while sitting in my rubber tire swing.   A ribbon of hope with its purples, pinks, oranges, and reds.  The Depression seemed to sweep everything in its way with a fat paint brush dipped in the bucket of lost hopes.   My, I am getting dramatic!  But the ‘brooder house store’ was my way of pretending I was a  trader of  great treasures, and my imagination could color my  small collection  in beautiful hues.

My mother had given  me a small tilt top table.  She managed to get the table as a store premium at Bates Department Store in Ashland.   You know, you buy so much merchandise and you get a prize…a bonus..   One prize was this little tilt top table, and another was a bamboo whatnot stand.  Thinking back, Mama shouldn’t have trusted me with the pretty little table with a decaled rose in the center of the top.  And, luckily, she kept the bamboo whatnot stand in her living room. 

My playmates who lived next door were older and craftier than I was, and before long, they were carting the table off to their playhouses and I was left with a box of old beads!!!   As an adult, and deep into genealogy, this episode reminded me of my Dutch Ancestors and their bargaining with the native Americans for all of Manhattan Island.   An island for a handful of colorful beads!  

 The brooder house store lasted a few months and then it was time for Grandma to buy the baby chicks and nurture them into frying size chickens for our dinner table or to sell to the neighborhood.   Sometimes to give away to those who were less fortunate than ourselves.  

My next treasure trove nest was a lower drawer in my old bedroom chest.   My cache included a chipped cake of soap in the image of Shirley Temple. Also several  rocks I especially loved after finding them in the creek at the bottom of the hill, and a few other items there were either free or tossed away by a neighbor.  I was also into sending penny postcards to manufacturers for free samples of face powder. Their ads I found in magazines belonging to my mother…probably “True Stories.”

My memories of those days will always be with me.   But the best memories are  not something you can hold in your hand.   A vision of the pink Lady Slipper found in the back woods is an example..….no, I did not pick it, but left it there to enjoy on my walks home from school.  And the falling stars on a summer night are another ‘forever’ memory. Grandma would spread white sheets out on the grass and my brothers and I would make wishes whenever we spotted a falling star.. 

Actually, we kids were fortunate to have a grandmother with a wonderful imagination. She made everything exciting….from the ghost stories she told, to the homemade toys, and the Dutch cookies that were big and fat with a strange name.

She encouraged us to employ our imaginations and use what was on hand to create play houses, or dig gray clay out of the road banks to make small sculptural objects.   Grandma would fashion kites out of newspapers, and twigs.  The kites would never fly, but it was fun running across the field trying to send them aloft.  Perhaps the kite tails made from scraps of fabric were too heavy?  Grandma’s son, our Uncle Bill, who lived with his family next door to our house, could make sling shots, and guns made of wood, a clothespin and rubber bands.  

Then comes a time to grow up, get married, have children, and collect both adult and childish things.

The following posts contain a few of  MY FAVORITE THINGS, whimsical or practical…it makes no difference in the way I love and respect them!   Perhaps you will enjoy seeing and reading about them….and stirring up your own memories…?