Category Archives: Family History

Thanks to Serendipity, Another Leaf is Added to the Tree

Last week, a friend went to Cape Charles on the Eastern Shore and stayed at an inn for a few days and met the couple who was running the inn while the owners slipped away to to a Jimmy Buffett concert across the

My aunt, uncle and grandmother in my great-grandmother's backyard. South Norfolk, 1940s.

My aunt, uncle and grandmother in my great-grandmother’s backyard. South Norfolk, 1940s.

Chesapeake Bay in Virginia Beach. After my friend learned the wife grew up in South Norfolk, she told her of my novel, Cooley & Rose, which begins and ends in her hometown.

The substitute innkeeper downloaded the e-book and immediately read it. What follows is a portion of the email she wrote to my friend.

“Just finished reading Cooley & Rose. I love it and imagined the place she wrote about to be places from my childhood. My sister did the same. She even mentioned a Mrs. Dowdy being “saved.” That was my maiden name, and my great grandmother was extremely religious . . .”

If you think this is a shameless plug for Cooley & Rose, you’re only half right. There’s a story here.

Because I thought the reader would be interested, I wrote her the following:

“I think that your religious great-grandmother was probably the woman that my grandmother referred to as “Sister Dowdy.” I don’t think I ever met her, but my grandmother talked about her often, and the name stayed in my mind for all of these years. I liked the sound of “Dowdy,” so I used it.”

I went on to give her some of my family background – the names of my grandmother, my great-grandmother, my great aunt and her husband who was the local pharmacist.

She replied to my email. The first line read, “I think we are related!” Then she told me why. In short, our great-grandmothers were sisters. As adults, they lived only three houses away from each other.

Now, I also have unknown cousins on my mother’s side, and only the Chesapeake Bay separates me from this one, whom I hope to meet soon.

What I haven’t told her is that about 15 years ago, my HOBL and I went to the town where she lived and looked at property, and we came across a charming old brick church that was for sale. In my mind I began envisioning it as a house, then as a home, but my HOBL nixed that idea when he learned that the town didn’t have a clay tennis court.

If it had, my new cousin and I might have discovered each other sooner.

cover final 3-2-13NOTE: Goodreads.com is giving away three paperback copies of Cooley & Rose. Deadline to submit our request is Sept. 15, 2013. Paperbacks are for sale at Amazon.com, and e-books are available for all readers. Visit your favorite online store.

The Unknown Cousins Tour: Great While It Lasted!

Ten months ago, after visiting his hometown of Winston-Salem, my father told me about his cousin’s daughter who was near my age and, like me, was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic in her forties. In hindsight, I guess the important detail was that we shared an odd medical history. At the time, however, I was shocked and

Sunset at Holden Beach

Sunset at Holden Beach

thrilled to find out I had a female cousin my age. It had always seemed that men had overrun the Perrel side of my family. But I was wrong.

Becky and I met on Facebook. When I studied her picture, I saw we had we had the same full face, the same small teeth which a friend once described as “a row of pearls;” and chestnut-colored hair. (Yes, that’s my original color.)

I learned that she, too, loved to read good books, both fiction and non-fiction; had developed into a foodie who hoarded bottles of capers; and had traveled a lot. I saw the big difference between us last winter when one photo after another on FB showed her with her HOBL, both bundled like the Michelin man with mounds of snow everywhere. Ugh, I thought. How can that be? I spent three winters in Columbus, Ohio, and, when I returned to Virginia Beach, I prayed I’d never see snow again. But my cousin, although she kept houses in North Carolina, had made New Hampshire her home!

She also told me that I had a slew of cousins, most of them female, so a few weeks ago, my HOBL and I set out to meet them.

Our first stop was to meet Becky in Holden Beach, an outer banks island eight-miles long just north of the South Carolina line. It’s a lovely, slow-paced place that reminded me of Virginia Beach before it became an overgrown city.

There, I again noticed her teeth, the similar shape of her face, and then I saw we were the same height and wore the same shade of orange polish on our toenails. The first hour there, I suffered a small case of first-

View from the intercoastal waterway to Holden Beach

View from the intercoastal waterway to Holden Beach

date jitters that started to dissipate as we lunched al fresco by the inter-coastal waterway and vanished completely by mid-afternoon as we noodled in a pool and gabbed, taking time every once in a while to float in comfortable silence.

I won’t tell you about every second of our two-days there, although it was Becky who took us to Mary’s Gone Wild, but so many occasions pointed out how simpatico we were. At a Celtic store in nearby Southport, we learned that each us had been thinking of buying a ukulele. So we did. Orange ones. Not because we wanted them to match but because we both love that color.

From Holden Beach, we went to Winston-Salem, where I’d often gone as a child to visit my grandmother’s family. The night we arrived, we dined with Becky’s mother, Billie Jane, a kissing cousin to my father. Newly turned 85, she’s a beautiful and gracious woman, a former yogini, with a soft voice and a great sense of humor. She flattered me greatly by saying that once she started reading my novel, Cooley & Rose, she couldn’t stop to fix her 5 o’clock supper. She had to keep reading.

By then, I’d already developed a sore throat, and by the morning, the day of a birthday lunch for all of the cousins born in June, my voice was fading. Becky, her husband who had returned the previous night from Singapore, and my HOBL went without me. While they were gone, I napped, then met her neighbor who commented on much Becky and I looked a like.

When the three returned four hours later, my husband said, “I wished you’d met these people 20 years ago. They are so much fun.” In particular, he named three of my senior cousins who came and went in a big Cadillac and made him laugh the whole time in between.

But, thanks to Becky, I didn’t miss everything. She took individual videos of all but one of my cousins, saying “hello,” and more, and watching and listening to Kent, Kay, Mickey, Gail, Helen and so many more made me both teary and happy and wanting to return soon.

Saturday morning I woke unable to speak, my neck swollen, and knew I needed to head home to my bed and, most likely a doctor, even though my cousins had organized an early birthday party for her mother the next day that would include other cousins and their families. Cousins I’d been following on Facebook. Lucky for me, the wife of one stopped by Becky’s house the day we arrived, so I was able to meet Karin, but I had so looked forward to getting to know Jan, Pat and Tim.

In a bare whisper, I asked Becky if maybe my HOBL and I could stop by and see Tim, who lived nearby, on the way out of town. She located him at his 92-year-old father’s, and led us to him.

Meeting Becky was big deal for me, because I’d never known extended family members with whom I could talk books or politics or food or health or nail polish. Then, at the next stop, two other big things happened.

First, Tim, who looks nothing like me, told of how my maternal great-grandmother, who had lived next door to his father and was not related to him, would sit on her porch on warm summer nights with the neighborhood kids gathered around her and tell stories. Since I’d only met her one or twice as a small child before she died, that information thrilled me since my life has been about stories and the cause-and-effect of actions.

He also told me that soon he was going once gain teach classes based on Julie Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, a book I’d read years ago, and that he also biked, had studied Tai Chi and did yoga. I couldn’t speak, so Tim had had no idea, until he saw me smiling and nodding, that all of those had been important to my life, too. He mentioned that the next day, he was headed with his wife and either a mandolin or guitar to Ireland, a country that I fell in love with many years ago.

What I had intended to be a 15-minute visit turned into an hour or more. Tim and his sweet honey of a father, Bink, are professional musicians, and Becky plays the guitar, too, and sings, and, around the kitchen table the three of them played one song after another as I again teared up, moved because I belonged to this family.

I’m Dating My Cousin and Other Near Truths

The Tour of the Unknown Cousins has started, and, as I admitted via FB to the cousin I will meet first, I’m both family-tree-printableexcited and a bit nervous.

Becky said that she was, too, and likened us to couples who meet on Match.com or some other online dating service, learn about each other through emails and a couple of phone calls, and then come to the big day when they face each other across a cup of coffee. The only difference is that we will be drinking wine. And we’re both fifty-something women.

Of course she’s right, which calmed me until on the hottest day of this year I went for a haircut and left the salon looking like a Marine two weeks into a civilian-transition program. Lucky for me, my hair grows quickly, but four days isn’t enough time to look like someone whose head wasn’t recently shaved to stave off lice. And more than one cousin wants to take pictures, which I’m dreading because vanity is part of my DNA.

But as my dear father says way too often, “It is what it is.” I normally adjoin this with, “Until it isn’t,” but I can’t say that now.

So I’m on the road, first stopping in Clayton to visit the cousins I’ve known since birth before proceeding on to Wilmington for a one-night stand with my HOBL, then onto Holden Beach to meet the first of my unknown cousins, and, at last, Winston-Salem where I will meet a whole slew of kin. I’m not even there yet, but as you can read here, as I leave my military hometown full of more Yankees and Midwesterners than Southern natives, my speech and syntax are changing. I feel a “y’all” coming on, which is a comfort.

Stay tuned, because in addition to this, three of my family members have taken DNA tests, and archival research by my older brother has turned up some interesting finds.

Early in life I was told our family was descended from German royalty, which was not true, and those of you who read this blog, know that for many years I falsely believed (and) hoped) I was the daughter of Elizabeth Taylor.

The truth is a lot stranger.

By the way, my novel, Cooley & Rose, is available in paperback from http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Cooley+%26+Rose and as an e-book for all types of readers. Both are now on sale. Either would make a fine birthday present, Fourth of July hostess gift, a Labor Day beach read. Plan ahead; buy now.

A Father, a Daughter and a Fire: A Cautionary Tale about Voice.

DSCN0139I grew up in an age and family where children were meant to be seen, not heard. If either of my parents could have foreseen how my older brother and I would erupt with ideas and opinions as we neared adulthood, they probably would have been more lax about the policy. But they weren’t. And, boy, have they paid for it.

In high school my brother and a friend put out a political newspaper printed in red ink that protested the Vietnam War. He hawked copies at his high school, and when the administration found that to be disruptive, he took his bundles to the street corner and handed copies to driver stopped by traffic. I can’t remember whether all of this came before or after the year he joined the debate team. He has always loved the art and power of persuasion. How he ended up being a real estate developer rather than a lawyer still puzzles me.

I, too, had my causes. Most had to due with women’s rights, and I still champion those, although I no longer discuss them with my mother whose views are conservative. She still refuses to acknowledge that I kept my own surname when I married 17 year ago. Last week I received a birthday card from her. The last name on the envelope was my husband’s.

Such protest by my mother or others by my father has not stopped me from expressing myself on the pages of magazines, short stories, novels, letters to the editor, feature articles, Facebook and this blog.

Once I wrote a story about a trip my brother, father and I took to Belize in the days before it became prettified enough by Francis Ford Coppola and others to appear on HGTV and the Travel channels. After the column appeared in a magazine, my father threatened to sue me. He said we were definitely not on the same trip. My brother agreed, but his version differed from my mine and my father’s, too.

So, understanding how opinions and point of views can create havoc and dissension in a family, I still can’t believe that my father took advice from me seriously when I was only eleven or so. Back then, even I knew my suggestion was a fantasy, a crazy one. The kind Beaver Cleaver might dream up. But, heck, if my father was willing to listen to me, I was glad to hog the spotlight and talk.

It was a sunny fall day. My brother was off who-knows-where, and my mother and her best friend were going shopping and to a matinee in downtown Norfolk. Before leaving, she instructed my father and me to rake up and burn the leaves four-inches deep on our three-quarter-acre yard. Just the idea of this chore sapped our energy.

I wanted to bike with friends, hang out at the neighbor’s house where the daughter and I would take our Barbie and Ken dolls and smash them together so they could make out. This was long before we found out that Ken was gay. Before we even knew that gay meant something other than happy.

My father, who often kept a bushel of iced Lynnhaven oysters on the flatbed of his pickup and a bottle of Seagram’s under the driver’s seat, wanted to visit his buddies. I don’t know what his exact plans were for that day, perhaps rockfishing, but he had no more desire to clean up the yard than I did. For the first time, I understood we were allies. And that was when I told him I had a plan. I did not think he would go for it. Afterall, he was the adult.

I suggested to him that we rake the leaves away from all the trunks of the trees, then set the yard on fire. He said it was a fine idea. I was thrilled, even though I had doubts that I kept to myself. Whatever happened, I imagined my mother would never ask us to rake again.

The job took longer than we thought, leaving us no time for our friends, and by the time my mother returned home late that afternoon, we were guarding our yard of smoldering ash, careful to make sure the house did not burn down.

It took my mother a few moments to take in what we had done, even longer to find her voice because she was so livid. Madder than when I forged her name perfectly on a failing arithmetic test in third grade or when, at age four, I stole a caramel out of the Braff candy barrel at Overton’s Supermarket.

She wanted to know what we’d been thinking in our addled brains. We told her.

Then she told us what was in her sensible one – that someone would have to clean the smoke film from the windows, the soot we tracked onto the floors of the house, the paws of our white toy poodles every time they came in from doing their business.

But that wasn’t all. Someone, meaning my father, would have to plow up the yard with his tractor, rake it smooth, sow new seed, and keep it watered with a web of hoses attached to sprinklers cross the yard until grass sprouted.

It was a long time before I saw my friends anywhere except in Sunday School. My mother kept me busy after school and on weekends, washing dogs, dusting, mopping and so on. A list too tedious for details.

The next November, what I had imagined would be the best possible outcome – that she would never ask my father or me to rake again – never entered her mind. I hauled one small pile of leaves after another to the fire.
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My novel, Cooley & Rose, is now available as an e-book at Amazon Kindle Store, the ITunes Store, the Sony Reader Store, the Nook Store, Kobo, Baker & Taylor, Gardner’s, eSentral, eBook Pie, Scribd and Amazon.co.uk. NEW: A paperback version is available from Amazon. Please rate and review, good or bad, with the distributor and Goodreads.com. Thanks.cover final 3-2-13

Alethia, Berkley 1940

Eyes wired red
from searching for nits
on the heads of eight kids,
my grandmother sits alone
in the kitchen
on a new cane chair
bought used with money from
Navy boarders.

Her head cocked,
an ear toward heaven,
she listens
for cries from babies
too grown to suckle
breasts long dry,
so tired they rest
atop her belly.

In her lap
her hands are clasped,
red and swollen,
from packing pickles,
washing the linens
of strangers,
fingers too rough for
rings, tender touch.

With knees pressed.
ankles crossed and
ten toes touching
linoleum,
perhaps she dreams
as she sits
the way she told me
a lady should.

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