Johnson Road 1970-1976
The apartment in Maryland had given us German cockroaches. I tried very hard to eliminate them when we moved to Falls Church and the little brick house on Johnson Road in early spring of 1970, but somehow a few breeding pairs, or possibly just one egg sac got through. On Johnson Road we found that we had big black cockroaches. For the next six years I was plagued by the filthy bugs. I asked Richard to hire an exterminator, but he insisted it was a job we could do ourselves. We developed a lore of roach stupidity and greed. One day we pulled up a runner that covered a portion of the stairs and found a line of roaches, each of which had crawled in after and partially consumed the roach in front of it.
We also had squirrels who were avid to claim a portion of our house for themselves. This became easier as we tore down part of the south wall and began to put on an addition. For the next few years we lived in a partially completed house that was ridden with bugs. Meanwhile, I gave birth to Tisha, Richard, and Maryjane.
Although David had been attending kindergarten before we moved, the age for school registration in Virginia was set at the beginning of September instead of at the end of December as it was in Maryland. David would have to wait until school started again to resume kindergarten. I registered Meg and she had her seventh birthday in March. Her grandmother Heywood gave her a 3/4 sized violin with the provision that she begin lessons. A member of our ward, Anne Beus, was a violinist and she agreed to teach Meg.
We started almost immediately to enlarge and renovate the house. Richard was often impatient with me as my girth increased with pregnancy and I had to back off from being his constant help and aid. After having taken me to the hospital with one false alarm when Nancy was due, my husband was unsure that I was ready to go to the hospital on June 12, 1970, after I spent a long night in increasingly regular and definite contractions. The sun rose on a muggy summer day. I insisted that I would rather risk a misfire than be in Virginia with no help when the baby came. Since I had started seeing an obstetricianbin Maryland when I discovered I was pregnant,the hospital I would use was located around the beltway in Silver Springs, Maryland.
Richard dropped me off at the hospital and continued on to his office. A few hours later I phoned him. "I'm too busy right now to come and take you home," he said as soon as he heard my voice on the phone.
"You don't need to take me home. I have a new baby girl," I told him. It took him a few minutes longer to understand what I was telling him. The birth was relatively easy even though the obstetrician kept suggesting I should have an epidural. He was somewhat rough-handed after the birth as he checked for placental remnants and put in a couple of stitches. I asked him if he could be a little more gentle. "If you had been anesthetized I wouldn't have to bother," he snapped at me.
"I would have known from the bruises," I said under my breath.
Patricia Fei-yun Chiu looked like a China doll with milky skin and a cap of shining ink-black hair. Although some people say that all infants look alike, mine didn't. My daughters looked like girls, my boys like boys. People would ooh and ahh over the pretty doll-like daughters on display in the nursery. The boys tended to have tousled hair and a less delicate appearance. Holy Cross Hospital was run by nuns. The food was delicious and the schedule well planned for mothers. A small early breakfast of cocoa and croissants, a large late breakfast of omelet and fruit, a light lunch of salad and bread, a hearty early dinner of casserole or roast,and an evening snack of cookies and milk seemed ideal. After a few days I prepared Tisha for her homecoming in a pretty dress of white nylon embroidered with a border of pink rosebuds that I had purchased for infant Nancy a couple of years before. When I had finished dressing my pretty baby the nurse asked if she could borrow her and show her off to the other nursery workers. It was evident from the way her hair was combed into a perfect little wave when she was brought to me that she was a favorite with them.
Meg wasn't very consistent at practicing her violin but she had natural talent for the instrument and from early on produced melodic music. In addition to her private lessons she became involved with music at school.
In December I became involved in the PTA at the school where Meg was entering second grade and David was starting kindergarten again. He was king of the hill this time around. I remembered visiting his classroom in Maryland and watching while he was bumped out of seats several times after the teacher had asked the children to be seated. She hadn't noticed the older, bigger boys shoving him off a seat, but she spoke sharply to him when he was among the last to find a place that he could keep. I spoke to her about it, but I could see that there were disadvantages in being the youngest boy in the class.
Now he was one of the oldest, and he had the additional advantage of nearly a year of being in kindergarten. Instead of being a bully, he became a teacher's helper. It was the beginning of a long and successful school experience for the next ten years. I should have remembered the benefits he had gained from a later start. Unfortunately, both Richard and Sam entered school too early and suffered as a result.
Tisha was close to eighteen months old and work on our house was far from finished when Richard decided he could use the help of his father and mother. He had decided that his father could be the manager of a consulting firm that Richard would actually run, and his mother could take care of our children while I got a job. He arranged for them to come to Virginia and live with us. I think his intentions were a mix of altruism and opportunism. We set up a room for them with a bathroom of their own.
Richard gave a royal display of his ill temper and extraordinary vocabulary in April with just a day left until taxes were due. He required a paper from the IRS offices in Washington DC. I spoke virtually no Chinese and his father spoke no real English, although he could translate written English after some time and effort. With my little girls Nancy and Tisha, neither of whom were comfortable with their grandparents, I was dispatched to drive Richard's father over to the tax offices in Washington D.C. where he was supposed to go in and obtain the form. Richard had written out instructions and expected us to return with dispatch so he could finish his taxes.
When I got to Washington I tried in vain to find a parking place. I tried to tell my father-in-law that I would drive around the block while he went in and got the form. He shook his head and politely declined to leave the car.
I drove back to Virginia and when Richard found that we didn't have the form, he became maniacal, screaming obscenities and calling both his father and me several kinds of stupid. Soon afterward, his father decided to leave Virginia with his wife and go to Utah where his younger son, Mark, was living. Instead of simply purchasing airplane tickets for the two of them. Richard found a reason to do business in Utah. We made the trip cross country in a couple of rather miserable days. Trying to save money instead of taking the turnpike, Richard set out to follow route 40 over and around the hills of Pennsylvania.
We ate at McDonalds for virtually every meal, but when we were in Wyoming and it was nearing dinnertime, I decided we should stop and eat at the last fast food place I could see in one of the rare towns along the highway. It was an A&W. Richard insisted that I drive on until we found a McDonalds. I refused to do so. I was driving at the time, so I pulled into the A&W and ordered shrimp dinners for everyone except Richard, who refused to let me order for him, still holding out for McDonalds. I secretly smirked when he began cadging shrimp tails from the children as we drove into the wide and empty landscape with no towns in sight for many miles.
Work on the addition proceeded through many misadventures. Several times we ended up taking the children out to a gas station for bathroom stops when the solder on the latest length of copper pipe proved faulty and the water had to be turned off. A squirrel who might have been my husband in a past life, if such things were even possible, decided that he owned our future living room. He gnawed the window sills into splinters and seemed intent on staying. Richard had an amazing confrontation with the beast. They literally chittered at each other as Richard chased the rodent with a broom, trying to drive it out the open door. The squirrel refused to exit, and I think Richard was in some danger of being bitten. Finally he smacked it hard with the broom. Hitting it again and again after it stopped moving. When it finally left the house on the top of the business end of the broom, it was dead and quite flat.
My friends were reserved about my marriage. I made friends with Maryann Bridge, the mother of another violinist at the elementary school. We shared an interest in art. She was fun and somewhat eccentric. Born to Quaker stock and married to a non-practicing Jew, she was a confirmed feminist. I painted a picture of her daughters and it was exhibited at the Women's Art Exhibit at George Mason University and featured on a TV spot about the exhibit. One summer she invited me to share her vegetable garden. I warned her that I seemed to have a curse when it came to growing vegetables, but she laughed and dismissed my superstition. I soon learned how many 'varmints' stood against our chances of harvesting anything worth the hours of work and expense. Slugs attacked the tender shoots of beans and summer squash. Grubs destroyed the root vegetables. We seemed to be luckier with the tomatoes and peppers, then the pepper plants succumbed to tobacco worms. The tomatoes continued to thrive. Then the apartment building just over the fence from my friend's back yard suddenly sprouted a gang of tomato thieves. In a couple of days all but the smallest, greenest tomatoes had disappeared. My friend was both aghast and impressed with the run of ill luck. I made a plaque for her that featured pictures of vegetables and a poem that recounted our misadventures.
Another friend was Judy. We met at church, but at heart she was more of a feminist than Maryann. Both women were married to men they clearly dominated. They couldn't understand how I could put up with my husband's put-downs. He in turn was rather bitter about them. In his mind, I had no time to fritter away on things as useless as friends. He even resented the time I spent telling the children stories in the evening.
One evening he was working on a ladder doing something to the siding on the addition to the house. It was late and rainy. I had put the children to bed and was cleaning up the kitchen while listening to the radio. Suddenly Richard burst through the door and began to hit me. He threw me to the floor and kicked me. I believe he broke a small bone in my foot. This was a new level of ferocity in his violence toward me, although he often threatened me with screwdrivers and other tools when he was in a rage. I called our bishop and asked to talk to him. Both of us went in to be interviewed about my complaint. Richard didn't deny that he had attacked me, but he said it was because I had ignored his calls for help. He would often climb to the top of a ladder and call for me to bring his tools from the basement. He would shower without making sure there was a towel in the bathroom. It almost seemed he set himself up to require my aid. He told the Bishop that I spent my days eating chocolate and reading, ignoring the children and the housework. "The same pans are in the sink every night," he said.
"That's because I use the same pans to cook the dinner every evening," I replied.
To my surprise and dismay, the Bishop seemed to believe whatever Richard said and dismissed my plea for help and counsel. Perhaps it was easier for him to believe that I was lazy and worthy of a beating than to recognize that Richard was a bully. In any case he told me: "Be a good wife and your husband won't mistreat you." In other words, Richard's unrestrained anger and physical brutality was all my fault. Years later I met the same man when America had become more aware of spouse abuse and the Church had begun to take an active position in helping bishops deal with the problem in their congregations. The former bishop took my hand in his and asked me how I was doing. I sensed that he was sorry for his failure to help me long before.
In early 1972 I learned that I was pregnant again. After giving birth to three girls in a row, Katie, Nancy, and Tisha, I hoped I was going to have a son. I didn't feel I could rely on my own dreams or insights about what the child would be, but one day our neighbor, a nice Catholic woman with several children, came over with a message. "Today I heard someone say:"Pat Chiu is going to have a son." She told me the voice was quite distinct and she queried her children if they had spoken. All of them denied any knowledge of the message. "I don't know why it came to me," she said. "But I decided I'd better tell you."
Unlike Holy Cross hospital in Maryland which is run by nuns, Georgetown Hospital in Washington DC, though run as adjunct to a catholic university, seemed more of a Jesuit kind of place, slightly reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition in its austerity and dietary provisions at the time I went there on September 16th, 1972 to give birth. There were no nuns in sight. I was there because it was preferred by my doctor, to whom I'd been referred by Judy Parsons. He was the best obstetrician I ever had. For the first time, my husband decided to be present for the labor process. This would be my third experience of "natural childbirth" and although I had read a number of books, I had developed my own strategies, one of which was watching the clock and letting the second hand 'pull' me through the contraction.
The labor was induced, but my own hormones quickly provided the impetus and the labor and birth were quite uneventful and quiet. I had long since learned that yelling doesn't accomplish anything as far as pain relief during most of labor. Richard was pleased to hold his newborn son and remarked that he had a dimple. I promptly contradicted him. None of my children had dimples, and babies didn't smile. I was wrong on both counts. My new son smiled up at me beatifically and revealed a deep dimple. "If I had known it was so simple for you to have babies, I would have studied up on my sewing and saved the expense of a doctor and a hospital," my husband said, somewhat in earnest.
Georgetown hospital in that time was barely past the style of the Civil War as far as I could see. Meals were scanty and badly cooked. The bathrooms were drafty caverns with splintered toilet seats at the far end of the long, cold corridors. When my home teacher and his wife visited with good wishes, all I could think of was they hadn't brought me anything to eat while my 'cell-mate's were being lavished with fruit and chocolates by their visitors. My children gathered with their father on the lawn and waved at me. I was eager to leave the stringent confines of the hospital and get home to them. Richard visited me while we decided what to name our newest son. I suggested the name of Stephen, but he wanted to name him for himself. I was shocked and somewhat repelled. Ironically, I never really liked the name Richard. Finally I realized I had to agree with his choice. For years afterward my second son was identified as 'little' Richard.
Not long before becoming pregnant with my second son I became friends with a woman who had a lot going for her on first examination. She had earned prominence as a scientist in her profession, married in her mid-thirties, had a son, joined the Mormon church, started going crazy, divorced her husband, and slid rather rapidly into delusional behavior.
I was trying to help her and at the same time protect myself from her more florid episodes. I was only a couple of days out of the hospital after giving birth to 'little Richard' when my husband decided he needed my help to pour a concrete driveway that ran from the street past the side of the house and around to form a deck. This would involve a huge amount of concrete and a lot of work. He had hired a young man, but he had ordered the concrete before completing the preparations and he called me to come out and help. I tried, but I soon became woozy and the baby was crying for me. Disgusted when I 'abandoned' the project, my husband summoned help from at least five of our neighbors. He raged into the house after they had been working a few hours and shouted at me for not providing a steady stream of refreshments in the form of food and drink. He soon returned to supervising the laying of a driveway in the rain.
The concrete had been poured and was being tamped down when my crazy friend came to call. I didn't want to see her. I thought she would be stopped by the barrier of wet concrete that comprised a collar around all the entrances to our house. I underestimated her determination. She lifted a couple of boards over the concrete and teetered over the shaky bridge.
She told me she had decided to stop fighting the aliens who were planting monitoring devices in her uterus and slipping through her dryer vent to try and steal her child. She was throwing in the towel and taking her little boy to live with her mother, a simple, not very well educated woman she despised. I was happy to help her make the decision, using some guile to keep her firmly on the track. She made an appeal to have me come and live with her and relieve her of the need to go home to her mother. I told her it was not possible. Reluctantly, she finally left. Later I heard that she had given the child to her mother and entered a mental hospital.
Through the years I have often been 'called' to work with young boys in Primary and cub scouts. Eventually I became a den mother for my son David's den. One afternoon we were having a den meeting at our home when Meg came home from school in tears. She had stayed later for an orchestra activity and was carrying her violin. I couldn't ignore her obvious distress and I quickly put the boys to work on some activity and pulled her to a quiet place where she could confide in me. Some neighborhood girls had taunted and teased her with truly filthy questions as well as hitting her and grabbing at her violin. I asked her one question. "Would you rather be you or them?"
When she thought about the answer she stopped crying. After concluding the den meeting I tracked the girls down and talked to them about the things they had said and done. I told them I wouldn't talk to their parents unless it happened again. They were clearly ashamed of what they had done. They sobbed and told me they were sorry.
During the years I lived in the house on Johnson Road I participated in several theatrical productions in school and church. The Falls Church Ward met in the same chapel as the Arlington Ward, a Colonial style brick structure on Sixteenth Street in Arlington. My first production there was a road show based on a story I had made up when I lived in California. It later became the basis of one of my Okishdu books. I set it in Egypt and wrote the script and music. I had a lot of help arranging my melodies from a gifted musician in our ward. The stage was designed by the son of another person in the production staff. He designed a minimal set, not what I would have done, but the costumes and music were the key to the success of the show. I had wonderful assistance from a number of talented people. I served as the general designer, suggesting choreography and seeing it bloom under the skills of a gifted dancer, designing costumes and seeing them realized through the skills of artists who used batik and tie-dye techniques to turn sheets into wonderful sashes. I described black yarn wigs and made a sketch, and soon,with the help of skilled helpers the cast looked like people from the lower Nile. I have never since experienced such a lovely coordination of talent and will to succeed in bringing forth a special production.
On the night we produced the roadshow at the McLean ward house I played the drums in the trio that accompanied the show. Our drummer was playing the part of the hero in the play and he trusted me with his sticks after a brief demonstration. I was in the groove as the music and the movement, the characterizations and the laughter flowed. We won the prize for best overall road show including prizes for costumes and music, but the best praise came from a woman in her sixties who sought me out after the evening was over. "I had stopped coming to these events because they had stopped being fun. Your production made it worth coming out this evening."
The following year we produced a road show about bugs. Once again I wrote the music and the script and lyrics and designed the costumes and this time the sets. It was a lot of fun, but I missed out on the last week or two of the production experience because I was giving birth to my son Richard. I went to the front of the cultural hall to receive a prize for the costumes and music when the show was finished. I was holding my baby and the woman who had directed handed me the prize and announced, "I think having a baby was something of an afterthought for Pat."
Her words dismayed me. I loved becoming involved in the creativity of putting on a show now and then, taking at most a few hours of a few weeks out of my daily routine. My husband was in the audience with our other children and her words seemed to confirm his suspicions that my family was secondary to my enjoyment of participating in these events.
I wrote the script and music for a Christmas show for Devonshire School where Meg and David were students. It involved all the children who cared to join the cast. The costumes were simple and the scenery painted and constructed by sixth graders. It should have been less work than the productions I had done for church, but I found myself without the same strong support system of other talented individuals. Meg and her friend Heather Bridge played their violins for a dance number. A woman came up to me immediately after the show finished and vilified me for excluding her son. I soon determined that he had misinterpreted an answer I had given him when I redirected him to another room where his group was gathering. I wondered why his mother hadn't come to me as soon as he came to her, before the show began. Instead she had stood by and let him miss his chance, then heaped her resentment on my head like burning coals. Her attack was more than compensated for when another woman approached me later as I was preparing to leave and said. "I know you are a Christian by how you have conducted yourself throughout this event." I have never received greater praise.
When Tisha was about two and a half years old, and Richard was an infant, Tisha began to have an ear-ache and when our Home Teachers visited I asked them to give her a blessing. The brother who sealed the anointing prayed that she would not be subjected to 'extensive' medical treatment before she was healed. The next day I saw a large swelling behind her ear and for some reason the word 'mastoid' came to my mind. I looked it up in the encyclopedia and learned that an infection of the 'mastoid process' was serious. I immediately called my doctor who seemed doubtful, but he referred me to an ear specialist who told me to go to the hospital immediately. This seemed to contradict the blessing my child had received, but I didn't hesitate. After examining her, the ear specialist said she would need an operation as soon as possible. In short order she was installed in a hospital room and intravenous antibiotics were started. The doctor came in with a consulting doctor and they examined her. They told me they would operate on her early the next morning. The prognosis wasn't good. Recently a child had died and two others had suffered mental retardation as a result of infection of the mastoid process, even though promptly operated on. A fourth child with the infection had lost his hearing. They told me that my little daughter would be in the hospital for at least three weeks. I spent most of the afternoon and night with her, going home every few hours to feed my baby son. In the privacy of the elevator and in my car I prayed aloud.
This was looking pretty 'extensive' to me. I continued to pray and call on the Lord to fulfill the blessing she had been given. When morning came the consulting doctor came in the room to look at his patient before asking the nurse to prepare her for the operation. He stared at the area behind her ear and shook his head. I stood up and asked him what was wrong.
"This isn't the same patient I saw yesterday," he insisted. I said she was. He walked out of the room and returned with the other doctor. They seemed puzzled and distracted.
"When are you going to operate?" I asked them.
"We won't be operating. We must have been mistaken in our diagnosis," the ear doctor said. When I asked him how long my child would have to stay in the hospital he told me to dress her and take her home. The infection had completely subsided. I felt that the blessing had truly been realized.
In summer of 1973 Richard had to go to California and New Orleans for government business. The media was full of the warning that the fuel supply was in threat of vanishing. It seemed it might be the last opportunity for us to make a family trip. We put together a plan to drive to California via Salt Lake where I visited my folks. I would stay with my brother and his family in Apple Valley while he continued with his business trip. Later my sister-in-law and her children would join me in a cross-country trip eastward to New Orleans where we would meet up with Richard before driving north to Virginia.
I always seemed at odds with my mother. She could turn me into knots in short order. I watched her do this to my dad over the years, apparently unaware of the emotional grenades she was tossing. After a brief, fraught stay in Salt Lake City, our family drove south through the desert to the Grand Canyon, then on to California. We learned to spray water when the air was hot and dry, keeping fairly cool without air conditioning.
I said goodbye to my husband and settled in for a few weeks' stay with my brother and his family. I had a lovely time. They had 'issues' but there was no feeling of emotional tension. Mary and I had been friends in college and had a lot in common. It was great fun hanging out with her, whether shopping, sightseeing, or simply lounging around catching up on old issues of Galaxy science fiction magazine.
About a week into my visit my mother called and quizzed me on what I was doing. I answered honestly that I was relaxing and enjoying myself. She accused me of being selfish and being a burden on my brother and his wife. "You should be helping them cook and clean and take care of the children." In truth, cooking, cleaning, and child care were all being accomplished, but in a kinder, gentler way than I was used to. At home I was either involved in remodeling or productions or some scheme my husband was working on. Reading was a private pleasure stolen from the time my husband felt I owed him. The cement driveway pour was typical. He needed five or six men to replace me when I felt too sick to continue with the preparations. He actively resented time I spent with my children, particularly in such 'useless' activities as telling stories or taking them to parks and museums.
In the two weeks I spent in California we visited Disneyland and several other attractions, but I most enjoyed the quiet times spent at my brother's home while my older children played with their cousins and an old pony named 'grandpa'. The little ones amused themselves without being destructive.
We held a third birthday party for Tisha and made preparations for driving east. We would be traveling in one car, two women and seven children in a Ford station wagon. We planned to camp or stay in motels along the way, but our first night was spent driving, with a brief stop in Mesa, Arizona, where I parked the car and dozed until near dawn while the others slept.
At dawn I drove to the Mesa temple which glowed like a pink pearl in the early morning light. We drove east and visited White Sands, New Mexico where my eight month old son Richard left crawling trails on the snowy dunes. When we were briefly lost in the scrub land of New Mexico as we tried to find our way to Carlsbad Caverns, Mary and I were in disagreement on where we had gone wrong, but it was far less tension than I normally experienced while traveling with my husband. At Carlsbad Caverns Mary said she felt so exalted when a drop of water fell on her brow from the ceiling. "Just think, if I stand here long enough, I could become a stalagmite."
We met kindness and helpfulness wherever we went. In Houston, Texas we stopped in a service station in a black neighborhood and felt a little nervous. An elderly man pursued us with a yell when we had paid for our gas and started to drive away. I stopped the car against my better judgment and was amazed when he insisted on giving us a bag of ice because we had a lot of children in the car and the weather was hot.
We drove to Galveston Island and camped on the beach. The boys were bitten rather thoroughly by mosquitoes because they didn't fasten the zipper on their tent. Otherwise, the resort town was a gem, the beach refreshing. As we left the island we played a game of 'I Spy' and the others were impressed when I drew their attention to flying flamingos and dolphins breaching the waves of the bay. I have poor eyesight, but see more than most.
The car began making thumping noises while we were driving through Cajun country west of New Orleans. Mary and I decided it would be best to get off the highway and take the chance that we could get the car repaired. We drove into a tiny town where there was just one place that looked like a auto repair garage. The mechanic, a stocky dark-haired man in greasy overalls spoke with a thick Cajun accent. He had several cars waiting for service in his graveled yard, but he put us right at the top of his agenda. While we walked the tree-lined streets and purchased ice cones sweet with fruit flavored syrup for the children, he fixed the bearings and charged a more than reasonable price.
Soon we were on our way again with hardly a dent in our budget, thanks to the hospitality and generosity of the Cajun mechanic. We met Richard in New Orleans and he took Mary and me out for dinner at a well known New Orleans restaurant called "Court of the Two Sisters." On the way back to the motel we saw some teenage revelers vomiting in an alley of the French Quarter. It was the flip side of the images of celebration that are featured in media stories about New Orleans.
After staying the night Mary and I finished our stay in New Orleans with a breakfast of beignets. Richard had some further meetings in Louisiana so we left him and drove north toward Virginia where we visited Williamsburg and Jamestown. That night we camped and Mary chose a level place to pitch one of the tents. I told her it showed signs of being a puddle in times past, but she had lived for several years on the edge of the Mojave desert and didn't concern herself with the possibility of rain. I pitched the other tent on ground that was a little rough and on a slight slope. Mary was puzzled by my choice. Meg and Michele shared the tent I erected with Nancy and Tisha. David and Michael slept in the tent that Mary put up. Mary and I shared the station wagon with baby Richard. Near midnight we were wakened by a crack of thunder and shortly afterward a steady thrum of rain began on the roof of the car. Mary was counting the seconds between the flashes of lightning and the cracks of thunder that followed shortly afterward. Suddenly it occurred to her what must be happening to the tent where the boys had been put to sleep. "We need to wake them up and bring them into the car," she urged.
"If we get out of the car to wake them up we'll get wet as well. In a minute or so they will be out of the tent and pounding on the door of the car," I said. "We'd better get some towels and dry clothing ready." Soon the boys realized that their tent was awash and raced through the rain. We quickly took them into the car and made them comfortable with dry clothing. The girls, sleeping on higher, drier ground, slept on in spite of the storm and the rain fly over the tent worked well to shelter them.
For the next week Mary and I toured the various historical sites and museums of Washington D.C. with our children. One day while we were visiting the Washington Monument we met some people who had recently been to Carlsbad Cavern. The woman said the experience was ruined for her because of the bat pee. It seems she thought the moisture dripping from the roof of the caverns came from animals instead of the moisture that was building the colorful rock display. I had to admit it was quite a different perspective than Mary's thought that she could potentially become a stalagmite if she stood still long enough.
At last we said goodbye to Mary and her children and they flew back to California. Work on the house continued slowly. We had finished the living room and furnished it with elegant furnishings including a baby grand piano, handsome furniture that had been made to our order in Taiwan, a Danish modern couch and two white Barcelona chairs. Other parts of the house remained in limbo. Richard's design for the addition was distinctive with a 'fold plate' design for the roof of the studio area over the long living room. The rest of the second floor of the addition was intended to be the master suite with a large walk-in closet with a window that looked over the back yard and an empty room next to it that was intended to be a master bath eventually. The finished house was intended to have three bathrooms, but we still depended on the original bathroom that was unimproved since the house was purchased more than three years before.
My baby boy Richard walked to a different drummer as he grew. We laid slate in our front entry in a braided pattern that accommodated the trapezoidal shape of the stones we purchased. It looked very good, but our technique of laying stone had not been exact and there were a few hollow under the slates. I discovered this when my toddler son began to have tantrums in the entry. He would bang his head on the slate with a dreadful thudding sound and scream until he achieved what he wanted. I was terrified until I heard a tentative thumping one day and peeked around the corner of the staircase. Little Richard was testing the stones until he found the one that gave off a loud sound in response. When he found it he started banging in earnest and screaming as usual. I resolved to cure him of the behavior by ignoring his studied tantrums and giving him what he wanted later without regard to his thumping. The entry way tantrums soon ended.
I put him in his room for a nap every afternoon, more for the sake of getting a few minutes free from his experiments than to give him rest. He was fascinated with the kitchen and among his achievements was a mixture of five pounds of sugar with a box of dry dishwasher detergent. I made a nutritious drink for him called Tiger Milk, based and soy and mixed it with the blender. I heard the sound of a blender and found him perched on the counter as the open blender spattered brown goo all over the walls and counters. He tried this several times. He flushed a plastic boat down the toilet and achieved other ways of causing excitement in the home.
One afternoon I put him down for a nap and instead of an hour of piteous yelling, he soon subsided and I thought he had finally resigned himself to taking a nap. After an hour or so of blessed silence I ventured into the bedroom to wake him. I found him soundly asleep in the middle of a puddle of sand texture acrylic paint. He had somehow ascended the bookshelf to the gallon of paint that was stored near the ceiling. It was likely the lid had come off when the can hit the floor. The tale of what came after was told in the swirls of hardening paint over most of the surfaces in the room. Richard was asleep, but if I left him in the bed where the sheets were hardening around him it could take a long time to free him.
Richard seemed not so much a 'fish out of water,' as a 'bird in a fish world'. I took him to be examined by a pediatric developmental nurse and she eventually gave up on her assessment. When she showed him a picture of an orange and asked him the color he said 'Orange.' When she asked him the color of a picture of an apple, he said 'apple' with a twinkle in his eye. She asked him to hop across the room. He took two hops, a jump, and a leap. The other materials were similarly given a unique spin. It was evident that he was creative and intelligent, but he scored really low on the test.
Fortunately the rug was already scheduled to be replaced and the paint on the furniture and walls was removed with some serious scrubbing. The sheets and a pillow case were a loss. Richard cleaned up quite well, and no traces of paint remained when we went to church the following Sunday.
My husband was assigned to take a two week seminar at MIT in the summer of 1974 and we turned the trip into a family excursion. We stayed at a motel in south Boston. Each day Richard would either drive to Cambridge or take the MTA. I took the children to visit historical sites throughout Massachusetts. We visited the John Alden, Priscilla Mullins home in Duxbury, ancestral home of my first American ancestors, "Plimoth" Plantation, Walden Pond, Lexington and Concord, as well as finding family names on ancient tombstones. As a descendant of Mayflower pilgrims and other early New Englanders, I was discovering my family heritage in a vivid way. When the seminar was finished we drove west to Niagara Falls then up through Canada where we visited with my sister-in-law Donna and her family. Donna had her mother living with her and after seeing how they acted with each other, I felt my mother-in-law would be better off with her husband. Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone Park were other stops me made on our way to Utah where, as ever, my husband had business having to do with our farm.
One of my lasting memories from the trip was taking a bath in a tent on a cold morning with water warmed over a can of Sterno in a quart pot. The feeling of refreshment from being clean overcame the chill of the morning and the scarcity of other amenities. I think I came close to appreciating what it meant to be a pioneer.
My older children had been fairly successful in school. I had become wary of the principal of Devonshire Elementary when he took a baseball bat and chased an errant student across the street into a strip mall. As a member of the PTA I was privy to his behavior and there were other problems with the school. When it was time for school to begin in September of 1974 I arranged to transfer Meg, David and Nancy to Graham Road Elementary School which had more children with special needs, but a much better administration. David continued to do well, Meg displayed a talent I had not particularly noticed. She told me she was asked to sing a solo in a program and I went to the performance with no particular expectations. One of the boys in her class was sitting close in front of me and had been chatting with a friend during the program, when Meg took the stage he hushed his friend. "Listen to her. She's really good," he said. I was surprised at his comment, knowing that children seldom paid much attention to the skills of others unless they were outstanding. Meg sang a song from "HMS Pinafore that had been written for a tenor voice, but her performance impressed me. I had been focusing on her abilities as a violinist.
Nancy had a teacher who had a curious idea of how children feel about praise. When I visited her for a PTA conference she told me Nancy had a gift for drawing. I looked around but couldn't see a picture with her name on it. "I don't put the names of the children on their artwork so they won't be embarrassed," the woman said. Even so, Nancy was tested and selected to attend Belvedere Center for the gifted and talented the following year.
Chinese tomb treasures were being shown at the Smithsonian during the time I was pregnant with my sixth child. I went through the exhibit first with my friend Maryann Bridge who approached the art from an intellectual point of view. Not long afterward I took my children and found myself explaining the works of art to them from a different view point. I looked for things that might interest them and discovered the many ways that animal and plant iconography are used in Chinese design. I saw far more when I was with my children.
One day I was waiting for Nancy to get off the school bus while visiting my friend Maryann. I would collect her from the school bus a little ahead of schedule. We began to talk and the bus started down the street. I jumped up and leaped off the porch, fell and broke my wrist. I decorated the cast with pictures of hydrangeas. It would be the first of three casts I would wear when I was pregnant, each bigger than the last.
Around that time I had a dream that there was something wrong with my unborn child's head. Abortion was advocated by my feminist friend, Maryann Bridges, particularly when there might be a damaged child. I confronted my own beliefs and decided that no matter what was wrong, I would never consider abortion as an option. When my child was born in January of 1975, she was apparently perfect, except for a distinct rose colored birth mark on her lower jaw line. It was crescent shaped and I immediately saw it as the sign of an angel's kiss. I had been willing to have a child with a handicap, and I had been given a child with a birthmark. I named her Mary Jane, a nod to my sister and my sister-in law. She was born in Fairfax Hospital with the assistance of the same obstetrician who had attended Richard's birth. I was shocked a few months later to learn that he had committed suicide by jumping from Memorial Bridge that crosses the Potomac between Arlington National Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial. The shock was allayed when I learned that he had terminal cancer.
My new baby was healthy and happy and as she grew Maryjane was a merry little child with a lot of zest. She took her place as the family comedian and kept us smiling with her antics. When Mary Jane was eighteen months old she appeared on the stage of the Lisner Auditorium in Washington DC in a pageant presented by the LDS church during the Bicentennial celebration in 1976. I had been asked to help with costumes. We had a minuscule budget, working out to about $3.00 each per costume. The cast numbered in the hundreds and I was in charge of designing all the pre-Columbian costumes ranging from Nimrod and his queen through Moroni with Lamanites and Jaredites between. Miracles of purchase happened and I found tables full of suitable remnants that I cut out and handed along to others to sew for the crowd scenes.
I made the principal character costumes. Coriantumr, the Jaredite was dressed in very little but a loincloth, a breast plate and a leopard mask headdress made of gilded paper mache and trailing several feet of 'quetzal ' feathers which were died chicken feathers wired together. I recycled #10 cans I found in restaurant dumpsters, using either the silver or the brass colored sides to make armbands, necklaces and breastplates. "Jewels" were knobs of foam, sealed with bright acrylic and dotted with a few sequins to give them sparkle, effective from the distance of the stage. I researched the royalty of Ur and Sumer and made royal robes of discarded velvet draperies and donated satin for Nimrod and his queen. I died two defunct wigs black for their hair. I found that I could cut a woman's gray wig in such a way as to make both beard and hair for the prophet, Ether. Two friends designed and constructed the costumes for the history of the US. Their costumes were more tailored and necessarily used up a greater portion of the budget.
My family participated in the finale scene. The stage was plain but effective, an open pyramid of wood with different 'deck' levels on which battles raged and scenes were spotlighted. In the final scene representatives of many lands stood on various levels of the pyramid. My husband and our six children capped the arrangement, wearing Chinese jackets in a variety of jewel tones. The ensemble sang "This is My Country." I painted portraits of the children of a friend in exchange for her sewing the costumes for my family.
It was a magnificent production. The costumes I had designed were beautiful, as were those designed and provided by my friends. Hundreds of seamstresses had made costumes for members of their families. It should have made me feel wonderful. I think the trouble started with something that is amusing in retrospect. My Nimrod costumes were my proudest achievement. I had researched widely to make sure they were authentic but because of donated material and ingenuity, they had cost very little but my time. The elderly gentleman who played the part of Ether was as bald as an egg, thus the beard and wig I made for him. He stood in the foreground of the stage and began his narration with Nimrod and his queen standing on the pyramid behind him. He forgot his lines. He stumbled over them, repeated them, looked forlorn and barely heard the prompter from the side. After the first performance I asked my friends who had attended what they thought of the costumes of Nimrod and his queen. They hadn't noticed. They were too focused on the forgetful actor.
On the second night of the production Ether's words were pre-recorded, but he did an abominable job of lip-synching. Once again his difficulties occluded any notice of the costumes in the scene. To add to this several acquaintances kept asking me why I hadn't taken part in the production. They saw no reason that I shouldn't have joined my family on the stage. The fact that I am large and blond and clearly not Chinese seemed to have escaped their notice.
Someone had made the decision to include only one name from each division of the production team in the printed program. Thus my friend was credited with all the costume work. The same credit was given to the person who put on the makeup and the man who printed the programs. After all the work I had done, I was invisible. While others were celebrating the success of the show after the last performance, I shut myself into a closet in the dressing room area and had a tantrum. It was the kind of miserable tantrum where you know how petty and stupid you are being, making you feel even more miserable. I was suffering not only from injured pride at having my best work uncredited and ignored, but the injured pride of recognizing myself for a vain fool. I was jeering at myself at the same time I shuddered with misery.
Fortunately, I prayed and my storm ended. I was able to sop up my tears. I don't seem to swell up very easily when injured or dismayed. Those few who wondered where I had been were easily fobbed off by a vague gesture at my youngest child. It seems that nobody noticed the tracks of my foolish tears.
One of the stranger things about our production was the repeated assumption by people that someone from 'Salt Lake' had provided the key elements of the production. You would think that Church headquarters sends out big packages that contain everything needed from musical scores to costumes. People in the 'mission field' just add water and voila' there is a 'church approved' production ready to put on the stage.
I was asked to provide costumes for a Relief Society production some time later and while unloading them from my car after they had been used I took an inadvertent ride on a skateboard and broke my ankle. Not long afterward I learned that I was pregnant.
A friend and mentor, Ruth Knudson, contacted me about painting a Chinese style mural on her living room wall. She was the widow of a former presidential cabinet member and lived in a lovely home in northern Arlington. Her children had given her the gift of a trip through the orient to find a suitable scroll or screen, but she found little she liked that would fill the space. She said she was certain I could come up with something she liked. Richard's parents had sent us lovely ink paintings as well as our Chinese living room furniture. I used the pictures as reference for the mural. Complete with ankle cast, I painted the 8' x 14' wall. She liked it so well that when she died twenty-five years later she left instructions that her 'viewing' should take place in front of the mural.
We had not yet finished our renovations and addition to the house on Johnson Road when Richard decided to purchase a little house on a big lot about two miles away in Annandale. He planned to double the size of his new acquisition and started working on an addition, leaving the house on Johnson Road not quite finished. I was not very cooperative when he asked me to spend time in the evenings helping him. It was one thing to work on a house that you lived in, but with six children ranging in age from baby Mary to teen-aged Meg, spending evenings away from home didn't seem wise. My pregnancy was another reason to refuse the job of framing up the three story structure.
Richard resented my lack of participation but he hired a young man from the ward to help him. In time he got the frame up and closed the structure. At that time he wanted me to move to the house, but I was still hoping he would turn his attention to finishing our house on Johnson Road.
Eventually it was my toddler Mary who made me reconsider. She was a bold and adventurous child. Each time one of her older siblings left the house she would sneak out. One of her favorite games was stopping traffic. We lived on a narrow road with cars parked along the side. Drivers often went too fast along the road. Mary, would toddle into the road and wait for a car to come along and screech to a halt when they saw her. It seemed to amuse her. The house on Arnold Lane was on a dead-end street. Cars seldom came along, and even if they had, they had a wide view. I decided that whatever other limitations the house had, it would be safe for my little adventurer.
The habitable part of the house had four small bedrooms and our children could share bedrooms until we were able to finish the interior of the addition. There was as yet no stairway in the addition, just a gaping hole where the stairs would be.
I packed up carefully. Some time would pass before Richard completed the Johnson Road house enough to sell or rent, and I didn't want to transfer a lot of useless items or insects to our new surroundings.
Meg would continue to attend Glasgow after we moved, but the other school-age children would attend Woodburn Elementary School and Nancy transferred to the Pine Spring Gifted Talented Center.