Virginia Beach, Virginia 1983-1984
The tidewater area of Virginia is a low-lying area where the tide comes into the rivers and estuaries and creates a unique environment. The highest point in 'America's largest town', was Mount Trashmore, named for the landfill from which it was created.
Richard's assignment was aboard a ship in Norfolk harbor where he served as a science advisor to the Admiral who commanded the Second Fleet of the US navy and was also the NATO commander. We lived in Virginia Beach where the price was less for equivalent housing. Norfolk had been settled earlier, and the housing was often either in poor areas or too expensive.
Nancy began High School at Kellam High School where she became interested in track. Tisha went to Junior high only a few blocks from our home. The other school age children went to Lynnhaven Elementary which was just around the corner. I was a temporary member of the officers' wives group and helped plan the Christmas Party at the Officer's Club. Admiral Metcalf put on an interesting performance at the Christmas Party. We were sitting at his table, and as far as I could see, he didn't drink more than a few sips of the liquor in the glass in front of him. When the meal was finished and it was time for the party to begin, he stood and gave a toast, slurring his words and acting just a bit tipsy. I guess it was a signal to his younger officers that he wouldn't be watching them too closely. They immediately began to celebrate in more enthusiastic style. A few months later Admiral Metcalf would lead the forces that invaded Grenada. He had risen to a high command, yet he appeared to be a mild, physically unimposing man. It took little time around him to discover that he had the quality of true command.
My son, David spent the fall semester in Virginia Beach, working at Pier 1 and waiting for his mission to begin. He received a call to Taiwan. When it was time to travel north to the Washington Temple where he would receive his endowments, the two of us drove our Volkswagen Van. I kept having the feeling that there was someone in the car with us, one of the children. I turned around several times and of course, there was nobody else in the car.
After we had attended the temple and were driving back to Virginia Beach, David turned to me and said, "It was really sweet to have Katie there with us today. You felt her, didn't you?"
I nodded. I hadn't exactly identified his departed sister, but now that he mentioned it, I was able to identify the presence that had been there with us through the day. I flew to Utah with David when he entered the Missionary Training Center early in 1983. Not long afterward Meg received her call to a mission in Italy. She had been living with several other young women in a townhouse in Alexandria while she worked and waited for her mission call. I helped her put together a suitable mission wardrobe, including a very nice burgundy wool suit that I gave her for her birthday. In her rush to catch her flight, Meg took the suitcase that contained clothing she was planning to discard instead of her new clothing. She stayed with her grandparents in Salt Lake for a day or so before going to the MTC. When she opened her suitcase and found the ragged, wrinkled clothing she had planned to throw away she explained her mistake to her grandmother Heywood. My mother thought she was just making an excuse for being so poorly prepared and promptly insisted on going shopping. Meg went along, under the impression that her grandmother was giving her the new clothing as a gift. When I received a call from my mother asking me to send her several hundred dollars to pay for the clothing, I got Meg on the line and told her what the circumstances were. The clothing was returned, and even though I shipped the proper luggage out to Meg at the MTC. My mother persisted in believing that Meg went on her mission dressed in rags. Meg and David saw each other in the MTC and joyfully hugged, not a normal sight in that environment.
We lived close to Lynnhaven Mall and attended the Virginia Beach 2 Ward where I served as newsletter editor and Activities chairman, once again involved in producing a Roadshow. I befriended a neighbor who had been in an accident as a teenager and couldn't bear to drive. As a result, I usually provided rides to church and activities including a Jazzercise Class. My relationship with her was friendly at first. When I made plans to go to England with other officers' wives in March, she agreed to watch my younger children while their older sisters were in school.
I had never been to Europe and was not particularly thrilled that what might be my one and only chance would be a trip to England. Years earlier Richard had been asked to go to the Mediterranean on navy business and there had been the chance that I might go along. He discouraged me, asking "What on earth would you find to do with yourself in Greece and Italy for two weeks?" He refused to consider the idea. When he came back filled with stories and brandishing pictures, I was not very gracious about appreciating his enthusiasm about the wonders he saw.
I flew to London on People Airlines along with several other officer's wives. When we flew over the coast I realized with astonishment that what I had assumed was a fiction based idea of the English landscape was in fact the truth. Below me was a land of bright green velvet fields, separated by dark green hedgerows and gray stone walls, with villages in the valleys and 'great houses' on the tops of many of the hills. I had an 'Alice Through the Looking Glass' experience as we drove from Heathrow Airport. We were rocketing down narrow streets on what to me was the wrong side of the road. Daffodils were blooming along the roof edges of many of the houses. The bus itself was upholstered in a bright floral print unseen in the US.
I was dropped off at a small hotel near the center of London where my husband had reserved a room for us. Richard had been cruising with the Second Fleet on NATO exercises that took them north to the arctic circle. After a few days in London, he would meet the fleet again in Lisbon, Portugal. He had meetings in London, leaving me with time to amuse myself on several days, and we planned to take a brief trip to France.
While he met with NATO opposites, I toured London. In my sensible shoes and raincoat I must have passed for a native because I was asked for directions. I had been advised to visit the Liberty fabric store where I purchased a length of wool tweed for a warm scarf. I meandered toward the Hyde Park area and located the Hyde Park Ward house. I accidentally found myself near Buckingham Palace and saw a changing of the guard. I purchased gifts for my children in a little shop that could have come straight from the pages of Mary Poppins. On another day I took the train north to Stratford upon Avon and toured the countryside with a guide who used his private car because only four of us signed up. He showed us sights not usually included on the tour after we spent an hour or so at Warwick Castle where wax figures represented a house party that included a wax figure of young Winston Churchill.
My husband insisted on taking me to the London Tower to see the crown jewels and I found it was far better than I had expected. The ancient chapel in the White Tower still held a wisp of holiness from the knights who had gathered there to dedicate themselves to a crusade. I truly felt a sense of history while we toured the Tower.
We set out for Paris late at night. The plan was to travel on the boat/train, so-called, a combination of train through England to the coast, ferry to Dunkerque, train to Paris. We were a bit woozy when we reached the 'City of Lights' early in the morning and I knew it would be impossible to see all I wanted to see in just one day. We had a lunch of Truit amadine at a cafe near the Notre Dame.
We took an elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower and saw a parade of demonstrators carrying red flags from the observation deck. We descended to find soldiers with Uzi's lining the bridge. Instead of retracing our steps and braving the bridge, we took a glass covered boat up the Seine. The Notre Dame was our next stop, and here again I felt the faint wisp of holiness from a place long used for worship. I was a little put off by the coin fed information kiosks in the cathedral.
The smoky atmosphere of London had affected my lungs and I felt ill and tired. When Richard suggested that we go into the Louvre for a couple of minutes, I declined. I knew that a few minutes would not be enough. I begged him to stay over for the night, but he refused. We had a hotel room in London that the Navy was paying for. He couldn't see any point in lingering for another day in Paris. While we waited in the station for our train, the cold was bitter. A heated waiting room had been provided for travelers and while I waited there an old man wearing bare feet under rubber 'totes' began to die near the entrance. The emergency team summoned to help him seemed more like Keystone Kops. They fumbled with him, dropping him off the stretcher before they finally removed him. I couldn't help wondering where they would put his pathetic body.
Richard had been waiting outside the heated room while the team worked with the dying vagrant. He kept furiously signaling me to leave, but I didn't want to jostle the inept team by pushing past them. We had to run to catch the train. He remained sullen as we traveled to the coast, but I was engrossed by the landscape we passed through. Villages in France were different from villages in England. The English had similar houses, each of which had subtle differences made by the personalities that lived there. The French houses were distinctively different from each other, but there was a commonality of personality in the small personal touches.
Richard was unwilling to pay for the hotel for our final night in London so he decided we could sleep in the airport. An Afghan custodian seemed to have the job of making sure that no one slept. He made noisy progress with his brooms and buckets, clattering close whenever sleep threatened to let me relax. The truncated visit to Paris and the night spent in woozy lack of comfort in the airport only confirmed my growing disenchantment with my marriage.
For many years I had felt that my marriage was a failure. I had been attacked with screwdrivers, fists and rolled up magazines, thrown to the floor and kicked, resulting in a broken foot, strangled to the point of losing consciousness, and yelled at daily with the vilest of curses, yet there had been good times and sweet communication that kept me hoping that things could be improved. Having married at nineteen against the advice of many, I was too proud at first to admit that there was anything I couldn't put right. I tried to seek counsel from my various bishops, but all had advised that all I had to do was be a 'good wife' and my husband would treat me kindly. There was undoubtedly an element of dependency. I had no marketable skills and I was dedicated to the idea that I should stay home with my children. I had experienced the effects of having a 'working' mother and I didn't want that for my own family.
While I was in Virginia Beach I experienced extended periods when I was on my own. Richard wasn't there to pay the bills or make excuses about repairing things. I had to be independent much of the time. It was only during the invasion of Grenada that he was home for any period of time. He usually spent nights on the ship and was gone for weeks on various cruises.
One day we purchased a computer and a small TV. We could theoretically play video games as well as use the computer for word processing. We set the system up and left the children to play with it while my husband insisted I join him in the bedroom for a nap. It seemed strange to me that he would leave such a potential problem unsupervised and I wanted to stay with the children, but Richard dismissed my concern. He promptly fell asleep and I relaxed and napped beside him. After an hour or so he got up and went downstairs. I heard him screaming with rage. I wondered what had happened to trigger his anger and hurried to the family room. I found that nothing very bad had happened. Our toddler Sam had tried to eat a hard boiled egg and there were a few tiny crumbs of cooked egg yolk scattered on the floor, but otherwise the children hadn't done any harm. Sam was huddled on the ottoman with his arms and legs curled tightly under him while his father raged and cursed.
I gave him notice that if he didn't alter his behavior, curtailing explosions of anger at myself and the children, and taking a more generous attitude with family funds, I would go back to Falls Church with the children in June when school was over. My friendship with my neighbor took an unpleasant turn after I returned from my trip to Europe. One day after school I decided to put a volley ball net up in the back yard. I lacked a ball and I left my son Richard, then 12, in charge of the younger children while I hurried to the store. Tisha and Nancy would be home within the next fifteen minutes. Mary Jane tried to put the aluminum volley ball post into the back lawn. Her hands slipped and the post hit her near the eye, making a bloody cut. Her brother Richard immediately put a cold compress of toilet paper on the cut and stopped the bleeding. Meanwhile, Eliza hurried over the neighbor's house and said that Mary Jane was injured. The neighbor called 911. When I got home I found police cars, ambulances and fire trucks blocking the entrance to our cul-de-sac. Ironically, nothing had been done for Mary Jane. I was confronted by a social worker who told me that my neighbor had reported me for child neglect. Mary List had alleged that I never took my children to the doctor, that I made them walk to school, which was against the rules, and that they were bad influences on her own son.
The social worker put me on report and finally left the house. I was able to take MaryJane to an emergency center where we had to wait for another hour while a person with a failing heart was stabilized. When the doctor finally saw Mary Jane he complimented my son's handling of the situation. He said wet toilet paper was both sterile and ideal for stopping the bleeding. By the time he saw the cut it was closing and had not bled for more than an hour. It was a simple job to put in a few stitches.
A week later a woman showed up at the house. She was the director of child protective services. She had stopped by the junior high school to interview Tisha before coming to visit me unannounced. She took a brief tour around the house and watched me as I related to my children who were engaged in their usual activities. After a short time she told me that she was wiping my record clean. The interview with Tisha had really impressed her. "I seldom see a child that age so self-assured and calm. She told me what happened the day your younger daughter was injured. She also told me you take your children to doctors in Northern Virginia where you are members of an HMO. I have seen your home and watched you with your children. If you ever need a recommendation to prove that you are a good parent, I will vouch for you." It seemed an unusual thing to say. I remembered what she had said later when it took on new meaning.
My husband didn't seem to understand that I was serious. One day, when spring was gradually giving way to summer, he hit Nancy when she denied that she had turned on the air-conditioning. It was the final straw. I hired a truck and packed most of the furniture when school ended and returned to our home on Arnold Lane in Northern Virginia. I left Richard with a set of couches he had purchased from the owner of the house and advised him to hire a neighbor who had offered to clean the house after we moved. He would move out of the house not long afterward, and having failed to hire the cleaner, he lost his rental deposit to the landlord.