Category Archives: Family

Genealogy Vacation: The Next Great Adventure


The Oyster Farm at King’s Creek at Cape Charles, VA. Photo by A.J. Assaadi


How would you react if a complete stranger called you on the phone with a request for your DNA? The man said that he suspected me of being the missing link that would establish Virginia’s Eastern Shore peninsula as ground zero for the American Joynes/Joines clan now numbering in the thousands in five Mid-Atlantic States.

Well, yes, I admitted, I was aware that my ancestors had lived on the Eastern Shore since 1638 and that my grandfather and his brothers had been watermen, farmers, and members of the U.S. Life Saving Service on Hog Island, but I knew very little about my family history. That small bit of information, however, was enough to request my DNA. The Joynes/Joines genealogical study group would even pay for the test.



Eldon Joines found me through my author’s website; and since he also resided in North Carolina, no more than an hour’s drive from my home, he offered to visit and talk about our common genealogy. I specified meeting for lunch at a very public place. (I was the model of modern-day caution.) By the end of our meal and conversation, however, I began to look upon Eldon as a cousin. Rapport established, Eldon produced a DNA test kit, and I leaned over the restaurant table to have my inner cheek swabbed. What must observers have thought we were doing?

When the lab results were published, the link to the Eastern Shore was established, and Eldon was able to trace us to a common grandfather some four generations past. We were indeed cousins.

351x336-family-20tree-20clip-20art-20templates-clip-art-family-tree-351_336Eldon has been working on a Joynes/Joines family history for more than twenty years. He is not an academic but is an upholstery craftsman with his own small business. Thus, he must pay his own way on research trips and take time to share information with other members of the study group. Devotion to comprising a family genealogy is thus a labor of love.

When I learned that Eldon was planning a fourth research trip to the Eastern Shore, I asked to accompany him as a fellow traveler. Then it occurred to me to re-invigorate my travel-writer credentials to explore the adventure of genealogy tourism. My travel-writing career includes Holiday Magazine and five titles in the Insiders’ Guide series. Family genealogists unravel mysteries and make new discoveries on every trip, and I wanted to be part of it.

My angle in following Eldon on the Eastern Shore is to describe the transformative power of a genealogy research trip that provides significant meaning and purpose to travel. To make my reporting useful, I also intend to include practical guidelines for planning a family history vacation.


Cape Charles, VA Boardwalk. Photo by John Harlow

To make the best use of time spent in the historic environs, careful planning is essential. Mapping and making interview contacts occurs weeks, and even months, prior to the actual travel dates. But the pre-trip activity is part of the excitement.

I must admit that in all my book research and vacation travels to awe-inspiring places, the anticipation of going back to my ancestral home on the Eastern Shore of Virginia registers high on the excitement meter. Maybe it’s the potential for adventure and surprise that inspires me.


Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Photo by John Harlow

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Filed under Family, Genealogy, Travel, Writing

Blue Ridge Reflections: Photos with Matching Poems from Western North Carolina


When my wife Patricia Joynes sees a morning fog or the beginning of a crimson sunset, she abruptly leaves the house to submit to her passion. She is a nature photographer.

Years ago, when her 35 mm film cameras and her role as family event documentarian became obsolete, Pat turned her attention to nature photography with a small Canon Power Shot S110 digital camera. Her focus was on the Appalachian Mountains near our home around the Blue Ridge Parkway for its natural beauty aesthetics.

Strolling at the Blowing Rock

The Blowing Rock Attraction, Blowing Rock, NC

Her first published credits were in books and journals, but her Blue Ridge photographs became recognized in the Town of Blowing Rock, North Carolina annual calendars (2015, cover in 2016, and three pictures in 2017) and the annual Blue Ridge Parkway calendar (2017, 2018).

Sunset Capture

Pat also published annual family calendars of her nature photos with aphorisms by me in 2016 and 2017. By that date, the edited file of her Blue Ridge-centered photographs exceeded 10,000 images!

Solitary Bench.JPG

Mayview Park, Blowing Rock, NC

In early 2017, Pat asked me, a published poet, to write poems inspired by specific photographs. We were both amazed at the collaborative results as the first poems emerged. The titles give clues to the content: The Puddle Portal, The Sanctified Bridge, Split-Rail Fence, and Solitary Bench. Week after week, as Pat presented me with other photographs, I wrote matching poems. By mid-September I had completed 29 of them!



Mayview Park, Blowing Rock, NC


Here is a sample photo and poem from the book.

Become the First

Become the First

Before there were human eyes to see

there were a millennia of dawns

and foggy mountain wooded sunsets

whose nascent glory went unreported.


From any high Blue Ridge vantage point

creation unfolds in waves of light,

and time is a cycle of the sun

that produces growth and the promise

of life in its regular passing.


What was it like to be the first to see

the distant waves of an evergreen sea?

What was the valley fog assumed to be?

And what monsters did they prepare to flee?


Primal emotions are felt in all ages

as the wild universe is explored.

A ravens’ rock becomes sacrosanct

in a landscape bereaved of doors.

Rejoice that the search for tomorrows

is still the possibility of today.

Become the first to reach the mountaintop

and see its natural wonders on display.

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Filed under Art, Family, photography, Poetry, Writing

The Travel Adventures of Flat Monty


Flat Monty inspects the cruise ship kitchen.

My gifted and talented younger sister, Rita, greatly surprised me when she telephoned to say that she was taking me on a luxury Mediterranean cruise with land excursions to some of the most historic and beautiful sites in Europe.

Pat, my wife, was unfortunately not included obviously due to the huge added expense. It would be awkward to leave Pat behind, but how could I not accept this trip of a lifetime from my now beloved incredibly generous sister?


My mind immediately raced to the implications of the short-notice trip. The cruise wear from a dated Alaskan cruise was not suitable for May in Barcelona if it could even be found. Then, too, I’d need immediate airline reservations for the flight from Charlotte to Miami in order to meet Rita for the transatlantic flight. The grand tour was to begin in less than ten days!


Flat Monty pauses outside the Basilica in Venice.


The Sorrento hills provide a scenic retreat for Flat Monty.










Always ready to video, Flat Monty arrives in Nice.


Flat Monty is always accompanied by his dedicated bodyguard Dennis.











Flat Monty at his favorite shipboard bar.


The bulging-eyes guy from the movie Young Frankenstein attempts to pose with Flat Monty.


Rita waited a few smiling seconds as my excitement peaked before she explained the crucial caveat. I would not be making the trip in person. I would be traveling as Flat Monty. Totally confused, I had to ask, “Who the hell is Flat Monty?”


Flat Monty visits the hidden monument to mathematical Pi somewhere in Italy.


Flat Monty comes to life amid the ruins of ancient Pompeii.











Being technology challenged, I was unaware that photo cutouts of me could be creatively positioned in front of a camera phone so as to give the illusion that I was present at some remarkable place or circumstance.


My sister Rita carries Flat Monty on the next grand adventure.


The photos of Flat Monty that Rita later produced on her grand tour have been captioned for the sake of context, if not for cruelty. Perhaps she thinks that I will use them to impress strangers as I once did with an office wall full of celebrity photos falsely dedicated to me.



Flat Monty enjoys a cigar off the Piazza de San Marco in Venice.

The framed photo of Albert Einstein, for example, was inscribed with thanks for my helping him with quantum physics. John Wayne wrote that he looked forward to working with me on his next movie. Several sexy female movie stars intimated that they loved our nights together. President FDR thanked me for my wartime service although I was only four years old in 1945.


The wall of phony photos behind my magazine editor’s desk was my social satire on similar displays that I had seen in the offices of politicians. Too bad the Flat Monty technology was not available to me then. I might have appeared in a New York Yankees baseball uniform standing beside my heroes Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle.


Flat Monty wins a gold medal for the discovery of a giant petrified frog.


Flat Monty leads the way for an encounter with the world’s largest cat.











Here then in the spirit of truth telling, if not a gesture toward sibling forgiveness, I hereby publish the fabulous travel adventures of Flat Monty. Trust me when I say, “I wish that I was there.”


Flat Monty enjoys relaxing in his cruise ship stateroom.


Travel adventures often imply danger for Flat Monty.


Filed under Entertainment, Family, Travel, Writing

Dogs – Life’s Companions – Part 2 – Mili and Heidi

img_0496    It took a full year of mourning before Pat and I could consider another dog. Again we looked to the Watauga Humane Society shelter for an adoption. Pat made the heart connection to a small Pekingese-type female who had a distinctive under bite. As we processed the adoption, the shelter manager informed us that our new dog had been diagnosed with third-stage heartworms. Our adoption would require us to see the little princess through a risky two-stage treatment to kill the heartworms. We were warned that some dogs do not survive the treatment, which necessitated two extended periods of guarded non-activity. We accepted the responsibility and named our new family member Mili after a close veterinary doctor friend who had helped us care for Angel.



Mili came through the heartworm treatment, and her personality emerged as a feisty little girl who was not easily affectionate. She nevertheless became Pat’s shadow as if she recognized the person who had chosen to save her. Mili regained her strength, energy, and endurance and became Pat’s companion on five-mile hikes from Bass Lake to the Moses Cone Manor on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Our long-haired friend was never a lap dog. She rather had an almost cat-like posture of independence. Mili soon settled into our household routine as Pat and I worked the literary life from our home office. None of us expected the arrival of a second dog.


I was sitting on the bench rocker across from Angel’s shrine when a medium-size, tan, short hair female hound-like dog came down our street and shyly entered our front yard. I spoke a greeting to her, and she approached and then jumped up on the bench beside me. I reached out to pet her, and she put her head onto my lap. That was the scene that Pat witnessed when she pulled into our semi-circular front driveway. We both had questions concerning our collarless visitor who demonstrated a sweet, affectionate disposition. We fed and watered her, but we would not take her into the house for fear of Mili’s reaction. Then with night coming, I retrieved a large travel kennel from storage and fitted it with blankets to warm the dog against an early spring chill. The kennel was placed outside our front door on a covered porch.


Heidi on a mountain hike

The next day, Pat began to search for the strayed dog’s owner. She did all the responsible things including posted and email notices, and “lost dog” newspaper ads, with no results. Pat then advised me that the dog’s teats indicated that she was pregnant or that she had recently had puppies. Her pregnancy was later confirmed when we took her for a vet examination. As the weeks passed, we were drifting into the “strayed and stayed” dog care category. When a freeze warning was issued for our area, we decided to bring the new dog, whom we had identified as a mountain feist breed, off the porch and into the house.


Heidi and her litter of pups

The critical moment arrived as Mili confronted the new arrival. Mili may have smelled the vulnerability of the pregnant visitor whose size was not overwhelming and allowed the intrusion. Thus a new dog bed was provided for the stray that stayed, and she was named Heidi. Within a few weeks, Heidi birthed five puppies in our living room, with Mili in curious attendance. When the puppies were mature, they went for quick adoption at the Humane Society, but Heidi was too closely involved with us to go with them.

Mili and Heidi were frequent visitors to the Humane Society’s Arko Dog Park. Heidi was very social and ran free with the other dogs. Mili stayed close to Pat and could even dissuade a Great Dane who wanted to sniff her. Mili and Heidi were a pair of odd step-sisters.heidi-and-mili-2

The first time Heidi was taken on a hike, it was apparent that she had not been trained on a leash. She proved to be, however, a lovable companion who liked to be covered with a blanket when on the sofa or in her bed. No one could approach the house without Heidi sounding the alert. Mili would join the outcry, but Heidi got credit for being the major watchdog.


Mili had been with us eleven years when she was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Our dearest friend, Tennessee veterinarian Mildred Bass, monitored the surgery progress and the subsequent holistic treatment, but our little feisty friend could not beat the cancer. Brave and remarkably active, she survived seven months longer than the surgeon’s most optimistic expectations. Pat’s constant care and Mili Bass’s recommended herbal medications, we feel, extended her life, and when she passed, it was mercifully only after a few hours of distress on her final day following her visit to the dog park. For weeks after, Heidi searched the house for Mili every time that Pat and I called her to go out.

Doggies in the Window 5-1-2015 2-05-00 PM 2353x1964.jpg

There is the possibility that we will outlive Heidi and that her loss will be another mournful event. Her cremated remains will be added to those of Angel and Mili on our property, and we will miss her. The emptiness of the house, however, will lead us back to the Humane Society shelter to find another dog companion. There are both responsibility and cost involved in living with a dog, but even as septuagenarians, we want to share our home with a four-legged friend.



Filed under Animals, Family, Memoirs, Writing

Dogs – Life’s Companions – Part 1 – Angel

Angel in the Driveway We never own our dogs. We only reside with them by ancient covenants that bond us. Life is defined by events that include both joy and pain. All human emotions apply in our close relationships with our dogs. It is thus appropriate that we honor these special friends as we would our beloved human family members with stories, photos, monuments, and sincere reflections of gratitude.

Pat and I have already had three canine companions in our married life, and they have been as dear to us as our own three daughters. A super intelligent Border collie came to us as an overnight guest after she had been spayed by the Watauga County (North Carolina) Humane Society. Pat, a member of the board at that time, and I were delivering blankets and needful supplies to the animal shelter when a member, who had just returned from the vet with a small black dog just out of surgery, approached us. She said that she did not want to return the still groggy female to the kennels and begged us to take her home for overnight care.Angel on sofa

We were then living in a rented condo that specified no pets, but we thought that we might get away with a one-night stay. We tried to bed the little dog down in a bathroom with a barrier at the door, but the dog jumped over it, and her incision site began to bleed. As a former Army veteran with medic training, I took the dog onto my lap to bandage her. She was so patient and trusting that we were amazed, and Pat remarked that she was an angel. That night we realized we were hooked, and that we must adopt her, so we arranged with our landlord to keep her at an added deposit fee. Her name was self-evident. She was Angel.

Angel and MontyAngel was seldom on a leash, and she went to work with us every day. At that time we had a retail store with an upstairs office, so Angel was both our home and office dog. Angel loved to leap into my lap as soon as I sat in my easy chair at home. She could be trusted to be let out to do her necessary business, never crossing the street or wandering off.

Angel was a wonderful hiking companion on the Blue Ridge Parkway trails. She kept us in sight and never got into trouble when presented with other dogs. In a high mountain meadow she delighted us as she raced in a zigzag pattern as if to raise quail or sheep from the high grass. For fourteen years she was our constant, ever faithful, ever loving companion. Her disposition was always playful and affectionate, and she was obviously the smartest dog we had ever known.

Angel gazing

The last months of Angel’s life, however, were challenging as she struggled with cancer. Her passing was mourned as that of a beloved family member. To memorialize her, we erected a wooden black silhouette of her wearing her collar and tags at the foot of a granite gravestone engraved with her name. The shrine site sits in a front-yard garden across from a two-person rocking chair bench. In this way, we daily honor and remember a wonderful friend who happened to be a Border collie.



Filed under Animals, Family, Memoirs, Writing

Richard Pryor: His Stand-Up Comeback

Richard Pryor Here and Now (1983)When Richard Pryor came to New Orleans in August 1983 to record his comedy special Here and Now at the Saenger Theatre, he stayed in the New Orleans Hilton where my wife Pat, as administrative assistant to the hotel’s general manager, handled all VIP guest details.  Pat’s working contact with Pryor was with his agent and show producer David Banks, but Pat and I both got to meet Richard as he prepared for two tapings of his final official stand-up comedy show.

The 1983 stage performances were a comeback to show business after a horrendous event in 1980 when Richard had set himself on fire while freebasing cocaine.  He had third-degree burns over more than half his body, and survival itself was in the balance.

Although Richard Pryor as a stand-up comedian exhibited a profane Silver Streak movie posterirreverent style that was unsuitable for children, our three teenaged daughters knew him well from his hit movies: Silver Streak (1976) and Stir Crazy (1980) both with Gene Wilder. The fact that Richard had won several Grammy Awards for Best Comedy Recording and television Emmys for Best Writing in Comedy for specials starring Lily Tomlin (1973) may have been lost on our young girls, but in the 1970s and 1980s, Richard Pryor was one of the most recognized entertainers in the world.

Richard Pryor’s comedic legacy for bringing highly charged racial and social issues into sharp perspective paved the way for comedians like Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock and opened a venue for the general public to address their prejudices.

The New Orleans Hilton in 1983

The New Orleans Hilton in 1983

In my brief encounters with Richard Pryor in Pat’s office, he seemed both gentle and humble, although he obviously felt the pressure of the scheduled performances.  He was still refining his material for the show when David Banks asked Pat to type the head notes for Richard’s individual sketches onto index cards.  The cards would be placed on an on-stage stool where Richard could refer to them as the show progressed.  The show was performed on two separate days at the Saenger and then edited for the broadcast and DVD versions. Pat and I were given prime seats for the first show, and if you see the show recording, you may notice Richard deftly referring to Pat’s index cards as he moves from one subject area to another.

Monty and Pat in New Orleans in 1983

Monty and Pat at the Hilton in 1983

One day while Richard was in the hotel, I was walking through the Hilton lobby with our three daughters trailing behind when we crossed paths with the star and his lady. We then stopped to greet each other. I had recommended some New Orleans restaurants to Richard, and we had some brief words on that subject before he moved on.  There had been no opportunity to formally introduce the girls, but suddenly they were pulling at my shirt.

Daughters Pam, Danielle, and Annalisa

Daughters Pam, Danielle, and Annalisa

“Dad, that was Richard Pryor!” one of them exclaimed. “He acted like he knew you!”

I guess when the girls saw Richard in Superman III (1983) with Christopher Reeve, they might have tried to impress their friends by saying, “Yeah, my Mom and Dad know him.”

Richard Pryor photoIn 1998, Richard Pryor was the first recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center.  It is the highest award a nation can bestow on a humorist. Considering his abusive childhood and his struggle for racial equality, Richard Pryor’s triumphs are profoundly important in articulating the American experience.  I’m glad to salute Richard Pryor by this remembrance.





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Filed under Family, Famous People, Memoirs, Movies, Writing

The Amazing Peter Decker

The couples Joynes and Deckers at a Metro Magazine party

The couples Joynes and Deckers at a Metro Magazine party

I was Peter G. Decker’s friend, confidant, and social pal throughout the 1970s when Peter was in his mid-30s and I was in my early 30s and living in Norfolk, VA.  Although Pete was already a member of the board of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a very successful trial lawyer, and a popular emcee and entertainer, these were fun-filled years before he accepted the leadership roles that prompted so many subsequent local, state, regional, and national honors.

Before I came into the Lebanese and Greek family circle of Pete and Bess Decker, my social manners were those of a straight-laced Englishman.  I would shake hands, but never hug.  But with the Deckers I had to hug and even accept kisses from all their parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, and cousins!  My rigid posture on greeting Decker friends and family gave me away, and Pete seemed to enjoy making me sweat, especially at Easter when I joined all the Decker family men in visiting the homebound elderly. As I followed the line of men into a stranger’s house, I was hugged and kissed just like all the others. I thus began to melt under the great warmth of their culture, and I came to believe that the English social restraint that I had been taught was plainly wrongheaded.

I will never forget the time that Pete was hosting in his home a refugee from the Lebanese Civil War, a cousin who was a dentist.  By way of introduction, Pete told the bearded young man that I was his brother, and then he said to both of us, “Kiss your brother.”  I hugged the stranger and kissed him on both cheeks.  Tears filled my eyes.  Peter Decker had a great gift for getting into your heart.  What the gesture meant to the man who was losing his homeland, I can only imagine.

What can you give to givers like Pete and Bess Decker?  My then-wife, Theresa, a Louisiana Cajun, could cook special dishes for them, but we could never match their excessive generosity to us.  I did, however, manage to give them memorable creative gifts twice.  Once on Pete’s birthday, I had an artist render a caricature of Pete’s head from a photograph that I provided.  Then I designed a business-type card with the caricature and the bold words “I’m One of Pete’s People” and presented him with a box of 500 of them.  Pete loved it!  About two weeks later, Pete called me.  He needed to print more cards.  His people were begging for them, and how could he say no?

The "business" card that I designed for Pete

The “business” card that I designed for Pete

The second memorable gift was a poem that I wrote and had framed as a birthday gift for Bess in 1978.  My gift was opened next to last at a party at their home.  Bess cried when she read it.  Poor Pete, he had to follow my gift with his own—a big diamond ring.  It was unfair, and he never let me forget it with faces of mock anger.  Later, he confided to me that the framed poem was hung on the back of Bess’s bathroom door—her most private space.

Peter owned a great Hatteras-made fishing boat, The Gannet, docked at Rudee Inlet at Virginia Beach. President Jimmy Carter had fished on it; and when it was not a working charter boat, it hosted Pete’s friends and VIPs.  Captain Fred Feller, a former Norfolk Police detective, was the major investigator for Pete’s law firm, but what Freddy really loved was fishing the Gulf Stream for tuna and other deep-seas fish.

A happy fishing day on Pete's Gannet

A happy fishing day on Pete’s Gannet

On several occasions, Pete asked me to host a fishing expedition on The Gannet when he was unavailable. The guests would bring gourmet lunch items, snacks, beer, and a bottle of premium whiskey to be served during the two-hour run to the beach after the fishing day.  I brought my camera to document the events and to make sure that each guest later received a gift album of the best photographs.  One great trip included a city councilman, our Congressman and his wife, the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court, a Circuit Court Judge, plus three more of us who also caught big fish.

Pete introduced me to Danny Thomas and the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and to Telly Savalas when Telly was at the top of his Kojak television and movie fame.  Pete was always inclusive, never exclusive. His circle of friends in Hampton Roads was international and diverse in social class.  Walk into a restaurant with Pete, and he seemed to know everybody in the place.  From people seated at the tables to the wait staff and chef, they all wanted to greet Pete.  Bess had to deal with the situation that often saw us seated at our table while Pete toured the other tables and even the bar.

Pete was also an over-generous tipper, and if you went out for the evening with the Deckers, you had to face the fact that Pete would not allow you to pay any part of the bill. You had to be very creative if you wanted to reciprocate the Deckers’ generosity. One time I helped set up a basketball goal in the Deckers’ back yard and tried to coach their three sons—Peter III, Paul, and Phillip—on the finer points of the game.  Other times I took party photographs and ensured that Pete and Bess had album copies.

The couples Joynes and Deckers at a Western Night gala

The couples Joynes and Deckers at a Western Night gala

What I remember most was the fun that we had together.  We were still young and spontaneous enough to engage baby sitters on short notice and join other friends for an impromptu restaurant dinner party. Pete, who had played stand-up bass and sang in bands throughout college and law school, knew every working musician in the area.  So if there was live music anywhere that we went, Pete was invited on stage.  Knowing that I had also performed professionally as a band singer, Pete always insisted that I join him on stage to sing some old standard that the band was sure to know.

For an elaborate corporate Christmas party that I was managing, I wrote a cabaret act for us that featured the Pat Curtis band.  Our show was a hit, and when Pete sang a romantic ballad a la recording star Tom Jones, I arranged for two pretty women to throw panties at Pete on stage. It caught Pete by complete surprise!  Too bad we didn’t get a photo of the expression on his face when the screaming women threw “their” panties.

Pete and I performing our cabaret act

Pete and I performing our cabaret act

Even the best of friends can be separated by their respective destinies.  Now divorced, I went to New Orleans to collaborate with my co-author on a new edition of our best-selling Insiders’ Guide to New Orleans, and there I met Pat, now my wife of thirty years.  As editor and advisor, she has helped me create over 50 major literary works since our marriage.

Pete DeckerPete grew in service and public stature to become one of the most celebrated Virginians of his generation. On a different path, I withdrew to write the literature of my heart and to fulfill the will to art that revealed itself as my life’s purpose.

In remembrance, and with profound gratitude, being with Peter and Bess Decker those long ago years provided me with some of the best days of my life.  The family values that they demonstrated allows me now to embrace everyone that I meet. Any warmth of character and personality that I now possess once began with hugs among the Deckers.


Filed under Family, Famous People, Memoirs, Writing

Memorial Day: The Cavalier Hotel at Virginia Beach

Old Cavalier Hotel, Virginia Beach, VA

Old Cavalier Hotel, Virginia Beach, VA

In the late 1930s, despite a lingering Great Depression and a looming World War, my father had it made.  He had recently completed a three-year apprenticeship to become a first-class machinist, and he had a good job at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard where his father, as a Spanish-American War veteran, had enjoyed guaranteed employment and had risen to become the superintendent of the shipyard paint factory.  Then too, Leger Joynes was a very handsome, trim-figured, dark-haired man who drove a brand new Ford Coupe.

The Joynes homestead in the Fairmount Park section of Norfolk, Virginia was not glorified by class because the family maintained acres of garden crops and fruit trees, as well as coops of egg-laying chickens.  The family was thus considered prosperous during the Depression, even to the extent that they had a tennis court in the side yard of the house.

Mother (far left) and Dad (far right) in their pre-WWII party days

Mother (far left) and Dad (far right) in their pre-WWII party days

The approaching “Golden Age” of the middle-class working family allowed my father the luxury of owning two tuxedos, one with a white dinner jacket.  And although he was not a member of the Cavalier Beach Club, he was a frequent guest at the highly regarded Cavalier Hotel for their “Big Band” dance weekends.  In those days, Dad was very well known in Virginia Beach through a web of family interactions that crossed several social classes.

On that late Friday afternoon, Dad led a caravan of Memorial Day

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

revelers from Norfolk to Virginia Beach.  To begin the weekend, they planned to dine and dance in the hotel ballroom, lie around the pool and beaches the next day, and then party all Saturday night to the big band likes of Tommy Dorsey.  What lifestyle could be better for young people of their age and social class where they mingled with the truly rich and privileged?

Dancing at the Cavalier Hotel

Dancing at the Cavalier Hotel

When Dad arrived at the Cavalier Hotel front entrance and turned his beautiful new Ford over to the valet parking attendant, he was met with a very concerned face.  “The general manager wants to see you right away in his office,” Dad was told. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

While Dad’s date and friends checked into the hotel, he went to the manager’s ornate grand hotel office wondering what could be the matter.  Dad and the GM were on a first name basis through mutual family friendships, although the formally dressed man behind the desk was old enough to be the 21-year-old’s father.

“Leger,” the GM began, “I’m so glad that you are here.  I’m in a jam, and I need your help.”

The jam was that the pump that supplied water to both the indoor and outdoor swimming pools was broken, and that no one was available to service it on a Memorial Day weekend. “We can’t have empty swimming pools on our opening weekend,” the GM affirmed as the obvious. “Would you take a look at it?  If you can fix it, I’ll comp you and your party the entire weekend. Rooms. Meals. Everything!”

Cavalier Hotel Interior Swimming Pool

Cavalier Hotel interior swimming pool

The mechanical repair was a filthy, greasy job down in the dark pit of a pump room. While Dad’s friends partied at the best table in the ballroom, he worked throughout the night to fix the pump and fill the swimming pools by morning. Pools filled, the GM’s gratitude to Dad was boundless.  Even Dad’s car was returned to him washed and simonized.  Every expense for the weekend incurred at Dad’s table was covered. He was treated like a celebrity by the hotel staff wherever he turned.

Soon enough the ebullient times for Dad and his Fairmount Park pals and girlfriends ended.  The World War arrived like an Atlantic hurricane, and some of them were lost in the storm of the military violence. Dad tried to join the Navy three different times, but the government would not release him from his job as a leading man in the Naval Yard machine shop.  For lack of rationed tires and gasoline, the snazzy Ford Coupe was put up on blocks in the driveway, and Dad took a shabby commuter bus that picked him up on a slow roll in front of his house and delivered him directly to the shipyard.  Busses like that ran through almost every working-class neighborhood in Norfolk and Virginia Beach to service the war effort.

Dad, me, and Mother around the end of the war in 1945

Dad, me, and Mother around the end of the war in 1945

I was born in September 1941, about three months before Pearl Harbor and the US entry into the war.  My early childhood memories are filled with food rationing and the massive flyovers of military aircraft en route to the war.  I did not get to the Cavalier Beach Club until a date took me there to a Sunday afternoon tea dance when I was in college.  The old and faded Cavalier Hotel that set high on the sand hill across the coastal road from the Beach Club beckoned to me that day, and I insisted that my date take me in her Impala Chevrolet convertible for a brief tour of the grand dame where my father had celebrated his glory days.

In telling my date the story of my father’s favorite Memorial Day weekend, I was affirming my admiration for the blue-collar trades, and for the seeming miracles that they can perform with their skills and their hands whenever they are called into service. In summation, I said to her, “A first-class machinist can make or fix almost anything. What the hell are we going to do with our Liberal Arts degrees?”

“Maybe we’re supposed to tell their stories,” she wisely replied.


Filed under Family, Memoirs, Writing

Greeting Card Verses for Valentine’s Day

Lamp photoFor Valentine’s Day my wonderful wife Pat has carefully and diligently purchased greeting cards over the years that contain poetic sentiments that were not offensive to writers like me who hate clichés and saccharine sweetness in their verse.  In 2012, Pat asked me what kind of verses I might write for Valentine’s Day.  It was a challenge to produce commercial verses that real poets might tolerate. A warning to writers who may attempt this exercise: you can’t write just one, or even quit at a dozen.  You may become obsessed for weeks. My own obsession lasted through the writing of 57 verses that spanned several card categories.

Some background in poetry seems appropriate at this point.  I wrote my first publishable poem at age 13, and Robert Bly, the prolific poet, editor, and social activist, once rejected a college-era poem of mine with a note saying that it was “almost a perfect poem.”  Nevertheless, I had to compare my nascent poetry to that written by my closest friends, Henry S. Taylor—later to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1986)—and Kelly Cherry, another celebrated poet who became the Poet Laureate of Virginia. In those early days of sharing our writing with each other, you might understand my reluctance to offer poetry.

Although I have never been a serious student of poetry, I have continued to write verse my entire literary life.  I have thus suffered enough rejections of individual poems and a collection to retreat and rather store them in what Robert Frost called his “strong box.” My strong box now includes more than 150 poems edited into two collections, and the overage that increases by about three to four new poems a year.

After reading the following samples of some of the shorter Valentine verses, you may want to exercise your own greeting card poetic imagination.  But be advised, you might be surprised, as I was, by the sudden abyss of sentiment that results.

Undelivered Valentines

Photo by Pat Joynes

Photo by Pat Joynes

This card comes to you

As a momentary stay

Against television.

 If you will make me

Your preferred channel

For drama and romance,

I promise to deliver you

An exciting season

Of happy memories.


Interstellar Dimensions

May I acknowledge

Your spectacular flights

Into the space of my heart?

My happiness now

Has interstellar dimensions

Because of you.


Photo by Tommy White Photography

Photo by Tommy White Photography

May I make an attempt

To say something that

I have never said before,

To utter a secret long repressed?

The thrill of your intimacy

Means everything

Significant to me.


Sublime imagination

Sublime imaginationContains a heroic aura

Of the romantically

Idealized relationship.

Or so it seems

Whenever I think

About you.



I am against respectability

Because I am willing

To make a fool of myself

In campaigning

For your attention.


Cake topper

Biographically speaking,

I do not want to

Be ambiguous.

You are the most

Wonderful person in my life.



2 manatees

Do you want



And earnest?

Okay. I can be that way

For you.


Lily and Heidi

I am committed

To a trial

By existence.

Knowing full well

That I will be found

Guilty of loving you.


Not motivated by reason,Early morning rider

Or prudence, or foresight,

Or any artificial sentiment,

I am loose headed,

And destined for you.


Bestow by whispering

The secret confidences

That we share

Perfect oneness

Is love’s best labor

And our sweetest dream.

Photo by Jim Dillinger

Photo by Jim Dillinger

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Filed under Family, Poetry, Writing

The Use of Remembrance in Storytelling

In writing the unpublished novel BOY AT SEA, based on my personal experiences of going to sea on a Norwegian coal freighter as a third cook when I was 16 years old, I also used family characters and events to give depth to the 1950s narrative era.

One of the most vivid memories of childhood is when I assisted my father in performing cancer surgery on my grandfather’s dog.  This is that story.


Buddy James’s father was a reticent storyteller.  He seldom spoke about his manhood.  What few insights were given were told from his childhood.  At age six, Glenn James had driven his father’s Model A Ford out of its shed, circled a huge plum tree at the side yard in sight of the Fairgrounds fence, and then parked it back in the garage.  When he told his father what he had done, he was admonished not to invent fantasies.  Glenn then required the entire family, including his two older brothers and two older sisters, to witness the feat done a second time.

The boy’s father had a sensitivity toward animals that at times seemed magical.  Glenn had no fear of rampaging dogs, and the boy more than once saw his father separate dogs—muzzle to muzzle in bitter combat in their front yard—by snatching them by the fur at the backs of their necks and flinging them apart.

When Buddy was a teenager, his father discovered a pit bull dog abandoned by a rental family.  The dog had been chained to a clothesline pole and was ravenous, vicious, and injured from trying to escape the chain.  Glenn James first pushed food and water within the dog’s reach before and after each workday in a machine shop.  On weekends he sat just beyond the dog’s bite and talked to him.  It took two weeks before he could approach the dog and begin to medicate its wounds.  Days later, he was able to remove the chain and bloody collar.  Finally one day, the dog followed Glenn to his new home five houses away.  For as long as the dog lived, no one could approach Glenn without reassuring that dog of their good intent.

Whenever the boy thought about his father and dogs, he could not help but revisit the memory of the cancer surgery he had assisted his father in performing on his grandfather’s ancient beagle hound.  The dog’s name was Tito.  He was famous for his long tongue that constantly protruded as much as three inches from his panting mouth.  Tito had chased rabbits in his prime and loved to howl the sentiments of the hunt.  But now the old boy’s muzzle was completely white, his black and tan spots subdued by age, his gait a slow struggle to cross from a shade tree to his tin feed dish.  An ugly growth had appeared on the back of his neck and grown like a hideous black mushroom.  The vet said that it was cancerous and recommended that Tito be put down, but the boy’s grandfather could not do it.  So when the vet refused to operate, Glenn decided to try.

The day was already hot when Buddy helped his father put the weathered gray planks across equally antique sawhorses as an operating table.  The location was away from the house—in the sun for light on the lawn nearer the tool shed and the chicken house.  His grandfather had no stomach for the event and set off for a long walk up to the boulevard where the streetcar tracks ran and where there was a confectionery shop next to the movie house where he could have his Pepsi and maybe even a candy bar to take away the bitter taste in his mouth caused by hurt.  He fully expected to find Tito dead when he returned.

Glenn spread out a white oilcloth over the gray planks and assembled the tools of a trade so piteously thrust upon him—a short flat can of ether, a fat gauze pad to administer the anesthetic, a newly, skillfully sharpened straight razor, a razor-sharp pointed paring knife, two surgical forceps, and a talcum-like can of sulfa powder from a WW II medical kit purchased at a surplus store, and assorted gauze pads and adhesive tape.

Buddy brought out of the house a pan of hot water and the mug of shaving soap with its lathering brush.  Tito watched with the languid eye of his dimmed vision, displaying his legendary tongue, moving his tail as resolutely as he could in the acknowledgment of company.  His father required help as the man and twelve-year-old boy lifted the forty-pound sack of dog onto the outdoor operating table.

Young Monty with father Leger and mother Evelyn

In the boy’s memory, there were shared events in which his father achieved a greatness he could not recall in other men.  The surgery on Tito demonstrated a nobility that the boy always found heroic.  The boy’s role was to hold the dog down during the shaving around the surgical site and the anesthesia, and then to position the head for the cutting.  His father worried more about the ether than the surgery itself.  He feared the gauging of how much anesthetic the animal could take before it went to sleep forever.

There was much less blood than Buddy had dreaded.  The mass itself was sliced off by the razor in one definitive cut and dropped from forceps onto the grass.  The agony came in his father’s determination to cut out the tentacles of the cancer rooted in the dog’s neck.  The process seemed endless, the boy expecting Tito to awaken and chaos to ensue any moment.  He watched the dog’s closed lids and listened to every labored breath as a duty that released him from watching the surgical progress a foot away from his nose.  Finally his father relented, put down the bloody paring knife, washed the open wound, powdered it generously with sulfa, and then bandaged the neck of the old hunting hound.  They removed Tito to a pallet in the boiler room off the kitchen of the house and watched him for long hours before he revived.  By nightfall, the dog stood and ate his supper.  He lived another two years and died finally in his sleep.

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Filed under Animals, Family, Writing