Comforting Memories

Chelle Leary wears the costume her grandmother made for me in 1976.

Every once in a while our children will do something and we are brought back in time to when we were their age. This week that happened to me.

My youngest, Chelle, is in a literature class in high school. They are reading The Great Gatsby. This week for extra credit they could dress as a character from the book. Chelle wanted to dress as a flapper. I told her where two of my dresses were hanging in storage that she could try on. One of the two dresses was made by my mother for me when I was her age.

I took dance classes growing up and by high school I had put together a “Charleston” routine and performed it at the end of summer variety show at our swim club. My mother took an old slip of hers, and added fringe to make a flapper style dress. I wore that dress again in the Sparta High School senior variety show in the Spring of 1977.

Two nights ago Chelle put on the dress my mother made for me in 1976. My husband took a photo. As I was telling her about the dress I remembered I was in the local Sussex County newspaper wearing the same dress. I found the clipping in an old scrap book. That is when the memories really started flooding in.


In the newspaper photo above, to my right is my good friend Michelle “Chelle” Chaudoin. My friend Chelle was in an in air place collision of two small planes while she was a student at Arizona State University. She died May 4, 1980 just three years after the photo was taken. I was with her parents and grandparents the night they received word that, in fact, it was Chelle in the plane that went down into a lake that day. I’ve written about Chelle Chaudoin and a neat reunion at The Citadel a few years ago.

I sent both photos to my friend Chelle’s mom, Jodie, who is a widow now and in her 90’s. We had a wonderful exchange of memories and both agreed that my daughter, Chelle, is far more sophisticated than either my friend or I was at her age.

My mother died just over 27 years ago and never met any of my children. Moments like the one this week, seeing my daughter in a costume my mother made for me, reminds me that through our memories our loved ones are never far from us.

NOTE: We pronounce Chelle = Shelley



An Army Mom's Life: Expecting the Unexpected

“Life is something that happens to you while you are busy making other plans.” John Lennon

I first read that phrase on a card my good friend, Chelle Chaudoin, sent me once in college. I had just had a break up with a man I thought I was in love with and she wrote a note of encouragement on the card.

That phrase came to mind as I am sitting in the airport in Richmond, Virginia reflecting on my weekend.

Over a month ago I received an invitation to attend the, February 9, 100 Years of Spider Basketball celebration at my alma mater, the University of Richmond. From 1977 -1981 I was a manager for the men’s basketball team and also worked as an intern in various areas in the athletic department as a student. This was my first official invitation to an athletic department event in 30 years.

The plane reservations were made right away and arrangements were made to stay with a good friend, for what was to be a quick fun weekend reunion with long time friends. When I talked to my friend about the travel plans she told me the day game was also her father’s birthday. This would be the first birthday without him since he died in July of last year. Already the weekend was changing shape.

At some point in January another event happened that profoundly changed what was to be a fun-filled weekend, an email from the Family Readiness Group of the 3-69 AR at Fort Stewart informing family members that one of our soldiers, SGT. Aaron X. Wittman, was killed in action in Afghanistan. Shortly after this email The Citadel related Facebook groups lit up with the tragic news. Sgt. Wittman was graduate of The Citadel and the son of a graduate.

I was numb at the news. My son is in the same battalion, but not in the same company or area of the country. He is also a Citadel graduate. Sgt. Wittman was also from Chester, Virginia near Richmond. Perhaps I could pay my respects to the family during my visit.

Once the obituary was released I realized my plans for a fun weekend would include a very solemn occasion as well, the burial of Sgt. Wittman at Arlington National Cemetery. My Army mom’s heart breaks for the Wittman family. From all accounts Aaron was a wonderful young man. Tributes were posted to YouTube by family members and his unit in Afghanistan. There is also a video of his delegate from Virginia moving to adjourn in the memory of Sgt. Wittman. Citadel grads and parents began to post their condolences to various Facebook groups. I felt I needed to do what I could to attend the burial at Arlington.

The Family Readiness Group (FRG) Leader for the 3-69 is also the wife of the battalion commander. She is the one I met in January to go with me to the Exchange to purchase needed items for the 3-69. I contacted her to let her know I would be at the burial service. She told me she would be there with a rear detachment officer. We made plans to meet at Arlington. A few Citadel moms wrote to let me know they too would be attending the ceremony.

A couple of weeks before the trip I saw a photo of a beautiful Gold Star quilt made by  Memories in Stitches. Her website said she makes banners for Gold Star families. After a few emails she said she would send a banner for the FRG leader to present to Mrs. Wittman.

Through a network of Citadel grads a graduate and father of graduates learned I would be in DC and offered to host me the evening before the burial. An amazing offer since we had never met. It was set, I was flying into Richmond renting a car driving to DC and attending the burial.

A few more surprises slipped in.

My long time friend and fellow Richmond grad, Joe Williams, lives in the DC area. We’ve talked for a while about collaborating on a project. He was free the night I arrived so we had an extended visit/meeting over dinner.

My host family for the night were extremely hospitable. After a great nights sleep I was on to DC to spend a few hours admiring the sights, that is until another synchronistic meeting came together. I called a couple who have a first year cadet, called a knob, at The Citadel. They were both home and invited me to join them at their home for visit and brunch. I met this family Matriculation Weekend at The Citadel and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them. I was about to go through a very difficult ceremony. Spending sometime with a delightful couple made a terrific buffer for the more emotionally difficult experience that was coming next.

To be continued. . .