When we lost our dog Roxanne, in April of 2012, I said I was not getting another dog until I retired. That anticipated retirement date was six years in the future. I lasted a little more than six weeks. I meant what I said, and I was determined, but I was somewhat unaware. I was unaware, or had not realized, what a huge void Roxanne’s death would create in our home. She had been part of our family for 14 years. She was a living presence with traits, traditions and a relationship history with us! So her absence was keenly felt.

A picture of Roxanne laying behind the couch. She is a big, long dog who looks a little bit like a beagle on stilts.

I know that some people have more than one dog at a time and while we had considered it, we never did it. There were reasons, expense mostly, but also each of our dogs has seemed to be like “only children” who wanted all of our attention and did not want to share. Some folks, when they realize their family pet is well into old age and may leave at any time, bring a new pet into the household and we weren’t going to do that. Plus, even though Roxanne was almost 15, we didn’t sense the end coming. So we agreed, and I said it, “No new dogs until I have retired and we are in our own home.” But then…

But then one day a friend and parishioner came to our home with his roto-tiller to till garden space for us and brought his beloved Lucy, a friendly, loving Bassett Hound. They were at our house for a relatively short time, but when they left, and Lucy went with her master, I began to have a deeper sense of what was missing in our home. Puppy love; but more than that, devoted presence, dependent distraction from the cares of life?

Well, we were getting ready to go on vacation, so no decision, no adoption yet. But once again my sweet spouse began to read to me from the classified ads. A shelter near us had a Beagle that needed a home. His name, I think, was Tucker. He read that more than once, and we talked about it a little bit, and said, perhaps, when we got home from vacation, we would visit the shelter and check it out and take a look see at Tucker. Then we went on vacation. I don’t remember the details of where we stayed, or how long we were gone, except that while we were away, we visited two families who are friends, who also had sweet affectionate dogs. Doxie loved hanging at our heels and being petted and was generally sweet. I was in trouble.

Then there was Maggie, my friend Carol’s dog. Maggie was a big dog, a Labradoodle and although she was routinely cautioned away from us and the table, came around and loved to be petted. Perhaps it was me and not the dogs who needed to be warned off. They should have met us, me especially, at the door with signs that said, “Hi Michele, DO NOT PET THE DOG! But they didn’t and I did. When vacation was over, I probably asked more than once, “Well, do you want to go to the shelter to see if they still have Tucker?”

So we went, but Tucker was at the other facility getting some needed medical treatment. But they did have another Beagle. A few actually. They brought Misty out to meet us and I knew I was in trouble. In puppy love. My husband says too, that he knew as soon as Misty pranced into the room, that she would be going home with us.

Picture of a beagle with a harness, sitting on the back seat of my car.
Misty the Wonder Dog

Misty was a popular dog at the shelter and on outings to schools or when school children visited. Everyone loved Misty and loved to feed her. She had acquired a nick-name among the shelter staff: “Porkchop.” She got some exercise and a more regular diet when she got home with us. She loved to be taken for walks and she loved to hunt. Unlike Sam, our first Beagle, she would go diving into the brush, through the woods, on a trail, no matter. Misty had been a hunting dog, part of a pair (a brace) of dogs and been surrendered when her human was getting to a place in life when he could no longer care for her. He kept good records though and that was nice to have, especially since we had no information on Sammy at all.

I did make two mistakes with Misty that cost me, but it was okay. We filled out the paperwork to adopt her, but had to come back the next day, to give them time to check our references. It gave us time to, to get a dog crate, leash, collar and all the things one needs for a new dog. None of that was a mistake. The problem was I had to leave for a conference 45 minutes after we brought Misty home. I was gone four nights and three days, which was plenty of bonding time for her and Roger. When I got home, she was already his, or, truth be told, he was hers. A good friend referred to my husband as “her (Misty’s) Roger.”

To make up for what I missed, when I got home, I let her get on the couch. I wanted to be able to sit with her and pet her. We had not let either of our other two dogs on the furniture. Not that they never found their way there; but they were not invited or given permission. Since I gave Misty permission, she assumed that she owned the couch and was never dissuaded. Did I say that she adored my husband? She would get onto the couch, throw herself up against his side, throw her head back, looking up to him in total adoration. It soon became clear that where Misty was concerned, I was the other woman.

picture of a white bowl with scraps of gingerbread.
Gingerbread house scraps

Despite being the other woman, she was my constant companion in the kitchen, especially during what I lovingly call “The Gingerbread season.” If you are making gingerbread for houses, it plumps when you bake it and you have to trim it while it is hot, or the pieces won’t fit together correctly. She was always willing to get rid of the evidence. She ate her food very fast, vacuumed it out of the dish. That probably came from being one of two dogs and competing for food. The funniest thing she ever did where food was concerned though, was the time I gave her a little bit of leftover chili and rice. I thought it was a treat. She barked at it and would not touch it!

One day, when Roger and I were both sitting on the couch, she came up to me and put her paws on my knees. That’s sweet, I thought, she wants me to pet her! No, that wasn’t it. She used me for a ladder to climb up onto the couch and promptly went over to him, threw herself against in and looked back up at him in adoration. Admittedly, I was gone a lot, meetings, classes, gatherings, etc. and I was working on my Doctor of Ministry Degree which meant two weeks in January in Rochester and two weeks in June for three years. Roger was home.

She did get back at me though. One time Roger was away for a few days and I was working on homework. I had to leave her alone 3 times in one day to tend to different pastoral functions. The first two times she was great. So I didn’t pen her in. She never did like or adapt to the crate. The third time I left her was not the charm. She got a page out of my notebook that I had carefully written notes about my reading, and chewed it a bit but mostly tore it up. But I am stubborn. I taped it together and took it with me to school to prove that even at a post-grad level, my dog ate my homework!

To be fair, I was always greeted warmly enough when I came home and it’s not that she didn’t like me. Sometimes, it really did hurt. In theory she was my dog, in reality he was her master, her hero. One other time she climbed up on the couch on my side of the couch and I thought I was going to get some attention, but no, I was just convenient. She practically ran over to him on the other side of the couch. But I could not have not loved that dog. And for many reasons, but here is one. The picture below is not as clear as I wish it was, but it is important, and worth way more than a thousand words.

picture of a beagle curled up at a man's feet.
Misty the Comforter

In 2015 my husband was diagnosed with cancer and our family doctor told me to prepare myself. It was a rough go round and I know many have gone through that. The treatment made him sick, and almost killed him, the side-effects did the same, and then the treatment for the side-effects was no picnic either. We were fortunate in many ways because he was the first patient in our health system to receive a newly approved cancer drug and he is alive today because of it. But through those rough, weeks and months, Misty was faithful. Never underfoot, always near by and ready to cuddle up with “her Roger.” How could I not love a dog like that?

Picture of eagle curled up on a blanket
Another picture of Misty, curled up at Roger’s feet.

In March of 2019 we learned that Misty had an inoperable tumor in her bladder. We weren’t sure what to do at first, because despite the diagnosis, she seemed pretty normal, ate and drank and played and showed no signs of pain. The vet gave us medication that would help minimize symptoms and we agreed to monitor her. She had six good months that she might not have had, if we had reacted immediately. When it came to her last day, it was pretty clear it was the end of the road. Our vet was very compassionate and we never let a dog cross that rainbow bridge alone. We held each one, cried and mourned.

Why Beagles? I don’t know how to answer that. Many are bred for hunting, but I am not a hunter. I think they are really cute and the dogs we have had, have been great members of the family. I am glad that we were able to give her a home and she gave us laughter and so much more. I blame Lucy, our friend’s Bassett Hound. I blame Doxie and Maggie too. But I guess most of all I blame Lucy, or maybe the right word is credit, for encouraging me especially to visit the shelter and adopt a dog who needed us as much as we needed her.

(Photo credit for featured image at top of page: Photo by Arteim Beliaikin from Pexels)

Last Day of Vacation

It is my last full day at home, and I have come to the Canal for one last look. I have taken several pictures with my phone, sometimes needing to point, shoot and hope, because the glaring of the sun obliterates any view on my phone screen, and I am no photographer. When I think I have taken as many of these “seeing, yet not seeing” pictures as I should, I tell myself that it is time to go, gas up my car, work my way through my vacation rental gathering and packing anything I won’t need in the morning and prepare for the trip home.

Picture of the Cape Cod Canal taken at the Herring Run Recreation Area, facing the Sagamore Bridge. Clear sky, blue water, green grass
Herring Run Recreation Area Just above the Sagamore Bridge

It is time to be efficient and mature and say good-bye to the Canal and leave, but something catches my eye and it freezes my feet to the ground. So, I return to my car to retrieve my notebook and find a place to sit. The wind seems to swirl the water a bit, but there are no waves. I learned that this is caused by the current and not the wind. They swirling circles are eddies, pulling in the opposite direction of the current. None the less, the water passes, moving east to Sandwich at a fair clip. Yet, the movement of the water is smooth and reflective like glass. The sun shines on the water and it shimmers in places. The current moves the water along, as if to say to the water, “move along, there is nothing to see here.”

There are many eddies of different sizes and I wonder if I would stare at them long enough if a fish will push through the water or if I tried to focus on one eddy, how long I could keep it in view. Occasionally a bird, a Canada Goose maybe, will sweep down across the water as though it were coming in for a landing but not quite touching it, looking for food, I imagine. Then, as quickly as it arrived, it takes off again. By now, the eddies that passed by my spot are probably at the Sagamore Bridge on their way out to sea.

Clouds reflecting in the water of the Cape Cod Canal, stones along the water's edge.
A beautiful clear October Day at the Cape Cod Canal

I want to take a few more pictures or buy them. I want pictures of the Railroad Bridge in Buzzards Bay and the Bourne Bridge and the Sagamore Bridge that cross the canal, taking countless visitors to Cape Cod. The bridges were both built between 1933-1935 and are some of the most familiar landmarks of my childhood. Seeing them for the first time makes me draw in my breath. I want pictures of my childhood homes too, but there is not enough wall space in my home, so I will have to carefully catalog these sights and store them in my heart.

picture of a sail boat on the canal, a square, wooden picnic table and the fence along the park.
My last look before leaving the Canal

Perhaps what I long for most of all is a video of this gracefully moving water that I can play it over-and-over again. There are some wonderful pictures posted on Facebook taken by good photographers with expensive equipment and daring shots. Colorful sunrises and sunsets, and nighttime pictures of the Railroad Bridge. I admire them and am grateful that a friend has shared them with me in my newsfeed. But this is the view right here, the blue glass water, the sun shining on the canal making the water shimmer, the blue sky and white clouds, the gentle breeze and the persistent current.

This is the picture that I want. The sound of the traffic on the road behind me cannot tarnish the feel of the breeze and this sight on my being. Sitting here, I think I understand how Robert Frost might have felt when he wrote “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.” I do not want to go. But home, family and work beckon; so I grow up, gather my things, including a perfect half of a mussel shell and leave behind a tear.

Not holding back the tide,


Water Works

I grew up on Onset, Massachusetts. We did not have a park or a playground in the section of town that I called home, Point Independence. We had something much better: the beach. Onset sticks out into Buzzards Bay, like chubby fingers on a child’s hand, spread out in the Bay so that each finger is surrounded by water on three sides. It is difficult to drive around Onset without catching glimpses of the Bay. My street ends at the water, ending about two feet above the beach sand. In the years since I left home the boat population has soared and what used to be Janes’ Yacht Yard (Now Safe Harbor and Onset Bay Yacht Sales) and the Point Independence Yacht Club have both grown in size. We used the Maple Street drop off as one way to get to the beach, at low tide that is; at high tide the water comes up to the drop off.

Picture of Onset Bay and Point Independence with an Inn
Photo of Point Independence Inn, Photo Courtesy of Onset Bay Association

There is a lane directly down to the beach from our old house and that was always a better choice to get to the beach, otherwise one would have to walk a couple of blocks on the main street to get to a better access point for the beach. Yet, thanks to the finger effect of the shoreline, there is a lot of tourist friendly beach in Onset. The shore was so curvy, that it gave the impression that it had been laid out by a capricious artist, who carved and chiseled the shore, curving this way and that, at whim. The part of Onset Beach that we claimed, west of the Point Independence Yacht Club, was a low frills kind of beach. There were ropes with flotation devices to denote the swimming area, but no life guards or rafts, that I remember. Those were at the main beach in town that attracted the tourists who didn’t rent houses in Point Independence.

Having grown up near the inlet waters of Buzzards Bay and so close to the Cape Cod Canal, I have always had a fascination-fear relationship with water. Most of the bad storms that came our way were nor’easters, and they can be pretty bad. Plus the fact that we always lived close to the beach probably increased the fear factor. In Point Independence, the beach and thus the Bay were about two hundred yards down the lane. When we lived at the Union Villa, we were just across the street from the beach and the pier. For me at least, that proximity to big water made it that much more fearsome.

If you do not live in New England or the Northeast, you can learn more about Nor’easters from the National Weather Service. But let me share a picture. I arrived home in Onset on October 17th, the day after a Nor’easter had gone through the area. Actually, it lasted a little longer than a day. It was sunny but very windy when I blew into town. The water was only a little choppy, but it seemed like more than a typical high tide, and the water was an angry green. I had to take the picture from my car because the wind was strong enough I could not get my door open more than a few inches.

Picture of the beach, the day after a storm. Picture was taken from my car window.
Photo from my car, taken on Onset Pier, October 17, 2019

There were hurricanes that made it up to Massachusetts in the 1950’s (and certainly later too). One memorable Hurricane in the 1950’s lifted up one of the snack bars in town off its moorings (Kenny’s Salt Water Taffy). There were booklets published with pictures of all the local storm damage. As young as I was, I still shiver when I think about the high water mark of those hurricanes. There was a beach front house that had a large privacy wall. It was the last house on the left of our lane at the beach. Walking past that wall and seeing the high water mark that was several feet above my head, in a place that normally the water didn’t even reach at high tide, gave me shivers for sure, as well as a healthy respect for water. Perhaps that is where and how my fascination-fear of water was born.

The dirt lane that went from the edge of our property all the way to beach front served was a good path down to the beach. When I remember those storms, mom is still my hero. She had a knack for making it seem like everything was okay, or trying to make a game out of it, even if she was scared. The wind drove the rain sideways as it pelted our windows. We couldn’t help but wonder if the water would make it all the way up to our home. Mom moved the overstuffed chairs from the living room to the dining room to be closer to the heat and we sat at the table playing parcheesi and rummy and probably even fish. The storm windows were full length windows, with thick wooden frames and they latched over the regular windows somehow, and shook and rattled in the strong gales of the hurricane winds and shook our bones as well.

In June, July and August, the beach was a great place for sounds as well as sights. You could hear the voices from a hundred different conversations going on at once, blended in with the static from transistor radios. The voices of life guards calling through megaphones to kids fooling around on the rafts, were mixed in with the cries of circling seagulls. There were other sounds as well coming from the snack shack, that were noticeable as one stood inline to place an order. You could hear the sizzle of hotdogs or hamburgers frying on the grill, the boiling sound of the oil, as baskets of French fries and onion rings were dunked into them. Then of course, there was the ca-ching, ca-ching of the cash register being rung up, and the occasional sound of coin wrappers being hit on the side of the register to break them open as the coins fell into their holders. Even today when I see a cashier do that, I think of an egg being cracked open and its contents spilled onto a hot griddle or frying pan.

A picture of Onset beach in the summer, with people on the beach, umbrellas, lifeguard stands, etc.
Onset Beach, Courtesy of the Onset Bay Association

Beaches are inviting places, even to the locals and when we went out to play during the summer, it was most often to play at the beach. We went to lay on the hot crystalline white sand, to dig in the water logged sand at low tide and try our hand at sand castles, not unlike the tourists.

We went to swim or wade in the water, dodging seaweed and crabs and the gasoline rainbows left by the motor boats and yachts. We even collected sea shells and carried sand pails. As a rule, the locals didn’t own or carry beach umbrellas, we sold them. We didn’t wear tee shirts that said “Cape Cod Massachusetts,” we were there for the duration. Not that we resented the tourists; that was how many families, including mine, earned a living. But in a sense, the tourists were fair-weather friends. When the warmth was gone, the wealth was too. Maybe that’s why we called them “summer people.”

The Cape Cod Canal on a sunny day, the clouds are reflected in the water, the rocks line the side of the canal.
Cape Cod Canal, October 2019

It was in Onset that I first learned about the musical qualities of water. I remember the woosh-swish sound of the water, rising and falling on the beach, as though the bay were breathing. Although I moved away from there almost fifty years ago, it takes very little effort to recall the sound of the water climbing and falling up the gentle slope of our little beach. It is streams and creeks that are most noticeably musical. If you stand besisde a creek long enough, you can begin to discern the sound of notes and tones as the water rushes over various shapes and sizes of stones, rocks, boulders, sticks and fallen trees. The creek seems to sing as it passes by, the larger the rock, the deeper the tone: it is the music of the earth and sea.

My connection with water is undeniably sentimental and very much rooted in my childhood, but it is so much more. It is a connection with life itself that is both sensual and spiritual. I cannot drive by water without wanting to stop and admire it, whether it is a stream, lake or ocean, man made or natural. I want to know every stream I cross; I want to know the width of the stream, and the quality and depth of the water. I steal looks as I pass by, snatches of observations, to peer into the clear water and see the outline of every rock that lines its path. I don’t name the streams or call them mine, but I notice when they are low, when the huge rocks often covered with speeding water are dry and bleached looking. Sometimes the streams overflow their banks with café-au-lait colored water, moving at a clip that would suggest it was being chased by something much bigger, more fearsome than itself.

Picture of the Cape Cod Canal at the Herring Run Recreation area, just above the Sagamore Bridge.
Herring Run Recreation Area, The Cape Cod Canal, just above the Sagamore Bridge

As a child I learned to ride in the car with one eye on the road and one eye on the canal or bay and that is the way I drive now. One eye on the road ahead, and one eye out for any body of water that does me the kindness of running parallel to the road on which I am traveling. Often, it is the Susquehanna River. Sometimes it is Sugar Creek, Towanda Creek or the Tioga River. I drive with a sense of longing, wanting to stop, to ponder and drink in the view, though I can’t drink the water. When the river and streams are overflowing, muddy and moving fast, that same fascination-fear pulls at me to stop and gaze. But I drive on as though some weight were holding my foot to the gas pedal. Though I seldom stop, I do not drive on without noticing or longing. In Psalm 42:7, the Psalmist wrote. “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” Deep calls to deep, and so it is with me.

Not holding back the tide,



As I sit at my computer, I think of some of the sayings or expressions that people have penned about home. I wonder if I will appear to be too trivial, if I mention them, like a middle school student who begins an essay with Webster’s definition of their particular subject. Perhaps no one cares what Miriam Webster defined something as, because there are so many online sources for definitions and descriptions. For myself, as much as I like and use social media, this blog, for instance, my “sort of smart” Android phone, Google and other search engines and my Kindle, I still prefer the heft and feel of my dictionary.

As a student in both college and seminary, I learned to keep my dictionary close enough that I could reach out my arm and get hold of it. This was an act I frequently found necessary, because if one tries to simply go on context one could get derailed. Maybe I needed a dictionary so often because I am not as smart as I think I might am. But the main reason, is that scholars who write text books seem to feel or be driven to show off their vocabularies, throwing multi-syllable words into every paragraph. I would circle those words in my own books to force myself to admit that I wasn’t quite sure what they meant and would be better off looking them up. Why all the bother about dictionaries and definitions? Because when used, they can open doors and windows to meaning that deepen understanding.

picture of a woman sitting on stone steps in front of an old house. A young boy sits next to her and a young girl stands facing her.
Mom, my brother and me circa 1953

But what of home? When I was growing up, I only had two homes in eighteen years, the one on Maple Street, the home of my childhood, and the Union Villa, the home of my youth. In the years since, I have lived in more than eighteen homes, in five states in fifty years. When some people leave home, they never look back. That wasn’t me. It is just that having left home, with the change of circumstances over the years, going back was, well, difficult. I wasn’t raised in a family that did much in the way of cemetery visits, none that I knew of at any rate. So, the first time I visited my grandmother’s grave was on the day my father was buried. Two years after dad died, mom moved back to Baltimore to be close to her family. As a result, the second time I visited my father’s grave (and my hometown) was twenty four years later, when my mother was buried, next to my dad.

Picture of a tomb stone in a cemetary.
Grandma and Grandpa Marcellino

We had less than 40 hours to be in Onset, so it was a quick but sentimental journey and then there was so much to get back to: packing up mom’s apartment and moving everything out, going through pictures and making decisions and then everything got busy. In the months that followed, my youngest daughter graduated from high school, the other two had long flown the nest. We moved from our four bedroom, four story rental to a two bedroom apartment and prepared for my daughter’s move to Florida. A little over two years later, we were packing again and moving to a parsonage, as I had been approved and licensed as a newly appointed United Methodist Student Pastor.

The following eight years, I was an obsessive full-time student, serving three churches (part-time?) and barely lifted my nose from a book except to preach sermons and other pastor-like tasks. Letting anyone know where I was, except the post office, and our immediate family, did not even occur to me. It is not that I never missed home (Onset) or never got home sick (boy did I). I missed my parents, who were gone, I missed the place I loved (Onset) but did not think there were any options for visits.

picture of open books and a note book on a table
Photo by Lum3n.com from Pexels

Years later, we were finally able to plan a vacation home. I was excited, to say the least. We planned a few days at Old Sturbridge Village and the rest of the time at home in Onset. That trip had to be cancelled at the last minute due to a health crisis. By the time my husband was released from the hospital there was precious little vacation time for such a trip. We tried again a few years later, I registered for my Fortieth High School reunion but, once again we had to cancel due to health reasons. During all these years, I really did not have any contact with classmates or my father’s family, so it was all about place, but not people.

After cancelling two trips, I told my husband the next time I wasn’t going to plan, we were just going to go. Spontaneously. Ten years past. As I prepared for retirement in the spring of 2018, a life changing invitation came my way, though I didn’t realize how big an impact it would have. I was invited to do a wedding in Maine, that summer. I readily accepted. Not long after accepting, I realized that the location in Maine was just four hours north of Onset. I was going to do the wedding and I was going home. Because I would be retired at the time of the wedding, I assumed we could take an open ended vacation. However, after the details were set, I accepted an appointment to serve two churches part-time. That changed my open ended vacation to once again, only have 2 days to be in town.

The primary image for the Beach Girl Chronicles. Onset beach on a cloud day. sand, seweed and water with an old building to the right.
Onset Beach, September 2018 ~ The Beach Girl Chronicles

We arrived in Onset on a cold, cloudy, sometimes rainy day. I did not care! I drove around and around, stopping, walking on the beach, taking lots of silly pictures of gulls on the beach, on the Onset pier and pictures of home. When my husband and I talked to a friend after our return she asked about our trip. His response, “Well, let’s see. We saw the house where she grew up, we saw the beach. We saw where her grandmother’s house used to be and the Union Villa, and we walked on the beach. We saw the house where she grew up…” I suppose he was bored. It’s okay; but I could not get enough of drinking in views and memories, sights, scents and sounds. A beach on a cloudy day is better than no beach at all, and clouds and drizzle do not prevent the search and rescue of a few sandy seashells.

picture of an old home. it is the same house as in the previous picture with the woman, boy and girl, but 65 years later.
Home from birth until March 1962, when we moved to the Union Villa

I had really thought this trip home would be a once and done. After all, I had no contact with old friends, did not know any of my dad’s family or have contact information for them. This trip was about memory and place, and a slice or two of pizza and at least one seafood dinner. It was a bittersweet trip, because while there were people in town who vaguely remembered the Union Villa when it was a bar, there was no one in town, fifty years later, who could say, “Oh yes, I remember Jack and Maggie.” Bitter. Sweet. But there was this surprising, nudging, nagging thought. Every place we went, every place I set my feet, that thought came as a simple word: “Write!”

And I understood that ‘once and done’ was not going to work. I wanted more; I needed more. So, I began to hope, plan, plot, dream, calculate and wonder if there was a way I could return. I did not expect such a profound pull on my heart, on my whole being to return. I had thought it was all about memory, but I think now it was about something larger. I began to wonder if I had left something behind when I moved away, something more significant than the things one fails to grab and throw into a suitcase before checking out. While I could share simple answers to that soul searching, the truth is that journey continues.

Serendipitously, I found contact information for a high school classmate before leaving town. It turned out that I was two weeks shy of being in town for the Fiftieth Class Reunion. Coming back for the celebration was not an option, but she put me in touch with other classmates and we connected through Facebook. I am grateful for that in more ways than I can say. When I was able to return to Onset for an entire week, to visit, take more pictures of gulls on the beach return again and again to my childhood home, connect with family I didn’t know I had and write, “Write!” I learned some important things. Many other people in the last fifty years have come to rightly claim Onset as their home. Some of them are quite active in supporting their town and helping it be what it is today and they are doing great work. (See http://www.onsetbay.org) I know that in that sense, Onset is only where I am from, it is not where I live. For me, it is home in the past tense. Yet, not.

Light blue ceremaic mug with small bowl and plate, dark blue outlines and pink flower in the center

I know some people who have never wandered far from home, who have at least lived in a discrete small radius from home. This applies to most of my in-laws, except one who left the state for his education and whose work keeps him darting all over the map. But most have stayed close. I know some people who have either bought what they lovingly refer to as the “old homestead,” or who never left it. My brother and I both left early on, both traveled differently but permanently. My children also left the nest behind, each of them in their late teens. My fault, I admit. I raised them on tales of my adventures, leaving home to visit my brother, getting my driver’s license at 19 and getting my first apartment. But I also tried to nurture their dreams and not hold them back with apron strings.

My husband and I have been together longer and lived together longer, than anywhere we have lived in our lives or anyone we have been with, almost thirty-four years. Two years ago, just before my retirement we bought our first home together. Every day I thank God for our home. It is a simple, old house, for a simple old couple and a goofy dog. It too, is home. Thirty four years ago he said to me, “Anywhere I hang my hat is home,” and then later, “Anywhere you are is home.” That is an important, yet humbling reality.

As a pastor, and a pair of parsonage dwellers we lived with a realistic sense that every home was ours to use, part of the benefit package, but not truly ours. Home. But not home, until the Bishop determined otherwise. Three such homes in twenty three years, to hang our hats and be together, not rooted in place, just simply tethered.

Picture of a brown turtle on green grass.
Photo by laura parenti from Pexels

Like a turtle that carries its home on its back, so I have carried home with me, in seashells and beach sand, cranberry scoops and Portuguese Pottery. I have carried them from house to house, state to state and some thing more precious than even those. Some thing that does not require bubble wrap, or shipping charges. Some thing that will not fade or crack like an old photograph and some thing that the heart might not be the right combination of delicacy and strength to hold. These are the things I have carried in my soul. And that begs the question: is home where you live, or something much more?

I am just a vintage chick on a journey of discovery, and I am not, NOT holding back the tide.

Michele Marcellino Somerville

Life at the Union Villa

Life at the Union Villa, when we lived there, was like a cross between “Joe the Bartender” from the Jackie Gleason Show* and Cheers.** My dad was definitely “Joe the Bartender,” well, “Jack the Bartender.”  “Joe the Bartender” was a regular skit on the Jackie Gleason show. As each scene opened, the doors of the bar would part, to reveal Joe wiping off the bar and singing “My Gal Sal” although it was barely recognizable. He would pour a drink for Mr. Dunahee, whom the audience never saw, and start a conversation. Eventually Joe would invite a local named “Crazy Gugenheim” to join in the conversation. “Crazy” was played by Frank Fontaine.

How was life at the Union Villa like Joe the Bartender? Joe was a big guy, wearing a white dress shirt, wiping down the bar singing off key and holding forth with the customers. That was dad. Although he would not drink during the busy season of Memorial Day through Labor Day, in the off season he would have a few drinks with the fellas at the end of the bar. When he had had enough to drink, or rather too much, he would sing “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” while wiping down the bar.  That was dad and I had no doubt then, or now that he was singing it for my mother!

Picture postcard of The Union Villa circa 1945

The similarities with Cheers was mostly in the downstairs, although it was just three steps down, not a whole flight, and in the special group of regulars that hung at the end of the bar. They nick-named themselves “The Dirty Corner.” I have no intention of being crude here, just describing the atmosphere and my family.  Dad would hang in the corner with them when it wasn’t too busy.

There were some customers who came in for a beer or two on their way home from work, but these guys stayed, for hours it seemed. They were always nice to me and careful around me and in many ways, some of the guys seemed like extended family, especially Dick and Hoppy, and others to some extent. They were not only regulars at the bar, but they were regulars in dropping in for a few free drinks at the apartment, when the bar was closed for the winter.

I never felt that I wasn’t safe around them and there was a lot of good-natured teasing. When they decided they had exercised enough restraint and wanted to let lose, there would be a chorus of “Good Night, Michele!” Letting me know it was time for me to move along.

picture of the writer in a white cap and gown on the steps of the Union Villa June 1968,
Me on Graduation day, 1968 on the steps of the Union Villa. In the far distance you can almost see the water of Onset Beach

A word about language and liquor: If you have been following along on my blog you know that my Dad, Jack, was a sailor. He talked like a sailor and there were probably more cuss words than non-cuss words in his general conversation.

Although I have no doubt that he knew the word, I have long been grateful that the “F-Bomb” was not one that I heard from him. When I hear such language, I wish that I could hand out small pocket versions, not of Gideon Bibles, but of dictionaries or Thesaurus’ or some other type of resource for the clean-language deprived. 

When it came to alcohol, my social world as a child was filled with it; the only difference between living at The Union Villa and life before we moved there, was the numbers of people who were imbibing. I think I became immune in some way, and I always understood that this was my parents’ business and livelihood.

picture of shelves in a bar with wine and  hiskey bottles
Photo by Chris F from Pexels

There were many perks to life at the Union Villa. I should say that biggest perk was that my dad was home, and not at sea. It was especially a bonus for my parents. They worked hard and had a good strong work ethic. In the early part of the season, and after Labor Day, they did everything themselves, which meant that dad was the only bartender and mom was the only person in the kitchen.

Once a day mom would tend bar, so dad could go upstairs to shower and change. She did most of the cooking, but dad made the spaghetti sauce and the meatballs.

Mom made the pizza sauce, the pizza dough and made the pizzas as well as sandwiches (Meatball Subs, and Italian subs, and occasionally she made stuffed Quohogs.) The first year, she sliced peppers and onions and made a design on each pizza.

After that she got wise and chopped everything up and kept things moving. I wish I had her recipe for the pizza dough, just for sentimental reasons, but it made 36 pizzas and I have never made more than two at a time.

picture of garlic, red and green pepper chilis, mushrooms and pasta on red and white checked table cloth
Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

In theory, all our meals could have been pizza or spaghetti and I have not outgrown my love of pizza. Mom made sure to cook real meals for us, so that we ate well, even though we couldn’t sit at the table and eat together.

In the busy season, from Memorial Day until Labor Day, there was extra help, an additional bartender, one waitress and one extra person in the kitchen. I helped where I could and I wanted to, I never felt required to do it.

On occasion, I made pizza dough and could roll and make a pizza, if it wasn’t rush time. I mostly folded pizza boxes, but not at the rapid pace I have seen on recent television commercials.

On a busy night in the summer, they might make as many as 100 pizzas or a little more. I know that is nothing today, but it was a barroom that sold food, not a restaurant that sold liquor.

My father could be outrageous. When a friend visited, dad would ask him, in front of the whole bar, “Young man, what are your intentions toward my daughter?” There were only 2 boys I knew who could stand up to that kind of treatment and still come back, my best friend, and the boy I eventually married, who was my best friend’s college roommate.

Once a boy came to see me and ordered a pizza. Dad said, “I’ll give you the pizza free if you go get a haircut.” (1965). Not surprisingly, he did not come back.

For my own part, I could be a bit of a brat. Sometimes when I had a quarter to put in the juke box, I would play, Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack” though I never meant it.  When dad was drinking during the off season, I would take a magic marker and mark the line on the Jim Beam bottle (his preferred drink) before I went to bed. And when I went behind the bar to kiss him goodnight, I would ring the ship’s bell. I knew that would only be annoying if he had a hangover, but I did it to be, well, a brat.

picture of a pepperoni pizza and pizza boxes
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Some of the more selfish perks to life at the Union Villa were that I could have pizza with my friends whenever I wanted. I could also have all the soda that I wanted, but that wasn’t as wonderful as it might seem. In the 1960’s soda bottles came with bottle caps that required a bottle opener. There were rubber stoppers with metal handles that would be inserted after the bottle was open. But I was pretty sure then, and still feel now, that dad gave me the soda from the bottom of the bottle that was going flat.

I have never been much of a picture taker and most of the pictures I have that my mom had taken were from the 1950’s. I have only two pictures of my mom and dad behind the bar and they are so old and beat up they would not show very well.

They are Polaroid pictures that I keep in a plexiglass frame and seldom remove them lest they totally fall apart. One of them is a long shot down the bar, showing many of the regular customers and dad at the other end. The other one is mom and dad in a closeup, with dad in a pressed white shirt and mom wearing a skirt and sweater with a frilly apron.

Mom wore uniforms in the kitchen, but always pretty colors. Not sure she owned any casual clothes and I never saw her in slacks until she was in her 70’s and those were pantsuits that she had made for herself. So, many pictures of mom and dad, especially at the Villa, are in my heart. All I can do is show you snapshots through stories.

 It was an interesting way to grow up, not particularly good or bad. I had many blessings and some trials. Some days I marvel at the fact that growing up in that atmosphere I did not become an alcoholic, which in some sense, seems to be a family disease. I was relatively sheltered in the midst of all that alcohol and other things. I remember the smell of stale cigarettes and beer.

I remember the noise of the bar, the sounds of the band and the player piano, Dad with a wad of chewed up cigar, not too discretely tucked in his cheek, dad ducking his head in the window to the kitchen to holler in a pizza order, “Two plain pizzas for red-shirt.”  I remember the sting of cigarette smoke in my eyes on busy Saturday nights.

I have carried these memories and stories with me for years, carefully storing them as if in a secret compartment and only hinting at them with the simple statement, “I grew up in a bar.”

Most of all, I remember life at the Union Villa with mom and dad, Jack and Maggie, during the most formative years of my life, as if it were yesterday.

Not holding back the tide,


**Cheers http://www.imdb.com › title

Created by James Burrows, Glen Charles, Les Charles. … The regulars of the Boston bar “Cheers” share their experiences and lives with each … 3:49 | TV Program

*The Jackie Gleason Show https://g.co/kgs/CH8epX

Copyright © 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com – All Rights Reserved.

A Pastor and Her Props

One day I visited a colleauge who was preparing to retire and move out of state. She very graciously invited me, and others to look through her office and help ourselves to any props or items we might find useful. There was a beautiful but simple, multicolored long dress and a pink and grey water jug and a ruby red glass bottle with a glass stopper. I took them and thanked her. I hung up the dress in my office and set the water jug next to it and thought, “I could be………………anyone. I could be, the Woman at the Well.” And so I was.

A young boy gave me the gift of a green stuffed frog, after I had done a family study with him and his family around the story of Moses and the Plagues and the Prince of Egypt. That young boy is a young man now, perhaps close to 30 and while I have let other such things go, the Frog still sits on top of the second row of books in a bookcase. After all, one never knows when one might need a frog!

Yard sales can be great places to find props. One time when I was driving past a yard sale, and stopped because I saw an interesting stuffed sheep with a black face and a floral bow. I rescued him from the place of dishonor, sitting among discarded items for all to see. In talking with his previous owner, I learned that he had been made by someone, whose last name was Murray. So I bought him and brought him home to my office and named him Murray. Murray was quite companionable in my office and caused no trouble at all. Occasionally he visited church with me. For a relatively little guy, he is somewhat heavy, and I wonder if he doesn’t have some wire in his legs. 

Later that year, at Christmas, we were staging a play that called for someone to throw stuffed sheep, but I did not want to subject him to that. After launching a search for gently used sheep and coming up empty, I made a small purchase and bought two lovely small sheep from Amazon and since it was Christmas time, I named them Frankie and Goldie (although, for the life of me I keep wanting to call them Frankie and Johnny).  So, I had Frankie, Goldie and Murray (Myrrrrrhy). Frankie and Goldie became flying sheep. They were quite acrobatic. Murray watched approvingly from the sidelines.

Murray (during Christmas and Ephiphany his name miraculously changes to Myrrrhy)

Then, last year at Lent, Murray, Frankie, and Goldie got to guest star in a presentation of the Shepherd who left the 99 sheep in search of the one lost sheep. Other sheep have been added to the flock since then, including one with a rather wooden personality. All it can seem to do is sit there. Lambchop came to join the crew but met with an untimely end. It seems that Lambchop was a dog toy in disguise with a wonderful squeaker and was given to the dog! Just unspeakable, the drool, being sat on or waved about the room between the dog’s teeth, left to finish its days on a stinky dog bed.

Christmas time saw two new residents at Shepherdess Shelley’s Home for Wayward Sheep. Orphaned they were, left on her doorstep in a pretty Christmas bag, their previous owner trusting the Shepherdess to do the right thing and take them in. The mamma sheep was named Baaaath-sheep-ba and her little one was named Leg-a.  Now about this time, I began to think all these gifts of sheep might be the slightest bit prophetic and began wondering if I shouldn’t try to accumulate some additional stuffed sheep. After all there are many stories in the bible about Shepherds and Jesus as the Good Shepherd and of course, the 23rd Psalm. If the Lord is our Shepherd, that must make us some kind of sheep. Plus, there are Messy Church* groups that use crocheted sheep and stuffed sheep to promote their activities, so there are lots of wonderful applications and opportunities. All this at a time when this pastor is trying to downsize, but I continued to contemplate putting out a call for more sheep.

I had lunch my friend who had given the previous sheep, except of course for Murray, Frankie and Goldie. After lunch, my friend reminded me to take back a canvas bag I had sent over with books in it. I grabbed the bag by the handles and low and behold there was a fluffy momma sheep and a little baby sheep stuffed into the bag. Their names are Emmmmm-i-ly and Alllllll-is.  Without further delay I put out a call on Facebook for some gently used stuffed sheep. That raised a few eyebrows and question marks, let me tell you. My sheep sharing friend’s response was “Be careful what you wish for!”Continue reading “A Pastor and Her Props”


We have had four rescue dogs in 31 years, but never more than one at a time. When Sammy died, we were heartbroken and knew that we needed the time to grieve. That will make a lot of sense to pet owners and perhaps no sense at all to people who don’t have or want pets. We knew when Sammy died, that we would likely get another dog but we gave ourselves time. Sammy was such a sweet dog, our “California” Beagle, as laid back as they came. We lost him the middle of November and just moving into what folks laughingly call, a pastor’s busy season of Advent and Christmas. Also, I was in my second year in college as a full time student, serving three churches. Not only was I getting ready for final exams and writing final papers, Buck Season was looming. So, no new additions to the family in that mix of activity.

Close up picture o a dog's face. Colors black and tan with brown eyes.
Photo by Lum3n.com from Pexels

We got through Christmas and Buck season and the next semester at school began and we continued to contemplate Sammy’s absence. We, rather my husband, dog sat for a friend and we enjoyed having “four on the floor” scampering through the house. Although he will probably deny it, my husband started working on a dog collar. I am not sure what became of it, but that is what he said he was doing and once again, I started looking through the classified adds for another beagle. I can’t explain “Why beagles?” I just think they are cute. Now and then we would make a phone call but strike out.

I suppose you could say that my husband and I are a corny, sentimental couple, but every year we celebrate the anniversary of the day we met (it was a blind date) and the day we got married. Usually both anniversaries are good for dinner out, but on that certain day in 1998, instead of going out to dinner we went to the local SPCA. I was determined to come home with a beagle, but they didn’t have any; although they had a dog that looked a lot like a beagle on stilts. That was Roxanne. We never did narrow down her breed and they had her listed as a mix. She looked a lot like a Walker or Coon Hound but definitely tri-color, she had a brindle coat on her back, but everywhere else she was copper, tan and white. She had the body of a Greyhound and boy could she run. She could stretch out in front of the couch and span the entire thing!

Picture of Roxanne laying on the floor with a rubber dumbbell toy nearby. Roxanne was black, white and tan, beagle looks but a tall dog.
Roxanne 2004

She was in one of the pens outside and it was hard to get her attention or have any significant one on one time with her because she was totally obsessed with the Dalmatian in the pen next to hers, and pretty much ignored us. As obsessed as she was with her neighbor, I was that much determined to go home with something that looked like a beagle. She was an energetic puppy, with a sad bittersweet story. She and another sibling were found on a rock in the middle of the Susquehanna River. Someone had apparently thrown them off of a bridge. A couple going by in a boat rescued them. Roxanne had a broken femur and was not hurt as badly as her sibling.

The couple took the two dogs to a vet, paid for their surgeries and medical care, and brought them home and took care of them. But the time came, when they could not keep up with both dogs, so they kept the one who had been injured the worst and took Roxanne to the local SPCA. The shelter workers told us that she had stopped eating, had been there a long time, and was on the short list to be euthanized. She almost lost her young life twice. They didn’t tell us that until we had signed all the papers but there was no way we weren’t going to take her home then.

Roxanne was a sweet, funny dog who made her own way in our hearts She left her mark too: on the television remote for instance. Because we were living in a parsonage, I am grateful that she didn’t chew the house, she left the trim work and molding alone and cut her teeth on our stuff. Mostly mine, I think. For instance, I am not a big shoe person, I generally only have one pair of dress shoes and a pair of hikers and sneakers. One weekend I got done with classes and came home thinking I could settle down to work on my sermon. But that weekend, necessary sermon prep involved going to the store to buy a new pair of dress shoes for church on Sunday.

She liked pens and pencils, I guess we weren’t smart enough to get her chew toys early on so she made her own. There is this silly game my spouse and I play; we pick up something the dog has done or point to it and ask the question, “Did you do this?” knowing full well it was the dog. It did take me a while to catch on and not leave things laying around. Roxanne apparently liked jewelry, or anything she could make go crunch. I had a thin turquoise cross on a silver chain. The cross had a swirl of silver metal on the side of it, like a backwards “S” and I liked it because it reminded me of the United Methodist symbol of the Cross and Flame. Roxanne liked it too!

Close up picture of two dogs, a small white dog trying to make friends with a larger brown dog.

Photo by bin Ziegler from Pexels

I may be a slow starter, but I eventually learned to not leave things lying around to tempt the puppy. But, I was sure my hikers were too tough for her, so I left them under the coffee table never dreaming that she would eat them. Yup, almost down to the soles. It is a wonder she did not have digestive issues. Maybe it was all that fiber! You can imagine we were both relieved when she outgrew the puppy chewing stage.

One of our friends had a Scottie dog and Rox was not a fan. Casey, the Scottie, wanted to play but Rox was not having any of it. Once, Casey was chasing Roxanne around and she crawled under the coffee table to get away, as if Casey couldn’t see her! When Rox had had enough, she would come into my office and crawl under my desk by my feet to get away.

My husband had managed to crate train Sammy, within two weeks and he was an old dog by the time we moved to the apartment. So, we reasoned, crate training a puppy should be easy. Never assume! There must have been a lot of crying, whimpering or panting involved, based on the amount of drool in the bottom of the crate, and she also broke her bottom teeth, trying to chew her way out of the crate. That wasn’t Roxanne being a puppy, that was her being terrified. The Vet’s verdict was “Separation Anxiety” so, bye-bye crate. As a result, Rox pretty much always had the run of the house when we had to leave her to go somewhere. The doorway into the kitchen was too wide for a gate; closing the closet type door at the top of the steps going down to the basement didn’t work either.

When we went on trips she went to the kennel. We have been very fortunate through the years, in every community we lived, we had good kennels with compassionate owners. There was one time we probably should have arranged for Rox to stay at the kennel that we did not. My husband was scheduled for a medical test that we thought would be relatively routine. It turned out that we were at the hospital for almost twelve hours.

A picture of a dog, Roxanne, sprawled out behind the couch.

When we got home, I went up stairs to the bedroom and saw the sheets disturbed. I thought perhaps my husband had started to change the sheets and changed his mind. But no, that wasn’t it. When I looked closer I saw that Roxanne had expressed her displeasure by getting the sheets somehow untucked and leaving behind signs of her annoyance that we would be gone so long. I was grateful in that moment that what she left behind was solid and not liquid!

Roxanne loved attention and really enjoyed visitors. She was pretty sure that any visitors who came to the door, came to pay her homage. We had the good fortune to have her with us for a little over 14 years and she was just a few months shy of her 15th birthday when she died. Once again, we wept and grieved. And I was not, do you hear me, not getting another dog. If we ever got another dog, it would be when I retired. And I meant it! But, I was unprepared for the huge void her death left in our home and in our hearts. Still, we gave ourselves time to grieve.

a picture of a beagle being walked on a leash, background green grass with  sun shinning on it.
Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

The Collection

Don’t get nervous! Although I am a pastor, it’s not the Sunday offering that the title refers to, but the pitfalls of being a collector.  Although my most cherished collection is my seashells, I have collected one other thing in recent years; turtles. Not live turtles but carved, ceramic, glass, resin, steel, all kinds of turtles. It started with a simple purchase of a small carved turtle that I named “Spots”.  He was the inspiration for a short story that I wrote over the course of a few lunch periods. I kept him on my desk as I wrote, and as I wrote Spots became more and more real to me.  And, because of the story, I had lots of opportunities to talk about him.

Picture of a turtle with yellow and red  spots on his shell and body
“Spots, my first turtle”

You know what happens when friends, relatives and others find out that you have something “collectible”?  Turtles started showing up. The variety of turtles that I mentioned above doesn’t even begin to describe it. One good friend gave me a turtle lamp for Christmas, the “shell” (carapace) was amber glass and the body was bronze colored metal. It had a “night-light bulb”.  Another friend gifted me with a large colorful, fleece turtle pillow, about two feet by three feet.

Turtles would occasionally show up on the pulpit or even in the offering plate.  I had turtle jewelry, a turtle backscratcher everything but turtle clothes! ( This is not a request for turtle tee shirts!) Two rules I set for my family and friends were, no live turtles and no artifacts or items that were made from real turtle shells.  When my seashell collection was on a respite, I lined the windowsills of my office with my turtles.

Just to be clear, one of those windows was a picture window with two smaller windows on either side, plus a regular sized window on the other wall. So I am talking significant window sill space. Once, a couple came for premarital counseling and the groom said, “look honey, an infestation.” He wasn’t far from the truth. Another friend also gave me a turtle lamp, an exact duplicate to the one I had but what could I say? Thank you, but no thanks? Although Spots was the first turtle in my heart, my second favorite turtles are Sea Turtles so predictably a few sea turtles made their way into my collection. 

Picture of a seat turtle with the sun shining through the wter
Photo by Jeremy Bishop from Pexels

One day, a parishioner very thoughtfully brought me a “new to me” turtle lamp. They were cleaning out a closet at school and she thought about me when she saw it. This one had a pretty blue glass shell, but other than that was just like the other two turtle lamps. It was so thoughtful, but I knew the time had come to do something about my growing collection of turtles. I was running out of display space and we were getting ready to move.  The ladies’ group at church was preparing for their annual rummage sale, so I gathered some donations and discretely placed one of the turtle lamps in the box. Surely someone from the community would buy it, or maybe it would even go home in a box lot kind of situation. Nope, one of my other parishioners, who knew I collected turtles saw it, and bought it for me!

 Over the years I have given a way a few turtles but still had a pretty significant collection. In my quest to declutter and downsize, I put my turtles out in our yard sale last spring and was thrilled when a young couple who love turtles bought them all. They listened very patiently as I told them where each of the turtles had come from (one from Mexico, one from Corning Glass, one was the kind of turtle you hang over the edge of a planter or flowerpot.) Some of them were just pretty, but I do not have the space to display them. All my shelf space is needed for books that I haven’t found the courage to let go. So, the yard sale finished, I came in the house, sat at my desk, moved a few papers and low and behold, there was my blue, bobble-head turtle. I think he was hiding!

A group of different turtles. Spots, Blbble-head, magnet and leather.

Now, this presented a dilemma. I had just enough turtles left to warrant starting a new collection, or, not. Of course it is no question that I am keeping Spots. And my husband made the leather turtle with the googly eyes for me. Can’t give him away either. That does beg a question though, when does a collection become a (mindless) accumulation? Or just as pressing, at what point in your life do you begin to let go of copious possessions so someone else does not have to do it after you are gone? Or, how much stuff do you have to have before you decide to declutter?

Sister Mary Jose Hobday (1929-2009) was a Roman Catholic sister and an elder in a Seneca tribe. According to her obituary she traveled about 75,000 miles each year, giving talks, leading retreats and seminars. She visited my seminary one year and while she imparted a lot of spiritual wisdom to us, it was the tangible, practical simplicity of her life that struck me.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels.com

At the stage in her life when she came to Rochester, she was not living in a convent but in a small home on a reservation. She kept her possessions to a minimum. She told us that she owned 3 skirts and 5 blouses, and that was her wardrobe. It was interchangeable to be sure, and easy to pack for all her travels. In addition, she said that while she always kept a few mementos in her home, anyone who gave her a gift understood that she would keep it for a while, but would eventually pass it on to someone else. That might be one of the most challenging parts of ending collections. When you know someone collects something, it takes the guess work out of gift giving. But when someone gives you a gift and you pass that gift on, what happens if they visit and don’t see it prominently displayed? I know this isn’t an issue for everyone, but it is for some people. Some of you are cringing right now.

When I was a child I had a fairly large collection of international dolls, most of which were not intended to be played with. I had two very large dolls with “big hair” full skirt dresses that could be spread out like a fan. Every time dad came home from a trip he would bring gifts for each of us and I watched with anticipation as he opened his suitcase or other package to see what he would give me. But at the time that one outgrows such things, or maybe later than usual, I gave all of my dolls away to a younger girl whose family frequented the Union Villa: Barbie dolls, the 18 inch tall teenage dolls that my mom had made clothes for, and all the dolls from India, Italy, Greece, Turkey and other ports that dad had brought to me. It was the right decision, but there have been many times over the years I wish I still had them. As with my turtle collection though, a few things fell through the cracks. I have one dancing lady doll, from Turkey I think and two leather camels and those three simple gifts from my dad, someone else will have to deal with, because you have got to draw the line somewhere.

a close up slightly blurry picture of my bow legged one hump 60+ year old camel.

The Gift

I was never the kind of mother that painstakingly folded her children’s clothes, matched and rolled their socks and lined them in their chest of drawers once they were old enough to do those things for themselves. In fact, I felt a burst of independence when my children were old enough to begin doing their own laundry. They already knew how to cook and at 12, my youngest was solo cooking family dinners. That meant dinner was ready when we got home from work, and I could get her to special events that much sooner.

So, it surprised me shortly before she turned 13, that the sting of being less than needed assaulted my sense of motherhood. Fear of the unknown, parenting and step-parenting five teenagers, gnawed at my bones. I began to feel an emptiness, a nagging void in my life that I was sure could only be filled by a dog, preferably a beagle.

I began to hint outrageously for a dog. You see, I not only wanted to nurture nature, I figured this dog should be a gift too. I had a birthday coming, it would be the perfect gift. I asked, begged and continued to hint with great enthusiasm. From time to time I would read the pet section of the classified ads out loud, while my husband drove us home from work. My husband would interrupt my reading and say, “Gee , honey, I don’t know maybe next year.” But I was an optimist and remained undaunted.

All through supper the night of my birthday, I’d look up from the table hoping to see a beagle, with a bow on its collar, working its way down the hallway to the dinning room. It never happened. After supper, I drew in my breath as Roger took my plate and replaced it with a coffee mug sized box. I pulled off the wrapping paper and tried to conceal my disappointment as I opened the box. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings just because I was disappointed.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

But when I opened the box, I had to choke down anger. Yes, I had been obnoxious in my hinting, but there was a stuffed animal dog in the box; that was cruel! If he was trying to be funny, he sure had missed. I lifted the dog out of the box, about to protest, when my eye caught sight of a piece of paper in the bottom of the box. Training paper I thought wryly, as I lifted it out of the box. But then my eyes saw these words, “This coupon entitles the bearer, Anne Michele Somerville, to the dog of her choice from Animal Rescue, signed Roger Somerville.” Tears rolled down my face. The kids came in the dining room and asked Roger was I was crying, but I couldn’t say a word.

The following Saturday we visited Animal Rescue and I did indeed find a beagle, a three year old named Sammy. He was a sweet and funny dog. We didn’t have any information about his past but he fit in just fine. It took him awhile to get us trained properly. Like many dogs, he was afraid of thunder storms. When the thunder started roaring, Sammy started shaking. He would look for the smallest possible places to squeeze himself into, including places he couldn’t get himself out of, like getting stuck under the china closet. More than once in our apartment, he crawled through the opening under an end table and squeezed himself behind the couch.

He was not afraid of heights though, once when we were gone he let himself into the parlor, pushing through the swinging door, climbed onto the recliner, to the top of the recliner and grabbed the peanut butter cheese crackers from the top of the book shelf and had himself a feast. His bag of peanut butter dog treats was open on the floor by the book case, but they were untouched. When we got home later that day we found the evidence, a few empty wrappers, on the landing of the steps, his favorite perch.

Sammy had what I considered an amazing sensitivity, in this respect. My mother would visit from Baltimore and had to bring her oxygen tank, which was not very portable back in those days. My family had had a dog in the 1950’s, but she was long past being used to being around a dog. She was fighting leukemia and she didn’t let her oxygen tank keep her down. But Sammy, instinctively I think, did not get under her feet as she walked, did not jump up on her, although he let her pet him and thankfully did not chew or step on or do anything to her oxygen tubing. As wonderful as our other dogs have been, I don’t think they would have had Sammy’s sensitivity. In truth, Sammy was pretty laid back and we used to joke that he was a California beagle.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

After the youngest graduated from high school and we moved from our house to a two bedroom apartment we decided to get a crate for Sammy. There were no teenagers living at home to look out for him while we were still at work and felt he needed to be more contained during the day. At this point we had had Sammy for five years, which made him about eight years old. In two weeks or less, he was not only used to the crate, he would go in there for a place to relax without being asked.

Sammy also traveled very well. A little over two years after moving into the apartment I was approved and appointed to serve three United Methodist Churches in North Central Pennsylvania. Sammy comfortably road on the front seat or the floor of the front seat of my car for the four hour drive. We moved in, to what turned out to be Sammy’s last home. I wanted a dog to fill an empty and aching spot in my heart and we found just the right dog and hopefully, he got just the right family.

When I say nice things about my husband, he teases me about tarnishing his carefully built reputation, but he was so right to point me in the direction of a rescue site. If you have a home full of love and room in your heart, I hope you will do the same. I am glad that we didn’t get a puppy from a pet store, but got a slightly older dog who needed to be part of a family.

I learned something from Sammy that I am only now beginning to understand. When we got Sam, I foolishly told my husband that I didn’t think dogs understood English. Actually they learn at least the basics of whatever language their family speaks. They can also tell time, well they think they can, especially when it is time to eat, or time for a snack. I wanted a dog to love and care for, but I had no idea that Sammy would begin the tradition of carving out his own space and become not just a pet, but a part of the family. I didn’t know when a pet died that it hurt in many ways as if it had been a family member; because that is exactly what Sammy was, family. He truly was the best gift.

Sammy was the first of four rescue dogs that have carved out space in our hearts and home in thirty-one years. And we have been the better for it!

Not holding back the tide,


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Jack, Maggie and The Union Villa

It Wasn’t a Sand Bar

When I say that I grew up in a bar, it is a slight exaggeration; but, not in the way you might think. My parents bought the Union Villa Hotel, Bar and Restaurant in December 1961, just after it closed for the season. In mid-March 1962 we moved to an apartment on the first floor of the hotel above the bar. We lived in that apartment until they sold the business in November of 1969. Dad tended the bar and mom ran the kitchen, making pizza, subs (grinders), spaghetti and meatballs and stuffed quahogs. (Pronounced Co-hogs). If I wanted to spend time with my parents, it had to be in the bar, so yes, I really did grow up in a bar, but it wasn’t just The Union Villa.

Long before they bought the Union Villa, my parents were avid social drinkers and it was one of the main social activities when my dad was arriving home from sea (Celebration), spending time in the community (everyday life) or getting ready to go back to sea (saying goodbye). When I was very young I obviously did not go along on those outings, but stayed with my grandmother, but as I got to be 6 or 7, some of my earliest memories are sitting in a booth in any given barroom, coloring, reading, playing with paper dolls, or for a brief time, trying to learn how to knit, while my parents sat at the bar visiting and drinking. They made the rounds and so did I. I could recite or sing most of the current beer commercials before I was 10. 

Most of the bars no longer exist, although I remember where they were. There were three bars in Onset that were part of their regular stops, The Union Villa, The Glen Cove Hotel, which has been renovated and reopened. https://glencoveonsetbeach.com/ and Henderson’s Bar. I liked Henderson’s Bar too because it was right next to Lowell’s Drug Store and I could sometimes get permission to go there and get an ice cream cone to take back with me to Henderson’s. I watched in fascination as Mrs. Lowell turned the cone upside down and dipped it in chocolate jimmies, wondering how the ice cream managed to not fall in or off.

There was Nickerson’s on Route 28 , right next to the White Rabbit Restaurant (I think that is a gas station now) and the China Maid Restaurant and Bar, and a bar in Middleboro, a neighboring town. I think it was the Fireside Inn. I liked that place because they had vending machines in every booth, where it was possible to get a hand full of pistachio nuts for a nickel.  The China Maid had table side juke boxes where you could turn the pages and play 3 songs for a quarter. I have more memories of being in the Restaurant at the China Maid than in the bar. Imagine, not all bars welcomed children!  Dad was an Elk too, so a trip to the Elks was often, but not always, part of the regular circuit. When we went to the Elks, I had to sit in the lobby and was not allowed in the bar at all. While they didn’t always hit every stop on the circuit, it was seldom one stop and then home.

Mom was excited. She sent this postcard to her sister.
Picture postcard of The Union Villa and the back of the post card with a note in my mom's handwriting.
The union Villa Postcard @ 1945

At some point in the late 1950’s all this bar hopping turned into research and “what if” conversations about buying a bar. They certainly had a lot of experience as customers, and a good supply of experienced bar owners who were willing to share their knowledge.  I know they had conversations back and forth about which one of the bars they frequented might be available for purchase, but by 1961 had settled on The Union Villa. I have vague memories of mom spending time with the previous owner to learn how she made the pizzas, learning how to make the dough and sauce.  This purchase was a dream for them because this was the business venture that allowed dad to retire from sea and be home all the time.

Picutre of my first home, a two story frame house, with a car parked near it, picture taken from my car window in 2019
My first home, as it looks in 2020

There were many times when the party came home. When we lived at the house in Point Independence, it was not unusual for dad to invite neighbors to stop in and have a drink, or two or three, and celebrate with him because he was home. After we had moved to the bar, there were some friends and customers who visited our apartment in the winter when the bar was closed. They knew they would get free beer in the off season and during the season that the bar was open, they were regular paying customers.

It may have been more of a semi-retirement, the first three years Jack and Maggie spent the off-season making improvements, getting rid of the old orange and green wooden booths, and putting in newer black and silver tables and booths, getting rid of antiquated equipment.  I was especially glad about that. The apartment only had one bedroom so the first year I slept in the living room. I could hear that old beer cooler that was directly under where I slept, it was noisy. There were times I wondered if it was going to explode.  They spent the off season working downstairs, making improvements during their first three years of ownership. They extended the bar by a few feet, creating a more private entrance from the bar into the kitchen. They paneled the barroom and pool room; paneling was all the rage in the 1960’s, and finished updates on the kitchen equipment. After that work was complete, dad returned to sea during the off seasons when when the bar was closed.

They were 51 when they bought the bar and  it was tiring work on their feet, for long hours; but they were together, and that made all the difference.  The night they opened the bar however, my mother ended up in the hospital for emergency surgery. Dad tended bar, there was nothing else he could do. I sat on a bench directly in front of the bar, but on the floor where dad could work and make sure I was alright. And yes, I was scared. I was 11 years old and it was noisy, and my mom wasn’t there. All this took place in April of 6th grade. It did not take very long for my parents to decide that maybe it would be better to send me to Catholic Boarding School, than have me be around the bar all the time. So that September, I went to Sacred Heart School in Kingston, from seventh grade to tenth grade; but I was always home on weekends and the summer, the busiest times in the bar.

Brick path through a park that overlooks the Onset Pier
This park over looks the beach and is directly across the street from the U.V.

The second year we were there, they made a doorway between our bathroom and the hotel room that had served as a linen closet, and that became my bedroom. Although it was the linen closet for the hotel, it was a full bedroom. At least my bed was no longer directly over antiquated equipment but my bedroom in general, was located above the juke box. Do you know what often happened when people were drinking a lot and were unhappy? They fed the juke box with quarters and played the same song over, and over again. Please don’t think less of me when I say, that is how I learned to dislike country music and some singers.  I will not tell you the unkind things I thought and said about Johnny Cash when I was 14, but today in 2020, I love the sound of his voice.

Close up picture of a juke box
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

I am not saying any of this for shock value or pity, it was just where and how I grew up. I was fortunate to have two parents who loved each other and worked together very well. Admittedly, there were drawbacks; our apartment was directly over the bar, the pool room and the kitchen. When it was time to say goodnight to my parents, they couldn’t just stop work to walk me “home.” I said goodnight to my mom in the kitchen and slipped behind the bar, just long enough to give my dad a kiss on the cheek, then walked upstairs by myself to the first floor of the hotel and let myself into our apartment. Sometimes that felt scary. There was a measure of freedom in that, however; I would sometimes read with a flashlight after my bedtime or stay up late watching television. One of them always came upstairs to check up me, but they didn’t come upstairs together to stay until the bar was closed and everything was cleaned up, which was close to 1:00 a.m. As a result, I watched the Tonight Show a lot when I was 12.

One of the biggest drawbacks for me, was being around so many people who had too much to drink. You cannot reason with a person who is drunk. You can’t always understand slurred words or slurred intentions.  All these years later, I still remember what stale beer and cigarettes smelled like. I think that I had a lot more patience and understanding being around so many people that were drinking or had too much to drink when I was 15, than I might now. 

Picture of a pepperoni pizza in a box with other boxes on a table.
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

In many ways I was limited in how helpful I could be, but I spent a lot of time folding pizza boxes, cutting 40-pound blocks of cheese and running it through the grinder and occasionally helping to make pizza dough. When it wasn’t busy, I could make pizzas. I could empty ash trays and liked helping people find places to sit when it was busy, but because I was under 21, way under 21, I could not touch a beer bottle or empty drink class.  It was alright though, my parents had to work, and if I wanted to spend time with them, I had to do it there, downstairs. I never felt forced, however; but making myself useful was the best opportunity to have their company.

There were no family dinners. Mom would cook as good a meal as she could so that we didn’t live on pizza and spaghetti, but cooking a meal was one thing, eating together was impossible, so we ate in shifts, myself included. We did go to a local restaurant for breakfast together every morning before the bar opened. Mom had tried cooking breakfast that we could sit and eat together, but invariably a customer would lean over the booth where we were sitting and say, “Gee, Maggie, that looks good. Can you make one for me?”

There were no cell phones and we did not have any phone extensions so if my mom wanted my attention or wanted me to come downstairs for any reason she left the kitchen, went into the pool room, grabbed a pool stick, and you guessed it, she knocked three times on the ceiling if she wanted me. Long before the song made famous by Tony Orlando and Dawn. (“Knock Three Times” as written by Larry Russell Brown Larry Brown Lyrics © BMG Rights Management, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Spirit Music Group).

 It was a different way to grow up, but for better or worse it was home. My parents worked hard, and their work provided a good living. Even more than that, it gave them the best opportunity to be together nine months of the year for those seven years. I am pretty sure they wouldn’t have traded it for the world.

Not holding back the tide,