#3 My Rock............. My Foundation........... My Uncle Mike

My Uncle Mike........... what can I say?  he was my first "crush."  He was married to my beautiful , and I mean beautiful, Aunt Charlotte (now deceased).  And he was perfect............

****my uncle, Mike, middle row on right w/ mustache

Their wedding was the first wedding I ever went to.  I don't remember the church ceremony at all, but I saw pictures of the wedding so I know that it happened but ....maybe... I wasn't even there..... I should have been if I wasn't?  I do remember the reception at my Grandparents house and the fountain outside in the courtyard that everyone was dipping their cups into.  I think it was a champagne fountain but I cannot be sure.  My aunt and uncle had the "perfect" wedding, everything in order just like its "supposed" to be.

I was told that in order for them to be married the proper way, with all of the blessings, my Aunt had to live a year away from home, away from him, to make sure this is what they wanted and that it would last.  I am not sure why Charlotte had to do this when her older sisters and her younger one did not?   That is a secret, I guess?  They must have passed  the test because they did get married with all of the bells and whistles and were even given land to live and build on ,  right down the hill from my grandparents.

I remember my Uncle Mike and his good looks and charm.  I remember him making jokes, playing ball, lifting weights and swimming with us.  I remember the way his eyes creased in the corners when he smiled............ and the nickname he gave me that I hated,  "Petunia,"   he would say and chuckle......... I guess he meant like the "flower?" but all I could think of when he said it was "Petunia the Pig."

He was always so nice to everyone. My uncle was my idol,  he sang in a band at night  and worked during the day at my Grandfather's Drug Store, the P&C but always had time to "play" with all of the kids too.   Even when he was "working out" he found a way to include us, the kids,  he would use my cousin (kimmy) and I as weights and let us sit on his biceps as he lifted us up into the air giggling.   He would not only join us in our water gun fights, but he would initiate them and hand them out for us to fight back.    My Uncle Mike would even take up for us when we were punished "too harshly" by his standards. 

I always raved about my Uncle to my mother and others, but I was quickly pointed towards his faults when I did.  You see my mother always had a problem with other people, even family, getting compliments when she didn't.  Somehow, I guess she thought, if you pointed out that a person had "acne scars" that would change the persons mind about how "good looking" someone was?  I don't know what she thought , or didn't see..........how could anyone not see how "perfect" my Uncle Mike was?

       ***my uncle Mike, back row second from right,  My aunt Charlotte , blonde on right bottom

As I grew older my Uncle Mike and his world appealed to me even more.  My Aunt had joined the "band" which was now the "Harmon Drew Group" and they even made an album.  I never knew that she could sing, much less in such a voice that was so "deep."  My Uncle Mike, sang and played the guitar. They traveled all over and I understand even met Willie Nelson.........he autographed a shirt for them that was framed in their bedroom.   I heard them practicing on a visit to their home once but I never was brought to a real show.    I remember them playing and singing music that I liked,  Steve Miller, ......... The Joker........... and they played that........well.  The Band is still around, they are an area favorite, the "leader" is now a Judge. Even though my uncle left the group, I have looked them up from time to time.  The Harmon Drew Group was dubbed a "super group" and inducted into the Louisiana Hall of Fame in April of 2002.

My Uncle Mike, he  had a great wife, talent, a good job, a perfect smile, a beautiful home and everything a person could want.........except children.  I am not sure how old I was when my Uncle Mike and Aunt Charlotte divorced........ all I know is that I never got to say good-bye to him and  all of a sudden I wasn't supposed to talk about him, ever, in front of my family.   I was told that they couldn't have children and my Uncle Mike thought that "no children could be as perfect as his own" so he left to find a wife that could give him the "perfect" children.   That's all that I was told, all that I knew and all that I know today.   My Rock, My Foundation,  the man I looked up to all of my young years was gone.............. vanished...........
to have his perfect children somewhere else.........I think maybe he went to Colorado but I can't be sure......where-ever you are Uncle Mike?  ROCK ON! :)


#2 "Prissy" My Ya-Ya Sister, Laura

You would think that "prissy" is something you would call someone you don't like....but in my case... in this case ........it is quite the contrary, "prissy" in my mind should be short for "princess" and nothing less.  She was the cutest girl I had ever seen........ she lived in the big house across the street...........she was my first best friend,  "PRISSY."

It had been around 39 or 40 years since I had actually seen her..  but I would recognize her anywhere...........she had the same face, the same smile the same heart that I loved so long ago.

I have .... memories...... of playing make believe, running barefoot through the yard,  playing fetch with my German Shephard, going to birthday parties together and coloring in coloring books with our dolls propped up beside us. These are just a few of the times I remember so vividly.  I am sure we got in mischief together.......although I don't remember any of those specifics. :)

Prissy recalled a story from her childhood and told it to me when we reunited last year........she remembers getting a spanking from her parents........ because she told everyone in the neighborhood that her "Mom & Dad were getting a divorce."  Prissy didn't know what a "divorce" was but she knew she wanted her parents to have one.  I had told her on one of my visits from VA, that my parents were getting one of those.   Prissy knew that this had to be a good thing because when this happened you could "live at the beach and go fishing on a yacht".........just like the one I showed her on my step fathers business card.  She says that she still has this card tucked away somewhere with that Charter Boat picture on it.  She imagined my life being "charmed" and wanted to share in the "adventure" and I longed to be living hers.

I wonder if I hadn't moved if I would have had more memories of the same or if through the years we would have grown apart like I see so many do?  I would like to think that  she and I would have been there for each other have too through thick and thin. . I would be willing to bet if we had been allowed to grow up together we would have been just like the characters in the DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA YA SISTERHOOD. ****which is set in a small parish of Louisiana and the Theme Song "details in the fabric" (again ironically) is sung by Jason Mraz (one of my faves from VA).  Our  friendship at such an early age taught me what it was like to have a true friend, and thru the years ......we loved each other unconditionally even if from afar, we laughed and learned together without judgement but rather with wonder and charm.

Our lives have been parallel in some ways and opposites in others but we ended up with much the same personality and mannerisms.  We met again in December 2009 thanks to Facebook and the fact that she was visiting her youngest son who currently lives in the same town as my daughter in Virgina!

We both love New Orleans and have both lived there, we both have had roller coaster lives and we are now both Grandparents of an autistic child.  We both believe in Karma and  both grab life by the horns and ride as hard as we can.............

It was one of the best Christmas presents I ever had in 2009..........seeing my first BFF again after all of these years.  When we said good-bye ....Prissy's words couldn't have been sweeter or more needed at the moment..... "I have always loved you" echoed in my heart and my mind all the way home............this is where I got the idea......the notion ........the standard...... that  I  still set and tried to hold my friendships to (some successfully and others not so much) through the years.

We are all grown up now and some people refer to you as "Laura" which is a lovely grown up name...... but to me you will always be my ......"Prissy" the princess that lived across the street in the big house on the hill.


#1 ........ A.R. McCleary ......Mr. Mac........ A Wild Irish Rose

My Papa

Jan. 25, 1915-  April 26, 1989

I don't know a lot about the young A.R. McCleary, when I think about it I really don't know a lot about the elder Mr. Mac either. what I do know is memories and words passed along to me by others, so what I know or knew could be faulty to some degree.

I do happen to know that he was a well respected man in the small town of Natchitoches, LA. the town where I was born.  I don't know exactly why he was respected so much except for the fact that he had money and he owned the town's only Drug Store  "The P&C Drugstore."   What P&C stood for I don't know.

I never saw my grandfather cook ANYTHING much less grill!  This picture was in my Aunts "old family photo" album, I love it because I can see a smile on his youthful looking face and he is enjoying doing something that I for one never witnessed for myself.   I don't know if this was some type of event or not but the caption said "Daddy Grilling Steaks."    I love this picture because I can relate to him , sort of, as I like to cook and love men who grill!   The McCleary family had "hired help" as long as I can / could remember and Octavia (who I have no pictures of)  made all of the meals.   The "big" meal of the day was always "lunch" which they called "dinner" and supper was served after Octavia went home,  usually consisted of a sandwich. 

I don't remember EVER seeing my grandfather in any type of clothing except for suits and suit pants with pocketed shirts.  I never saw him in a pair of jeans, which is kind of funny............if you have ever been to Natchitoches you would also find that funny, its a very rural town.

I moved from Natchitoches by the time I was 6 years old, so I missed out on a lot of my Grandparents lives by living so far away.   We did go back, I believe twice before I moved out of my parents home, maybe 3 times and they visited Virginia a few times as well.     I wasn't given a lot of family history in my life time, but one of the things I did know is that my Grandfather didn't have any living family of his own, due to a fire that took the lives of his siblings? and parents?
My daughter unraveled a few family events / secrets? quite by accident.  She was rummaging through the attic of my maternal great aunts home on a trip to Arkansas and came across some old letters and other written documents that no one had been privvy to in the past.  She found out that my maternal grandparents were secretly married and lived in their parents home, married but apart for quite awhile before this was "found out."  My grandmother lived in Arkansas and my grandfather in Louisiana.    My daughter was not given the documents nor was I ,  or not even copies of it, I did request them though.   My daughter Rachel, was the first Great Grand-Child of the McCleary's

I am not sure when the couple actually settled in Natchitoches LA but it was the only home I knew growing up and remained my Grandfathers home until his death, when my Mother and her sisters sold the home and divided the money.   If I would have had the money I would have liked to have bought this home, in my mind it was the most beautiful home (next to the Hawkins home in Arkansas) that my family ever owned.  It was a sprawling rancher surrounded by a horseshoe shaped lake.  There were many bathrooms, a parlor and even a library room in this house.  The only thing "lacking" was the galley styled kitchen.....I always sat at the bar to eat, it was more inviting.   It had doors in every bedroom that opened up to the outside and a brick courtyard.  The courtyard had with a huge tree covered in ivy right in the center with a brick "surround" that I would sit on and walk on top of when I was little.   My aunts reception was held there, I remember that vividly....... and there was a shed/closet that I loved to walk into and smell the leather from my other aunts saddles.   There was a playground on top of a hill and at one time my aunt kept horses on the property.   I loved it there.

The stories I heard about this man included some about Prohibition, and selling his whiskey from the Drugstore Pharmacy.  They also included many trips to a place called "Many" for business,  I remember going with him once (just he and I) when I was very very young,maybe 3 ?  My Papa was a drinker, he drank liquor, everyday.  I smelled it, I saw it, it was no secret, it was his Geritol, his gasoline that helped him make it through the days and nights.   He was "functional" isn't that what they call it these days?  He would do everything that most people could do with it , but without it, maybe not?   He had some "wheeling and dealing" going on a lot ,  I am not sure anyone really knew everything he was "into" but whatever he did he was successful at it.  There are even pictures of him flying an airplane on my Aunt's facebook wall.

When my Grandfather, Papa, would come to visit we would get to go "out to eat"  I was always reminded not to "talk" as children were to be "seen and not heard."  I never really understood that until much later, when I realized that those that warned me to keep quiet , may have not wanted what I had to say to be heard by such "powerful" ears?   But in any case we did visit an Irish Restaurant on Forrest Hill Avenue called "O'tooles" on one occasion.  My Papa requested that the piano player play "My Wild Irish Rose"  I didn't like the song particularly but I always remembered him requesting it , and wondering what the significance of it was, besides the obvious fact that he was 100% Irish thru and thru...................

I wrote a poem about my grandfather in college entitled "The Silver Years."  It was about my Papa, and the things that I remembered most about him....... It won first place in the annual Sherwood Forrest Student / Alumni Writing contest in 1994.   It also helped me to win the Humanities award for the Department of the Arts & Sciences.

FOR YOU PAPA..................