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Posts Tagged ‘penniman’

Another “Sears House” Featured on HGTV, Part II

July 22nd, 2017 Sears Homes 9 comments

In my prior blog, I mentioned that HGTV’s House Hunters featured a “kit house” that was in Nashville. A Facebook friend and fellow Sears House lover shared some additional information on the program, enabling me to figure out what exactly HGVT was talking about.

Let me start off with this:  It was not a kit house. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Then again, the motto of too many of these remodeling shows is, “Why let details get in the way of a good story?”

In fact, the house shown on House Hunters is located in Old Hickory, near Nashville, TN, which happens to be the site of a World War One munitions plant built by DuPont. You can learn more about Old Hickory here.

When America became involved in The Great War in April 1917, there was an urgent need for more munitions for the “boys overseas.” DuPont responded to this by building or modifying several plants around the country to make munitions. Old Hickory was built from scratch and was a phenomenal logistical effort, in every way imaginable. To learn more about this, you can read my book, which has much informtion on the build-up at Old Hickory.

Penniman, Virginia was also the site of a DuPont-built World War One munitions plant, and the houses at Penniman were the same models as the houses built within the Old Hickory community. These houses were the work product of DuPont. The lumber came from a variety of sources, but the designs were created by DuPont Engineering, and these models can now be found in many World War One company towns, such as DuPont, Washington; Ramsey, Montana; Hopewell, Virginia; Carney’s Point, New Jersey; Old Hickory, Tennessee; Sandston, Virginia; and Penniman.

Penniman was a city of 15,000 people that was born in 1916 and was gone by 1921, and the 200+ houses within Penniman were moved to other sites, including Norfolk and Williamsburg. In fact, I’ve written a book about this amazing place, located less than seven miles from Colonial Williamsburg.

The city that DuPont built at Old Hickory fared better. It still exists, and many of the 600+ houses that were built by DuPont are still in their same spot. These houses from DuPont were not kits, but they were based on plans that DuPont used at several other World War One munition plants around the country.

The house featured on House Hunters was known as The Florence, and was a darling cottage with many windows and something few of these plant houses had: A real masonry fireplace (see pictures below).

To summarize, the house featured on HGTV as “a kit house” was not a kit house. It was one of many houses designed by DuPont Engineering and built at several munition plants around the country.

If HGTV wants to be considered a credible source of information, they need to spend five or six minutes on Google chasing down some of these stories.

If not, I’ll keep writing blogs about them which is also pretty entertaining.

To read the prior blog about this program, click here.

To read more about the Penniman houses that landed in Norfolk, click here.

Thanks to Linda Ramsey, Robin Hurowitz, and Rachel Shoemaker for contributing to this blog!

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Old Nashville

Thanks to Robin Hurowitz for supplying a few screen shots of the show on HGTV. I'm not going to show the other shots from this episode because it's too depressing for words.

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House

My #1 partner in crime, Rachel Shoemaker, found the original listing of this house on Zillow, which provides some wonderful details not otherwise available. The name of this model was The Florence.

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ff

There are several "Florences" within Old Hickory. Prior to the convergence of the construction crew, the house was in delightfully original condition. I'm not sure what all happened inside the house. Don't want to know.

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The colors, the many tall windows, the size (just under 800 square feet) all make this the perfect house for a young couple. When built, there was a small transom spanning that front door, which is one of the distinguishing features of the Florence.

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Cute front

And there's that masonry fireplace, sitting at an angle in the living room.

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HOUSE

These framing and flooring of these homes is probably Southern Yellow Pine, probably harvested from Mississippi (but that's a guess, based on what I know about the houses in Penniman). I do know that these are pine floors.

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Fireplace

Here's the floorplan for The Florence. The house in Old Hickory is "flipped" so that it's a mirror image of this house (shown above). When built, this house had several walls, which are now gone.

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The rear of the home shows that it was also a perfect match to this model.

The rear of the home is also largely original, and shows that it was also a perfect match to this Florence catalog image.

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Kitchen went bye

The kitchen was one of my favorite features of this house (as built). That right there is my dream kitchen. Absolutely, my dream. Oh, to find a house with that kitchen. It also went bye-bye in the remodel.

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catalog

The Florence, as shown in an old catalog showcasing the DuPont models.

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Florence

And here's a Florence with its original front door in Williamsburg, Virginia. This was originally located at Penniman, and moved after the war (along with 200+ houses). Williamsburg has a handful of Penniman houses.

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It's a beautiful house and in very good condition. I haven't had the heart to watch the entire episode, but I'm pretty confident that the home's exterior was undamaged by the "remodeling."

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NOT a kit Old Hick

The Florence is not a kit home, but it did come from DuPont.

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And amazingly it circles back to the story of Penniman

And amazingly, this whole thing circles back to the story of Penniman, a village outside of Williamsburg with more than 15,000 inhabitants at its peak (in late 1918). Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Whisnant in front of Florence

The Whisnant family stands in front of a Florence on the streets of Penniman (1918). Image is courtesy of the Whisnant family, and is reproduced with their permission.

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HGVT really needs to do a little research before spreading this information. However, if they don’t, I’ll keep writing blogs about them which is also pretty entertaining.

To read more about the Penniman houses that landed in Norfolk, click here.

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Housing Rosemary, Part II

July 11th, 2017 Sears Homes 8 comments

In re-starting a new life at the age of 58, one of my greatest challenges is (now) decision-making. Even small decisions are very difficult, and I’m finding that larger decisions are almost paralyzing.

My nearest and dearest friends tell me that I’ve made much progress in the last few months, and I’m so grateful for every encouraging word, but when it comes to hard choices, I don’t do very well.

Last night, I looked at a house that was so appealing for so many reasons. It’s brand-new on the market and will probably sell quickly, so I need to decide soon. And yet, after seeing the house, the old familiar chest pains returned, as did the sleepless night and morning panic attack.

The house has so many good features, such as a NON-OPEN floor plan. It has rooms and walls - a big plus. It has a functional kitchen with white appliances - another big plus. I loathe stainless steel. The roof is less than five years old, so it should last the rest of my life. That’s good.

Inside, the 29-year-old home has popcorn ceilings in every room (ick), an unusually small master bedroom (drat), no sunporch (yikes) and very few windows (see pictures). I’m a solar-powered soul, and I live on light.

The mechanical systems (plumbing, electrical) are first class, but the HVAC is 15+ years old and inefficient.

The best part - the lot. It’s just the right size, delightfully landscaped and the rear is fully fenced. And - it has a massive 1,008-square-foot garage in the back corner. With an epoxy floor. And oversized doors. And a second-floor. That garage makes me swoon, and I’m not even sure why. Maybe it’s my inner-hoarder coming out. Maybe it’s 10 months of being stuffed inside a small rental, with all my worldly possessions in storage.

And perhaps the other “best part” is the neighborhood. It’s a lovely neighborhood and all the lots are at least 125-feet wide. It’s not in the wilderness, and yet everyone has their space.

The last bad thing - it was built in 1988, during  a housing boom in this area. It was not custom built, and I see some evidences of it being economically constructed.

But do I need a house that will last 100 years? No. I need a house that will last 20 years. After that, I’m leaving for assisted living or heaven (undecided as of yet).

So that’s the story. I welcome opinions, as I try to navigate this difficult decision.

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The best part is the lot. Its .7 acres - big enough for privacy but not overwhelming. And its all fenced and ready for me and Teddy to move right in.

The best feature of this house is the lot. It's .7 acres - big enough for privacy but not overwhelming, and well landscaped. And it's all fenced and ready for me and Teddy to move right in, and start the next chapter of our life.

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House

There's a 1-1/2 car attached garage, but there's a 1000+ square-foot garage in the back yard. The house has excellent curb appeal, and the lawn has been beautifully maintained.

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As you can see from the rear, it just doesnt have many windows.

As you can see from the rear, it just doesn't have many windows. There are only two windows on the side of the house, and only one on the second-floor rear. And yet, it does have a new roof...and that's how these internal conversations go - back and forth.

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You can read one of my most popular blogs here.

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Flipping Insane…

July 5th, 2017 Sears Homes 2 comments

Back in the day, “Flipper” was a television show, featuring a bottle-nose dolphin. Flipper was, in fact, a lot like Lassie with fins. I remember crowding around the television with the fam to watch Flipper on Saturday nights. (As I tell my daughter, ours was the last family on the block to get a color television.)

But now, this once lovely name - “Flipper” - has such ugly connotations. In 21st century America, “flippers” are investors (blech) who take fine old houses and rip out walls and replace original windows and create cathedral ceilings in homes that were never intended to have cathedral ceilings. Ick.

Today I was on Zillow looking at the new listings and I discovered a new listing in Portsmouth. Sadly, it’s another 1960s house that’s been gutted in the name of homogenizing every American house until it looks like something on HGTV (Houses Getting Totally Vandalized).

Zipping through the photos, I noticed a very odd “chandelier” which made me laugh out loud. Words defy me, so I’ll show the actual image.

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Wow

Yup, that light fixture looks a lot like a squirrel-cage blower, doesn't it? I wonder if this blower was harvested from the furnace? That blower, er, uh, "chandelier" sure looks dusty.

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And now, for the palate cleanse: The GOOD Flipper.

And now, for the palate cleanse: The GOOD Flipper.

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To read about Sears Homes, click here.

Interested in the history of a Virginia Ghost Town? Click here.

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Perhaps, Just Maybe, I’ve Turned a Corner Here…

June 22nd, 2017 Sears Homes 6 comments

Wednesday morning, I met with my favorite minister who has been a great source of comfort, guidance and kindness throughout these last 14 months. At the end of our meeting, he prayed with me for at least 15 minutes. It was a lovely thing, and I felt a heavy burden of darkness fall away from me. It was quite an experience.

That same evening, Teddy and I took a walk and stopped at a friend’s house and sat on the back deck, less than 30 feet from her seawall, which overlooks the Elizabeth River. My friend sat with us, and chatted away about everything and anything, and as I listened, I thought to myself, “Perhaps this is heaven on earth - watching the sun set over the vast expanse of the river while listening to the melodious voice of a caring friend.”

Later in the evening, a brand new friend from the brand new church called and we talked for almost an hour.

“I know these are hard times for you,” she said softly, “but you’re going to get through this. This isn’t how the story ends. This is a valley. Good things are going to start happening for you.”

Last week, I talked with a friend who’s done much to help me research this Penniman book. He called to ask a quick question, and we ended up talking for 45 minutes.

“Rosemary, I don’t know how you’ve been able to finish this book,” he said with compassion. “I know it’s been hard, but you did it, and you have every right to feel proud of this achievement.”

I closed my eyes and soaked in his kind words like a sponge.

And then he said, “And I wanted to tell you, I found some more information on Penniman.” He’d found The Penniman Projectile, a company newsletter for which I’ve searched since 2011. He sent it to me, and it’s quite a treasure. That night, after poring over its pages, I fell asleep with a smile on my face: That hasn’t happened in some time.

My daughter called Tuesday night and we talked for more than an hour.

“Mom, maybe you don’t fully understand this, but completing that book was a huge accomplishment, and doing it this year, with all the hell you’ve been through? Wow. I’m so proud of you.”

And then in the wee hours of Thursday morning, I happened to connect with a Facebook friend (”Jane”) who shared some personal and profound insights about the unique struggles that I’ve faced these last several months.

Those insights are too personal to share here, but suffice it to say, she was married to the “same man, different body.” She nailed it. Top to bottom and left to right - she got it right. Her husband didn’t kill himself, but the other similarities were astounding, right down to the nitty gritty.

“Do not be his victim,” Jane told me. “He will not defeat you. No one who writes with as much humor and interest and passion as you do can be defeated easily. It will take some time to heal, and to untangle your mind. You need to learn to be gentle with yourself, but you will survive this.”

I’ve read that a baby chick pecks at its shell as many as 10,000 times before it finally breaks through. Perhaps these last 14 months, I’ve been struggling to peck my way out of this horrible shell of despair, darkness and despondency, and today, I caught my first glimpse of the new world, the world on the other side of this nightmare.

Subsequent to these events and lovely comments, I feel - deep down to my toes - that there are many reasons for hope.

And on a final note, many people have said, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” That’s exactly the right thing to say. And if you’d like to have a glimmer of what “suicide widows” endure, please read this article. It explains my life in shockingly accurate detail.

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fff

This email arrived earlier this week from a friend. I framed it and put it in a place where I can read it daily. It has meant the world to me.

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Every week, I put up fresh inspirational messages by my desk. These came from my eldest daughter. She said she starts her day by reading messages like this.

Every week, I put up fresh uplifting messages by my desk. These messages were inspired by my daughter. She told me, "Mom, we have to focus on the good things, no matter how tiny or inconsequential they may appear at first."

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One of the loveliess surprises was the discovery of this 100-year-old company newsletter. The cover is so fascinating, for so many different reasons.

One of the loveliest surprises was the discovery of this 100-year-old company newsletter.

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Inside, I found a litany of familiar names, and now I had faces to go with those names!

Inside, I found a litany of familiar names! The "people of Penniman" - in the flesh.

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And more names and more faces!

And more names and more faces! The names listed in the "tags" are the family names I've found thus far at Penniman. Was your grandmother or grandfather at Penniman? Maybe now we can sort it out!

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My very first thought - upon receiving this 80-page newsletter was, Wayne will love this. But in fact, hell never know about it, because he chose to skip out in the worst possible way.

My very first thought - upon receiving this 80-page newsletter was - "Wayne will love this." But in fact, he'll never know about it, because he chose to skip out in the worst possible way. This man has caused me so much suffering. If I could travel back in time to May 2006, to our first meeting at the coffee shop in downtown Portsmouth, I'd tap that 46-year-old woman on the shoulder and tell her, "run like hell and don't look back." Perhaps I'm in my "anger phase" or perhaps, I am finally coming to my senses.

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If you’re here to read about the Sears kit homes, click here.

Click here to read about Penniman.

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The Children Have Arrived!

June 18th, 2017 Sears Homes 1 comment

On June 13th (my father’s birthday) , several boxes of books labeled “Penniman” arrived. It’s pretty sweet to see six years of effort and research come to fruition. As mentioned in an earlier blog, the first printing was a mere 200 copies, and more than 50% of those books have already left home.

Thus far, the feedback has been extremely positive, and every kind word has been a healing balm to my weary soul.

Many readers have expressed surprise at the book’s thickness. It’s more than 300 pages, and every page is filled with innumerable facts and stats. It has 430 annotations, referencing more than 300 pieces of original source material.

As research projects go, it was a behemoth.

If you’d like to order your own copy, click here.

To learn more about Sears kit homes, click here.

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Teddy

Teddy watches over a few of the Penniman books.

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Several people have commented that its thicker than they were expecting. Its more than 300 pages (about twice as thick as The Houses That Sears Built).

Several people have commented that it's thicker than they were expecting. It's more than 300 pages (about twice as thick as "The Houses That Sears Built").

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Teddy gave it two dew-claws up!

Teddy really enjoyed reading about the Canary Girls.

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For some time, the book languished in this state, a nearly completed manuscript.

For some time, the book languished in this state, a "nearly completed manuscript."

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Teddy poses with about 50% of the research materials. Two of these boxes contain more than 50 notesbooks.

Teddy poses with about 50% of the research materials. Two of these boxes contain more than 50 notesbooks. Several cardboard boxes filled with newspaper articles are not shown.

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*To order your very own copy of “Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost City,” click on the Paypal button below. Price is $29.95 plus $6.00 shipping. This first printing will be only 200 copies, each of which will be signed by the author.


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The Children Are Coming!

June 13th, 2017 Sears Homes 9 comments

Yesterday, I was notified that the books are printed and will soon be arriving!

And I’m happy to report that if the trend continues, this “first printing” (small run of only 200 books) will be sold out in less than 30 days. After that, I’m going to take a little time and decide what’s next. There’s every possibility that the 200 books will be it.

A heartfelt thank you to those who have ordered a copy.

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*To order your very own copy of “Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost City,” click on the Paypal button below. Price is $29.95 plus $6.00 shipping. This first printing will be only 200 copies, each of which will be signed by the author.


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The Whisnant family, in front of Penniman bank, have waited a very long time for this book.

The Whisnant family, in front of Penniman bank, have waited a very long time for this book.

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My books are probably enjoying the ride.

My books are probably enjoying the ride, courtesy Saia Freight Lines. (Image is courtesy Saia, Inc., kind of, but in reality, I lifted this image from their website without permission, so let's hope they're feeling courteous.)

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Pennima

Front cover of the Penniman book.

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To order your very own copy of “Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost City,” click on the Paypal button below. Price is $29.95 plus $6.00 shipping. This first printing will be only 200 copies, each of which will be signed by the author.


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Only Two More Weeks: “Penniman: Virginia’s Own Ghost City.”

June 8th, 2017 Sears Homes 20 comments

In about two weeks, the long-awaited book on Penniman will be arriving at my home. That’s the very good news.

As dear friends and faithful readers know, there’s a lot more to this story. If you’re interested in reading the back story, continue on.  If you’re here to read about the Sears Homes, click here.

If you’d like to pre-order a copy of “Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost City,” click on the Paypal button at the bottom of the page. This first printing will be only 200 copies, each of which will be signed by the author.*

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Almost 14 months ago, on April 10, 2016, my husband and I met with the editor that I’d hired to do the final edit on my manuscript on Penniman. It was a Sunday afternoon. The editor was confident that the completed manuscript would be returned to me in about two weeks. After that, it wouldn’t take long to incorporate the changes and send the book off for printing.

Five years of research and study and digging and effort was finally coming to a close. The book was finished. During those long days, when completing this comprehensive tome looked impossible, I’d close my eyes and imagine the finished product resting in my hands. In my vivid imagination, I’d caress its beautiful cover, pull it open to a center page and listen to the soft sibilant sound of the book’s spine being unfurled for the very first time. Next, I’d plunge my face into its bright-white pages and take in the aroma of that fresh-off-the-press smell.

There were many times that I got so overwhelmed by the enormity of the research that I started to think that this was an impossible task.

In August 2015, I kicked it into high gear and boldly announced to my husband that I was going to sequester myself and finish this book. “This means,” I told him, “that I won’t be much company for a time. I’ll be working morning, noon and night, literally, until this is done.”

“You shouldn’t work so hard,” he said half-heartedly. At the time, I assumed the “half-hearted” part was due to his knowing that once I set my mind on something, it was done and done.

I was wrong.

On April 11th, my husband came home from work and after I gave him a big hug, I posed him in front of all the research materials, filed, organized and boxed up, ready for storage.

“Look erudite,” I told him with a big smile, as I stroked his silver hair and kissed his cheek. He struck a delightful pose and I took many pictures of my beloved, and posted the best one on Facebook.

Looking “erudite” was no problem for him. He had an IQ well north of 160, and a flawless eidectic memory. I was in awe of his intellectual prowess. As a person with a natural love of learning, I thoroughly enjoyed just listening to him talk.

And he knew it.

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Through the years, Wayne had been an integral part of the Penniman book. He’d been the preliminary editor on every bit of it, and many an evening we spent an hour or two reviewing a page or a chapter, discussing phrasing, word choices, and historical accuracy. He read every chapter and I was excited to read his edits and commentary. It was just one more place where his shockingly high IQ shined through.

“You’re a ten-talent man,” I’d frequently tell him (a reference to Matthew 25). “You’re brilliant, gifted, discerning, charming and beautiful. God has blessed you with so many gifts and abilities.”

Wayne always responded the same: “It’s good that you think that.”

Wayne’s “fingerprints” were all over that book. And unfortunately, because of that, every paragraph, every sentence and every word within its pages would become a painful memory of my husband.

My husband. The man with whom I intended to grow old. The man to whom I entrusted my extremely sensitive and delicate heart.

On April 18th, 2016, one week after he “looked erudite,” Chief Deputy City Attorney Wayne Ringer left City Hall and ended his life. If I live to be 112, my life will always be divided into two compartments: Before April 18th and After April 18th. The old Rosemary died that day, eviscerated by the holocaust of a spousal suicide. The new Rosemary is now, and will be for some time, a work in progress, but is still largely an emerging, amorphous form, and most notably, chronically dehydrated. I’ve yet to experience a single 24-hour period without soul-wracking crying jags.

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I don’t remember the date, but a few days after Wayne’s suicide, the editor contacted me to let me know that the manuscript was completed. In those early days, I was in deep shock. It was ugly and hellish. I don’t remember details, but I know that the blue notebook - which contained the editor’s marked-up copy - ended up in the trunk of my Camry and remained there for many months.

For at least five months, I lived out of my car and spent the nights at a friend’s house about an hour from Norfolk. Each morning, I’d drive back to my home in Norfolk, pick up clean clothes, and then run around during the day, visiting doctors, lawyers, bankers, or friends, trying to sort out the surfeit of legal, financial, medical and mental problems that I now faced.

I kept granola bars, Boost (liquid supplement), Funyuns and Gatorade in the trunk, along with a Bible, some inspirational books and spare clothes, together with a manila envelope which contained the important papers that I needed constantly. During this time, I was losing weight and suffered from fainting spells. If I stood up too fast, I’d sink right back down.

When I would open that trunk, the very sight of the word Penniman made me nauseous. I kept hoping that repeated exposure would make it easier. It didn’t. In time, I covered the notebook with a beige towel and buried it in a box in the hinterlands of the trunk.

Every few weeks, I’d carry the notebook into my friend’s house (in a canvas bag) and try to read through the edits. Still, I couldn’t do it. Back into the trunk went that tired blue notebook.

In January 2017, a caring friend invited me to join him at dinner. He asked many questions about the book. By now, I had given up on the manuscript and decided it was a dead project. My mental health was more valuable than a book on regional history. As far as I was concerned, the manuscript died with Wayne. I just hadn’t buried it yet. I made a plan to donate all the research materials and the unfinished manuscript to a local library.

I knew what my friend was doing. He was trying to re-invigorate me, and re-ignite the passion I’d once felt for this topic. But now, I had no passion for anything in any direction. I was the walking dead, slogging through the moments and the days, eating enough to stay alive and not much more. Two simple thoughts dominated my waking hours, which were, “Why did Wayne do this?” and secondly, “Why does everyone keep trying to save me?”

That dinner with my friend was such a blessing. He showed me “no little kindness” and when I looked in his eyes, I saw love looking back at me. I was loved. Maybe I really was lovable. Maybe I was worthy of love. Maybe my husband’s last text - blaming me for his death - wasn’t a burden that I should carry for the rest of my life.

Maybe.

Even the people at the periphery of my life were showering me with love. Today, the very memory of that love stirs my soul and lifts my spirits.

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A few weeks after Wayne’s suicide, my eldest daughter gave me a shake and told me, through tears, “Mom, the only way we’re going to survive this hell is by focusing on light and love. This darkness is so horrid and the truth is so awful that this trauma could easily destroy us. I need you to stick around and I need you to stay focused on the good. Promise me you’ll focus on light and love. Promise me.”

I promised my little girl that I’d try.

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That night, the dinner with my friend, I felt the love. It was as though I was being given a mental hug, and it fed my hungry soul. The love in his heart and the warmth in his eyes was a laser-beam of light that pierced the heavy blanket of psyche ache that had engulfed me. His kind words and the love behind them reached right into my heart. I felt something stir inside of me. The next day, I pulled the blue notebook out of the trunk and plopped it down on the desk beside my computer. I told myself, “Just do one page. Just one page. And if you can’t do one page, do one paragraph. And if that’s too much, just do one sentence.”

Opening the book, the dizziness and nausea returned. I paused, closed my eyes and said the simplest of prayers. I kept my eyes closed for a couple minutes. I decided that maybe one sentence would be plenty for the first day. And then I did that first sentence. And then another and another, and then one page was finished but then I hit a bad bump, and an intense memory of a discussion with Wayne washed over me and dragged me down under the waves. I slapped the book shut, closed out the computer screen and flopped on the nearby couch to commence the daily crying jag.

The next day, I made it to the end of the first chapter. When the tears came, I took a deep breath and said, “One more page. Just do one more page.”

And so it went, day after day. Getting through those pages was an act of divine grace and sheer willpower.

In about three weeks, I had incorporated all of the editor’s corrections. After that, three friends gave of their time and brilliance to help me finish up all the “dog work” of incorporating photographs, creating captions, and putting it all together. Next, I had to read the manuscript from beginning to end.

Again, many tears flowed. I was so weary.

That was several weeks ago.

Now, June 8, 2017, we’re drawing mighty close to the finish line. As of June 2nd, the Penniman manuscript is in production, 14 months later than expected. When I chastise myself for the delays, I remember, it’s a miracle of grace that this book will even see the light of day. It may not be exactly how I wanted it to be, but it is finished.

In about 10 days, the “new baby” will be born. And as fast as freight can move those boxes, they’ll come to my home in Southeastern Virginia. At some point in the not-too-distant future, I’ll have the final product resting in my hands, where I’ll caress its beautiful cover, pull it open to a center page and listen to the soft sibilant sound of the book’s spine being unfurled for the very first time. Next, I’ll plunge my face into its bright-white pages and take in the aroma of that fresh-off-the-press smell.

And then, I’ll put it back in the box, and turn the box label side to the wall, so I don’t have to see the word “Penniman,” and hope and pray that one day, the pain associated with that lovely name will ebb a bit, and that this unknown story will garner much interest, and will bring a blessing to every reader and to the community and to the country.

As my friend George said, “Sometimes the biggest ugliest dogs are guarding the loveliest of treasures.”

In other words, sometimes the greatest blessings are lurking right behind the greatest sufferings.

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In 1875, 54-year-old Mary B. Eddy wrote her seminal work (”Science and Health”), a book that was prefatory to creating the first church in America founded by a woman. In 1908, a congregant lovingly returned one of those early books to Eddy. According to Eddy’s secretary, Eddy carefully took the small book, examined it, and handed it back to the secretary and said, “Put it away, Mr. Dickey. No one will ever know what it cost me to write that book.”

Every book comes at a cost to its author, but sometimes the cost far exceeds what the author was intending to pay.

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Less than nine months before his death, Wayne and I had picked out a “dream appliance” - a fancy side-by-side refrigerator with all manner of bells and whistles. It was a fine thing. We’d spent the prior three years planning this purchase. There was much discussion about options and colors and features and prices. And then one day, we went to Sears and made our selection. It was a happy day.

“How is it,” I thought to myself recently, “that we spent three years discussing a major appliance purchase, and yet he never said one word about his final exit plan? How could he think it was okay to destroy our marriage and destroy his wife and destroy our family with a nuclear detonation, without any discussion? How could my husband, an officer of the court and brilliant communicator, take a gun and murder my best friend without even a clue being proffered?”

It is a question that still plagues me, and yet it’s an intractable question. Like so many other aspects of this nightmare, the answer died with him.

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Several months before his death, the veneer of civility began to peel away from his persona (which is Latin for “mask”). While struggling to write a single paragraph explaining the composition of a WW1 155-mm artillery shell, I frequently turned to him for help. It’s hard to believe that any historian at any college or museum could possibly know more of early 20th century military history, munitions and armaments than he did. His eidectic memory and brilliance shown in this arena, too.

After my 9th attempt to write a simple explanation of this shell, I handed him the freshly printed text and said, “Does this sound right to you?”

With his eyes glancing down through his bifocals, he read the paper. He shook his head in disgust as he thrust the papers back at me.

“What kind of dumb-ass doesn’t understand the difference between a shell-casing and a cartridge? How many times must I explain this to you? I don’t have any interest in writing this book for you.”

And with that, he stomped out of the room.

More than a year before his death, we sat at breakfast and chattered away as we did every morning. He mentioned a female colleague, and went on and on about his great admiration for her intellect and mental acuity.

“Wayne, I think I’m just as intelligent as she is, and perhaps even a smidge more.”

He replied, “You write these little history books. She’s a lawyer with seven years of schooling. It’s okay though. You’re smart when it comes to Sears Homes.”

It was a slice that cut me to the marrow. Throughout our marriage, he’d never been able to tell me that I was beautiful. And now he couldn’t even offer reassurances as to his pride in my intelligence.

In January 2016, after proofreading my preface he said, “This isn’t a good preface. It’s more like a first chapter.” He then urged me to try again. I brought him a pen and paper and said, “You just read my very best effort and that was the result of 12 months of writing. I’ve given it all I can. Why don’t you write a preface for me?”

Surprisingly, he agreed and for the next 60 minutes, he sat at the dining room table and wrote a four-page preface. He summoned me when he had finished and said, “This is a good preface for the book. It will explain your background.”

Eagerly, I sat down to read his writing. Below is a snippet.

I know relatively little about World War One. I’ve seen “The Blue Max,” part of “Gallipoli,” and part of “Sergeant York.” I’ve never read “All Quiet on the Western Front” or seen the movie, but I know they’re out there. I’ve seen “Downton Abbey” and its treatment of Matthew, Thomas, William and Archie. Efficient 20th century warfare required artillery, great guns that would hurl great shells great distances, and would explode doing great damage…

After reading this, I looked at him and said, “Are you serious?”

He sternly replied, “Yes, quite. You need to explain to the reader that you have no academic background or specific expertise.”

“You’re right, Wayne. I have no academic background or specific expertise, but I’d be willing to make a bet that I know more about early 20th century munitions than 99.9% of the people in the United States. In the last five years, I’ve now studied more than 25 books on the munitions of World War One, and that doesn’t include the many other World War One books on more generalized topics. And I think we’re going to have some trouble finding a vet from The Great War that can offer ’specific expertise.’”

The conversation did not end well. I retreated to my room and wept. I loved him dearly, but I was beginning to wonder if he was preparing to leave me. Something was off, and at the time, I had no idea what was going on.

About six months after Wayne’s death, I sat down and read through a dream journal that I had kept for several years. In the 12 months before his death, I had a recurring dream that he died suddenly, and I had to move out of my beautiful home into a depressing rental home. I’d often awaken from that dream with tears still flowing. More than once, after this recurring dream, I’d awaken Wayne and wrap my arms around him and say, “Wayne, I had this horrible dream that you died. It was terrifying. I don’t think I can live without you.”

He would hug me back and say flatly, “I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Promise me?” I’d say, still feeling very emotional.

“Yes, I promise.”

We had this conversation several times. The last time was less than a week before his death.

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In the last seven years, two of my dearest friends collapsed and died in the blink of an eye. In 2001, my mother passed suddenly as well. Every morning, as Wayne left for work, I gave him a proper hug. I’d hold him for at least a minute, and during that time, I asked God and His angels to surround him with love, to keep watch over him, bless him, and protect him, and keep him well, strong and healthy. And then I’d visualize the very angels of heaven surrounding Wayne in every action and in every moment. I’d always close with, “God, please bring him back home to me, safe and sound, at the end of this day.” Nine hours later, when I saw his green truck pull into the driveway in the evening, I’d always whisper, “Thank you, God.”

For reasons that should be obvious, his suicide has been a very hard slap down of my once-strong faith. It’s hard to imagine that any 63-year-old man was the recipient of more prayers than Wayne, and yet, it ended so horribly.

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When I sequestered myself in August 2015 to finish the Penniman book, I had no idea that those were to be the last months of my husband’s life. “Come snuggle with me,” he’d often say as the sun set in the western sky, and most nights (thank God), I’d reply, “Okay, give me three minutes to finish up a paragraph,” and then I’d save my work, arise from the chair and spend time with him. Thank God for that.

But now that’s another painful memory. The Penniman manuscript took up much space in my life and my mind and my heart. I convinced myself that telling the story of the “Canaries” at Penniman was God’s will for me, a utilization of my best talents, life experiences and passion for telling a story forgotten by the rest of the world. But was that correct? It doesn’t feel like it today. Perhaps in a few years or decades, the reception and success of this book will help me sort it out.

I do know that - if I let it in - this devotion of my energies to a book in the last months of his life, could be another source of crushing guilt. Those were the last breakfasts, lunches and dinners I’d ever have with Wayne, and I spent many of them buried in a manuscript.

“You need to turn off that computer and come pay attention to me,” he’d say frequently. Was that one of the clues that I missed? Looking back, how did I miss that? And more important, how do I forgive myself now?

And there was the more haunting comment - almost a mantra in those last weeks: “I’m old, and I’m going to be dead one day and you’re going to regret spending so much time on a book.”

I’d grab him and say, “Please don’t say such things. Not a day goes by that I don’t pray my best prayers for you. You are the beloved of God, and you’re going to live a very long time.”

“You’ll find someone else,” he’d say, as though he hadn’t heard a word. “You won’t be alone for long. Someone will snatch you up.”

“Wayne, I don’t want anyone else. You’re the love of my life. Please - don’t say such things. We’re going to grow old together.”

If I permitted it, the review and rehearsal of those excruciating conversations could lead me to insanity.

When I find myself circling that mountain again, I use every iota of willpower to “focus on the light and love.” It’s an act of great will, and I tell myself, “It only takes 12 repetitions to form a habit. Focus on good thoughts. Stop thinking about the horror of this.”

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I’m so very grateful that the Penniman book is done. If it had been left wholly to me, the unfinished manuscript would have been tossed into a bin and carted off to a local history room at the closest library. But thanks to so many dear friends, that did not happen. And today, I’m actually feeling a little joy and hope, looking forward to sharing the story of Penniman with the rest of the world.

The book that cost me so much may well be one more thing that helps to lift me out of the mire. I find myself earnestly hoping that this book is well received, and accomplishes its purpose of showcasing the amazing sacrifice of the men and women who gave so much to help win The Great War. Their story has been largely forgotten by time. This new book of mine will correct that gaping hole in local, state and national history, and for that, I’m truly grateful.

In the following weeks or months, I’ll go out into the world and give a few lectures and sell a few books. That will be very good for me. And focusing on future happy thoughts rather than depressing past events helps promote the healing of my shattered heart.

When my quivering hand struggles valiantly to write out a daily gratitude list, some iteration of this comment appears every day: “The Penniman book is done. Thanks be to God for that.”

It’s a good book, and it’s an important book, and hopefully, it will bring many blessings to its readers.

Please leave a comment below, or you can contact Rose directly at pennimanva@gmail.com

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To pre-order a copy of “Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost City,” click on the Paypal button below. Price is $29.95 plus $6.00 shipping. This first printing will be only 200 copies, each of which will be signed by the author.

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Did I miss something

This photo was taken seven days before his death. I've often studied this photo and wondered, did I miss something?

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Eeyes

I knew those eyes better than anyone, yet I had no inkling that he had a plan.

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Pennima

Front cover of the Penniman book.

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cover

The rear cover - just as it will appear.

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This Penniman worker has traversed a great distance to buy the new book.

This Penniman worker has traversed a great distance to buy the new book.

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To pre-order a copy of “Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost City,” click on the Paypal button below. Price is $29.95 plus $6.00 shipping. This first printing will be only 200 copies, each of which will be signed by the author.

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So Damn Tough…

May 11th, 2017 Sears Homes 6 comments

Thanks to the intercession and help of many skin-clad angels, the Penniman book is so close to the finish line. Heretofore, my friend Milton has done most of the proofreading, because reading this manuscript sends me into such a tailspin that I invariably end up sobbing or in a bad state - for hours.

Every page, every jot and every tittle is a painful memory now. Wayne sat right with me - for five years - as I ruminated over every paragraph. He and I talked for hours about the difference between shrapnel shells and high explosive shells. We discussed the minutiae of the layout of the village, the styling of the houses, the logistics of moving those houses, the manufacturing of Amatol (TNT) and every other detail that one can imagine.

We laughed and we talked and we argued and in one memorable moment, he came up with an inspired solution to a very thorny problem and I said, “You must be the most brilliant man walking this earth,” and I (again) told him how much I adored him, and then pulled him out of his chair and into the bedroom and said, “Your intellect is such a turn-on.”

Little did I know that that would be the last time that I was intimate with my husband.

After his death, I found out that my adoration of my spouse was not reciprocal. It has nearly broken me.

Too many people have said, “You need to move on and forget about Wayne.”

That’s not helpful. He was my husband. Our lives were inextricably linked for a decade. He was the man that I promised to love forever. And he left me with one hell of a mess.

This manuscript is also a vociferous memory of that former life and former home and former Rosemary. There are days when that life feels almost like a fuzzy dream, and that’s also unsettling.

It’s taking every single thing I have to get this book completed. I’m not sure that I can proofread it again, but I know that I must. Let’s hope I can plow through it one last time, and emerge from the other side without losing it.

All of which is to say, when this book - in its finalized and published form - sees the light of day, it will be a miracle of grace.

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On April 9, 2016, I wrote this blog expressing great joy that the book was nearly finished.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

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The manuscript has been completed and proofed by a dear friend, but in truth, I need to read it myself one more time - cover to cover. And its so damn tough.

The manuscript has been completed and proofed by a dear friend, but in truth, I need to read it myself one more time - cover to cover. And it's so damn tough.

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The research materials are now at my rental home, where they sit in the living room, just in case I need the notes for some reason.

The research materials are now boxed and stored at my rental home, where they sit in the living room, just in case I need the notes for some reason. My faithful companion guards them.

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When Wayne came home, I insisted he pose here too.

This photo was taken on April 9, 2016 and was the last photo I have of Wayne Ringer. He killed himself seven days later. When he came home that day on April 9th, I asked him to "look erudite" and this was the pose he struck. I adored him, and he knew it, but those feelings weren't reciprocal.

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These were the books that I used most often.

The manuscript - and everything associated with it - are a memory of my life pre-April 2016. That's part of what makes this so agonizing. These were the notebooks that I referenced most often, a collection of newspaper articles from the "Virginia Gazette" and the "Daily Press."

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A street scene of the now-lost village of Penniman.

A street scene of the now-lost village of Penniman. The streets are mud and the houses are fresh and new. The village was built in 1918 and abandoned in early 1920. Photos are courtesy of the Whisnant family.

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On April 9, 2016, I did this blog expressing great joy that the book was nearly finished.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

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“Happy Widow’s Day”?

May 4th, 2017 Sears Homes 37 comments

This isn’t a post about architecture or Sears Homes or the ghost town of Penniman, Virginia. It’s about surviving to the one-year mark of the worst tragedy I have ever known.

Someone told me that yesterday (May 3rd) was “National Widow’s Day.” I don’t know much about that, but I do know that it’s been a little more than a year since my husband killed himself.

Grief is a messy business and way too much folks seem to think that after the earth has spun around the sun 365 times, a widow should be “over it.”

I understand their position: It’s tough to see someone in pain and it seems that grief - a type of extreme emotional pain - is especially difficult to watch.

My husband was seven years my senior and I’d always assumed that I’d outlive him, but not like this and not so soon. I always assumed that I’d be a “good old widow” and cheerfully reminisce and cherish the memories of our long life together.

The suicide tainted everything. Every single thing.

It’s true that “suicide is a death like no other.”

Obviously, my husband wasn’t happy. Obviously, he didn’t want to grow old with me. Obviously, this wasn’t the love affair I thought it was. Obviously, I was not the wife that he wanted, and obviously, this wasn’t the life that he wanted.

Or maybe it was.

But I’ll never know. There were no clues and no hints and not a whiff of an idea of what he was planning. April 18th, 2016, he dropped me off at the Norfolk International Airport so that I could travel to Boston and see my middle daughter. As soon as I landed in Boston (five hours later), I called him and asked him how he was doing. He was starting a big court case on Tuesday morning and I’d been very worried about his health.

He answered my questions and then started an argument over the phone. His words were so vitriolic that I was stunned.

I asked him why he was doing this.

He simply continued with the angry words. Wayne knew, “he who asks the questions controls the conversation.” He was in control of what was going to be our last conversation. I don’t and won’t remember how that conversation ended and/or who hung up first. One year later, it’s a path in my brain that must remain barricaded and closed and permanently sealed, lest I slip into insanity.

About 10:00 am, he sent me a text claiming that his next action would be my fault. It was a text that was both puzzling and terrifying. Yet not in my worst nightmare could I have imagined what would come next. As soon as that text had been sent, he turned off his phone and left his office at City Hall. Within 90 minutes, he’d be dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

For several weeks, I slept at friends’ homes and lived out of a Harris Teeter shopping bag. I lost more than 30 pounds in two months. Three or four times a week, I returned to my beautiful home in Norfolk long enough to get fresh clothes and then took off again. Sometimes, I traveled to see friends in Illinois. For a couple weeks, I stayed at a religious retreat in northern Virginia. A couple times, I spent the night in the car. So much of that time is lost to memory. I was in deep shock, and didn’t even realize it.

Family and friends feared that I was slipping away. There were days that I thought that insanity might provide some relief to the excruciating emotional pain. For the first time in my long life, I understood - with great clarity - why people become homeless and why they become alcoholics and drug addicts. I wanted to slip under the radar of society and take my Harris Teeter bag and disappear into a crowd somewhere and live out the rest of my days, weeks or years with “my people” - the hopeless homeless.

Lyrics from my favorite song “Don’t Laugh At Me” (Mark Willis) became crystal clear.

I lost my wife and little boy when
Someone crossed that yellow line
The day we laid them in the ground
Is the day I lost my mind
And right now I’m down to holdin’
This little cardboard sign…

Would people say that the day Wayne died was “the day I lost my mind”? People had cracked up under less. Would this be the event that cost me my sanity?

As I slipped further into the deep black well of hopelessness, friends tried desperately to lean over the rock-ribbed walls and throw a rope down to me. The problem was, I was too cold and too weak to grab onto it. The turning point came sometime in Summer 2016 (I don’t remember the date). A friend - someone that had been on the periphery of my life - appeared and said, “You’re going to come stay with me. I have a spare bedroom in my house and I live out in the country. Pack up some things and come out tonight.”

For four months, I lived with my friend on a peanut farm. Each evening, when she returned home from work - too tired to take a deep breath - she’d stand at the foot of my bed and talk with me, and pray with me. Every morning, she’d greet me with a smile and pray for me and help me remember that I was loved.

There was another friend that I’ll talk more about later. These were two of my angels (and there were so many others), who kept me going when I no longer had the will, the strength, the desire or the vision to face one more day.Without them, I would have been another statistic.

Throughout this last year, I have literally craved love. Over on Facebook, at my “Sears Homes” group, I asked the 1,600 members to post a few happy words about how my books had blessed their lives. I read that thread again and again and again.

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About six months after Wayne’s suicide, I moved into a rental home where I’m living now. I remain hopeful that - in time - I’ll find a home to purchase, and can then unpack my things and restore some order and structure to my life.

I know that several readers of this blog are prayer warriors, and believe in the healing power of prayer. If that describes you, I’m so very grateful for your love and your prayers. Please know that at the darkest times of my year, I’ve visualized those many prayers being poured into my soul, and that imagery (and the love behind it) has brought me much comfort.

Because of Wayne’s suicide, I’ll never be the same. This has forever changed me. But because of Wayne’s suicide, I’ll always be part of a “club” that understands the full depths of human suffering, as well as the unbelievable amounts of divine love and genuine kindness that can be found in a stranger’s heart.

Each day is still a mighty struggle, but each day, I strive to find one thing for which to be sincerely grateful. And many days, I find several things.

Perhaps that’s what healing looks like.

Let’s hope.

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Please leave a comment below.

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Horise and Rosemary in Illinois

These days, I have a new travel companion: A cute little stuffed horse that's been named "Horsie." Here's Horsie and Rosemary in a selfie, taken in southwestern, Illinois.

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Horsie gazes longingly out the window in Elsah, Illinois.

Horsie gazes longingly out the window in Elsah, Illinois.

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Horsie has mixed feelings about flying home to the modest rental. More than 50% of my worldly belongings are in storage, while we hope to find a suitable home to buy in a suitable place. Its taking a lot longer than I thought, which is adding to the stress.

Horsie always enjoys flying in an aeroplane. It's all that darn waiting and security and hassles BEFORE that drive Horsie nuts. On a recent security screening, Horsie endured a very personal examination which left him feeling rather humiliated.

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Horsie is glad to be back on solid ground. Flying is nerve-wracking for so many reasons, and ever more so when youre already stressed from other life events.

Horsie is glad to be back on solid ground at RDU (Raleigh/Durham airport). Flying is nerve-wracking for so many reasons, and ever more so when you're already stressed from other life events.

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I prefer to end on a happy note, so theres a picture of another Horsie (tentatively named Horsie II) thats on its way to my house.

Horsie has brought me so much joy that I decided to add another Horise to the fold. Tentatively named "Horsie II," he's now living with Horsie I in my home in Virginia.

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Good

Vincent Van Gogh - The Good Samaritan. Vincent Van Gogh was staying in an institution for the mentally ill (following a psychotic break) when he painted this work, in May 1890. Saving someone who has been given up for dead is incredibly hard work, as this picture so beautifully shows.

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That Rascally Haskell

March 30th, 2017 Sears Homes 6 comments

Today, despite all the publicity about recycling, we’re still a very wasteful society, and even more so when it comes to housing.

More than 35% of all debris at modern landfills is construction debris. HGTV is the worst offender, encouraging millions to rip out and destroy old kitchens and baths, while violating  the first commandment of old house ownership: “Thou Shalt Not Destroy Good Old Work.”

A century ago, when Penniman was abandoned, the overwhelming majority of the houses were “knocked down” (disassembled board by board) and moved to another site. Some of the houses were moved intact and whole. Today, the majority of these houses are still alive and well in Norfolk and Williamsburg.

And now, thanks to the foresight of the Whisnant family, we have pictures of the residential area of Penniman, showing these houses within this village, built by DuPont for workers at the shell-loading plant. Below, you’ll see images of the “Haskell,” living in Penniman and later in Norfolk.

To learn more about the Penniman houses in Williamsburg, click here.

Read about the Norfolk Penniman houses here.

Images below are courtesy of the family of Joseph and Ola Whisnant. Thanks to the foresight and generosity of the Whisnant family, we have street views and genre scenes of life in Penniman. Cameras were probably forbidden within the cantonment of Penniman, and visitors would have subjected to a daunting search of their personal belongings, entering and exiting. These images are the only known existing photographs of the residential areas of Penniman.

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house

Street view of the newly created village of Penniman. The streets are mud and the houses are fresh and new. The village was built in 1918 and abandoned in early 1920. Photos are courtesy of the Whisnant family.

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Whisnant

Another view of the village. Notice the hydrant to the right with the easy-to-access valve. The model of houses shown in this picture (Cumberland, Florence, Haskell and a piece of the Georgia) eventually landed in Norfolk and Williamsburg, Virginia.

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whisnant fam

A close-up of the Haskell.

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others

Thanks to the Norfolk city assessor, we have a picture of this same model, taken in the 1950s. There are more than 50 of these homes - built at DuPont's Penniman - along Major Avenue and Glenroie Avenue in Norfolk.

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fesef

Comparison of the house in Norfolk (1950s) and the house in Penniman (1918).

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House

This "Haskell" has been resided with a substitute PVC-type shake, and the belt course on the gable line was moved up closer to the peak. Other than that, it looks much as it did when built in 1918.

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whisnant

The Haskell, as it appeared in a building catalog in 1920.

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Thanks to clyde Vir Pilot December 1921

In December 1921, these houses were moved from Penniman to Norfolk via barge. Many thanks to professional photographer Clyde Nordan for cleaning up the images. (Virginian Pilot, December 1921.)

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To learn more about the Penniman houses in Williamsburg, click here.

Read about the Norfolk Penniman houses here.

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