Posts Tagged ‘portsmouth virginia’

“Our Architects Are Bungalow Experts!”

December 2nd, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

Gordon Van Tine homes are not as well known as Sears, but they were a substantial competitor in the mail-order house business.

GVT was founded in 1866 (as a lumber supply company) and evolved into a mail-order house company about 1909 (according to GVT expert, Dale Wolicki).

By contrast, Richard Warren Sears didn’t start selling watches until 1886! Sears issued their first building materials catalog in 1895, and their first house catalog came out in 1908.

Gordon Van Tine was based in Davenport, Iowa, but they had mills in Mississippi and Washington State.

Another little interesting tidbit: Montgomery Ward also sold kit homes, but all their orders were fulfilled by Gordon Van Tine. In fact (unlike Sears), GVT handled all the details for Wardway Homes, from architectural design to catalog printing to order fulfillment.

Sears hired a staff of architects to create their house designs, as did Gordon Van Tine. Montgomery Wards hired Gordon Van Tine!

And the best part - according to the advertisement for the GVT #114, the architects at GVT were “bungalow experts”!

Several years ago, Dale sent me this picture of a GVT #114, which he found in Pennsylvania. It wasn’t until I started studying the very early GVT catalogs, that I actually placed the model that Dale had discovered.

We know that there were at least two of these houses built (testimonial shows one in Iowa), but it’d be fun to know if there are more than two!

To learn more about Gordon Van Tine, click here.

Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for scanning the 1913 and 1916 GVT catalog!

And thanks to Dale for sharing his photos!

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“]I love these old advertisements. This is from the 1913 catalog.

This graphic (1913) explains why kit homes were typically located within 1-2 miles of railroad tracks. The logistics of moving a house from here to there typically involved a vehicle with 1-2 horsepower (as shown above).


“]”]And GVT started when Lincoln was a young man...

And GVT first started doing business when "Lincoln was president..." (1929 catalog)


Model #114 as seen in the 1913 GVT catalog.

Model #114 as seen in the 1913 GVT catalog.



I love this part: "Our architects are bungalow experts." Were they also foursquare experts? Colonial experts? Neo-tudor experts? Or just devout "bungalow experts"?


Intriguing little house, isnt it?

Intriguing little house, isn't it? Notice the windows on the side and front, with the diamond muntins in the horizontal window that traverse the smaller windows. Nice feature, and makes it easier to identify.



Only two bedrooms (as designed) with a small den on the front of the house.


And here it is in Manheim, Pennsylvania on North Hazel Street.

And here it is in Manheim, Pennsylvania on North Hazel Street. The dormers have been enlarged, perhaps to create better light and livable space on the second floor. The house has had some other modifications, but the question is, were these changes done when the house was built? I think that's the most likely scenario. Picture is copyright 2009, Dale Patrick Wolicki and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.


If you look at the house from a side street, you can see that unusual window on the side.

If you look at the house from a side street, you can see that unusual window on the side.


And theres another GVT #114 in Iowa!

And there's another GVT #114 in Iowa!


To learn more about Gordon Van Tine, click here.

Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for scanning the 1913 and 1916 GVT catalog!

And thanks to Dale for sharing his photos!

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One Year Ago Today…

June 10th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

One year ago today (June 10th), I sat at my father’s bedside, held his 91-year-old hand in mine and told him, “I love you. I forgive you. And I release you.”

We were alone in that tiny room at the assisted living facility (my husband, my father and I), and yet we were in the company of “too many angels to count.”

It was a holy, spiritual moment that I will never forget.

As I said at his eulogy on June 20th, 2011, “my father came into this world surrounded by love, and 91 years later he stepped out of this world, again surrounded and embraced by love. It was a good ending.”

To read more about Thomas H. Fuller, click here.


My father in 2003, in Portsmouth, Virginia.

My father in 2003, in Portsmouth, Virginia. He was 84 years old here.


About 1977, shown with his twin brother, Ed.

About 1977, shown with his twin brother, Ed.


My father shown here with his father, Edgar A. Fuller.

My father shown here with his father, Edgar A. Fuller. This picture was taken inside Edgar's home on 14th Street in Santa Monica (about 1977).



Dad sits on the edge of Eddie's bed, trying not to upset the dog (about 1971).


About 1964, my father

Mid-1960s, my father in Santa Monica, in front of his childhood home at 213 14th Street.


My father loved California.

My father loved California. He's admiring the oranges in his parent's back yard.


My father with this father.

My father with this father in 1966.


Our family in 1966, enroute to California from Portsmouth, Virginia. My father purchased a new car for the trip, a 1957 Cadillac.

Our family in 1966, enroute to California from Portsmouth, Virginia. My father purchased a "new" car for the trip, a 1957 Cadillac. We made the 3,000-mile trek in seven days.


About 1959

My father holding his newest offspring in Summer 1959. BTW, that's me in his lap and my brother Tom sitting beside us. The beautiful bed in the photo had been my father's bed since 1935. It was made in the 1890s and had been an Exhibition Piece at the 1894 World's Fair.



My father was always very photogenic. I always had a very large forehead that caught the camera's glare (about 1960).


Ed and Father, in 1956.

Ed and Father, in 1956. They lived in Shea Terrace (Portsmouth) at the time. Check out the 1953 Pontiac in the background.


My father was a WW2 Army Veteran.

My father was a WW2 Army Veteran. This photo was the early 1940s.


My father at age six.

My father at age six.


In the mid-1990s, I visited my fathers home and a friend of his answered the door. As I stood on the stoop, she stared at me - slackjawed - and didnt move. Finally, I started to push past her while asking, Everything okay? She replied, I aint never seen a daughter who looked so much like her father.

In the mid-1990s, I visited my father's home and a friend of his answered the door. As I stood on the stoop, she stared at me - slackjawed - and didn't move. Finally, I started to push past her while asking, "Everything okay?" She replied, "I ain't never seen a daughter who looked so much like her father. You look just like him." A little disconcerting for a 30-something woman to be told she's the twin of her 70-something father. And yet, this photo of my father from 1922 really showcases that. This could have been a photo of me.



My father and his twin brother in 1919. My grandmother captioned this photo with "Whenever Junior (right side) and Thomas (left) are together, Junior reaches out and takes Thomas' little hand." It was this photo that enabled me to forgive my father. Seeing his innate, God-given child-like innocence opened "the eyes of my eyes" and healed my heart.


My father in 2007, at my wedding. He was 87 years old here. Photo is copyright Dave Chance and can not be used without written permission.

My father in 2007, at my wedding. He was 87 years old. Photo is copyright Dave Chance and can not be used without written permission.


As I told my father in the last days of his life, he was not always part of my life, but I never stopped loving him.

And I never will.

To read more about “Innocence Rediscovered,” click here.

The Adorable Attleboro - Right Here in Portsmouth, Virginia

May 15th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

Post-1930s Sears kit homes are hard to find. Sales of the 12,000-piece, do-it-yourself kits plummeted in the early years after the Great Depression.  But one of the most popular post-depression kit homes is the Sears Attleboro.

Several years ago, when I did a survey of kit homes for the city of Portsmouth, I was delighted and surprised to find the Sears Attleboro in the Shea Terrace section of Portsmouth. It’s in beautiful condition, and the owners have done a fine job of keeping it maintained.

I wonder if they realize what a treasure they have!

The Sears Attleboro was on the cover of the 1936 catalog.

The Sears Attleboro was on the cover of the 1938 catalog.


And what a fine little house it was!

And what a fine little house it was!


If you read the fine print, youll see that the screened-in porch could be built on the *back* of the house, instead of the side.

If you read the fine print, you'll see that the screened-in porch could be built on the *back* of the house, instead of the side.


That side porch was offset a bit from the house.

That side porch was offset a bit from the house. Notice the three small columns in each corner.


The Attleboro - as shown in 1938.

The Attleboro - as shown in 1938.


And here it is, in the flesh.

And here it is, in the "flesh." That side porch is offset (as it should be)!


Close-up of the porch.

Close-up of the porch.


To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read about Aunt Addie’s exhumation, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Sears Modern Home #147 - And It’s Only $885

May 7th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

In February 2003, I traveled to Flora, Illinois to give a talk on Sears Homes. It was one of my first “paid gigs,” and I was very excited about actually getting paid to do the thing I loved the most - talk about Sears Homes!

In celebration of this happy time, I treated myself to a fine automobile for the trip. The night before my talk, I went to Enterprise Rent-A-Car and rented a 2003 Cadillac DeVille.

My oh my, that was a sweet ride!

During the ride around Flora, I found several interesting houses, including the Sears Modern Home #147. The folks in Flora knew it was a kit house, but they didn’t know which model it was.

This was the first time I’d seen a #147, and it was - without any doubt - the nicest #147 that I ever did see. It was in remarkably original condition.

After I finished in Flora, I rode over to Olney (nearby town) to look for more kit  homes. While driving around in Olney, my shiny new Cadillac had mechanical problems and I had to take it to a nearby shop for emergency repairs. When I returned the car to the Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Wood River (near my home in Alton), the clerk was very apologetic. He offered to discount the price of the three-day rental. I told him, “That’s a good start.”

He then said, “How can I turn this into a good experience for you, Mrs. Thornton?”

I said, “How about a deeper discount? I just spent four hours standing outside a car dealership in Olney, Illinois, waiting for them to fix your car.”

He then offered to discount the price of the rental to nothing.

“That’ll work,” I told him.

Almost ten years later, when I look at these old photos, I remember that fine “Glacier White” Cadillac with its buttery soft “Cashmere Gray” leather seats. Despite our little mishap in Olney, that was one fine automobile.

And in the intervening 10 years, I’ve rented at least 20 cars from Enterprise. :)

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To see more pretty pictures of Sears Homes, click here.

147 house

The Sears Modern Home #147 as seen in the 1916 catalog.



Pretty simple house, but a good value at $885.



Look at the columns - clad in clapboard!


SMH 147

And here's the world's most perfect $147 in Flora, Illinois (near Olney).



The details around the window are perfect!


Want to see more pretty pictures? Click here.

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The Back Story of “The Houses That Sears Built”

January 26th, 2012 Sears Homes 5 comments

In February 2012, it will have been 10 years since I published my book, The Houses That Sears Built. Writing that book was a labor of love, but it was also an incredibly intense experience.  By Christmas 2001, I had nearly finished the manuscript.

For our Christmas vacation that year, our family (my husband and three daughters) had planned to fly to Portsmouth, Virginia to visit our families. (We were living in the St. Louis area at the time.)

About three weeks before the holidays, I decided to cancel my plans and stay home and finish up the manuscript. I was on a roll, and after two years, it was time to put my nose to the grindstone and get it done. But one of those “little voices” told me that this was an important trip, and that I needed to stick with the plan and spend Christmas in Portsmouth.

On Christmas Eve, we had dinner with my mother.  We were so happy to see her, and spend time with her. And I had a surprise. I’d just had a big article published in a national magazine.  She was so proud of me, and asked me to read the article out loud to her, which I did. My dear mother looked at me and just beamed.

“My beautiful daughter,” she said with a big smile. “My beautiful famous daughter. I’m so proud of you.”

And at that moment, I almost slipped and told her my secret: My new book was going to be dedicated to her, Betty B. Fuller. The inscription would read, All that I am or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother. I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always clung to me.

It was a quote from Abraham Lincoln and it described exactly how I felt.

Throughout my life, my mother’s prayers had been such a blessing and support. She was always my #1 cheerleader and my dearest friend.

That night, when we left her house, I told her that we’d be back in just a few hours - on Christmas morning!  She hugged me tight and started swaying side to side a little bit, while whispering in my ear, “My beautiful daughter. I love you so much.”

The next morning, she didn’t answer the door and she didn’t answer the phone. I used my key to get into the house and that’s when we found her - still in bed - ashen and barely breathing.  She never regained consciousness, and died a short time later.

Twelve days later, I returned home, hardly able to think about that book of mine. Suddenly, it seemed so completely unimportant.  However, I eventually pulled myself together enough to finish it and take the manuscript to the printer.

That was February 2002. Later that month, my husband of 24 years told me that he now understood Paul in the Bible, and that like Paul, he realized he was not the marrying kind. He asked for a divorce. And so ended a relationship that had begun in 1968. I’d met Tom when I was in third grade.

I moved out of the family home, and into a low-rent singles’ apartment and tried desperately to start a new life.

The Houses That Sears Built - was more than just a book. It became my raison d’être, literally.  The book - and the career that came with it  - gave me a sense of purpose and pride and unspeakable joy. Less than 60 days after its publication, I was interviewed for a feature article in the New York Times. That was a wonderful break.

Next, I was invited to appear in a new show being developed for PBS, tentatively titled, The History Detectives. From there, I ended up on A&E’s Biography, CBS Sunday Morning News and more. In July 2004, my book made it to Jeopardy!

By Summer 2006, I’d done more than 500 interviews and had appeared in almost every national newspaper in America, including, Christian Science Monitor, Dallas Morning News, Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. In June 2006, my story appeared in the Wall Street Journal - front page - and above the fold! That was the coup of my career.

And in Summer 2006, I met Wayne Ringer. Six months later, we were married.

I’ve always believed in God’s timing, and the timing of this book’s publication and the start of my new life could not have possibly been any better.

And it was FUN. I traveled all over the country and was a featured speaker at countless venues and seminars and preservation conferences and I was treated like a queen. I really liked being treated like a queen!

The book - and the career that followed - restored my soul and healed my shattered self-esteem. Divorce is tough.

In 2004, I traveled to a small town in the Midwest, and stayed at a Marriott Hotel. The organizers of the event had made all the arrangements for me, and that was always much appreciated. When I checked in at the desk, the clerk looked up from her computer screen, smiled at me and said, “You’re Rosemary Thornton?”

I said, “Yes,” and she reached her hand across the counter and said, “Can I shake your hand? I’ve always wanted to meet a real author.”

It was (and still is) one of the best memories of my career.

And it all started with one little self-published tome on Sears Kit Homes.  Ten years ago, this month.

Only 3,000 copies of this first edition were sold, and by then, Id written an updated version, which has sold almost 15,000 copies now.  The first edition now fetches a handsome price.

Only 3,000 copies of this "first edition" were sold, and by then, I'd written an updated version, which has been in print since February 2004. The first edition (now out of print) fetches a handsome price.


In May 2006, I gave a talk here.

In May 2006, I gave a talk in Jefferson City, Missouri. While in Jefferson City, I had my first telephone conversation with Wayne, the man who'd become my husband.


In 2010, The History Press contacted me and asked if Id be interested in writing a coffee-table book on Sears Homes. The Sears Homes of Illinois was the result, and this was - without any doubts - my last book on kit homes.

In 2010, "The History Press" contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in writing a coffee-table book on Sears Homes. "The Sears Homes of Illinois" was the result, and this was - without any doubts - my last book on kit homes.

To learn more about kit homes, click here.

To see the kit homes of Norfolk, click here.

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The Plan Book Homes of Portsmouth, Virginia

July 13th, 2011 Sears Homes 6 comments

Tens of thousands of homeowners turned to Plan Books for their housing needs in the early 1900s. It was similar to buying a kit home, but with a few important differences. After browsing the pages of a plan book (filled with pretty pictures of pretty homes), you’d pick a house that fit your budget and your needs, and then send off a few dollars.

Within a few days or weeks, you’d receive a full set of blue prints, plus a list of the building materials you’d need to build your dream home.

In other words, you were buying blue prints and a building materials list, nothing more.

Plan book houses are so ubiquitous and the designs are so varied that a person could drive themselves nuts trying to find and identify all the plan book houses in their neighborhood. I’ve got one book of plans from the late 1920s, and it must have more than 500 house designs. And that was one company.

That being said, I did go through a “plan book phase” in my house hunting career, and here are a few of the houses I found in Portsmouth (and surrounding areas).

Nice little Tudor from the pages of a Homebuilders Planbook

Nice little Tudor from the pages of a popular early 1920s planbook.

Nice match in Portsmouth, Virginia on Rockbridge Road (Waterview section).

Nice match in Portsmouth, Virginia on Rockbridge Road (Waterview section).

Kind of a funky looking house.

Kind of a funky looking house with that arched porch roof.

Also on Rockbridge Road (Waterview), this house had some big dormers added.

Also on Rockbridge Road (Waterview), this house had some big dormers added.


This is one of my favorites. Nice design and good front porch (on the side).

Poor photo, but great house. I grew up next door to this house. My home was at 515 Nansemond Street, also in Waterview.

Poor photo, but great house. I grew up next door to this house. My home was at 515 Nansemond Street, also in Waterview.

Beautiful little Tudor Revival from the late 1920s

Beautiful little Tudor Revival from the late 1920s

This is my favorite match!  The house is a perfect match to the catalog image, and its even painted in the same colors! I sent these folks a color copy of this catalog page, but never heard back from them.

This is my favorite match! The house is a perfect match to the catalog image, and it's even painted in the same colors! I sent these folks a color copy of this catalog page, but never heard back from them. This house is on Riverside Drive (Waterview). Even the tiny little details are a spot-on match.

This was a duplex, and proved to be a popular design.

This was a four-unit apartment, and proved to be a popular design. I've seen three of these in my travels.

This one is in South Norfolk (near Portsmouth).

This one is in South Norfolk (near Portsmouth).


Pretty, pretty house.


The details around the front porch gable are a tiny bit different, but the rest of the house is a perfect match, down to the strap hinges on the front door. This house is in Park View (Portsmouth).

The Regent was also a popular plan book house.

The Regent was also a popular plan book house.

And this one is in the Colonial Place neighborhood in Norfolk!

And this one is in the Colonial Place neighborhood in Norfolk!

This last house is not in Portsmouth, but it is probably *THE* most popular plan book house Ive come across.

This last house is not in Portsmouth, but it is probably *THE* most popular plan book house I've come across.

I found two of these in Beckley, WV and Ive seen countless others all over the country.

I found two of these in Beckley, WV and I've seen countless others all over the country.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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On Behalf of a Grateful Nation…

June 20th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

The piece below was written June 20, 2011 (Monday).

Today was the day of my father’s memorial service. And it was also the day that I delivered my first eulogy. Thanks to a lot of kind souls and a lot of help, it turned out to be a beautiful service and was well attended. More than 60 people showed up to pay their respects to Thomas Hoyt Fuller.

The service was opened with remarks from retired Methodist Pastor Dabney Walters, with readings from the Old and New Testament, followed by my comments (see below). After I spoke, Pastor Walters offered a closing prayer. At the end of the service, the Honor Guard did their presentation of the Military Honors, an honor earned by my father’s years of service in World War II.

A sombre and soft version of taps wafted from the back of the room as the two soldiers - in their Army Dress Uniform - walked toward the front of the chapel with the flag, stood ramrod straight before us, gently unfurled the flag, and then refolded it. After it was folded into a triangle, one of the soldiers turned to me, and then slowly and methodically knelt directly in front of me. Looking directly into my eyes, he spoke softly and respectfully and said,

On behalf of the people of a grateful nation, may I present this flag as a token of appreciation for the honorable and faithful service your loved one rendered this nation.

Heretofore, I’d maintained my composure and hadn’t shed a tear, but when that young gentleman presented me with that flag, and spoke those words with such conviction and tenderness, I felt the tears come to my eyes. And everyone behind me and beside me was doing a whole lot of sniffling. It was a beautiful service, and it was a day I’ll always remember.

The eulogy I delivered today at my father’s memorial service follows the photos (below).

My father in January 1943.

My father in January 1943.


The folded flag I was presented today (Monday, 6.20.2011) at my father's memorial service.

The Eulogy

You may have noticed a statement in the obituary that said my father was moved into assisted living under “strong, strident and consistent protest.”

That’s an understatement.

But it doesn’t begin to describe how he felt when I took away his driving privileges.

Sometime in his late 80s, he became firmly convinced that four-way stop signs were an egregious violation of his constitutional rights and he’d roll right through those stop signs, boldly declaring, “I’m a veteran of WW2, and these stop signs violate those very rights I fought to protect!”

Frequently, he’d get pulled over by local law enforcement, but he told me one day that he’d never been ticketed, because he knew the magic words to say at such a time.

“I start shaking real bad when they ask me for my license,” he explained with a wry smile. “And then I tell them that I’ve already had three heart attacks, and that I’m feeling ill, and that I have to get home immediately so I can take my nitroglycerin tablets.

“They always put away their ticket book and tell me to get home and to be more careful next time.

“It never fails.”

In 2006, he called me and said that he’d had a little car trouble on I-264.

“I’m near the Rosemont Road exit,” he explained. I’m pulled over on the shoulder of the road, and I’ll wait for you here.”

Talking to him as I drove, I said, “Where exactly are you?”

“Oh, I’m easy to find,” he told me. “Just look for the fire trucks. They still have their lights flashing.”

“Fire trucks?” I said with my voice rising.

“Well, they put out the fire, but there’s still a lot of smoke rising from the car. You’ll be able to see me from miles away.”

When I got there, I found him - dressed in one of his fine suits - and standing next to a still-smoldering car. His engine had overheated and literally caught fire.

He got into my car and we got the Caddy taken care of. Heading back to the interstate, he said, “Listen, I was on my way to a dinner date with Cathy Creekmore. I need a ride out to her house and she’d love to meet you.”

I declined the date, and took him home.

After several more months of drama, which included the revocation of his driver’s license and disabling his cars, and removing the license plates from his vehicles and burying them under his azalea bushes in the front yard, and having two cops and one commonwealth’s attorney visit him in person and threaten him with arrest and criminal prosecution, he finally stopped driving, but it was under the most strong, strident and consistent protest.

In 2008, several weeks after he’d stopped driving, I dropped in on him one Sunday morning.

Walking up the front steps to his house, I saw the morning paper still resting on the porch stoop, and I felt a wave of panic.

He was an early riser and usually, he’d have read half the paper by now. Something must have happened to him.

I used my key and entered his spacious brick ranch, yelling his name repeatedly. No response. I moved through his house slowly and deliberately, gently pushing open each door.

As I entered the rooms one by one, I took a deep breath and steeled myself for whatever awaited on the other side, but he was nowhere be found. I left a note on his favorite table and went on to church.

He called me later that day to report that he’d caught an early ride to his church. He told me it was Senior Pancake Breakfast Day at church.

“I’m glad to hear from you,” I told him. “When I saw that newspaper on the front porch, I thought that maybe you’d…”

Died, was what I intended to say, but that sounded so cold and hard. In those fast few milliseconds when the brain scrambles to fill in any gaps in conversation, my alternate for “died” turned out to be a little wordy.

“I thought that maybe you’d…gone on to be with your parents.”

Immediately he replied, with the anger rising in his voice, “How am I going to get there? You took away my car!”

It was hard to know how to respond to that, so I did what I always do when the old man left me flummoxed. I changed the topic and asked what a Senior Pancake tastes like.

He answered by saying that he’d sat next to a beautiful woman at the breakfast and that even though she was 95 years old, she didn’t look a day over 75.

“A real babe?” I asked.

“The pancakes were excellent,” he replied. “And that reminds me, I need a ride to the liquor store soon. I’m almost out of booze.”

That’s Tom Fuller.

He was famous for documenting everything, and he’d take copious notes and then file them safely away. When I cleaned out the house on Briarwood, I found notebook after notebook on every topic imaginable.

The most interesting documentation was a small tablet I found in the living room. It was his “Roach Log.”

He started documenting the physical well-being of the roaches he found in his house, and their specific physiological reactions to being sprayed with toxic chemicals. Each entry was marked with a time and a date.

Knowing that I’d found the mother-lode of documentation, I immediately took a picture of the log and forwarded it to my children. They loved it.

One such entry read, “Unusually large roach found behind sofa. Sprayed at 8:32 pm, and adverse reaction was immediate. Re-checked at 9:15 pm. Legs still wiggling, albeit weakly.”

After he was moved into assisted living, my husband started taking bets on the odds that my father would be evicted from the beautiful facility within 30 days. Problem was, no one would take a bet on him NOT being evicted.

The manager of Province Place called regularly, and she was an angel. Just an angel.

The most interesting incident can best be described as “Grand Theft Rascal.”

Seems my father had walked to the Kroger behind the facility, and “borrowed” one of their electric scooters, and drove it back to Province Place, and parked it in a handicapped spot and then went inside the facility, and asked one of the female residents out on a date, explaining that “now he finally had wheels again.”

The last few years of his life were quite an adventure.

My happiest memory of Tom Fuller comes from my childhood.

When I was about 12 years old, I returned home from a school trip to Washington DC late at night. The chartered bus rolled up to our junior high about 1:00 in the morning and we all scurried off the bus and ran off to find our waiting parents. My father was waiting for me in his recently purchased car, a 1967 Buick Electra 225. It was 1971, but that was the newest used car he’d ever owned and he loved it. It had a 430 cubic inch engine and a four-barrel carburetor.

He told every one who’d listen that it was a one-owner car, and had been owned by a funeral home, so it had never been driven over 25 miles per hour. It was, in his words, a real cream puff.

My father and I were driving down High Street in the wee hours, headed west to our home in Waterview and the streets were deserted. I loved riding in the car with my father and I was so happy that he finally had a nice car. We spent many happy hours riding around in that car and talking, just father and daughter.

That powerful V-8 just purred as we rolled down the quiet streets. Relishing this quiet time with my beloved father, I turned to him and said those three simple words that every father longs to hear.

“Dad, goose it.”

He looked at me and smiled.

“Just this once,” I pleaded. “Let’s see what that V-8 will do. No one’s around for miles. Please Dad?”

He looked at the street for a moment, looked back at me and smiled.

“Hold on,” he said with a lilt in his voice.

And then he floored it.

You could almost hear that powerful engine whisper a quiet “thank you” in that millisecond before it roared to life. As the four-barrel carb drank in great quantities of fuel, those 360 powerful horses came alive. The torque was so powerful the car lunged a bit to the left as we took off. We hit 75 mph in the blink of an eye. That was one of the most delightful memories of my life.

My father eased his foot off the gas, hit the brake and we went back to 35 mph. Felt like we were standing still.

Next week, he took the car in for repairs. Turns out, that powerful torqueing and twisting had busted a motor mount which was an expensive repair. He told me about it later that week adding, “We won’t be doing that again!”

When I was 14, he left home one night, and for the next 30 years, by his choice, he was mostly absent from my life.

Thanks to the grace of God, at the very end of his life, I was able to be there for him, talk to him, comfort him, and kiss him on the forehead and tell him sincerely, “I love you Dad, and I always have loved you, and I always will love you.”

Sunday night, five days before he passed, he sat on the edge of his bed and made three simple statements, and they came from the depths of his soul.

He said, “Mother’s been gone a long time, hasn’t she?”

I asked, “Do you mean, Betty, my mother, or your mother?”

He said, “Betty.”

I said, “Yes, it’s been 10 years.”

He said, “She was the mother of my four children.”

I said, “Yes, that’s right.”

He said, “My four children turned out very well, didn’t they?”

I said, “Yes, your four children turned out well.”

I was comforted to know that at the end, my brothers and I were very much on his mind. It was like the pain-filled distance of those 30 years had closed a bit.

On Tuesday, his last good day, he told me that his parents had come to talk to him. He said they had a long talk, and a good talk. He also said that Betty had sat with him for a time, and they’d had a nice conversation.

He finally was at peace and was ready to go.

He passed on early Friday morning, and I was with him.

He came into this world surrounded by love, and 92 years later he stepped out of this world, again surrounded and embraced by love.

It was a good ending.

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May God Bless Him and Keep Him

June 10th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

He was not always in my life, but I always loved him just as any little girl loves her father. May he rest in peace.

Thomas H. Fuller, Sr., of Portsmouth, Virginia, passed on June 10, 2011 at the age of 91. He had suffered a stroke in June 2010, and moved from his residence to an assisted living facility, under strong, strident and consistent protest.

Mr. Fuller was born in Denver, Colorado on June 13, 1919, to Edgar A. and Florence W. Fuller.  At the age of four, he and his twin brother Edgar A. Fuller, Jr., moved with their parents to Santa Monica, California, where they grew up.  Mr. Fuller was a graduate of UCLA, and a founding member of Muscle Beach on the Santa Monica shore. He and his twin brother worked out each morning on the beach and soon became known as “The Muscle Twins,” and as friends started to join them for their morning workouts, local residents dubbed the area “Muscle Beach.”

Mr. Fuller enlisted in the United States Army after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and was a combat soldier in the European theater.   As a member of General Patton’s Third Army, he was in a number of battles now distinguished in history.   One of his favorite memories was entering Paris in his combat fatigues,  having left the battlefield only hours before making a trip into the liberated City of Lights.

Returning stateside, he married Betty Mae Brown, a Navy Lieutenant, of San Francisco, Ca.  He worked for Skippy Peanut Butter in Alameda, California, and in 1953 moved his family to Portsmouth, Virginia to manage the Skippy plant located at Confederate and High Streets.  He was active in the Portsmouth PTA, Chamber of Commerce, Boy Scouts, and several other civic organizations.

He is predeceased by his wife of 28 years, Betty Brown Fuller. Survivors include their four children, Mrs. Rosemary Fuller Ringer (Wayne), of Norfolk, VA, Dr. Thomas H. Fuller, Jr. (Sue), of Elsah, IL, Mr. Richard B. Fuller (Margie) of Pickens, SC., and Dr. Edward E. Fuller, Sr. (Kathy), of Raleigh, North Carolina. He is also survived by his twin brother, Edgar A. Fuller, Jr., of Rolling Hill Estates, CA.

Tom Fuller is also survived by ten grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for Monday, June 20th at 11:00 at Monumental Methodist Church in Portsmouth. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to the Portsmouth Humane Society, 2704 Frederick Blvd, Portsmouth, VA 23704.

Dad with Tommy and Rickey, mid-1950s

Dad with Tommy and Rickey, mid-1950s


Left to right is Rose (me), Dad, Rick, Tommy and Eddie at Hoover Dam (1966).


My father (right) with his father, in Santa Monica.


Eddie (far left), Rick, Dad, Rose, Dolly, and Mom.

My father and my brothers at the Fleishhacker Zoo in San Francisco, about 1966.

My father and my brothers (Rick and Ed) at the Fleishhacker Zoo in San Francisco, about 1966.

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Dad, Part II

June 4th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

One year ago, we moved my elderly father (almost 92 now) into an assisted living facility here in Portsmouth. In the last couple weeks, he’s started slowing down quite a bit and his needs have increased quite a bit. At least once a day, I drop by and visit to make sure everything’s okay. I don’t know how full-time caregivers do it. I really don’t. Just dancing on the fringes of caregiving takes a whole heapin’ helping of my emotional energy.

These days, the time I’d normally spend writing new blogs is devoted to helping him as he writes the last pages in the last chapter of his earthly life.

When I was a little girl growing up in Waterview (Portsmouth), my father would walk around our neighborhood every evening after dinner. He called it his “evening constitutional.” He never walked out that front door without me running after him yelling, “Daddy, wait for me!”

I was his shadow, following him wherever he went. I adored my father. I thought he was the smartest, handsomest, most wonderful person on earth.

And then when I was 14, he walked out the door one night without me and didn’t come back. It was 30 years before I would be a regular part of his life again. And now, as his life draws to a close, the little girl in me still feels a little trepidation about saying good-bye for another 30 years.

Dad with Tommy and Rickey, mid-1950s

Dad with Tommy and Rickey, mid-1950s


Left to right is Rose (me), Dad, Rick, Tommy and Eddie. I'm not sure where we're at here, but this photo was taken during our trip to California in 1966.


My father (right) with his father, in Santa Monica.


Eddie (far left), Rick, Dad, Rose, Dolly, and Mom.

My father and my brothers at the Fleishhacker Zoo in San Francisco, about 1966.

My father and my brothers (Rick and Ed) at the Fleishhacker Zoo in San Francisco, about 1966.

To read more about my father, click here.

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The Stockley Gardens Art Show and my 70th First Date

May 16th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

In May 2006, after 69 first dates (it’s true, I counted), I sat down at my favorite internet dating site ( and tried one more time.

This time, three new guys popped up. One in particular captured my attention. His profile said that he played the guitar and sang songs and enjoyed woodworking. Judging by his well-written profile, he was also a capable wordsmith. His profile photo showed a man with a bushy beard and silver hair and a green flannel shirt.

Mr. Green Flannel looked fuzzy and cuddly - a good combination.

And the singing? Be still my quivering heart.

“Singing silly little love songs” was on the very first draft of my four-page “What I Want In a Man” mission statement and that bullet point remained throughout that document’s countless revisions.

All three men looked promising, so I dashed off a quickie note, tweaked ever-so-slightly to make it seem like a personal note. Within 48 hours, there was an email reply from Mr. Green Flannel. The other two men never replied.

Mr. Green Flannel was intrigued and wanted to know more. I sent back another note and gave him my phone number. I didn’t hear from him again for several days and assumed he’d lost interest. And then the evening of May 10th,  my cell phone rang. It was Mr. Green Flannel.

Within moments of this first phone call, I was on the fast track to love. Stretched out on top of the fluffy comforter of my queen-size bed, I found myself grinning from ear to ear as he told me about his life. He was intelligent, articulate, interesting and well-spoken. Unlike 97.52% of the world’s population, Mr. Green Flannel spoke in full sentences, peppered with beautifully descriptive words, phrases and expressions. Every now and then, he used a word that I didn’t know. His ability to out-vocabulize the well-read, smarty-pants author swept me off my feet. He spoke slowly and purposefully and all of his words were laced with a delightful West Virginian accent.

As we talked, I learned we had much in common. His first story and my first story (involving our fathers) were much alike. We’d both lost our mothers on Christmas Day. Not too many people share that experience. We were both history nuts. And I made him laugh and vice versa. After a long, enjoyable telephone conversation, we agreed to ratchet up to a face-to-face meeting.

We made plans to meet on Saturday morning, May 20th at 9:00 a.m. at a downtown coffee shop. This suited me well. I was a morning person and I was a lot more charming and witty first thing in the morning. And if it turned out that this guy was nothing but bad news, I could spill my hot chocolate on the table and be out of there in a flash.

This time, I feared I may have over-reached. Date #70 was a highly intelligent, well-educated man with a prestigious job and he was handsome and witty and intriguing and had the most beautiful male voice I’d ever heard. I’d traveled down this well-worn path many times before. Same man, different body. And this story always had the same ending: Sadness and regret, self-recriminations and tears and a night or twelve of crying myself to sleep.

Like the proverbial moth to the flame, I was attracted to intelligent, well-educated, charming men and they were no good for me.

I said a little prayer and asked God to send some big chubby angels to help me through the next few hours.

Date #70 had told me that he was one of those people who was never ever late. That meant that he arrived 10-15 minutes early everywhere he went, which meant that I should arrive at least 30 minutes early; 10 minutes to beat him there and five minutes to calm down my frenzied, frizzy hair, with five minutes left over to mentally practice making an incredible first impression. The coffee shop had free wi-fi, so that gave me an excuse to take my laptop and surf the net and pretend to be one of the beautiful, happening people.

I arrived about 8:30 and ordered my hot chocolate. About 8:50 am, my last first date walked through the door.

He was shorter than I thought. Or maybe the doorway to the old building was unusually high. He was wearing a green plaid flannel shirt, clean blue jeans and a belt with a West Virginia buckle. West Virginia’s upper-most hinterlands were hidden underneath his muffin top. He was grinning. And he was cute as a button.

“You must be Rose,” he said with that enchanting West Virginian drawl.

“I am. And you must be Wayne.”

I managed to rise to my feet without falling over. A good start.

“Nice to meet you,” he replied through perfectly aligned teeth.

He was way too relaxed. He appeared to be someone who actually enjoyed dating. I wasn’t sure what to think of that. Did that indicate good self-esteem (a plus) or a smarmy familiarity with the ladies (a big negative)? His body language suggested he was comfortable and planning to have a splendid time. He looked both relaxed and alert. He seemed happy and eager to get to know this newest offering from the internet dating world.

We sat down together and engaged in the idle chatter that is the on-ramp to meaningful dialogue on a first date.

Less than 15 minutes into the date, my well-honed listening skills failed me. I gazed into his kind eyes and looked at his pretty red lips and wondered if he knew how to kiss a woman. His beard was also very distracting. He had a beautiful silver beard with a few remnants of the original red and brown. It was a really, really good beard. It was a very manly beard. And there were a few gray chest hairs sprouting from his open shirt. A manly man with a manly beard and manly chest hair.

He talked very slowly and yet, he spoke in whole paragraphs. No fragmented sentences and no umms or uhhs or rambling ideas. If someone were sitting in the corner writing down his words, there’d be no revision or correction needed prior to publishing.

He was a darling man and I’m sure the women loved him. Why was this guy on the loose, I wondered. Why did the last 27 women send him packing? Drug addict? Alcoholic? Gasoline sniffer? Or maybe, just like Date #49, he liked looking at pictures of naked men. Or maybe he was one of those guys who threw off his clothes as soon as he came home from work and donned women’s silk underwear and stiletto heels and pranced around his bachelor pad, lip-synching Carly Simon songs? Or maybe he was on probation and just got out of the Big House and this whole lawyer thing was a ruse. I glanced at his ears, hoping to find a bright, yellow warning label that might give some insight. He’d been caught and released by several other women, but he’d never been tagged, darn it.

Somewhere, amidst all this mental meandering, he handed me his card. Both he and his card claimed that he was a city employee (and a high ranking one, at that). I glanced at the card, which bore an impressive title.

“Wow. That’s quite something,” I said out loud.

“If you’re going to fake an identity, you probably should go for something a little more plausible,” I thought to myself. Surreptitiously, I ran my thumb over the card’s face. The city logo wasn’t embossed and the card stock was an inferior grade.

“I finally snag a big fish and it’s nothing more than a cardboard cut-out of a trout,” I told myself.  And then, trying desperately to salvage something from this masquerade, I decided that Date #70 would be a great story for the book. As #70 talked some more, I listened closely to his words and watched his body language and looked deeply into his eyes and that’s when I started to think he might be legitimate. Maybe, just maybe, he really was a lawyer and maybe, he really did work for the city.

And I remembered a story he told me during our first phone call. At a party, a woman asked him what he did for a living. He replied that he was a lawyer. Over the noise and din, she thought he said he was a logger. He laughed about it. “I guess I do look more like a logger than a lawyer.”

After about 90 minutes, he invited me to attend a local art show with him. It sounded like fun and I hadn’t been to an art show since my mother was an exhibitor in 1978. As we strolled around the Stockley Gardens Art Show, I had a recurring urge to reach out and hold his hand but hesitated. A raging internal debate about handholding ensued.

Was it forward to reach out and grab someone’s hand? If I held his hand within 90 minutes of the first meet and greet, did that mean that we’d be kissing within the next hour, breathing heavy by noon and then back at his place for hot sex by 3 o’clock? Is that how men think? Was it wise for a woman to send that message so early on the first date? Or maybe I was thinking about this all wrong. Maybe, if I reached out for his chubby little mitt, he’d see my sweet and playful side. Maybe he’d think it was cute, like reaching behind him and snapping his suspenders. But snapping suspenders and holding hands are two different things. Did male/female hand-holding constitute foreplay in today’s dating world? I couldn’t decide. And then there was the whole matter of rejection. I’d die from sheer horror if Date #70 rejected a hand-holding.

It was too risky. I decided not to reach out for his hand.

Walking along the city sidewalks, he stopped me for a moment and said, “Hold on,” and then he took a step or two backwards and gracefully positioned himself on my other side.

“A gentleman always walks on the street side,” he said.

“Nice,” I replied, “but do you know why a gentleman always takes the street side?”

He did. Mr. Green Flannel knew the reason why. (Gentlemen, in days of yore, walked on that side to protect a lady from the mud and muck thrown by a passing carriage.)

Now I wanted to grab him by the lapels on his flannel shirt and tell him that he was the man I’d waited for and dreamt about and prayed for and I could show him my four-page mission statement and it was very clear on all these points and could we just forego all the societal silliness and get married that afternoon and wouldn’t it be great to tell our kids that we got married on the very day we met and plus, was anyone ever married in a green flannel shirt, with the bride wearing red sandals and sporting a black laptop case as an accessory? It’d all be grand.

To read the rest of the story, buy Rose’s book here.

But I’ll give you a sneak peek of the ending. They lived happily ever after. And once a year, they attended the Stockley Gardens Art Show and strolled through the many exhibits, talking about that fortuitous first date.  :)

The Eight-Cow Wife

Photographic proof of the happy ending. :)

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