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Four Years at the Mount

Forgotten Tales

March, 2014

Journalism is designed to provide readers with the worldís most current events as they are happening. However, this excludes some the best stories around Ė the ones that have already happened. In the past we find stories to learn from, to inspire us, and to discover ourselves through. This month the Four Years at the Mount writers reflected on some of these Forgotten Tales and unearthed some incredible stories worthy of a warm fireside and a steaming cup of tea.

Around the World

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

This month I made it my mission to find someone at Mount with an incredible story to tell. Initially I was stuck, unable to find someone who had a story that truly captured me. Then I realized that I wasnít looking for just any story. I needed to find a person who could sit down and tell me 20 stories like my Nanna used to do. A person who could talk and talk and would never get boring because their life just seemed so fascinating. Once I started thinking this way, I knew just who I needed to talk to: one of my professors. Despite his amazing tales, he wishes to remain anonymous. This professor has been to more places in the world than I can count, and his stories capture the attention of everyone in his classes. His stories are so incredible that he truly doesnít want anyone to think heís crazy when the story is through. Although the tale that he wove for me is so amazing itís hard to believe, he spoke with such conviction that itís impossible to doubt the truth behind it.

When I asked him if he wanted to share some stories with me in depth he was a little confused, but when I explained that I was writing an article, he asked, "Sure, should I tell you about the time I was going from Greece to Germany after a conference in Lesbos, but got stuck in Hungary?" All I could do was laugh because I knew how crazy this story would surely be.

My professor had a conference where he was to deliver a talk focusing on his research on the island of Lesbos. It was the summer of 1990 and the event was scheduled immediately before he was scheduled to begin studying in Germany. The itinerary was tight, but could be worked with; he had his passport and was optimistic about the trip. His first flight was long, amusing, and a little frightening at times as he journeyed from America and landed in Turkey. From Turkey, he took a puddle jumper to the east coast of Lesbos, ready to make his way to the opposite side of the island and complete his journey. This however, is where things got complicated.

At the time, there was only one long dirt road reaching from coast to coast, stretching through windy, mountainous territory. Imagine a path thousands of feet in the air with no guardrails. After a little navigation he finally arrived at the bus station. On the bus were people with their goats and chickens and plants. All sorts of religious knick-knacks hung from the rearview mirror. To add to the terror, he was sitting in the very front seat and the bus driver was looking back at the passengers, talking to them as he was all over the winding road thousands of feet in the air. The entire trip lasted four hours as the bus wound its way through the mountains, stopping at every little town along the way. Despite the initial fright it caused, the trip ended without incident. He arrived on the west coast and he delivered his paper and stayed for three days. The next task on his list was the simple, but deceptively difficult task of flying to Germany.

From the capital of Lesbos, my professor flew into Athens for a short layover. He got off the plane and stepped into the airport where he found a "huge open room. The circus was in town and there were elephants and lions and all kinds of animals in cages and shackles." I know what you all are thinking, there is absolutely no way there were circus animals in the airport, but I asked about six times Ė there were. After meandering through the sea of animals he prepared to board his outgoing flight for Germany. Well, as fate would have it, the plane left without him. This wouldnít have been much of a story if he didnít miss a flight, would it?

He went over to talk to the people at the main desk, using the small amount of Greek he knew to communicate his problem and arrange for passage on a new flight. He had to call Germany and notify the people waiting to pick him up from the airport. He went over to the phones on the outskirts of the airport and they were lined with men in uniform holding rifles. He had to communicate his problem again, telling the armed men who he needed to call, why he needed to contact them, and the phone number. Finally he convinced the guards and had to wait for the number to be dialed for him. He got a new flight for the next day and was finally Ė maybe Ė on his way to Germany.

Well, they left out a small detail Ė or he didnít hear a small detail Ė about a layover in Budapest, Hungary. No problem you might say? Just waste some time in the airport you might say? Quite the contrary. Hungary was still a communist country under Russian control at the time, requiring a visa to enter. And his connecting flight was not until the next day. He got off the plane and there were military men forcing the passengers in line into a makeshift plywood area where they took care of customs. Realizing he didnít have a visa to enter, he was just glad he had his passport. Because of the confusion, and the scary men with rifles, he was lucky to find an American consult working in the airport who told him everything was going to be fineÖhe just couldnít leave the airport. So, my professor slept in the Hungary airport that night. He ended his story with, "I finally got to Germany, but I missed the first three days of classes."

In short, Iím glad I got the chance to talk with my professor about the journey of a lifetime, complete with crazy bus trips, hordes of animals, and scary soldiers with guns. Perhaps the greatest realization for me is the fact that this man and his incredible story were right under my nose the entire time.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary


Through her glasses again

Lydia Olsen
Class of 2016

"I was born in May of 1935 but I really grew up in the 40s. Everyone back then was very patriotic because of the war and frugal because of the depression. It seemed everyone in the world was working in some capacity for that war and rationing in another.

I wasnít old enough to work at the time but I can remember my older brother being a warden when he was only about 15 years old. While mother, daddy, my other siblings and I would stay inside during the air raids and draw our blackout curtains over the windows or go down and sit on the basement stairs to wait for the sirens to go off, my oldest brother got to stay outside. He had a patch he would wear and he would walk around to see if he could spot any light coming from a house to then alert the person to cover it immediately. I remember the same brother building a foxhole in the backyard as a sort of simulation of what it would be like to be a solider. That hole must have been about six feet deep and you would drop down, crawl through and then come up on a different end. My sisters and I used to sneak down into that foxhole and just sort of play around. Iím not sure how we ever got out of it but I did know that my brother was never pleased if he found out we had been in there, so we always tried to be very sneaky.

"A few years later my family moved from Silver Spring, Maryland to Washington, D.C. On the weekends I remember the family all piling into the car. Now we never had a fancy car, but we did always have a car. So all seven of us would be piled in tightly and when we got to the store Daddy would get out and get us a quart of ice cream for a quarter. The rest of the family would wait in the car and we would say silly things to people as they walked by on the sidewalk and then duck down real quick so they couldnít see us. It never worked very well because it was so crowded in that car that there wasnít much room to hide, but we loved doing that and we would always die laughing. When we got back home weíd make milkshakes. After it was divided up among all of us, all I ever really got was flavored milk. Everyone knew Daddy always gave the good lumps of ice cream to mother but we didnít object.

"My father had always dreamed of opening an ice cream shop and when I was about twelve he bought his very own. That ice cream store was where I spent a lot of my time. It seemed as if Daddy was always asking one of my siblings or me to work because someone couldnít make it in or what not. One nice thing about working at the store was that it gave me a chance to work and have money before most people my age. This allowed me to go out to the movies or buy items that I had to have. And of course the ice cream we would eat every night was definitely a plus. I canít tell you for sure but it seemed as if there was a different flavor every time Daddy brought it home. He was always experimenting with various things. Whenever he would try something new and we would ask what it was, heíd just say, "Oh itís dingleberry." Thatís what he called all the flavors before he came up with a name for them. My absolute favorite flavor was this ice cream with grapenuts in it. The best part was that the grapenuts would be all crispy. I donít know how Daddy got them like that but it was just delicious. The difficulty with having an ice cream store was that there werenít very good freezers at this time. This, of course, caused the ice cream to melt so in a lot of cases we would have to eat the ice cream very quickly. Mother sometimes had to give our extra ice cream away to ensure that it was eaten before it melted.

"When I was fifteen years old and in high school I met my future husband for the first time. He was two years older than me and he was very cool because he had his own car. It was a 1934 Chevy with two doors but, most importantly, a rumble seat. There was a handle where the trunk was that you could pull so that a seat came out and then when you were riding along on the rumble seat you would be outside of the actual car. Those were always fun times. Before he became my husband he actually worked at my fatherís ice cream store. There were some nights when weíd have to lock up the store together and while he drove me home the moneybox would sit on the seat in between us. Itís amazing to think about how weíve now been married for 60 yearsÖ"

My grandmaís stories could go on for days. The astonishing thing about sharing tales of your life is that once you start itís hard to stop. One story leads to another, which leads yet again to another story, and this is probably the most beautiful aspect of stories: they promote continuous conversation while being educational, rewarding and entertaining.

I chose to tell brief parts of my grandmaís life in first person to show that her stories, in fact, are not forgotten and will never be forgotten. My stories are made up of and enriched by the stories of my family members. So you see, her stories are in fact my stories to share now, to share in the future, to remember and refer to. Her stories, while I could never know all of the details or feel all of the emotions that she has felt, are forever written in the hearts of all of those who love her. My grandma is the greatest storyteller of all. And the greatest stories are always told from her point of view.

Read other articles by Lydia Olsen


The First Forgotten Tale

Kyle Ott
MSM Class of 2015

If you will allow me to paint you a pictureÖ

A young man attending a private university in the Northeast of America is walking to eat with a few of his companions for dinner. Autumn is in full swing and the trees have begun to change the colors of their lives, turning the mountains that surround his school into a quilted patchwork of oranges, browns, and yellows and casting the old stone buildings of his home in a new light. On the way to the meal he decides to check with the mailroom and see if he has anything of note waiting for him. On any other day he would flip through the combination nonchalantly, see the empty mailbox, and move on to a boisterous conversation with his classmates. On this day, however, he finds a small envelope and a battered newspaper clipping attached to it. Curious, he waits until he reaches his table to tear open the manila shield surrounding the letter and read what it has to say. The note, in all its humble small-ness, simply says:

"I thought youíd be interested in this, itís the story of the ship I was on. We were also part of the Cuban Blockade. We and other warships were shadowing Russian Transport Ships for several days. Tell your brother hello. Take care, Grampa and Grandma."

The young man, even more curious than before, turns the newspaper clipping over in his hands a few times before deciding to read what it contained.

The tale within the two short columns of small type was almost too amazing to believe. It told the story, not of his grandfather, but of a young sailor, trapped with 157 other crewmen on the Arctic Sea by a fierce storm. Winds reached almost 100 miles per hour as they rattled the metal walls of the boat as well as the souls of the men inside. The water wrapped around the ship, yanking it this way, tugging it that way. The coffee pot in the mess room came loose as plates and china smashed in a cacophony around the men who were stumbling and falling trying to maintain some semblance of footing. Suddenly, everything came to a head when walls of deathly green water began to crash over and over into the hull of the ship, sending the sailors who could barely stand into a frenzy of activity as they tried to save their ship and their lives. The walls of water eventually climbed to unbelievable heights.

The young man reading the paper suppressed a sharp breath when he read how casually the waves were described, going from "mountainous" to "phenomenal." Despite the fact that the storm had already passed and the ship had undergone its ordeal years ago, the young man still struggled to read on.

The waves crashed again and again, tearing apart anything that wasnít tied tight enough or reinforced properly. The worst damage came when the 2,000-pound piece of equipment used for gunnery training, complete with real torpedoes, was torn loose. Suddenly everyone was threatened by a storm outside and the chance of a deadly explosion from within.

Despite everything, they did it. The brave men on that ship survived the storm; the green water finally giving way to something that looked far less like the angry hand of God. An almost 24-hour ordeal had finally given way to some tentative peace. Even so, the sea was still so rough that the ship had to limp on toward the North Pole before finally being able to turn back toward England for much needed repairs. The ship had been saved, the people on it had persevered, and in the face of titanic odds they had come out on top, somehow surviving the worst that nature could throw at them.

The events that Iíve described to you didnít begin during the opening sequence of a book or at the start of a young Indiana Jones movie (although, George Lucas, if youíre listening, Iím open to negotiations). Rather, the scene that took place for you occurred to me, after opening a humbly marked letter from my grandfather, Clarence Ott, who served on the U.S. S. Rhodes in 1962 as a radio operator. The Rhodes was one of many destroyers that stalked the sea during that time period: part weapon, part deterrent against any who would seek to encroach on America, or its tons of allies. It was the kind of story that you watched on TV or read about in books, and certainly not the kind of story youíd picture your grandfather being an integral part of. Yet there I was, sitting in Patriot Hall reading this story in a newspaper that I had never seen before about an incident that I had never known happened.

For a little personal perspective, my grandfather is a tall, jolly man with a balding head that never seems to be without a ball cap of some sort. In the 20 years Iíve been alive I can count on both hands the times Iíve seen him without his signature, long-sleeved plaid work-shirts. Furthermore, I can count on one hand the times heís referred to me by my Christian name rather than "Kyley Boy." Heís the kind of man that speaks more in chuckles and good natured laughs than actual words. Heís the kind of man that when something needs done, he does it. Not because itís particularly pressing or important, but because he simply likes to work. Heís at home on a ladder balancing a full can of paint in one hand and a hammer in the other. He wasnít the kind of man that went out on giant adventures, and he had certainly never braved a perfect storm and come out on the other side with a tale to tell. Heís my gramps, the man who falls asleep at 9 oíclock on the dot, the man who lent me books on the Wild West and kindled a love of history in my heart, and the man who takes us with him to volunteer for Meals on Wheels.

Astoundingly, here I am, writing this article. Telling my grandfatherís forgotten tale to all of you in the hopes that it might never be forgotten, and in the hopes that you might go and seek out your own beloved family members and see what stories they have to share. My own father had never heard the story of his dadís battle with the storm. As far as I know, Iím the first one of the grandchildren to be privy to this amazing account of my grandfather, Petty Officer Clarence Ott, and his battle against the storm. How many other amazing tales are there just waiting to be told? How many adventures and epics have we missed because we never thought to ask our parents, uncles, and siblings? My whole life has been one big quest to tell the stories that no one had the chance to hear, to weave the tales that were almost forgotten. Thank you for being here with me, for listening to my grandfatherís story, and hopefully for going out and finding some forgotten tales of your own. Who knows what brave and wondrous adventures you may discover. Iím Kyle Ott wonít you sit and read for a while?

Read other articles by Kyle Ott


Bold and Beautiful

Nicole Jones
Class of 2014

The picture has sat in our house my entire life. A modest wooden frame borders the faded 3x5. A scruffy man smiles up at the camera as it clicks, capturing the moment for future reflection. His hair has grayed and thinned since then, but itís still my grandfather. The delicate arms encircling his shoulders belong to a serene, ivory-skinned face framed with short dark hair. Her red blouse stands out against an otherwise white background. Though she isnít smiling, you know sheís happy; itís etched in her eyes, the lovely eyes of my Grandma Nicki.

I have no personal memories of my grandmother, only secondhand stories. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to meet her since she passed away before I was born, so naturally, I have always been curious about the woman in the picture frame. I had always been tentative about bringing the topic up for fear of upsetting my mother. Now, 21 years later, this article finally provided me with the platform to ask some questions, fleshing out the personality of the lovely lady in the red sweater.

"She was a treat," said my father as he stood in the kitchen sipping coffee. "You would have gotten along famously."

In the adjoining living room, I sat across from my mother who was already tearing up at the thought of Grandma Nicki.

"She was just always happy. Everyone loved her," Mom dabbed at her eyes with a tissue, "She had tons of friends." There was a pause, a moment of tearful reflection, and then the memories began making their way past my momís lips.

"Probably the goofiest thing was, she was going downstairs because thatís where the laundry room was, and I hear this thump. I just look over the railing, and she fell down the stairs, only a couple of them, and sheís just lying at the bottom of the stairs," Mom spreads her arms out, demonstrating the spread eagle position my grandmother had taken, "I ask if sheís okay and sheís like, ĎIím so tired,í and keeps lying there!"

With a smile as sweet as the candy she loved to eat, Grandma Nicki was an affectionate, giving woman.

"She was always really active in all the stuff [my sister] Karen and I wanted to do," said Mom. From majorettes to Scrabble and card games, Grandma Nicki just liked to sit around and be together with her two little girls. Whenever one of the girls would get mad, my grandma knew the cure was a simple song: "Sherry is mad and I am glad Ďcause I know what will please her. A bottle of ink to make her stink and ten little skunks to squeeze her."

She also showed affection through elaborate pet names. "She used to call me Sherry-Annie-Pickie-Panny," laughed my mom, and my aunt was lovingly called Karen-Michellie-Pasteboard-Belly. "Just because it rhymed I guess," mom speculated, "Because I donít know what either of them means."

Grandma was a classy lady. She dressed modestly, rarely wearing much more jewelry than her simple wedding band. She read housekeeping magazines and stayed up on the trends: ceramics, crochet, and macramť. She baked a delicious dessert called Congo Squares, collected music boxes, and planted marigolds. Donít let this domestic disguise fool you, however. Underneath it all was a touch of a wild streak.

"She was a rock Ďní roller," said my dad.

"Every Saturday morning, I would get woken up to the Everly Brothers," my mother chimed in. She also had what were then current albums including Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Seger, Ron Stewart, and the Beatles. "She would play them while cleaning the house."

She also enjoyed riding my grandfatherís motorcycle, or if it snowed, she opted for a snow mobile. These were mere surrogates, however, for her most exciting endeavor of all, trick-horseback riding.

Though she didnít ride when my mom knew her, Grandma Nicki grew up riding for her fatherís rodeo. We were lucky enough to happen upon a letter she wrote outlining some of her experiences with the rodeo. Though she had been riding since she was nine, she didnít start trick-riding until she was 12. Under the tutelage of Ralph Clark, a former horse trainer for the Ringling Brothers, she learned how to twist and stand and ride a horse in nerve-racking, breath-taking ways. Clark also taught her the art of trick roping, a devilishly tricky skill, yet Grandma could twirl a 20-foot loop around her, and we have an old picture to prove it.

My young grandmotherís favorite part of the rodeo was what she calls "the worldís best looking males, the happy-go-lucky race of guys known as the American cowboy." Every summer her family packed up their little blue trailer and travelled the road putting on rodeo performances. During the show season of her fourteenth year, the rodeo spent five weeks in Florida with the family of Joe Flores, the rodeoís manager. Grandma practiced and performed and even bought a new horse named Jackie, but what she remembers the most about that summer is a boy named Butch MacMillan.

On May 9 that year, she and Butch started "going steady." In September, Butch joined the army, and grandma waited six months for him. When Butch went on a 15-day leave, they planned to run away together and elope.

"After a while I came to realize our parents trusted in us and our judgment," she wrote in her letter, "We were too young to take such a big step." She and Butch decided to wait a little longer, at least until she was out of high school and her aspiring modeling career had kicked off in New York. "We decided to wait and be the sensible, levelheaded kids our families think we are."

I donít know what ever happened to Butch MacMillan or grandmaís modeling career, but she ended up marrying Franklin Pickett, Jr., having two beautiful daughters, Karen Michelle and Sheryl Ann, and living out her days right here in Maryland.

Now, Grandma Nicki led an exciting life, but the very first story I ever heard about her will always be one of my favorites. See, Grandmaís given name was not Nicki but Naomi Irene, and she hated it. Grandma hated it so much, in fact, that she made my mother promise to never name a daughter after her. My mother, obviously, found a loophole and named me Nicole so that I could take the nickname Nicki. However, I did not make such a promise. Letís just say that the name is going to stay within the family. What Grandma doesnít know wonít hurt her, right?

Read other articles by Nicole Jones

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