Remembering Major Bradley Gene Cuthbert

Captain Bradley Gene Cuthbert (Photo by Elizabeth Harper)

It can be frustrating when you spend several hours searching for someone online and can’t find them. We’re all so used to easy access to information, but what if you spent your whole life searching and wondering.

Major Bradley Gene Cuthbert went missing on November 23 1968 during a flight over North Vietnam. It was his 28th birthday.

When agreements were reached and the POWs came home, Major Cuthbert was not with the survivors. According to information I found online, it seems he was declared dead based on two teeth, a dog-tag, and differing tales from witnesses some as old as 21 years after his plane was shot down.

Two teeth were repatriated and his military file was closed.

His daughter, Shannon Cuthbert Sassen believes he may still be alive somewhere.

I’d like to think we wouldn’t leave a solider behind and that all efforts to find him were exhausted, but 45 years is a long time and it seems unlikely that her father will be returned to her now.

After reading his story and her comment with it, I tried to find her online to give her a copy of the image above. I took the photo of the POW bracelet with her father’s name on it during a trip to Washington D.C. when John and I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The long dark wall is a powerful memorial to loss and suffering and like many memorials, people sometimes leave mementos behind. Placed along the wall are personal touchstones left by people connected to someone whose name is etched on the reflective wall of war dead.

A lasting memory from my childhood, the POW bracelet caught my eye placed as it was in front of the wall next to an American flag.

I tried to find Major Cuthbert’s daughter through a variety of search routes before giving up. I hope this post finds its way to her so she will know that her father is not forgotten and that I too, will be thinking of him today.

I’ve written more than a few words about Memorial Day over the last few years and you may be interested in those stories as well.

One-Shot & Me

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Becky & Jenny at the One-Shot Cabin

When I was six, my Great-aunt, Wylly Folk St John published her first book, The Secrets Of Hidden Creek.

She was 58.

After Wednesday’s post, you can probably understand why this knowledge is more than a bit comforting to me.

That said, Aunt Wylly wrote for years before publishing her first book. As a journalist for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, she had to constantly meet deadlines and she was paid to write long before she graduated from the University of Georgia where 47 boxes of her writings are archived in the Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

She went on to publish eight books, two of which were nominated for the Edgar Allen Poe Mystery Writers of America award.

My cousin, McKenzie posted a comment on Facebook yesterday where she talked about how she and her young son were reading one of Aunt Wylly’s books at bedtime and how it gave him more insight into who his Grandmother Becky was as a girl, as well as his Great-great-grandmother Wylly.

Aunt Wylly loved using real children as characters in her books so McKenzie’s son is enjoying reading about his grandmother as the teenager she was in 1966 when The Secrets of Hidden Creek was published. Much of the story’s setting and characters are clearly modeled after the real thing. First books often pull in parts of the author’s life and my unfinished novel is no different.

If you’ve followed my blog for long it probably won’t surprise you to learn that there is a character in my book who is modeled in some ways after my aunt and you might also understand why seeing McKenzie’s message on Facebook felt like a little cosmic push especially since I’ve  been so unproductive lately.

Aunt Wylly would probably appreciate my thinking she was sending me a message given her interest in ghosts when she was alive.

The hammock in the first picture figures into the story that McKenzie is reading with her son. It was used on the book jacket in 1966 as you can see from the image below. In addition to Becky and Jenny, their brother, Chuck is in the illustration with them.

Wylly Folk St John

I have some lovely memories of time spent at the cabin with Aunt Wylly and later on with my cousins. And while my daughter doesn’t really remember it, she once had a chance to wrestle for the hammock like her cousins did as characters in Aunt Wylly’s book.

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Miranda & Elizabeth at the One-Shot Cabin 1993

This oft fought for spot had to be replaced more than a few times over the years as the humidity of hot Georgia summers and squirmy children did their damage. One of my favorite memories of Aunt Wylly’s lakeside hideaway, it was always snug like a little cocoon, making a perfect nest to read a book and drift off to sleep. Comforting and safe, it was a place I where could let my guard down during a dangerous time in my life and just be for a while with normal kid worries and daring daydreams.

The seed of storytelling for me may not have been planted at the One-Shot cabin, but it was most certainly nurtured there … in a hammock, on a porch, overlooking a lake, with a secret hidden deep under the water.

Big thanks to McKenzie for helping me aerate my roots a bit. 

Accidental Meetings – A Place Where Past And Present Intersect

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Most of my friends and family know of my fascination with photographing old churchyards and cemeteries. I can get lost in a one for hours if left alone and I was delighted when I first came to Cornwall to find John living in a village with a lovely church only a short walk from home.

Since marrying him and moving to the UK, I’ve spent a lot of time in the churchyard especially when I felt a need for a quiet moment, not that it’s very busy or noisy in our village of 500. It’s a peaceful spot to watch the birds fly in and out of the church tower or to photograph the seasons as they change and I used to stop there for a rest at the end of a run. Even though my runs have become more of run/walk in the last few years, I still like to have a look around when I’m passing by.

I am always interested in photographing the gravestones, especially the old ones, and I notice when I spot an unusual name. The gravestone below first caught my eye because it is next to one (not in the picture) that has Elizabeth on it. I know it may sound strange, but I always look for headstones with John and Elizabeth lying next to each other. Click here to see a post about a churchyard over looking the sea where I posted some gorgeous photos and wrote more about how we always seem to find our names together.

Like any small community, you can discover a lot about its history through the names on the gravestones. Unusual names like, Axworthy tend to make me head for my computer pretty quickly to see what I can learn, but I have to admit that until I met a member of the Axworthy family last Sunday, I had not followed up on the research.

The Return 2009

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day in the UK and I had the pleasure of meeting a woman who was born in the cottage which use to house the old post office for our village. She moved away when she was seven, but still comes back a few times a year to have a bit of lunch and a look around the village. I recognized her maiden name right away when she told me because Axworthy is one of the more interesting names in the churchyard. She was in the pub with her son and daughter-in-law who told me she still lived in a village nearby.

Gwendoline Axworthy

Gwendoline Axworthy

After she told me her name and where she had been born, her son mentioned that there was a photo on the wall in another  room of the pub that had some of their relatives in it. I went around ‘borrowed’ it and after talking about the men in the photograph, I asked her permission to take a picture of her holding a copy of the photo of her great-grandfather, Austin Axworthy and great-uncle, Edgar Axworthy.

Cornwall 2013

They are sitting in front of the cottage/post office where she was born in 1926. While I don’t think there are Axworthy’s in our village anymore, there are certainly Pengelly’s living here. Tom Pengelly was the postman according the family.

I was pleased to meet such a delightful woman with a history and link to this place that has become my home and I was happy that she and her family gave me permission to use the photo and share our meeting online.

The stone cottage she was born in has changed a lot over the years. You can just see the edge of it where the women are standing in the doorway in the photo above.

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In this old black and white photograph provided by Shirley Runnells, the cottage that housed the old post office is on the right side with the phone box near the doorway. With a family living upstairs, I can’t imagine there was much privacy when trying to use the phone. The two cottages attached to it were later joined to form one.

Cornwall 2013

I took this photo taken last week and while you can’t see it, there is a window behind the blue car that used to be the doorway to the middle cottage. I am not sure when the two became one, but the old post office was housed in the white cottage until 1999.

Cornwall 2013

The stone cottage across from it is the ‘Old Smithy.’ I am not sure why we still call it that when we don’t have another blacksmith in the village.

When I researched the Axworthy name, I confirmed that it was Saxon in origin, something John had already told me, and the earliest recording of it in writing was during the reign of Henry VIII when Harry Axworthy was christened in 1542 in Lezant, Cornwall.

It might be easy for some to take the history of a place for granted, but in a country where you don’t have to go far to see something like the Celtic cross which marks the intersection of two lanes on the left in this photo, it’s difficult not to occasionally imagine the ghosts of those who lived here before me.

Talking with the great-granddaughter and great-great-grandson of the man in the photograph may have answered a few questions, but the real gift was more of a day-dreamy one as I imagined the lady before me as a baby and young girl learning to walk the same paths I’ve come to love in the village where we live.

Have you ever had an accidental meeting of a similar sort? 

A Castle For Your Dreams

13th Century - Restormel Castle, Cornwall, England

13th Century – Restormel Castle, Cornwall, England

Hundreds of years ago someone imagined a life on hillside overlooking the River Fowey. Not content with the natural height provided, they scooped up the earth to build a motte and bailey design castle. The first structure appeared around 1100 in what would eventually become the stone remnants you now see in the photo above. Restormel Castle in Cornwall is considered one of the best remaining examples of a motte and bailey castle and according the English Heritage site, one of 70 remaining in Britain.

Fulfilling the dreams of others

When my best girlfriend Patrice came for a short visit in 2011, she had a list of things that she wanted to do while she and her partner Lisa were here for a few days. One of which was a visit to a castle.

I took them to Sunday services on St Michael’s Mount and later John walked with us through the attached castle, but I wanted more for her. I wanted her to see a remote castle with no furnishings and few people, a place where she might have a moment alone to think about her mother who had died a few years earlier without going on the ‘Castles of Europe’ tour she’d always imagined she’d see one day.

I remember Patrice telling me how she’d asked her mother if there was anything she wanted to do in the time she had left and how they had talked about castles before her mother began chemotherapy. Her mother died without going on that trip so this was more than just another tourist stop for Patrice, it had a special meaning and while she didn’t mind which castle she saw, I wanted it to be really special and I had a feeling that Restormel Castle might be that place.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

When I see this photograph of Patrice, I can almost hear her saying, ‘I’m here, Mama’ as she pauses in the first entrance to the castle.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

You can see a second entry point into the castle where the person in blue is walking under the arch. The gatehouse was originally three stories high but was partially dismantled during the Civil War. I found the history of this building style fascinating when I researched Restormel Castle. If you’d like to know more, I have done some of the work for you by providing the highlighted links above.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

You can see the entrance to the chapel in the center of the photo above. The chapel projected out past the circular structure and had points of entry from smaller side doors.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel CastleLooking to the middle left of the photo above, you can a side entrance to the chapel as well as an arched entry leading directly into the sanctuary.

Patrice & Lisa

Here’s a shot looking mostly down into the space. I’m afraid these images are not my best work as it was wet and windy shooting that day, but perhaps you can still get a sense of the space.

Patrice & Lisa

From this angle so you can see how thick the walls are and get a glimpse of the lovely view from the castle walls.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

There are stories about a dungeon, but I’m not sure they are more than stories.

Patrice & Lisa

There are stairs which lead to all kinds of hidden areas like this one with Patrice. I said she looked like a monk from a distance with her dark hood up to avoid the rain so she assumed a prayerful position at the end of a moss-covered passage way.
Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

In this photo, you have a window in the center with an open space  to the left where a fireplace once stood. There’s a matching window (not seen here) on the other side of the fireplace shell.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

I wondered how many faces must have looked though these great stones windows over the last 800 or 900 years and thought about how the view must have changed along with the ownership of the castle. My imagination goes wild thinking about the lives of those privileged to have been able to stand or sit near the windows in a room with such an important function.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

You can see how the windows and fireplace might have looked in the great hall by double clicking on this image of a plaque from the castle grounds.Patrice & Lisa, Restormel CastleHere’s a last look at what the interior of the keep might have looked like. You can see the window outline and the fireplace off to the left in this photo of one of the English Heritage information plaques. I usually take a quick photo of these to use later as a reference when I want to do more research online at home. I thought these might be helpful for this post.
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One more shot of Restormel Castle from a distance … the first and last photographs were taken during the last week and all others in September 2011.

It was good to help Patrice complete a goal that had been one of her mother’s dreams. Two castle visits may not have been the ‘Castles of Europe ‘ tour her mother dreamed of, but walking through Restormel Castle and St Michael’s Mount, I can’t help but think that Patrice’s mother would have had a little chuckle to see her daughter fulfilling a few of mom’s unfinished dreams.

I imagine most of us have something like that. There are so many places I see living in the UK that I know my dad would have loved to see himself, but the thing I feel most keenly is the connection he and I shared with writing and imagination.

My father left a fair amount of unpublished words and ideas and at least one story he wrote for his daughters. I know he would have been a big fan of my writing (being my dad) and would have encouraged me to go beyond the limitations of my blog. I hope to manage that one day and do something that he, like Patrice’s mom, never had a chance to do himself.

How about you? Are any of you secretly hoping to complete a dream desire that someone special to you can no longer do for themselves or maybe one like mine that you shared with a parent or other loved one?

The Last Photographs Of My Life … Not Yet

Wales 2013

Multi-Car Accident on A40 in Slebech, Wales ( I took this from inside the ambulance. The blue van in the middle of the road is the one that hit us. She also hit the car to the left, near the sign.)

Four days ago my husband John and I were hit by a woman in a van. It was 2:20 in the afternoon on a Friday in Wales.

The driver was drunk … almost twice the legal limit.

She drove head-on into our lane and only John’s quick reactions saved us from something that could have been very ugly. I don’t know why she made the decision to drink and drive or why she felt it necessary to try to pass a delivery truck on a crowded two-lane road after having had the equivalent of four pints of beer, but she did.

None of the cars were moving slowly although 40 to 45 miles an hour may sound slow to those used to higher speeds on major roads. I imagine the drunk driver was also accelerating when she pulled out from behind the large truck that witnesses said she’d been trying to overtake for a while before reaching us. They said it almost looked as if she had someone else in the car jerking the wheel back several times before she drove into our lane.

I looked up from a book I was reading when I felt John shift suddenly and saw the van coming at us, his quick response moved us to the edge of the road or what they call ‘the verge’ here. She hit the side mirror before striking the back side car near the tire which caused our car to go into a spin. We left the road temporarily while spinning … moving through the grass and mud before going back into the road and coming to rest across both lanes.

Wales 2013

We were traveling in the opposite direction of how the car is facing in this photo.

Wales 2013

The blue van in the middle of the road in the distance is the one that caused the accident. She also hit the car near the sign to left in the photo. You can see the grass we brought with us after spinning through it. The white car was behind us and stopped to help. (That’s our tire jack on the right … it flew out during the spin. We lost a big suspension coil as well)

Knowing there were other cars traveling in both lanes, I expected to feel the impact of more cars even after we stopped moving, but all was still afterwards except for the sound of my own coughing. As the dust from four airbags cleared, I knew I was unharmed, but I had to force myself to look at John because I knew his side of the car had taken the hit.

I was afraid to look for fear of what I might see.

Seeing him unharmed except for a bit of blood on his lip was unbelievable given the wild ride we’d just experienced and before we could say more than, ‘Are you alright,’ we heard a man yelling, ‘ Get out of the car, get out of the car!’ It turns out having four airbags going off at once can give an impression of a car filling with smoke and as we jumped out I didn’t know whether the car was on fire or about to be hit by something larger.

Having my camera in my lap at the time of impact proved useful and I snapped a few photos before a mad adrenalin rush and uncontrollable shaking had me sitting in an ambulance being evaluated. I took a few more photos from a sitting position inside the boxy vehicle which is larger than most American ones.

Wales 2013

My window to the world from inside a Welsh ambulance (enlarge to see the Welsh writing on the wall.)

Wales 2013

After hitting us and the delivery truck she was trying to pass, she hit the wall to the right and scraped the road. Somewhere during her out of control ride, she also hit the white car on the left side of the road too.

My title would suggest these were the last photographs I was referring to, but at then end of our day after being released from the hospital and having arrived by taxi at our B&B for the night, I was going over my photos when I came to those I’d shot less than an hour before the crash occurred.

I told John as I flipped through them that had things not gone as they had, someone else might be looking at the last photographs of my life … my final view.

These are some of those images.

Wales 2013

Wales 2013

I don't usually take photos that include the car, but I liked the cloud's reflection in the hood.

I don’t usually take photos that include the car, but I liked the cloud’s reflection in the hood.

My Last Photo ... Not Yet

My Last Photo … Not Yet

The photo above of the rider-less horse … is the very last one I took before the crash occurred. The rider had dismounted just before I took this shot.

Big big thanks for all of the kind thoughts from our Facebook friends. You heard first about our encounter with the drunk driver and your supportive comments were very much appreciated.

Warning! Comfy Slippers Can Lead To Public Embarrassment

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I gave my husband a pair of slippers as one of his Christmas gifts. He’d needed a pair for a while and had been walking around in red wellie socks for several months looking like a movie extra in Dr. Zhivago, one of his favorite films.

Finding them was no easy task. He is particular about his feet and while they are not big, he prefers a looser fitting shoe with a bit of extra width. I found Clarks, King Switch slippers in a nearby town and they’ve been perfect.

Too perfect, in fact.

Before I say any more, I want to let you know that I have John’s permission to share this next part.

Lately, John’s been going on walk-about in his slippers. It began one night about a week ago when he set off on foot to meet me and some friends at the pub. He noted privately to me that he was running a bit late as he’d walked half-way there before realizing he was wearing his house slippers. We had a little laugh about it and went on with our evening.

A few days later, John dropped me at my evening spin class and went off to do some shopping. When we got home later that evening, I noticed he was carrying a bag of groceries in one hand and his slippers in the other. On his feet were hiking shoes that he keeps in the back of the car for impromptu coast path walks which confirmed what I knew before I asked, ‘Did you go out in your slippers again?’

He said yes with a slight bit of exasperation and after I had a laugh, I said, ‘You didn’t wear them into the store, did you?’ He said he went into Asda to pick up a few things and went up to their shoe area to see if they had a canvas shoe he’d bought in the past. He’s been looking for his size for some time and when he didn’t see it, he decided to try on a different style to see if it might be a good substitute.

Looking down to take off a shoe to try on one of the new ones, he realized he was still wearing his slippers and said, ‘Oh, bugger!’ Then he remembered that he had just done the grocery shopping at Morrison’s and said, ‘Double bugger’ before hurrying back to the car to change.

I asked him if he saw any of our neighbors while he was out as it’s unusual not to run into someone we know. He said no and that they’d probably gone the other way after seeing him coming down the aisle in his slippers. He said they’d probably thought, ‘Poor old chap’ if they had seen him, although as quickly as he likes to move through the store, I’d say it’s unlikely anyone had a chance to notice his feet.

We had a pretty big laugh over the visual he would have presented shopping in slippers. After that, I wondered what makes Clarks slippers feel so different than his previous ones … I gave them a good going over and after talking with John, decided it must be down to two areas.

It turns out that the solid no slip soles on Clarks slippers along with the firm bit across the top contribute to the solid shoe-like feel.

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Clarks King Switch Slippers – Internet Photo

I told him if they were as comfortable as he said they were, I was going back to the Clarks store to buy a few more to tuck back for when these wear out. He jokingly said he might try them on the TMB the next time we walk it.

That would be an interesting test … 105 miles through the Alps in his slippers. What would people say?

I never forget to exchange my slippers for shoes before leaving the house … I wonder why?

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Since we’re sharing funny stories … what’s your funniest ‘Oops’ moment?

Synchronicity, Dates … And My British Passport

Cornwall 2013

When a day begins with a sunrise this gorgeous it may be reasonable to assume that something special is going to happen.

Five years ago today I sent the email below.

On 2008-01-07 at 04:19:19, reaching4Skye wrote:

John,
I sent a real email to your other email address.
Sorry I dragged my feet a bit.
I hope to hear from you soon.
Best,
Elizabeth 

On January 7th 2008, he was a man I barely knew. We’d only exchanged one email after meeting on a UK dating site. He had a look that had caught my eye, and I liked what he had to say in his Guardian Soulmates profile so when an accidental save to favorites action on my part sent him a message saying that I was a fan, he sent me an email that started a correspondence that led to marriage.

20051000- 017You may know this story if you’ve read GOTJ for long, but I want to point out a connection I found interesting in the date of the email above and something that occurred this morning.

After John and I married and I decided that I was going to apply for a British citizenship, I found myself hoping that I’d be approved in 2012 which was the shortest amount of time it could happen. Given that it can take up to six months for approval, I’d hoped my naturalization ceremony might occur around one of our anniversaries. We have a couple in January and February that are important to us. As if happened, I had my ceremony the day before Thanksgiving and after redoing my passport application four times, (don’t ask) I submitted the dreadful form and all the other documentation required for my British passport.

You can probably see where this going, right?

Today is the fifth anniversary of the day I contacted John after ‘dragging my feet’ as I said in my email. I was worried about things that as it turns out, have not mattered at all.

A black car pulled up in front of the house this morning. It looked like a black taxi you’d see in London only without the taxi sign on top and it was totally out of place in our little village. Seeing it through our kitchen window, I wondered for a moment if it might have something special for me.

Why something for me, you ask?

Because I had an identity interview last Thursday satisfying the last step needed to receive my British passport.

And today … look what showed up!  You can call it coincidence, synchronicity, or luck, but I think it’s pretty remarkable.

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That’s right … my British passport arrived exactly five years to the day that I sent John my ‘ foot dragging’ email.

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No laughing at my photo, please. You’re not allowed to smile in them anymore so it’s pretty awful.

Still, I’m pleased as I can be.

And I’m smiling now.

How about you … is there some bit of magic you can’t explain in your life?

Big or small, do share it with me in a comment below.