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ABOUT

Picture of various book covers for Manure.
Picture of various book covers for Manure.
Picture of various book covers for Manure.
Picture of various book covers for Manure.
Picture of various book covers for Manure.
Picture of various book covers for Manure.

History

MANURE: Dung, compost, etc. used to fertilize soil. STANDARD COLLEGE DICTIONARY

Like people, manure is a word with much complexity. The first reaction of most people is simple disgust: to imagine the smell; to recall the slimy, sticky touch when accidentally stepped upon; to recognize it as excrement. But it also can be used to fertilize, replenish the soil. This is a common practice in Europe; manure is even delivered in – what is euphemistically called - a “Honey Bucket.” In our story, Manure is the metaphor of all miseries encountered in life – by choice, by accident, found in daily experiences. It is an equal opportunity for young and old, saints and sinners. When you step in it, you immediately know it. The challenge is how to get out; and hopefully, how to turn an unpleasant moment into a learning experience!

Family pictures of Portland, PA in the early 1900s
Family pictures of Portland, PA in the early 1900s
Family pictures of Portland, PA in the early 1900s

Part I  - My Family

 

            Many readers ask, “Why did you write about your father-in-law?” The simplest answer is, “Why not?” But as in life, the true answer is more complicated.

            I have to admit, my own family offers a host of characters and reams of material. My great-grandparents lived in a beautiful home on Staten Island. The home itself plays an important role because it was one of the first homes to be wired with electricity- - a rather insignificant point as we take electricity for granted today; however, it became a weapon which murdered my great-grandfather! Improperly wired – even the neighbors noticed red hot wires glowing outside the house – the home became a time bomb. One afternoon while entertaining, my great-grandfather, a noted dentist, went to the basement to bring bottles of Vichy water - or beer, depending on who is narrating the story – for the guests. As basement walls up north are known to sweat and water conducts electricity, when he leaned over, bracing himself on the wall, he was electrocuted and died instantly. He left his pregnant wife and three children to grieve before a judge and jury. She was awarded the largest sum ever conferred upon a woman at that time. Of course, the lawyers promptly took their lion’s share, never to be seen again. How my great-grandmother and her children survived in New York, in the beginning of the twentieth century could indeed fill pages. For those who don’t like to be left in suspense, her extended family helped and her older son became a doctor, her two daughters became teachers and my Uncle Ralph, the baby who never knew his father, the salt of the earth, became a well-respected lawyer in New York City.

            But their story doesn’t end there… The two girls married two brothers twice their ages – perhaps seeking the father and stability they missed. My grandfather was a very successful pharmacist and – as was customary at the time – accepted property as payment from a patient which became the summer retreat for my grandmother and her siblings and their families. It was called “The Hilltop,” and even for years, that was its official address. My Uncle Frank was given a carriage house which he converted to a year-round home. My Aunt Ethel and Uncle Ernie built their home at the far end of the property. Uncle Ernie was an accomplished carpenter. He also built a shed for wood working – particularly, four-legged step stools which were quite handy. My grandparents resided in the established farm house – which included a two-seater out-house and picnic area covered with trumpet vines. Finally, Uncle Ralph converted the smoke house into a cottage which he continued to expand. The barn was left for storage, a ping pong table and parking - as it was forbidden, by my grandmother, to drive on the property. The siblings also built a swimming pool, which survived over fifty years. On the weekends, the men would return from the city to join their families and relax. Their arrival also signaled cocktail-hour – a five o’clock tradition. Everyone would meet outside the designated house where chairs would be waiting in a circle. With their drinks in hand and a trey of hors d’oeuvres to share, the discussions were lively. The family, as it grew, included Republicans and Democrats; Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Catholics, Baptists, and even one hidden Agnostic.  The times and gossip from the city provided the topics to discuss and problems to solve. As I once wrote, the Hilltop was not just a place, it was a magical time. It was a wonderful incubator for families and culture. But along the way, the following generations let the magic disappear and individualism grew. Where before, family bonds were strong and supportive, families drifted apart, leaving their secrets to dwell in each house ….

 

            My father, also a New Yorker, was fascinated by the family intrigues and operations. As an only child, I think he was a bit envious. He never quite fit in; it was complicated to learn the family history behind every dispute; lines had been drawn long ago. However, even his family came with hidden riddles, concealed dreams and heartaches. His father was a postman and his mother was a teacher/Assistant principal in the NYC public school system. Because they were concerned that the walk to school included crossing dangerous intersections and his mothers did not want her son attending schools where she was employed – they chose to send him to a private boarding school. During the summer he would live with his grandmother and extended family members. At the age of ten, he was called into the principal’s office, told his grandmother had died, that big boys don’t cry. Then, he was promptly sent back to class. He was devastated. Despite a challenging beginning, he was able to achieve more in his fifty-four years than most with a more blessed life. I truly wish he had taken more time to share his life and views; he was an accomplished writer. I feel too close - perhaps too prejudice - to tackle his story. I did put together a short biography to support the naming of the hospital conference room at Patrick Space Force, Florida in his honor. He was the first to command the hospital in 1965. I did enjoy creating a character based on his personality – his intelligence, his wit, and his pride of his Irish roots in MANURE. I hope it gave him a life he might have enjoyed.

            With all this inspiration, why then, did I choose to write about James Brown Godwin?

Family pictures of Portland, PA in the early 1900s
Family pictures of Portland, PA in the early 1900s

Part II - James Brown Godwin

 

            James Brown Godwin was an icon. Standing six-feet, three inches tall, weighing two-hundred forty-five pounds, his stature alone commanded attention. Everyone held their breath, hoping to catch his eye. If you were a hunter, you admired his skill; if a fisherman, you hoped he might share his secrets. If you were a golfer, plan to play eighteen holes, then gather around the “nineteenth hole” for a bourbon or two and prepare to be entertained with his stories. Finally, if you wanted to know how to build and run a prison, you couldn’t find a better authority.

            How I joined this family is an unbelievable tale. It reminds me of the story, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” While walking through life, I came upon a perfect home where a perfect family lived: the beautiful and talented younger sister, Cher; the athletic and intelligent brother, Jim; and the most loving and attractive couple I’ve ever met, Jim and Peggy Godwin. Fortunately, unlike Goldilocks, I didn’t run away. I stayed happily forever after.

            I met his son, James Brown Godwin, Jr., when we were both thrown to New York for college. For me, it was fascination at first sight, but love grew strong and true as time passed. While we were dating, he frequently suggested, “Let’s call my folks!” After pooling our quarters, we would find a pay phone and an operator would dutifully connect us after we made our deposit. Jim would talk and then pass the phone with, “Here, say, ’Hi!” The first time was a shock, the second, awkward; but finally, I could be counted on to say “Hi!” followed by the traditional, “How are you?...How’s the weather?...Wow! It’s snowing up here!” His father had a strong, interesting voice, and I began to picture what he and his wife might look like. I could not have been more wrong.

           During the 1970 Christmas break, I flew to Florida to meet them. Jim picked me up from the airport and left me standing in the dining room while he took my suitcase to the guest bedroom. I was admiring their home, when I noticed a young couple around the corner, sitting on a couch. The young lady was quite attractive sending a wave of insecurity through my mind; he was tall, athletic and smiling. I just knew he must be one of his teammates from the twice undefeated, 1965 – 1966 Bradford High School Football Tornados. I didn’t hear Jim return and was startled as he slipped his arm around my waist and said, “So, you’ve met the Folks!”       

          What! Where? Jim gave me a gentle nudge as I tried to collect myself. I gave them a ten -pound bag of pistachio nuts I’d brought as a house gift and stuttered out my first words, “It’s nice to meet you.” So much for first impressions! Later, I asked Jim, “Why didn’t you tell me your folks belonged on television? They’re so young!” He simply replied, “They’re just my folks.”

          In my defense, I am not the only person to have been misled. When I was pregnant with our first child, Peggy came to visit us in Germany. One night while at a restaurant, I was feeling a bit queasy and ordered a cheese sandwich. Jim, wanting to give his mother an elegant meal, ordered the Chateaubriand for two. They were not disappointed! When it came time to leave, the waiter handed Jim the bill and then turned and slipped me a piece of paper, my bill! I immediately called the young man back and asked him, “How did you size up our table?”

          With a large grin, he replied, “Why, the lovely, young couple ordered the Chateaubriand, and you,” followed by a shrug, “are the forty-five-cent cheese sandwich.”

         "Excuse me!” I returned as I stood up revealing my pregnant condition. “This is my husband, the father of my child. I think he will pay for my dinner. And this,” emphasizing with a dramatic point of my finger, “is his mother!”

          The waiter was speechless. When he caught his breath, he turned to the dining room and announced, “That’s his mother!” Throughout our married life, Peggy, frequently continues to be mistaken as Jim’s wife.

          But to return to our story… totally confused and dumbfounded, I didn’t realize my more embarrassing moments were yet to come. Trying to help me, I think, Jim opened the conversation with, “Did I tell you, Peggy is taking Judo classes?”

          It wasn’t quite where I would have begun… but I smiled and nodded in support.

          Jim’s father – did I mention he was six-foot-three and weighed two-hundred-fifty pounds (neither had Jim) – stood up, smiled again, and said he would like to see my technique. Foolish lass that I was, I accepted his challenge – all five-foot-two, one-hundred-thirteen pounds. Our instructor had instilled in us that with skill and surprise, we could handle any challenger. I mumbled something about a hip throw being my best move. Of course, his father remained immovable. He offered to bend over – no help - and then suggested he could turn his back and I could add my element of surprise. Finally, he quite gentlemanly gave a somersault over me, stood up, and smiled. Jim and his mother died as they tried to stifle their laughs. What more could the evening hold? Somehow, I survived. There were many more opportunities to trip and fall, but somehow, Jim’s Dad helped to make things right.

         At a New Year’s Eve Dinner/Dance, much to Jim’s Mother’s surprise, he announced, “If you don’t marry this girl, I’m going to adopt her!”

         I found my way into this wonderful family – at times feeling quite awkward because they were the ideal TV family! But I truly enjoyed just watching and listening to them all. The most memorable moment for me came when my father passed away, five years after I was married. Jim Brown said, “As long as I am alive, you will have a father.” And he was true to his word.

         I begged him to let me help write an academic book that would turn the correction system upside down. Finally, while we were visiting for Christmas 2004, he agreed to sit down with me and begin this encyclopedia. Unfortunately, he died the next month.

         So, to answer the original question: Why did you write about your father-in-law? I knew I couldn’t write the academic book without his knowledge and direction, but I also realized that I couldn’t let his life fade away. Anyone who met him – guards or prisoners, friends or adversaries, those of different race, creeds or cultures - would describe him as remarkable. He took his natural talents – baseball abilities or building skills, golf swings or “green thumb,” mental or physical competencies – and developed them to exceed all standards. His stature and his character stood him apart from most. He was the best grandfather, and I truly wanted his great-grandchildren to benefit from his life and stories. There was so much to pass on!

         As I wasn’t a blood relative, I was not prejudiced by childhood memories nor influenced by life disappointments and personal differences.  Being an observer of life, I had collected many observations to share of this awesome man. His great-grandchildren gave the me the inspiration and fortitude to write this book. They all share many of his qualities.  Finally, on a personal level, my father-in-law reminded me of the importance of family. It is not a village that raises a child; it is a family. The village benefits from strong families. A village is created and developed generation after generation led by sons and daughters who carry on the values and share the stories – in odes and epics, and even short books - of their families to inspire others.

         To know James Brown Godwin was a privilege; to be his daughter-in-law was a definite experience and honor. Many details have been forgotten and were therefore replaced with possibilities and imagination, but I hope I have capture his true self.

Part III - A Salute to Our Military Years

 

            This account would not be complete without acknowledging the influence of our military family members. Aa a saying goes, “Friends are the family you choose.” As a military brat and wife, I have had the opportunity to meet so many people – many, I still proudly call friends. Some are those whose paths crossed only briefly, but I will never forget. Others are those we worked with night and day, through thick and thin; those who have had our backs. And there are also those outside the military who supported us in ways unexpected. We had the privilege of working with German Military units and civilian friends over ten years. I have given a special salute to the citizens of Wertheim, a beautiful city located at the confluence of the Main and Tauber Rivers which will forever remain in our hearts. All of you have truly given support and inspiration to fill these pages. Thank You!

Pictures of Wertheim, Germany.
Pictures of Wertheim, Germany.
Pictures of an "Otter" on the attack.

Part IV - Otters and Gators

 

            For some reason, rabies has found its way into many books, for example, Old Yeller and To Kill A Mockingbird. It remains terrifying – even today – and so I, too, had an opportunity to introduce this tantalizing disease in Manure. The inspiration came from Jim Brown’s grandson, James Brown Godwin, III. Some of you may doubt that an otter would attack an alligator, so, with Trey’s permission. I offer his video of the encounter.

Pictures of an "Otter" on the attack.
Pictures of an "Otter" on the attack.
PIcture of Otter bite.

Part V -

            Growing up in the 50’s, we were taught that one never mentions politics, sex nor religion in polite conversation. But what is life without the values politics, sex and religion bring! I think – taking the times into consideration – these topics have a place in our story. Though I only remember Jim Brown Godwin going to church once, the day Cheryl married George Canova, I do believe he had deep convictions and believed in God. He never sought fame or fortune - though he was deserving of both; however, he led a fulfilled life of his choosing, not the choices of others.  He enjoyed many friends, was blessed with a beautiful wife and two amazing children. He was loved by his grandchildren and lived to hold his first great-grandchild. Though this story may be embellished, I truly believe it captures his character.

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