Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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The Christmas Tree Letter

Christmas 1975 was the first year my parents shopped for a Christmas tree without us children. My brother and I were both away in college, one a freshman and one a senior, at different schools hundreds of miles apart from each other and from our parents in Dallas.  They were on their own.

We had tree standards – always tall, live trees that were fat and aromatic.  They sat outside in buckets of water until closer to Christmas to keep them fresh as long as possible, or at least so the trees didn’t drop needles everywhere before Christmas even arrived. Mom put on the lights (because Dad never got it right), and together we’d put on ornaments collected over the years, with the unbreakable ones at the bottom by custom rather than real necessity since the cat barely batted them anymore.

When we were little, we added strands of shiny tinsel. My brother and I liked to just throw it at the tree but Mom insisted we “place” the strands so they would be untangled and shiny.  Since we reused old tinsel the next year, that made more sense to do, but it wasn’t as much fun. Our “tree skirt” was an old white sheet wrapped around the bottom. By the time we were in Texas, though, we’d graduated to using strings of gold balls instead of garland or tinsel, and the tree sported a skirt made by my mom.

But the first step was finding a tree and 1975 they did it without us. Dad memorialized this activity in what has become known in the family as “The Christmas Tree Letter.” His handwriting was terrible and the letter was written in black felt tip pen on yellow legal pad, but it’s pure Dad. And on this, my first Christmas without him, it’s a precious memory.


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Cousins of the heart

We all have them, those people who are related to us not by blood but by love and shared memories. They are as much our relatives as those with shared DNA. 

Our related clans in 1951

My life was graced by a special tribe in New Jersey, two sets of sisters who shared their childhoods and stayed connected as young marrieds with small children. We children grew up sharing the beach at Manasquan and visits in between summers until both Flanders sisters moved too far away to come back for summer vacations.

Letters kept me connected to my godmother and I made a visit to London to visit Cousin Carol while in college. We sat around and shared endless cups of tea the same way our moms had sat for years over cups of coffee. As we grew older, we stayed in touch mostly through Christmas cards. But now with Facebook, I’m reconnected. I love seeing pictures of their children and grandchildren, of their travels, new homes, and worry over illness and sad times. 

The last of that senior generation is gone now  with the death of Uncle S this week, just a few months after my father’s death. We children who are no longer children are the senior generation now. Our children don’t know each other, the way we grew up knowing each other, but it’s important to me to not lose the connection I have to those far-away cousins of the heart. 


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Poppa & Sade: William Jesse Keel & Sarah Annis Peal

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Sarah & Bill Keel, 1942, on their 50th wedding anniversary

My dad grew up living with his mother’s parents in rural Martin County, North Carolina. He called them Poppa and Sade.

Poppa was William Jesse “Bill” Keel, born 22 August 1872 in Bear Grass, Martin County, to James L. Keel and Elizabeth (Betsy) Bowen, the second of their ten children. Bill was raised and worked on his father’s farm with his brothers and had a fifth grade education.  He was a strong man who loved to hunt and fish as well as farm, and had a big laugh.

Sade was Sarah Annis Peal, born 7 September 1874 in Cross Roads Township, a small community next to Bear Grass. She was the second of seven daughters born to William Ashley Peal and Jane Elizabeth Stalls and was named for her paternal grandmother, Annis Gurganus.  Sarah was a farmer’s daughter who was well educated for the time, going to high school for three years. She was a tiny woman with fine bones and a sweet smile.

Sarah Peal and Bill Keel married on 6 January 1892 in Cross Roads, probably at her home; she was 19 and he was 21. Their families knew each other; both of their fathers were general farmers in the county and both attended the Bear Grass Primitive Baptist Church, which Sarah and Bill attended for many years after their marriage.

They had eleven children but only four survived infancy: Mary Magdalene (Maglene), Susie Lanier, Edgar Durand, and Rachel Aldine. The first ten babies were born between 1895 (James Willie) and 1912 (Sarah Naomi). Daughter Rachel, born in 1921, was a “bonus” baby and only seven years older than my father, who was her nephew. The babies who didn’t survive were buried in a private family plot behind the “old home place” farm. Their graves now are covered by leaves and their names mostly forgotten. But Sarah recorded them in the family Bible so we have them:

Keel-Family-Record-From-Bib

When their daughter Susie Lanier Keel (my grandmother) married in July 1927, what she remembered most about her wedding was that her parents didn’t attend. Since she was probably pregnant at the time, it is possible that they disapproved of either the marriage or her husband. The newly-wed Myers were living on the Keel farm seven months later when their first child (my father) was born. Both generations lived together in the same house for the next twenty five years, first with Bill Keel as head of household and later, Bill Myers as head with his in-laws in the home. Poppa Keel farmed and did road construction work until they moved to Williamston in 1925.

SCAN0022My dad remembered that his grandmother did almost all the cooking for the combined household while his mother worked as a seamstress to bring in extra money. Poppa Bill Keel took Daddy fishing and also hunted to provide more food for the family; their farm cousins kept them well supplied with produce but protein was expensive. Bill Keel was the man in charge of barbeque whenever a hog was butchered; those were always social occasions with many family and friends to share the food and the occasion. They were poor and lived simply.

Sarah Keel died at home in Williamston on 28 June 1948. She was 73 years old. Her beloved husband Bill Keel died almost exactly four years later on 26 June 1952. He was seventy nine years old and had been in ill health for five years. They are buried together in Williamston’s Woodlawn Cemetery next to their daughter Susie Keel Myers.


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The Flanders’ House

Both my mother and grandfather grew up at 916 Lake Street in the Forest Hill section of Newark, New Jersey. My great-grandparents bought the new three-story 5-bedroom home in 1907.  It was actually one and one-half lots with 5,001 square feet: #916 has the house and #918 expands the yard and has a carriage house, later garage, at the back. It is the only house on the block with this extra room.

4-916 Lake St.

One entered the home through a vestibule off the small front porch into an entrance hall that opened to the third floor. A winding open staircase on the right side went upstairs to the bedrooms. The front hall held an upright piano and was the perfect spot for the tall family Christmas tree. Off the front hall were the living room, dining room, and large kitchen with bulter’s pantry. The best part was the “secret” narrow closed stairway off the kitchen that led to the upstairs rooms to be used by servants going between floors.  I’m not sure that the family actually had any servants, but that was the original purpose. Certainly children used it often.

The living room with the bay window was in the front of the house with the dining room behind it adjoining the butler’s pantry. Room functions were flipped at some point, but there were different stories about when and why that happened: either to preserve heat during the Depression by keeping the most-used living room as an interior room, or to eliminate the possibility of light escaping the World War II blackout curtains. Either story is plausible. Whatever the reason, the spaces remained in that configuration for many years.

Bedrooms upstairs were small but adequate. There were four bedrooms on the second floor with two unattached bathrooms, and one bedroom on the third floor in the attic space.  During the Depression, the family had a boarder in residence who lived in the attic room.  There was also a large unfinished basement with windows at ground level.

This was always a multi-generational home. William John Flanders bought it in 1907 and moved in with his wife Charlotte, mother-in-law Alice McCormick, sons Lester and William, and brother-in-law Charles McCormick. Lester and Charles had moved out by the time their father died in 1925, but in 1927, his son William brought his new bride Marion Cooke into the home already occupied by his mother and grandmother. Alice died shortly after, but Charlotte outlived her daughter-in-law by seven years, and was there to see her granddaughters grow up.

Forest Hill was and still is a quiet residential suburb of Newark, bounded on one side by beautifully landscaped Branch Brook Park just a few blocks away from the family home. Also nearby was St. Mark’s Episcopal Church where the family worshipped. William Charles Flanders was confirmed there in 1914 and his daughters were baptized, confirmed, and married from the church. Four of his five grandchildren were also baptized at St. Marks, by the same minister who baptized and married their parents. They wore their grandfather’s christening gown.

By 1970, the children were grown, his wife and mother were gone, and Bill Flanders was alone in a house far too big for him to maintain. He sold it with much of the contents and moved to an apartment and later, to a retirement community. The house remains in pictures and memory of the few still alive to remember when it was the Flanders’ house.


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Obituary for My Dad

My father died peacefully on Friday, 25 May 2018, after a very brief illness following a fall. Here is his obituary, which will appear in the Tyler Morning Telegraph on 8 June 2018:

2016 MYERS, BillA memorial service for William Cleopheus “Bill” Myers will be held at Emerald Bay Community Church on Saturday, June 9, 2018, at 2:00 p.m., with Dr. Darryle Dunks officiating, under the direction of Stewart Family Funeral Home.

Mr. Myers, age 90, died Friday, May 25, 2018, in Tyler. He was born on February 18, 1928, to William Marvin and Susie (Keel) Myers in Williamston, N.C. He went to Duke University on a football scholarship, where he majored in business and joined the Kappa Alpha Order. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps as an aerial photographer and graduated from Duke in 1950. He also studied at New York University Graduate School of Business.

Bill met the love of his life, Margaret “Peg” Flanders, on a college double date and married her on December 15, 1951, in Newark, N.J. They were together 62 years, living in New Jersey, Kentucky, and Dallas before moving to Emerald Bay in 1985. He was a life member of the American Water Works Association and spent over 40 years in the water meter industry before retiring in 1990 as Vice President of Master Meter, Inc.

He was a member of Emerald Bay Community Church and a member and past president of the Emerald Bay Club, where he resided for 33 years. He loved children and read to first graders at Hazel Owens School for over 20 years after retirement. His favorite book to read to them was Pickle Chiffon Pie. He enjoyed playing golf, travel, ice cream, picking up pecans and golf balls (not at the same time), learning new things, and spending time with family.

Bill was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Peg and is survived by daughter, Anne Myers of Emerald Bay; son, Thomas Myers and wife Cecelia of Wheelock, TX; grandsons, William Myers and wife Claudia of McKinney, TX, and Robert Myers and wife Ellen of Houston; granddaughters, Elizabeth Applegate and husband Josh of Fort Collins, CO, and Lauren Barrandey and husband JohnPaul of Arvada, CO; and great-grandchildren, Gianna, Noah, and Eli Applegate, and Liam and Samuel Myers.

In lieu of flowers, friends are asked to make a contribution to Emerald Bay Community Church, 160 LaSalle Rd., Bullard, TX 75757 or to The Hospice of East Texas Foundation, 4111 University Blvd., Tyler, TX 75701.