Chopping Flora

One of the things that first attracted us to Staunton, and still does, is the history of the town and surrounding Counties. For centuries, wave after wave of various peoples roamed and settled within the Shenandoah Valley and encompassing Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains. Starting with Native American tribes and later by the British, Scotch/Irish, German, African, Irish and Jews each group arrived here in the valley with their own stories and under different circumstances.

Learning the history of this town has been an adventure onto itself. Staunton has played a major role in the development of not only the Shenandoah Valley but of much of Western Virginia and other areas of the South. In researching this blog so many interesting facts came to light: That Staunton was the home base of Barnas Sears; Baptist minister and former president of Brown College who took the position of Administrator of a philanthropic fund to establish a free public school system throughout the South. The fund’s patron was George Peabody of Massachusetts. Sound familiar? Think, Yale’s Peabody Museum. Sears Hill, honoring Rev. Sears and overlooking downtown Staunton, offers one of the most impressive views of the city.

Sears Cottage

On a more personal note, I just discovered that the home we built here is located on what was considered somewhat wilderness and is also very near where had been the encampment of Confederate soldiers under General Jubal Early as his army prepared for what would be the last Civil War battle for the Shenandoah. Early himself set up his headquarters in a home just down the road on West Beverly Street, close to the vital train depot. (1)

Discovering the rich history of our town and region has been fascinating. So, imagine our enthusiasm to attend a recent talk focusing on the Presidents of Virginia, specifically their homes. Each slides or photos of the Presidential homes were accompanied by brief snippets of the Presidents’ lives. Some were very brief, but Jefferson and Washington were given more attention and deservedly so. Jefferson’s Monticello was discussed and specific tours were recommended to see the home and property properly. Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemmings was also spoken of, but without any great detail.

Next discussed was George Washington. Some time was spent on Mount Vernon and again suggestions were given for visiting the home and grounds. Then considerable time was spent discussing the myths of Washington (the cherry tree) and his reputation of being very brutal toward native tribes while fighting them as a member of the British Colonial Army. Hmm, I thought. Life was certainly harsh on the frontier and warfare is seldom pleasant. But, it seemed the speaker was intent on singling out Washington for particular scrutiny. Then the talk proceeded to Washington being a slave owner. It was not mentioned that Washington did, in fact, own slaves obtained from both inheritance and purchase, but that he also, as he became older (and wiser), grew to detest slavery and hoped for its abolition. (2)

But, the highlight for me was a discussion of Washington’s poor old teeth. No, they were not made of wood. They trulymore resembled medieval torture instruments rather than dentures (see top photo). And then there was more. We were told that Washington, in his quest to having dentures made, “yanked” the teeth from his slaves in order to have them fitted into his dental appliances. Yikes!!! Now, that is harsh. If true…

Trinity Church, Staunton, VA

After leaving the lecture and heading home we passed by Trinity Episcopal Church. I mentioned to The Redhead that that evening’s lecture in some way reminded me of a tour of Staunton we had been given last summer by a local tour guide. The tour, by car, had been interesting and many little tidbits of the city’s history were given. It was when we arrived at the Trinity Episcopal Church in the heart of downtown that one particular historical anecdote was offered. It was that Flora Stuart, widow of Civil War Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart, became enraged when the pastor of Trinity moved the remains of Black slaves from one side of the graveyard into the White section during an expansion project of the church. Flora, we were told, was so angry with the mingling of White and Black bones that she quit Trinity and founded another Episcopal Church, Emmanuel, a few blocks away. The story at the time seemed odd. After that night’s lecture, however, I determined to seek out the truth about both George Washington’s teeth and Flora Stuart’s “bones”.

Washington’s teeth were fairly easy to research. Mount Vernon has wonderful records and also the only known complete set of George’s choppers. Washington, himself, was a meticulous record keeper, including his expenses. It seems that Washington did buy and obtain teeth for his dentures. Things of beauty they were, because each set included various teeth: animal, metal and even some of his own that had fallen out. No wood, though. And, it seems, that Washington did, in fact, buy several teeth from his slaves. Now, according to the records at George Washington Presidential Library at Mount Vernon, the fact that Washington made note of the purchase of teeth from particular slaves indicates that perhaps the teeth weren’t for his own use but perhaps for someone else – Martha or maybe a friend. Another fact is that the selling of teeth for use in dentures for another person was, while not common, at least unremarkable. It was a way for poorer folks, both free and slave to obtain money. Today we might consider the selling of blood, sperm, eggs or some other body parts or becoming a surrogate mother for compensation as being a similar practice. But, it appears certain that Washington did not “yank” teeth from his slaves in order to make them into his own dentures. (1)

Flora, (Mrs. General) Stuart
General J.E.B. Stuart

Flora Stuart, or Mrs. General Stuart as she preferred to be addressed following the death of her very famous husband, Civil War General J.E.B. Stuart was a bit harder to research, especially the facts surrounding the graveyard story. Flora’s family, like so many others during the war, had been torn apart by the conflict. Her father was a career Army officer and remained a soldier on the side of the Union during the war. At the start of the war J.E.B. Stuart chose to defend his State and joined the Confederate Army. This familial split lasted until after the war ended. J.E.B Stuart was killed in the Battle of Yellow Tavern in 1864. By age 28 Flora had already lost a child at birth, another child to sickness and then found herself a widow. it was an emotional blow that put her into mourning the rest of her life. Following the death of her husband and the ravages of war and close to being destitute, Flora Stuart accepted some financial help from her husband’s brother. She also began a career in education, teaching schools in South West Virginia and culminating in becoming Principal at the prestigious Virginia Female Institute, an Episcopal school for girls. Years later this still very highly regarded school would be renamed in Flora’s honor, Stuart Hall. Incidentally, Robert E. Lee had previously been on the Board of the Institute and his daughters attended there as students. (2)

While in Staunton, Flora was a member of the nearby Trinity Episcopal church. The pastor was the Rev. Quarrier Hullihen.

Prior to becoming an Episcopal minister, Hullihen was a member of J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry. Sometime during an 1888 renovation of the church, workers unearthed several graves and Rev. Hullihen ordered that the remains of the graves be disposed of quickly. No record of how or where these remains were disposed of can be found nor are there any records of who the deceased were. Hullihen was criticized by a number of congregants about this incident and also about his spending of funds on new church pews during the renovations. In 1891 the church Treasurer resigned his position over disagreements with Hullihen regarding finances and Hullihen’s authoritarian manner. The problems at Trinity continued until 1892 when eighty four (84) members of the congregation petitioned the pastor to leave Trinity. He refused, but encouraged those that were dissatisfied with his service to leave the parish. In the Spring of 1893 those members did leave Trinity to start their own parish after having secured permission from the Episcopal Bishop. Flora Stuart was one of those at least 84 members that did leave. By 1899 the congregation had raised enough money to commission the erection of a new church building, Trinity Emmanuel Episcopal Church which today still stands across the street from Stuart Hall on Frederick Street.

Emmanuel Episcopal Church

The architect was T J Collins. Emmanuel Episcopal Church was his second architectural commission in Staunton, His first was St. Francis Catholic Church.

St. Francis Church, interior

Following the death of her daughter, Virginia, Flora Stuart moved to Norfolk, Virginia in 1898 in order to raise her grandchildren. She retired from the Virginia Female Institute (now Stuart Hall) shortly afterwards in 1899.

Flora Stuart was a woman held in high regard by nearly everyone that met her. She accomplished much and suffered more throughout her life. Flora was never a wealthy woman and certainly never had the means to fund the building of a church. And, there are no records of any sort regarding Mrs. Stuart ever leaving Trinity Church because the bones of Blacks were mingled with those of Whites. As a matter of fact, J.E.B. and Flora Stuart did own 2 slaves. They had been given to them through the estate of J.E.B.’s father, a lawyer and Democratic politician, as a wedding present. These slaves had been given their freedom in 1859, before the Civil War, while J.E.B. was still in the Union Army. Both he and Flora were decidedly against slavery. (3)

We live in odd times. History is distorted. People of honor, courage and grace are maligned. Is it because of sloppy research or the need to embellish or twist the past to make a point or forward an agenda? I don’t know. But we all, professional and amateur historians, teachers, parents – and all good citizens, have an obligation to know and tell of our past – truthfully and not chop it up.

(1) MountVernon.org

2) Staunton, Virginia: A Pictorial History, David J. Brown, SHF 1985

(3) News Leader, (Staunton, VA 3/2014

History of Trinity Church 1746-1996 Comformable to the Doctrine and DisciplineStaunton Public Library archives

News Leader, (Staunton, VA) 4/24/2000

Encyclopedia Virginia, Flora Cooke Stuart (1836-1923

Photo of Washington’s teeth: Mount Vernon.org

Duped

And now you know the rest of the story.

That sentence, the tag line of famous broadcaster, Paul Harvey, would end his mini-biographies and histories about obscure facts of history or little known details of famous – or infamous – people familiar to the American public. It would not be uncommon for a listener to utter, Wow, after each episode, having just learned of some detail of an event or character trait of someone that often would utterly change his or her understanding of that event or person.

And yet, today, we seem to forget that there is always a “rest of the story”, lurking behind the headlines or latest utterances of TV or radio pundits. And the result is that we are being duped – day in and day out almost unceasingly. In our current desert of despair there appear very few oases of candor, honesty and integrity.

Recently, I’ve taken to listening to a number of Podcasts by Mike Rowe of the television show, Dirty Jobs, fame. Judging from his range of topics and assortment of guest conversationalists, Rowe seems to be curious and fascinated by a range of subjects, ideas and people. One recent podcast ( Click Here) featured Megyn Kelly, formerly of Fox Cable and now doing her own podcasts and speaking tours. Her conversation with Rowe was entertaining and enlightening. One particular comment, by Ms Kelly, in response to Rowe asking what did listeners and viewers really need to know about the news – how to be critical thinkers and listeners – caught my attention. Kelly’s response was that viewers probably didn’t know how much the news programs and talk shows desperately wanted to scare you and outrage you and to keep you that way.

In days gone by, many television news programs would feature blood and fire to hook viewers – “If it bleeds, it leads” was the motto. Now, it seems, it is fear and loathing…of one another. No, it is more a fear and loathing of nearly everyone and everything. How did this become so? How have so many become Howard Beales, screaming, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” in the film, Network? Click Here. Is it because, since the dawn of the 24 hour news cycle, our outrages and fears and hatreds have been created and fed? Have we become so trusting or reliant on News Personalities that we have lost all ability to think critically – to think for ourselves?

Are bad things happening? Absolutely. Is everyone out to hurt us? No. Can we change things? Maybe. But, the only way to find out is to try.

Think. Seriously, just think. And ask yourself why things are the way they are. If you see things have gone wrong, think how you can do something about it, rather than just complain.

Learn. Read, research, compare, verify. Don’t rely on one source. Learn the history.

See the humanity in one another. Here’s a challenge – and NOT a “tic-tock” one: No matter where you live – small town, country, large city; whether you live in a single home, HOA, an apartment building…whatever, invite 5- 8 people to get together for a meal. Everyone takes a turn hosting a dinner. It doesn’t have to be fancy. As a matter of fact, simple is better. At the end of the cycle of everyone getting together it is almost certain that you will have made several new friends. You will also have been exposed to different points of view (avoid the taboos: politics and religion!) and discovered some really interesting people. Keep these get-togethers going and you may be surprised at how differently your world begins to look.

Make it a point to be sincerely polite to people you come into contact with on a day to day basis.

And, most importantly, pray. Pray that God helps you to be a better person. If enough prayers are answered what a better world this can be.

The Real Santa

Christmas can awake many memories. Of wished for toys magically appearing under the tree. Of family dinners and relatives and friends stopping by to wish all a Merry Christmas. Sometimes it was different. Those memories are of Christmas trees thrown through front windows or of waiting on Christmas Eve for the headlights of a father’s car to appear coming down the street. Before six pm and all might be OK. Much later and Christmas was over before it started. There is, however, one particular Christmas, or rather Christmas Eve, that stands out from all the rest. It was when a not so little boy named Jimi learned there truly was a Santa Claus.

So, I need you to play Santa Claus for me on Christmas Eve.

I’d love to, Tom, but I’m working 4 to 12. Otherwise, I would. (fingers crossed).

Oh, come on. I’ve got a really good outfit all ready and besides, you’re the supervisor and you can take off a few minutes to make a lot of kids happy. Really happy.

Why don’t you do it?

I can’t do it. All the kids will recognize me. They won’t recognize you.

Nah, I can’t. It will be busy and we may be short handed. Seriously.

Come on. You know it won’t get busy until late and just think of the kids. Some of them don’t have fathers around and this will really be special.

How many kids? (I could already feel myself caving in to big brother’s logical persuasion)

Only a few. Mostly Nikki’s family. And the girls will be there to help. (Nikki was Tommy’s Ex, but a very compatible Ex and the “girls” were Tommy’s daughters, and I loved them)

OK. But, only for no more than 15 minutes or so.

Yeah, yeah. Great. And, oh, I’m making a list of all the kids and what they did good and bad this past year. You know, Santa’s List. And come down the street carrying the gift sack and ringing a bell.

How many kids are there going to be? What sack and what bell?

Don’t worry, I’ll get you everything.

And so, shortly before 6:00 pm on Christmas Eve I retrieved from my personal car my outfit, a sea-bag sized sack weighing at least 50 pounds and a harness strap with brass bells. And a sheet of paper… with about 30 names on it! Ah, brother Tom. What a conniver! After telling those that needed to know that I’d be on “special assignment” for a short time I drove, fully costumed over my “work clothes”, to my brother’s house. Luckily, it was only 5 minutes away.

Parking around the corner, hefting my sack and ring-jingling the bells for all they were worth, I clomped to my brother’s front door. The door opened and what seemed like an invasion of Lilliputians swarmed Ol’ Santa.

45 minutes later Santa was finished with picture taking, handing out presents, urging the kiddies to be nicer to their siblings the coming year and congratulating them on the little life victories of childhood. Oh, how they were amazed that Santa really knew what was up – no fooling him!

Good bye, children. See you next year! Ho, ho, ho.

Off I went, dragging the now empty sack and giving the bells a few jingles and shouting, ho, ho, ho – just in case. Rounding the corner, there he was. Jimi.

Now, everyone knows, Christmas is the time for giving. And Jimi, true to the spirit, was giving. Or at least trying to. Giving to himself, that is. For, just a few feet in front of Santa, in the warm glow of street lamps, Jimi was busy jamming a metal shim into a car door in an attempt open it… without a key. And that car just happened to be piled high with wrapped presents.

Hey, what are you doing?

Hi, Santa! Merry !%#@&)# Christmas!

Poor Jimi. High and busted.

You’re under arrest.

Whaat? And with that Jimi started his getaway, only to run into another street light.

Fishing through my outfit, I was finally able to retrieve the cuffs and snap them onto Jimi before he could utter another, “What the @&$*”? As a matter of fact, that was all Jimi could manage to say, over and over, as we drove to the station and up the ramp to the sally-port doors.

Joe, the booking officer, opened the doors and gave out a hearty, Hello Santa! What do we have here?

Oh, a very naughty boy, I’m afraid.

Well, come in, Santa. We’ll give him a nice warm bed for the night.

Ho, ho, ho. In you go, lad.

What the @$#&?

Ugh, ugh. No more bad words. It’s Christmas, said, Joe.

A few minutes later, after Jimi was told what he had done wrong, he was told he could make a phone call. He then made his second mistake that night. He called his mother.

Ma, it’s Jimi. I‘m in jail, Ma. Nothing bad, Ma. I just… Ma, I got arrested by @!$%*#@ Santa Claus.

Click.

And so, Jimi went to bed that night no doubt dreaming of Sugar Plum Fairies, shiny shims and Santa with handcuffs.

Ho, ho, ho!

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Let there be Peace on Earth!

Pete

He was my friend, not my father. But, a long time ago, when I was adrift, he had wanted to be.

We first met in 1967 at my mother’s funeral. He and his wife, Bonnie, along with their eldest daughter and their son, my classmate, were among the people that attended whom I still now recall. Neither of us could have imagined that this first meeting during a time of what is still my greatest sorrow would have begun a relationship lasting 55 years.

It began with Sunday dinners. Now, Sunday dinner in an Italian household is an event. It took me a while to realize that what I thought was the main course was, as a matter of fact, only the pre-dinner starter, the “warm up”, so to speak. It ended with desert(s) – sometimes at the dinner table, sometimes in front of the TV. But, at various times throughout those Sunday afternoons, appearances would be made by Grandpa and Grandma and Uncle Mike. They all lived on the first floor of the house and would trek up and down the back staircase whenever I or anyone one else was upstairs. They had all come from Naples and brought with them the simple, infectious joy only the truly happy can share.

Bonnie was as close to being a Lucy Ricardo double as anyone could be. Her antics, facial contortions and talent for getting into “trouble” would make a Sphinx laugh. He was a marvelous combination of Archie Bunker and The Godfather. Despite untold numbers of hours spent together it would take many years for me to learn the depth of his and Bonnie’s feelings for me and mine for them.

Years passed and my visits became less frequent. Swing shifts, undercover work and the shame of a failed marriage were excuses. I should have known better.

Occasionally, I would drive past the old house letting memories flood over me. To burst out laughing was not uncommon. And then one day there he was, unloading groceries from his car parked at the curb. And then there I was – back. Just like that.

Bonnie had passed and he was living, still, on the second floor. His youngest daughter and family had taken over the first floor when the Grandparents were gone. Everything was nearly the same upstairs. The furniture had a few newer pieces added to the collection and the dining room table seemed to have become his office with papers, books and photos laid out in neat piles. We had coffee.

After a few more visits he said he was thinking about moving to Florida to be closer to his eldest daughter and the youngest of the girls was moving there, too. He asked me what I thought.

Great idea, I said. The neighborhood was changing and being with family was most important, I told him. And so firm plans were made to sell the house and move. We continued to talk.

Billy, sit down, he said. I have something to tell you. You know, Bonnie and I really cared about you.

I know.

I don’t think you know how much.

Really?

Yeah. We wanted to adopt you.

What?

Yeah, we met with an attorney and were going to ask you what you thought. But one of your half-sisters, I wont tell you which one, learned what we were thinking and put the kibosh on it. We wanted to help you but didn’t want to make any trouble in the family. You already had enough. So we dropped it.

I don’t know what to say.

I know, he said. I just wanted to let you know how much we loved you.

And so a new bond was forged at that dinner table. Stories of relatives and of his work over the years were told. How he had worked with Freddie Trump putting up buildings in NYC. And of meeting the young Donald. And of Donald being taught the value of labor and the dignity of the laborers. He was still a pain in the ass, though, he said. Tales of horses and racing and meeting Goldie Hawn in Vegas (she sometimes acts whacky but she’s really a nice lady and plenty smart). But, the most frequent conversations, other than family, were about music.

He had hit the road just after high school playing in a few area big-bands. After a while he joined The Ray Anthony Band and toured the country. Xavier Cougat, Louie Prima and Keely Smith were but a few of the characters he met while “on the road” in the early and mid-1940’s. He loved music and his stories of being part of a famous “Big Band” were always interesting and sometimes hilarious. It all ended when he met the true love of his life, Bonnie.

When he returned home with his new bride he obtained a degree in Mechanical Engineering and helped build many iconic buildings in New York and in Connecticut. His stories of the ins and outs of the building trades in NYC were…interesting. Mostly, though, he built a family and a life.

I think of him more often than I would have imagined. While he had spent the last few years in an assisted living facility we enjoyed many, many phone conversations. He would complain about not being able to get any decent Italian food. I would tease him about never “passing up dessert”. He would belly laugh and tell me I had a one-track mind. I’d just say, I don’t know what you mean.

Our conversation on January 12 was one of our longest and most meaningful. We spoke about everything: music, politics, construction, sports, family and, of course, food. And God. He spoke, too, for a while to The Redhead. How she loved talking with him and how special he made her feel. At the end of our conversation we said something we didn’t often say, but both understood:

I love you, Pete.

I love you, too, Billy.

My friend, my confidant, Peter Mercurio fell into a coma shortly after that call and passed 17 days later. How grateful I am for speaking those last few words. And for his.

Is Silence Golden?

Is it best, at times, to say nothing? It seems that for the past two – plus months I’d say, yes.

Winter is a welcomed season, bringing a long-sought break from summer’s heat. Yet, winter is a two-edged sword. With it’s beauty and snow wrought silences and the arrival of The Baby Jesus, winter also brings, “The Holidays”, that caroling, bright tree, scented wreath, manger scene, family time of year that is a stab to the heart for so many.

It’s tough to hold on. Maybe only the tough do. Or at least those with a strong survival instinct. Or the eternal optimists. Yet, none of these “walking wounded of the heart” remain unscathed from this yearly onslaught. At times the most they can hope for is that their affliction is not contagious.

The season of What If’s, If Only’s, How Come’s, and Why’s will soon come to a close and with that, for tough, survivalist optimists, a return to normalcy. See them.

For those with a Redhead in their lives, thank God.

See you here soon.

Day-Tripping 2

1954 MG, W W Motorcars

Two recent day-trips that the Redhead and I took are less than 1.5 hours drive from Staunton, VA and both were to small towns – one actually more like a hamlet.

Broadway, VA is North of Staunton in Rockingham County, VA, about 12 miles north of Harrisonburg, along Route 42. With a population of less than 4,000, it has been ranked as one of the safest places to live in VA. Slow down as you approach, Broadway is filled with lots of surprises.

WW Motor cars was an unexpected surprise in this tiny town. Located within an old Feed Mill, WW provides superb restorations of antique cars. Several of their works in progress can be viewed through display windows facing the main street or tours of the facility can easily be arranged with the owners. WW Motors: http://www.wwmotorcars.com/index.html

J&B’s Antiques, Broadway, VA

Just down the street is Ben Franklin’s J&B’s Country Store antiques ( https://www.facebook.com/Ben-Franklin-J-Bs-Country-Store-Antiques-Treasures-Broadway-VA-131869670197155/?tn-str=k*F) This is a collection of “pop-up” shops and a small coffee / sandwich/ donut cafe, too. The ladies working here are very nice and enjoy talking with customers and browsers – old and new.

If you’re looking for a tasty bite, The Gobbler restaurant is nearby as is the unique Hummingbird Bistro – a gourmet, family run, food truck: http://www.thehummingbirdbistro.com/index.html.

Like many small, rural towns Broadway might be overlooked – certainly as a tourist destination. But, for those looking to find those hidden gems where the people are the story – Broadway, Virginia is certainly worth a visit.

Next stop, heading South from Staunton…the place that made Al Roker cry – with pleasure!

For some time now, we’d been hearing from our friends and neighbors about “The best pies ever”. When we asked where these pies were all they could tell us was, “someplace out in the country”. Being country folk, when James and Ann say, “Country”, they mean COUNTRY. Like the middle of nowhere! Or so it seemed. So, finally getting an address and relying on Garmin and Google Maps and luck, we set out to find “Woodruff’’s Pies”.

Woodruff’s Pies and Cafe

Actually, while a bit remote, Woodruff’s Pies are fairly easy to find. Monroe, VA is a small, hamlet type of area that is located somewhat between Lexington and Lynchburg and very close to the city of Buena Vista and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Starting in the early 1950’s, James and Fannie Mary Woodruff ran a small grocery store and gas pump from a building they had built themselves and which also contained their second floor living area. For 30 years they ran their shop and then in 1998 daughter, Angela, and her two sisters reopened as a small sandwich cafe. It didn’t take long until Angela’s passion for baking took over and Woodruff’s Pies were born. Being an out of the way location Woodruff’s Pies struggled along until February, 2020 when NBC Today host, Al Roker, paid the Woodruff family a visit (https://www.today.com/video/103-year-old-still-helps-run-pie-shop-she-opened-nearly-70-years-ago-79076933543). Two months later Covid struck and the nation-wide lock-downs ruined many businesses. But, thanks to Roker and the Today Show segment, lines of customers clamoring for the now famous pies formed outside the shop. Today. customers can enjoy their pie and a tasty sandwich at one of the small tables inside the shop or out in the yard at a picnic table. On our visit we enjoyed the Apple and the Almond Delight pies and the chicken salad sandwiches. Fantastic!

The Woodruff family and their pies are truly an American Story – in every sense. Woodruff’s Pies.

The Woodruff sisters

One of the many things we enjoy while day-tripping is the ability to truly get to know an area. Guide books, Best Places, Trip Advisor, etc. all have their purpose. But, nothing can replace just getting in the car, exploring, talking to everyone you can along the way and and taking time to …taste the pie!

Detectoring

It will be a year next month that the Redhead gave me the key to discovering where I’m now at. Until this past week, I have not had the courage to see what it would unlock.

Perhaps, it is age more than mere curiosity that makes me now wonder how I came to be here in this particular place at this particular time. I am a city boy through and through, feeling more at ease surrounded by concrete, asphalt and steel than deep woods. Red says I’m a baby by refusing to take a hike in a forest. No, I say, I’ve just been “Deliverenced”. Darn Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, that movie would have dissuaded even Thoreau from spending the briefest of afternoons at Walden! Squeal, Baby!

Deliverance (1972)
The movie that kept me in the city

So, City Boy I was born and stayed…until now. Don’t get me wrong, Staunton, Virginia is not the Wilderness – at least not for the past 300 years or so. But, to put it into perspective, it is about 1/5 the size of our former hometown in Connecticut or about the population of ½ square mile of Manhattan! Yet, The Redhead and I still chose to live outside the City limits into the County and thus we have far more livestock than people as neighbors. True to my nature, however, I still crave civilization, now, especially, that of the past. Tumbled barns, remnants of stone foundations, depressions in a field’s landscape now surrounded by trees and occasionally overgrown, wild ornamental plantings give evidence that somebody was here before us. Why they came and what made them leave or disappear may answer my question: Why am I here? Is there something more than the natural beauty – so reminiscent of my family’s home place in Ireland’s West – and the gentleness of the people that drew us, after a few false starts, like a magnet to this land of both Peace and Rebellion?

Read all you want about a place, nothing gives more clues about its true nature than the artifacts, the tangibles of those that came before. Study Pompeii ‘til blue in the face and nothing will give you a clearer sense of that place or those people than actually seeing the chariot ruts and street-side “cafes” or the menus inscribed onto the walls of the “guest houses”. View the bleak stone slopes of western Ireland and one can instantly comprehend Cromwell’s curse of those refusing to submit. Thus it is with every place, past or present: it must be touched to be known.

And so, this past Thursday, I finally made my journey into the past that now surrounds me, using the key that The Redhead gifted me last Christmas. I unpacked and charged up my long-desired but intimidating metal detector. A few Readers of this blog are actually quite astute in the use of these machines and have experienced both the joys and frustrations of combing through fields, parks, beaches and, well, just about anywhere they can get permission to search for the past. Some seek “treasure” in the form of jewelry or coinage – both ancient and not so much so. Others, while never turning their nose up at things of value, mostly enjoy “the hunt” for the past. I’ve read their blogs, watched their YouTube videos and enjoyed and even became hooked on the wonderful British television series, Detectorists. I was ready. Or so I thought!

Mackenzie Crook, Gerard Horan, Toby Jones, Pearce Quigley, Divian Ladwa, etc.
The Detectorists

My machine, (just saying it makes me feel, “part of the club”, lol) a Nokta Makro Simplex+ is designed to be just that: Simple, yet “advanced”. Perhaps it is. Cradling it under my arm and carrying a canvas ditty bag containing gloves, “pointer”, sharp-edged mini-trowel and a zip-lock enclosed instruction manual (just in case) I walked down to the property of our neighbor whom had given me the all-important permission to “hunt”.

Nokta Makro Simplex Metal Detector 3
The Simplex Machine

He said to wear old clothes since his land was a bit rough. Unlike the fields and pasture lands of the videos I had watched over and over, Old Kevin’s land was a mire of brambles, saplings, old growth trees, ruts, abandoned “privies” and cesspools, a tumbled down shack and enough blackberry bushes to feed several bears for a season and enough thorns to keep everything else away. Except for Moi, the newbie “detector”. And all of it was, it seemed, located on a 30 degree slope!

By the time we reached the back of the property, the site I would begin searching in, I looked, thanks to the blackberry thorns, to be auditioning for the lead role in a Passion Play. Oi! Selecting a relatively clear area, I turned on the machine and began the search.

What the…? Not using headphones (why bother) the air was filled with static, crackles, pops, screeches and toots of every sort. Selecting a spot that emitted a steady screech I knelt down and began digging with the trowel. Rocks. More rocks. This can’t be, I thought. I held the machine up to a few and yep, the signal was louder than ever. There was a ton of iron in those rocks. Hmmm. Maybe that’s why I had read of there being so many pre- Civil War small iron smelters in the area . Well, I thought, let me move to another likely spot, with a different tune playing, so to speak. Ah, for the love of Pete. I can’t get up. My knees have locked! Trying to look just inquisitive rather than flummoxed, I root around a bit more until I spy a nearby sturdy looking branch and knee-waddle over to it to hoist myself upright. Jaysus!! The fookin’ thorns pierce my leather palmed gloves. Bugger me! This is rough work, I’m thinkin’. But, I’m up.

Eeee, eeeee, Eeeet. Now, That’s a signal, I’m sure. Down I go, much faster than I had just gotten up, I assure you. Scratch, dig. Retry the signal. Eeee, Eeee, EEEEEE. Ah, you’re onto something now, boy. Dig a few more inches. Aha! I can feel something. Coins? Old musket balls? Oh… Well, a pile of old nails is something, at least. Not wanting to grab another palm full of pain, I decide to use the trowel for a bit of leverage to get up. It sinks into the only soft dirt for probably several yards around. I look at the detector and hope it will not bend or break if I use it as a bit of a crutch. It holds and I’m up again, even if a bit slower than before.

Navigating more ruts and brambles, we come to a bit of a clearing and then it happens…a new signal, different than those of before. Oink, oinnk, ahoink. This has got to be gold. Or silver. Or an old Civil War relic. Kevin is nearby rooting around with a stick and unearths a skull. Animal, for sure. But, what else could be lurking nearby? We are, after all, only a few hundred yards from a compound of “Odd Ones”, as the locals call them, who find it rather amusing to hang deer butts from posts in their front yards. Nothing like a little “local color”, I suppose. But, the oinkking doesn’t quit and neither will I. The trowel hits something a few inches below the surface. An iron fence-wire guide emerges. I keep digging . Good thing, too. Something big is struck. What the heck! An old hinge of some sort is pried out. Maybe part of a buggy. Maybe an old piece of some machinery. Beats me. But, wait, there’s more, as the old TV commercial used to taunt. Is it wood? No. It’s a bit soft. Ah, an old leather satchel lost in the heat of battle? Hmm. No, not that either.

Heavy work, Detectoring!

As I said at the beginning of this piece, to know a place or a people or a particular thing you must touch it to know it for what it is.

After only one afternoon of being a “relic hunter” (as painful as it was) I found something – quite by chance – that generations of historians, archaeologists and scientists have devoted their careers to either proving or disproving. I held in my hands proof that the believers were right. I did it.

Unearthed in this Valley of the Shenandoah, on the outskirts of Staunton, was irrefutable proof that not only does The Mighty Sasquatch, The Yiddi, The Bigfoot exist, but that he, too, like us, has a life cycle. And a not yet considered intelligence.

For the first time in known history here is the proof:

Sole of Bigfoot shoe, probably adolescent. Note wear hole and rudimentary stitching!

Believe! And keep hunting.

Here are just a few of the blogs on metal detecting that I follow and you may find interesting as well:

The North Essex Detectorist (UK)

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/108296728

Detecting Diva

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/8473461

American Digger

https://americandigger.com/

Day Tripper

Well, how the heck are you doing? It’s been a tough few weeks, right? Same here. That upper respiratory virus that’s going around sure put a whooping on me…no energy for anything. But, when it passed, The Redhead and I decided to hit the road and do a little day-tripping in this beautiful part of Virginia.

Bushong Farm, New Market, Virginia

First, we decided to take a little trip up to the town of New Market, where the VMI Civil War Museum is located. Still feeling a little weak we didn’t do much walking but did enjoy the views of the town and the Battlefield. How one’s thoughts can meander when looking at the scene of the battlefield set in the middle of the Bushong family farm, just on the outskirts of town. The Battle of New Market is mostly famous because of the efforts and contributions of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute, located in Lexington. The cadets marched the 85 miles in order to stop the approaching Union Army and as a result several of these young boys lost their lives. The stories of the townspeople helping the wounded from both armies is very touching and one can only imagine the terror the Bushong family felt as they huddled in their basement as the two armies clashed at their doorstep. Today, the scene is idyllic yet it doesn’t take much to imagine what happened all around you and pray it never happens again. (https://vmi.edu/museums-and-archives/virginia-museum-of-the-civil-war/)

Downtown New Market is filled with small, family run restaurants, shops and a great coffee shop, Jackson’s Corner Coffee Roastery and Cafe.

Our next trip was to the town of Buchanan and included a stop at New Freedom Farm, a wonderful horse farm providing PTSD and other therapies to veterans. There are a number of wild mustangs on the farm and part of the therapy is for Vet and horse to bond and help one another. It is a beautiful farm and the work they do is incredible. (https://www.newfreedomfarm.org/)

Mustang, New Freedom Farm, Buchanan, VA

Downtown Buchanan is deceiving. Drive over the speed limit, 25mph, and you could go through it within 30 seconds. But, stop, pull over and you’ll discover wonderful architecture, Ransone’s, a great little grill/soda fountain, several small antique shops, the town library and an old fashioned movie house.

Ransone’s Grill, Buchanan, VA
Downtown Buchanan, VA church

Buchanan also has a canoe, kayak river tour company, Twin River Outfitters. You can rent either craft and they’ll take you several miles up the beautiful James River and drop you off so you can paddle leisurely back to town. (https://canoevirginia.net/). Buchanan also has a Blue Grass Festival in early October. While exploring the river and the swinging bridge stop by the old River Craft Rail House. It has just been bought and is undergoing extensive repairs and updates by the new owner, Tammie, who is turning it into a family style restaurant, Tammie’s Place. During our visit we were amazed at the number of townspeople helping to restore this old building and helping Tammie achieve her dream. There is nothing quite like small town America!

Tammie, owner of the soon to open, Tammie’s Place, Buchanan, VA

Our friend, Mary Ellen, from CT visited us last week and we decided to show her around a little bit. Natural Bridge and Lexington are always fun to explore. Natural Bridge, surveyed by George Washington and once owned by Thomas Jefferson, is now part of Virginia’s State Park system. The main attraction, as the name would imply, is the natural bridge carved by Cedar Creek running through the limestone hills over many thousands of years.

Natural Bridge, VA
Initials of George Washington, GW, located within square, Natural Bridge, VA

Also in the park is a recreated Monacan Indian Village, depicting how the early Native Americans lived in the area. Unfortunately, at the time of our visit the village and a section of the park was closed due to a very damaging flash flood. Workers are hard at work opening up the trails and village.

After a nice visit to Natural Bridge, we drove the short distance to Lexington, VA for lunch and a walk around the town. In addition to seeing all the historical homes and architecture we discovered an old bookshop, The Bookery, on West Nelson St. Quaint, quirky and crammed with books – mostly old and some new, The Bookery is a book lovers heaven.

Barren Ridge Winery

Sometimes there are adventures just around the corner and that is what we found when we decided to explore our own area, Staunton, VA . An afternoon at the Barren Ridge Winery was just what The Redhead and Mary Ellen needed…so they claimed. As their designated driver, I, too, enjoyed a nice selection of cheeses and crackers and the magnificent views of the Shenandoah Valley. (https://www.barrenridgevineyards.com/). The girls were very pleased with the wines, made more enjoyable by the beautiful setting.

Evening in Downtown Staunton, VA

Downtown Staunton is really a gem of a small town. Beside being very historical it also has one of the largest collections of Victorian Era buildings and homes in the country. There are numerous shops and restaurants of various types along the main street, East / West Beverly Street as well as the side streets. Latitudes, a Fair Trade shop, offers a wide variety of quality clothing, art and decorative items. (https://latitudesfairtrade.com/pages/staunton) The Foundry, is a new concept store front giving space to a number of local artists and craftspeople. We found several nice hand-made items here and enjoyed the opportunity to speak with the artists that made them. From ice cream, award-winning pizza, art galleries, a movie theater and various music venues, Staunton is the little town that has something for everyone.

Our own church, St. Francis of Assisi is located right downtown and was designed by the famous architect, T.J. Collins. There are numerous buildings throughout the area that were his creations. http://(https://stfrancisparish.org/homepage.html)

St. Francis of Assisi church, Staunton, VA

No trip to Staunton (or to the Shenandoah Valley) would be complete without a visit to the Frontier Culture Museum.

German Farm, Frontier Culture Museum, Staunton, VA
English Home and Farm, Frontier Culture Museum, Staunton, VA. Note chimney date, 1692. The house was actually built in 1630

FCM is a sprawling outdoor exhibit that tells the story of our early settlers and from where they came. As first generation Irish, I particularly enjoy visiting the Irish Farm. It is nearly a mirror copy of my fathers home in the “Old Country” – dirt floor and all.

Sally at the Irish Farm, Frontier Culture Museum.

For these early settlers, America was their dream, their lifeline and their hope. How fortunate we are. (https://www.frontiermuseum.org/index.php/about/)

Well, that’s our little day tripping. Hope you enjoyed it. It beats listening to the news, doesn’t it! If you have any questions about any of these places or have visited them, please let me know.

Don’t worry. Pray. God Bless America!

For What It’s Worth

“We’ve been patient but our patience is wearing thin”. Thus spoke Joseph Biden on September 9, 2021 in declaring his war on Covid. Or was it on the American People?

(Click) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gp5JCrSXkJY

Never could it be thought to hear those words uttered by a sitting President of the United States toward his fellow countrymen and citizens – especially a president that claims to honor the sanctity and privacy of a person’s body.

The Corona virus is real and in many cases serious and deadly. That has been established as has been the fact that certain segments of the population are more susceptible than others. So, please, do not suppose that I am denying or minimizing the Corona virus disease. But, there are differences with this disease that separate it from most others.

First, it has, from the start, been politicized. Rather than attempt to isolate the epicenter of the outbreak, Some politicians chose instead to “virtue signal”, encouraging people to attend large gatherings within certain ethnic groups to show solidarity and non-prejudice. Other attempts by the then sitting President to limit influxes of illegal and unscreened immigrants were also met with resistance. So much for even trying to stem the flow of disease into our country. Today, it is much the same. Our Southern border check points are only a band-aid on a hemorrhaging limb. Yet, we have a tight-as -a drum control on our Canadian border.

Secondly, there is great mistrust of the “vaccines” and the people behind them. There is also mistrust and suspicion of the folks put in charge of our “pandemic” response. After all, it was Dr. Anthony Fauci that secured funding with American tax dollars of the research conducted in the Chinese labs that created and enhanced the corona virus to make it more deadly. Yep, research banned in the USA was, thanks to Dr. Fauci, paid for by American tax dollars. What would be the motive for doing such a thing is a question legitimately asked by informed and caring citizens of not only the USA, but the world. Very informed and knowledgeable medical people have grave concerns about the efficacy and safety of the “vaccines”. Despite recent press releases and government statements, what is being administered is not, by and large FDA approved and is still be administered with full immunity to the drug companies and providers. Many people ask, again legitimately, why?

Third, there is the response by the government to this disease vastly different from that to just about any other that comes to mind.

During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the world, it seemed, was being overcome by HIV and AIDS. Panic was rampant. So was fear, suspicion and unkindness. Initially, medical and governmental agencies sometimes gave erroneous or contradictory information. Being a “First Responder” (how I dislike that term) was no fun in those days, I can assure you. But, science marched on until finally the causes and cures were found for this very deadly disease.

There were only limited and relatively short-lived acts of aggression or discrimination against that segment of the population largely responsible for the disease. Laws were enacted, as should be, for that population’s safety and privacy. Perhaps the seminal turning point in efforts to find a cure and in showing compassion for the afflicted was with the release of the film, Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks and the movie’s very moving Bruce Springsteen title song turned anthem, Philadelphia https://youtu.be/4z2DtNW79sQ (click link to play). Today, despite WHO AIDS /HIV statistics (click link to view) showing the disease to still be a world-wide health concern and one fairly limited to life-style choices – yes, there are exceptions, including transmissions to embryos, there is no ostracizing of those carrying the disease. Indeed, the very opposite may be true, especially within certain political circles.

There are no mandates or medical passports required, apparently, for those afflicted with particular diseases, even for those that contract a disease because of, in many cases, the exercise of their free will.

So, why has Mr. Biden, his Administration and Party turned their wrath on their fellow countrymen who may have grave and legitimate concerns about injecting foreign, unproven substances into their bodies? Shouldn’t his and their wrath instead be directed toward those that concocted this disease and spread it throughout the world? Despite his many years feeding at the Public Trough, Mr. Biden just doesn’t understand America. Seriously. He doesn’t understand that we, Americans – both those born here and those recently arrived – hate tyrants.

He, too, promised to build back better
Promised great Socialism for all
Promised prosperity and transparency

And finally, as a late update to this blog, please see the following link of the farewell lecture of a Canadian college professor of Ethics. She makes much more sense than I:

https://rumble.com/vm8ie1-ethics-professor-gives-heartbreaking-final-lesson-on-refusing-vaccine-befor.html

What then will be the anthem for these times? What song could possibly express our need for deliverance from this stalking Evil?

Perhaps, only this. Song for our Time (click)

Do not be afraid. Pray.

Biden’ Our Time

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity…”
W.B. Yeats

No, the Center cannot hold. We must stand for something.

“If you be neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelations 3:16).

These past several years we have seen the world turned every way but right. The old maxim, divide and conquer, has proven to be so right. Neighbor against neighbor, child against parent, teacher against student, nation against nation and leaders against their own people. There is an Evil creeping amongst us and It has turned everything upside down. What was good is now bad. What was strength is now weakness. Loyalty has fallen victim to ambition. We have been betrayed.

Hopefully, and I believe it to be so, more and more of us Americans and people throughout the world are realizing that something has gone terribly wrong with our countries and our cultures. And of our common sense and common decency. It has gone beyond mere politics. Just today on a local web site for our little town of Staunton, VA someone posted that they would like to slap the face everyone that wont get the Covid injection. This makes about as much sense as saying that although they buckle up every time they get into their cars they would assault everyone choosing not to wear a seat belt. If an injection or a seat belt makes you safe, how does someone choosing differently impact you? It makes no sense. But, common sense, discernment and civility have been increasingly cast to the wind for some time now.

In the biography of Don Bosco by Teresio Bosco, (click) Audio bio of Don Bosco) it is written, “God, it is said, sends the world saints when they are most needed-not men and women of “general holiness,” but specialized experts who fit into the pattern of the times and are capable of giving God’s tone to their century”.

Surely, these times cry out for another Fulton Sheen or Billy Graham. Even the witty wisdom of Will Rogers would serve us well: “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so”. Or, “ What the country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner minds”. (Brainyquote.com)

We have bid our time for long enough. This past week has shown us that each and every one of us is disposable and expendable. We are at the brink. To put it another way: (click) Sympathy for the Devil.

Pray. Pray that God will not let us continue to go astray but will send us a modern-day saint that will guide us back to Him.