The latest Erik Larson book, The Splendid and the Vile, chronicles the WWII Blitz of England and how Churchill and the British dealt with it.
It is continually interesting to read how the people of England dealt with privation, fear and death and how their leaders, particularly Churchill, guided both military and civilian responses to the havoc of Hitler and the Nazis.
Fascinating, too, are the details of how the Nazi government – run by madmen – controlled their own people through a sense of false patriotism, bullying and fear. If a German citizen did not adhere to the party line, or even questioned it, they would face repercussions including physical threats, imprisonment and even death.
One of the most remarkable things going on in England at the time of the Blitz and continuing during the course of the war was the effort to maintain as much of normalcy as possible. Children went to school, businesses were open, factories were working non-stop, pubs remained the neighborhood gathering spot, church services were conducted – sometimes in churches that had been bombed and…tea was still served.
Yes, politics, in every sense, were a consideration of the British cabinet, but the overarching goal was clear: defeat Hitler. Churchill made every effort to instill hope not despair, bravery not fear, selflessness not self-centeredness in his fellow Brits. When he would inspect the air raid shelters or tour neighborhoods just flattened by German bombs the people did not blame him for the destruction. No, they saw him as one of their own and cheered his unwillingness to be cowed by the scourge of Hitler.
Fast forward to today.
The American people are being deterred from maintaining any sense of normalcy. Why?
Our government and media are fostering fear of everyone and anger at everything. Why?
The breaking point for many came this past week when President Biden stated:
“By July the Fourth there’s a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout or a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day. That doesn’t mean large events with lots of people together, but it does mean small groups will be able to get together”.
A good chance we can get together with our families and friends in our own yards? Really, Mr. President?
The Fourth of July commemorates the American people throwing off the yoke of tyranny. Have you forgotten this, Mr. Biden? For it seems, with this statement, you have abridged our rights too far.
Several years ago, on another site, I wrote a story about one memorable afternoon’s encounter with a remarkable young woman. At the time, I had a little furniture business that specialized in bringing old, American made furniture back to life. That particular winter afternoon, I was on the hunt for something really special and was exploring “junk shops” in an old mill town. Perhaps, it’s because looking out my window and seeing overcast skies and a construction dirtied street that I am now reminded in some way of that town and that day. But, what I found that afternoon has stayed with me all these years.
Would you tie this for me?
She held up a silver medallion hanging from a short, thick cord. It seemed an act of someone both innocent and yet filled with a nothing else to lose resignation. Annie has been around.
Sure, why not.
She stepped from behind the display counter, turned her back to me and lifted her long brown hair.
Why was I nervous? Maybe, because I feared for her vulnerability. I was, after all, almost a complete stranger. After a bit of fumbling, a decent knot was tied and Annie admired her new bit of flash. I could see, too, that she really had a thing for rings. Every finger of both hands had at least one. If hands could talk Annie’s would cry, See me, please. She had become invisible to everyone but herself.
With no one else in the shop it was easy to talk. She told how she displayed the furniture and bric-a brac and the care she would take in polishing the old wood. She loved having something to do. She loved making things that had seen better days look worthwhile again. If only she could get a few more hours or a bit more money.
It’s hard getting thirty dollars for an eight hour day, she said. And, only three days a week at that. No one else will give me a job. Heck, hardly anybody around here will talk to me. My sisters won’t. My brother, either. He lives only a few blocks away and he won’t talk to me. My boyfriend mostly yells at me and calls me stupid. Hits me sometimes. But, he better watch out. Someday…
Are you tired, Annie? I guessed what her tiredness was. I had seen it before.
No, she said, it’s my medication. Actually methadone. I take the train to Bridgeport to get it. It really makes me tired. But, it’s better than… You know.
Yeah, I do. How long have you been off the stuff, Annie?
Oh, for years.
Where is this conversation coming from, I’m thinking?
I started when I was nine.
Yeah. My parents were users and they gave it to me – my sisters and brother, too. We lived in Bridgeport, then. She told me the street.
I knew the place well, it wasn’t really a street. Annie had grown up in an alley and I had driven past it several times every day for three years. I didn’t recall seeing Annie, though. At least not this Annie.
So, my father molested me. And, then, so did his brother. I really hate him. He still tries to see me. I’d like to kill him. My sisters tell me to just let it go, it happened to all of us and, it’s in the past. But, I can’t let it go. Annie gets quiet and stares at nothing…but at something.
Well, at least I got off the stuff. No more heroin. Or coke. No pills. Just the meth. It makes me tired, though. I know I messed up my life.
But, Annie, you’re trying. You never really got a break.
She polishes a table top for what seems a long time, trying to hide the scratches and scars.
You know, no matter how much they beat me down, I’ll never completely break, she says.
No, Annie, never give up. Never.
Then, a customer walks in and I turn to leave the shop.
Wait, she says, and walks me to the door.
For talking to me. I won’t forget it. Really.
Neither will I, Annie. I hope you have a happy Christmas.
Well, at least I got one present, even if it is from myself. She lifted her new medallion and smiled.
She could not possibly know that she had also just given a gift to me.
There’s nothing quite like a dose of history to help keep things in perspective.
This past Sunday The Redhead and I, having hit another endurance limit of Cootie Lock-down, decided to do a bit of exploring in an area of Virginia we haven’t visited much: South West Virginia. So, with a tank-full of gas and a thermos of our Mayorga coffee, we headed out from Staunton down Route 81 to our destination: Paint Bank, VA.
Route 81, while a busy highway, offers some very beautiful scenery. But, as we approached Lexington and diverted onto Route 64 W, the scenery became even more spectacular. We crossed through the Allegheny Mountains, over the Maury River and parts of the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson forests. I cannot imagine anyone seeing this and not feeling the Hand of God.
When we reached the tiny city of Covington we exited the highway and continued along Route 18, toward Paint Bank. Talk about twisting roads! Past farmlands and forests and rivers and creeks , the scenery just rolled by. The route was dotted with a number of abandoned houses – some modest shacks, others quite substantial, holding the secrets of families that had lived there a century or more ago.
Finally, we arrived in Paint Bank, an area or hamlet more than a town. Its “Main” street consists mostly of the Paint Bank General Store, which also houses the Swinging Bridge Restaurant. Tingler’s Mill and several other buildings, including The Lemon Hotel and Depot Lodge are close by.
Across the street from The General Store is Mountain Crafters, a small yet interesting craft shop featuring the works of area crafts people and artists. The owner, Barbara Willard, was in the shop knitting when we visited. Barbara also spins wool and her loom is behind her 19th century work desk. As we browsed, Ms. Willard gave us a brief history of the area, including the origins of the town’s name. Paint Bankgot its name from the ochre and red clay lining the banks of the nearby stream now known as Potts Creek.Cherokee Indians used this clay as body paint as their war parties followed the rivers along the Allegheny Mountains. They also used this clay to make and decorate their distinctive pottery. Years later, the clay was used by the settlers to produce commercial paints and also bricks for their buildings.
By now, The Redheadwas famished so, after a few purchases, we said our goodbyes to Barbara and walked across the street to the Paint Bank General Store and the Swinging Bridge Restaurant.
Just inside the store is an assortment of everything from coolers containing beverages and food items, including local bison and beef. Shelves are loaded with an array of candy, camping foods, homemade fudges, snacks and some gift items. Toward the back is The Swinging Bridge Restaurant, so named because of the swinging bridge connecting both halves of the upper floor of the building where there is a Christmas oriented gift area. But, for us the main attraction was the restaurant. If you enjoy quality, homemade country food this place is for you, especially if you like something a little different: Bison! Yep, Bison, raised locally at Hollow Hill Farm, is served a number of ways, including burgers and steaks. Never having tasted bison before, we opted for a safe bet and chose the grilled, chopped bison. It is similar to a Salisbury steak but much leaner and with a more “wild”, savory taste that reminded me a bit of grilled liver. Very delicious! Also on the menu is chicken, locally raised Angus beef and other dishes.
Painted Bank General Store, Mountain Crafters and all of Paint Bank will surely be on our list of future “tours” for family and friends.
Now, I had not intended to make this blog a restaurant and shop review. Rather, it was intended as a reminder for all of us to get out of our lock-down frames of mind and discover the beauty all around us, especially in small towns. But, in reading and researching a bit more about the area we had visited, I was also struck by one thing in particular: the resiliency of people. The area we had just visited was, less than 300 years ago, The Wilderness of our yet-to-be new nation. Families looking for a new life and a chance to prosper were often attacked and killed by raiding parties of Indians of various tribes that roamed the valleys and rivers along the Allegheny Mountains. If a raid was successful, survivors would often be carried off into slavery, many never to be heard from again.
She was skinny and blonde and kind of pretty. For this 12 year old to even think so must have meant that she was actually, beautiful.
She lived with her parents on the first floor of a six-family house at the end of an alley across from the playground. Her backyard was the parking lot of the A&P where, in the summer, we’d ride our bikes on weekends and in the winter become Kings of the Mountain atop piles of plowed snow. She never joined in our games, but would sometimes watch through the chain link fence that separated her from us.
We spoke only once. A bunch of us kids had ventured down the alley where she was sitting on the porch. I remember the house being painted green – jail-house green I would think as, years later, I patrolled past the old neighborhood and that house – that was the reminder of my shame.
“My parents work and I can’t leave the house”, she told us. “Both parents?” I asked. “Yes, both”. I had never heard of both parents working before. My dad worked two jobs, but my mother was always home. The same with almost all of the other kids, too. This was odd, I thought. But, not as odd as the way she spoke. There was something different in the way she said her words. She certainly wasn’t Irish, or French or Italian or Hungarian or Puerto Rican. I knew those accents. “Where are you from”, I asked. “Russia”, she answered.
If she had suddenly struck me with a baseball bat her answer could not have shocked or frightened me more. Russians were bad, I knew. We had drills in school preparing for the Russians to attack us with bombs. The government said they were bad. They killed people and starved them and didn’t believe in God. They were spies. And my eldest brother was at that very moment stationed in Germany protecting us from…The Russians. And they thought differently than we did. And, and…
“You’re a Commie”, I blurted. “No”, she said, “We got out”. It didn’t matter. She was a Russian. A spy. I just knew it. We all ran. And left that little girl sitting alone on those green steps of her new home, in the land of The Free. In today’s parlance, she was Cancelled.
Her name was, I think, Christine. Or, perhaps, Kristina. She was, after all, A Russian. If I could only do it all over. But, I can’t. And, the thing is, despite my fear, my sheer ignorance – I knew better. And that is the cause of the shame that still, to this day, haunts me. I knew better.
If thoughts could fly through the air, mine would somehow reach Kristina and she would know that I was and still am, sorry.
And, if thoughts could fly through the air, I would send them out to anyone thinking of acting as foolishly and hurtfully as did I those many years ago. Be Kind. The memory of our actions and of those we Cancel or Dox today may haunt us for a long time to come.
This morning we woke to our first winter in five years. Snow was covering everything, at least everything up to two inches! But, snow it is and what a welcome sight.
Before clearing our driveway and sidewalk I grabbed my camera – just to record the scene before me: snow covered fields, pine trees with snow draped branches and snow fog – the sort of fog arising when warmer air mixes with cold snow below. It may seem funny, but to this former New Englander, the sight of this snowy morning meant one thing – I am home. Yes, in this Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, I am home.
Memories can creep up on you from almost anything and at the most unexpected times. This past week or so, I have been plagued by my annual December Creepies that always seem to wait until nightfall to make their appearance. It’s been a bit of a battle keeping them at bay.But, this morning, shovel in hand, other, very welcome memories popped up: Music and Coffee.
Sometimes in Winter. It has been many years since I’ve heard or thought of that Blood, Sweat and Tearssong. Part Jazz, part Rock, part Poem, it is the type of song that can stay with you forever. And, there it was, playing in my head as I stood in front of our home early this morning. Click: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_D0HVYiMyq8 Yes, sometimes in Winter, everything seems right.
Another melody that popped up, altogether unrelated tonally to the first, was Tchaikovsky’s, Winter Dreams. Perhaps, it was the sight of the snow and frost covered trees that reminded me of an old DG album cover of this recording: Click: https://youtu.be/tFAvb-Kga30 This symphony, or at least as much as I could recall, would, long ago, accompany me as I drove for hours through wintry, city streets. Yet, here it was again, in full daylight.
Now, some may think that coffee is coffee. But, no, there are differences, just as there are with any food or beverage. There is what is called Commodity coffee. That’s pretty much what you get in most restaurants, diners and even many “coffee shops”. Some of it is downright awful, some, not so bad. One of the most well-known coffee sellers charges a small fortune for a cup of coffee by adding flavorings and fancy names to otherwise unremarkable brew. There are now a lot of local or regional coffee shops / kiosks offering really good coffee. But, it comes at a price, which I understand: quality costs.
The real issue for us, The Redhead and I, is how to have a really good cup of coffee at home. This is especially true with all of the lockdowns and restrictions we are enduring. So, I began my quest for really good coffee that I could brew at home. I first tried some old favorite brands found in the grocery stores. Eh. Then, some experimentation with generic, “organic” coffees found at the local alternative grocery store. One wasn’t too bad at all. The other tasted like, well, old dirt. Since we don’t add sugar to our coffee, there was no way to fix this bad boy! Some mail order coffees cost a fortune and quality wasn’t a sure thing if the on-line reviews can be believed. Then, a light bulb went on in my noggin’.
A while back we had gotten some really good coffee beans (we grind our own…it’s a nice way to start the morning) from Costco. But, with all the restrictions, we haven’t been to Costco in about a year. So, I looked up the company and yes, they sell directly to customers. Mayorga Organics https://www.mayorgaorganics.com/. Their prices are very fair, the coffee is great and their customer service is outstanding. They roast the coffee at two locations: Florida and Maryland. A quick phone call later and I was speaking with one of their Team members, Natasha. We spoke of the different coffees and, since I am partial to Mocha Java,Natasha also recommended the Mayorga Mayan blend. I’ll report back to you on this blend very soon! The Mocha Java is very good, though.
Now, here’s the really nice thing about Mayorga. They deal directly with the coffee farmers in Latin America, thus ensuring top quality coffee and a truly decent way to deal with the people that actually grow the beans. All farmers should be so lucky! If you are interested in trying one of the Mayorga coffees, just give them a call or go on-line. It’s very easy. If you order before the end of December, ALL on-line sales will be donated to relief efforts in Latin America due to hurricanes Iota and Eta. What a nice Christmas present for those folks!
Oh, BTW, I am not affiliated in any way with Mayorga. I just really like their coffee and the way they do business. Period.
So, how do Winter and Music and Coffee tie together?Well,we are now entering winter, both literally and figuratively. We need to stay healthy and happy and connected to one another. We cannot let fear separate us. If you can, invite someone – a family member, a friend, a neighbor over to enjoy some good coffee and good music. Not sure if it’s the “right time”? Well, maybe, it’s Sometimes in Winter.
Baby Jesus is coming. Don’t be afraid. Pray. Be nice.
In 1971, the rock band, The Who, released a recording of the song, “We Won’t Get Fooled again”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODKZGBrAtxY. Written by Pete Townsend, it was a cynical look at both power and revolution.Many of my generation misunderstood the song’s meaning. They thought that by adopting catchy slogans such as, “Question Authority” or aligning with “radical” political groups, they would bring about a better, more “just” world and not get fooled again. The sad thing is that nearly all of the problems that were besetting the world back then in ‘71, still are. And, more so. Townsend knew, I believe, that looking toward Power and Revolution as answers to what is wrong in the world is…futile and that by doing so we would get fooled again and again. Boy, was he right.
Here we are, half a century later (I shake my head as a write this!) and we are continually disappointed.Politicians of every stripe have shown themselves less as true leaders than opportunists. Too many to count “religious leaders” have fallen from grace, leaving many of us shaken and bewildered. Neighbors have grown fearful, suspicious and angry with one another. Why?
“Tell everyone who is discouraged, Be strong and don’t be afraid! God is coming to your rescue…” Isaiah 35:4
2020 started out with so much promise and optimism. And then, in the blink of an eye, it started to unravel.Maybe our current unrest is all – or mostly – contrived. Maybe there are powers or forces that want to cause disruption and fear. Maybe there is a plan to have us turn against one another. Maybe.
“Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.'” Revelation 1:17
I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to what can be done about what’s going on out there. Organize a protest? I don’t think so. Join a protest? Ah, NO! Write to some “Elected Official” and tell them just what I think? Just the mere thought makes me laugh. After probably burning out more than a few brain cells (and having none to spare, believe me) I figured it out: There Is Nothing I Can Do About What’s Going On Out There. But, there is something I can do about what’s going on in here – within me.
“Immediately He spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.'” Mark 6:50
It is Advent. We await. We anticipate: Not with Fear, but Hope. With Joy.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7
This Christmas, the first in our new home here in Staunton, Virginia, we have set up several outside decorations. One of them is something that I have wanted for a long time, but never had the space to do it: a manger scene. One that I have admired and been touched by for its simplicity is a silhouette of The Blessed Mother, St. Joseph and The Infant Jesus lying in His crib.
Ours is set up in the front yard. It is constructed of heavy white plastic. Although it is front and center, during the daytime, with a bright sun and a still dirt-filled front yard, it can be less noticed.
But, at night, when everything is darkest, a simple solar light shines on the crib. And there He is: The Baby Jesus. He is there during the day, of course, right in front of me. But, as I said, sometimes He’s hard to see. Do I just naturally see Baby Jesus during the darkest hours? Or, should I just look harder during the day? Maybe.
“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” John 14:27
What’s it like to relocate to another part of the country or to build a new home?
That’s a question we’re being asked more and more lately. Being here in the Shenandoah Valley for almost two years now makes us certainly not “old hands”, but we do have more insight now than before this adventure began. Here’s the skivvy.
Sometimes we wonder if we should have moved earlier, when we were a bit younger. But, change one thing and everything changes. So, it seems that now was the “just right” time for us to move…even if it took us two tries.
Before moving from Connecticut for our first relocation, I had never lived more than 6 miles from the house where I was born. Talk about being a homeboy! But circumstances were what they were and I stayed put. Enter The Redhead and another chapter was started.
First, we decided to move to Florida. We had good friends that lived there and we even spent part of one summer there to test out the weather. The gods must have been laughing because that rather tolerable summer was an anomaly. But, we made connections that will last a lifetime. And, we successfully oversaw the complete renovation of a house. But, four years and four hurricanes were enough though!
So, we explored other areas and set certain criteria for making a move. We had to be near an airport that would fly us directly to NY (the closest to our hometown where family still lived), it also had to be reasonably drivable (under 8 hours), just in case. Weather played a big part, too. No more sweltering heat for most of the year. Yet, we were both attracted to Southern states. Georgia? No. South Carolina? Hmm, no. North Carolina? Hmmm, maybe, but, No. How aboutTennessee? Well, it did have a big draw for us and I ain’t talkin’ about Dolly!
But, No. Where to then?
After miles and miles of driving and weeks in hotels and B&B’s, it was Back to the Drawing Board. So, rethinking everything, we refocused our priorities.: Small town, Southern state, close to an airport and a reasonable drive back to family. We also needed good medical facilities, culture, natural beauty and Church. And, it had to be peaceful and safe.
After lots of online research we decided to explore Virginia and that’s how we found Staunton.
We had contacted a Realtor prior to driving up to Staunton the first time. She was wonderful and generous with her time in showing us around the area. Yes, Staunton was the area we wanted to call home. We returned home, thought about it some more and decided to sell our “forever” home and move. We sold our home in 6 hours! Back to Staunton we went to secure a rental so that we could transition more easily and sensibly. This was a bit tricky and we wound up finding a nice apartment on our own.
For some reason, working with Realtors did not work out too well for us. The first Realtor that showed us around when we were exploring needed to take care of some matters so she wasn’t as available as we had hoped. Too bad, because she is a wonderful person that we would have loved to do business with.
We were open to building or remodeling an existing home. It was in finding the right location that proved to be elusive. While we initially thought city living was just right for us – being able to walk to amenities had been a goal – downtown Staunton would be a challenge. We didn’t want to undertake another complete renovation nor were we alpine hikers, something that might come in handy in navigating the hills of Staunton. Realtors showed us homes that needed everything from complete gutting / renovation to mold remediation to needing a herd of goats to keep the acreage under weed and brush control. One memorable agent might have taken us a bit too literally when we said we wanted a quiet, safe neighborhood. His picks were a building lot that was somehow located within an old cemetery and a new home that had an electric fence surrounding it – to keep out the neighbor’s cattle.
Fast forward a bit to where we finally located a building lot in the perfect location for us: just outside of the city limits of Staunton in Augusta County. And this is where our experience may be most helpful to those thinking of doing something similar to us: relocating and building/remodeling in a new area.
First, learn everything you can about the location: tax rates, are public utilities available, zoning (what type of homes are allowed in your area – single family only or mixed use (multiple family), future Planned Development by the town/county/ developer. Don’t forget to explore the area. Is that nice building behind the trees an office building or a prison? Thankfully, we didn’t have that experience.
Research the potential Builder / Re-modeler – Diligently! Ask the County / Town/ Neighbors about any Failed Inspections they may have had with previous jobs. Talk with Homeowners that have worked with them…in private. Don’t have the Realtor or Builder present during the conversation. It’s understandable that some people may be less than candid if there were any problems during / after their home building process if a third party is present.Talk with suppliers, including those in the Big Box stores if the builder uses them. An “eye roll” may be worth a thousand words. Talk to competitors. Most good / ethical builders will be honest in speaking of another builder. They may do things a little differently or prices may be a little more or less than the other guy, but a prolonged, “Welllll”, speaks volumes! Talk with everyone and don’t forget the folks at the local zoning / building departments and the local police / sheriff. Our experience was that they were very helpful and gave us great insight.
Once you decide on a builder, “do a Reagan”: Trust but Verify!Be specific in what you want and what you’ll get. Everything must be in writing, including materials that will be used. Weather affects almost every building process. But, what happens if the builder delays completion for 2, 3, 4 months or even more? It’s going to cost you money to extend a lease or sale of an existing home. Will a deliberate delay cost them anything? Some builders start, stop and move onto another project before finishing the first. Find out, too, who will be doing the actual construction. Does the builder have his own “core crew” for framing and finishing, etc. or is everything sub-contracted out? If a “core crew” is used, how long have they worked for the builder? Be cautious of a builder that has an exceedingly high turnover rate or that constantly flips sub-contractors. There is a reason. Make sure there is an actual blueprint for the job and not an “online rendering” and that you are given a complete copy. Go over everything in the plans with the builder and an attorney / architect before contracts are signed (expect to pay for these beforehand, they do cost money). Changes made after contracts are signed will almost certainly cost you money and time, especially if made during construction. A wall color change probably won’t, unless the builder has already bought the paint. When picking appliances verify when the choices must be made and when they will be bought. Sometimes a buyer can buy the appliances directly and have them held by the store until needed. This can spare you the aggravation of hearing later from the builder that the prices went up or the item is out of stock so you must pick some other model or make. Experience is speaking here!
Finally, find out how a particular builder handles mistakes or problems. Only a previous home buyer can tell you this. Things happen, but how those unforeseen snags are taken care of is important to your sanity and enjoyment of your home.
Building can be a challenge. But, being diligent (and a bit lucky), patient and choosing wisely can turn that empty lot into your Home, Sweet Home!
If you are ever considering moving to Staunton give us a shout!
“One of the things that I enjoyed about your shop was that it wasn’t Antique Roadshow. You were preserving antique and vintage furniture with the idea that they would again be used and be affordable. That was cool”. Nothing could have summed up Redeux Vintage Furniture better than those words said to me this afternoon by master woodworker, Gary R. Wood.
Inspired by necessity (mine) and begun in a garage, Redeux was a dream realized. Starting in late 2007, I set out to furnish my home by finding older, American- made furniture and restoring it to the point that it would become attractive and usable furniture. There were just two problems: I had very limited funds and no real training! But, No Brains, No Headaches. Why worry?
Scrounging junk shops throughout Connecticut and beyond and accepting furniture that was no longer wanted by friends, the adventure began. An older brother of mine was a master mechanic of sorts and he could fix any machine on land or water. If he couldn’t find the correct part for something he would make it. Yet, he never had any formal training in this. He could just “see” how something worked. To a far lesser extent, I could “see” how furniture had been made and also how it had been used through the years. Unlike my brother, however, I could not and cannot still, make anything. I can only preserve or restore furniture made during a time when things were mostly made by hand. I also very often get a sense, from tell-tale signs of use, of the past owners.
My first piece was a Federal reproduction of a chest of drawers made sometime during the 1920-30’s. I still have this piece and have become attached to it…my first-born, so to speak. Next, was a bedroom suite from the 1960’s. The difference in style and quality from the piece made 30 or so years earlier was striking. It wasn’t quite to my taste, but beggars were not going to be too choosy. So, this furniture was restored and, as luck would have it, someone loved it and, at the time, was more in need of furniture than I. So, it was my pleasure to send it off to a new home.
Fast forward a few years. I studied everything I could find on vintage and antique furniture styles, manufacturers, woods and finishes. I started a blog, chronicling the furniture I had found and was working on. Each piece had a name: American Princess (a dainty chest found in an old shop in Maine), The Three Legged Dog, yep, a “distressed” dresser also missing a leg. After some innovative restoration and a complete makeover, The Dog was in a new home the afternoon he appeared on my blog site. The Jigsaw Puzzle presented a real challenge. Found in a used furniture outlet in an abandoned factory, this was nothing but a pile of oak boards and a marble slab when I first saw it. But, again, no brains, no headaches.It laid in the back of my garage workshop for nearly a year before I decided to take a closer look at it. No nails, no screws, no pegs. How the heck was this put together, I wondered? Back to researching furniture made around 1870 I went and soon found similar looking pieces. They had all been put together using special horsehide glue. Well, using an array of clamps, braces and straps and an ample supply of this old-fashioned glue, this dresser was eventually properly put together. Whoever originally made this had to have been a genius.
There were mistakes. Oh, yes. I sanded some things only to deeply regret it later (you can’t restore 100- 200 years of patina). I experimented with some stains, mixing my own “custom” colors. A sideboard/server stained purple was a sight to behold, I can tell you. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t convince myself that it looked like purpleheart wood. Luckily, a young couple just loved, loved, loved it. It matched the color of their newly painted dining room! That was a one-off color, believe me.
A very fortunate bit of luck during that time period was to learn of and attend refinishing classes being taught at a nearby wood-workers club. The instructor was Gary R. Wood, of New Hampshire. Master refinisher, restorer, preservationist and antique-reproduction maker, Gary Wood is an ideal teacher. Less is better, was his often-used motto. Preserve the past. Experiment. This was music to my ears. His frequent question to students,“What would you do?”, always got us to thinking and, sometimes, laughing about what to do about a particular piece or technique. So, after a number of classes I had a bit more of an understanding of how to better approach the art of preserving and refinishing beautiful pieces of furniture -even if, at first glance, the beauty was hidden.
This afternoon, after not having been in contact for several years, I called Gary at his shop in New Hampshire. What a pleasant surprise it was that he remembered me and my old shop, Redeux. We spoke of what we were both now doing. He is still creating and preserving beautiful furniture, of course, but he has also started a new adventure. Gary is teaching Middle School children about woodworking. Who knows, maybe one or two of these kids will find the joy in the wood as did Gary and countless generations before. I told him of our move here to Staunton, VA in the Shenandoah Valley. The abundance of quality “older” furniture available here that was just waiting to be brought back to life was exciting news for Gary. Ever gracious, Gary gave me some tips and sources for some neat products to use in my restoring efforts.
Below are some photos of pieces I have recently worked on or have just begun the restoration process. Also, I have just acquired, through auction, two interesting pieces that will be kept for our own use. I’m not sure where this will all go, but it is great to be again working on pieces of furniture that have stood the test of time.
One of the pluses of living in the country is that one is required to live in The Real.
I had especially noticed this sense of living in The Real during my many visits “Back Home” to Ireland. Being of the first generation of my family born here in The States, Back Home meant the family place. For us it was the West of Ireland – County Mayo and in particular the then small town of Charlestown.
My first visit was a real eye opener. Despite stories of having descended from Irish Royalty (weren’t we all?) the reality was the family was materially poor. My father and generations of family before him was born and raised in a single room cottage that was, upon my first visit, still occupied by my uncle and his family. No electricity, no running water, no plumbing. That was home.
Politically, it seemed the family was all over the place. Uncle Batty, when I showed up unannounced at his workplace, thought I was an IRA hitman that had “come for him”. I never asked why he thought that. But, the joy he showed that it was the son of his never-met older brother standing at his doorstep erased all need to explore the matter further. His wife, Evelyn, was a nurse, educated and trained in England. Her political views, expressed only once, was that, Yes, things had been bad in the past. But, she said, “Without the English we’d all now be a lot worse off”. She was living in The Real. The world as it was right then, not what it had been, good or bad.
I’ve thought many times of Evelyn’s words and contrasted them with those of my father. Yes, he had seen a bit more of the brutality of an occupying army. Not allowing even English Toffee into the house, however, seemed a bit much, even to a little urchin. But, the day that my eldest sister had a would-be “suitor” call at the house was a real humdinger. Dressed in a tweed suit, he carried a gold pocket watch that he allowed me to hold. Yet, the real treasure was a strange coin with some type of antelope stamped upon it.
“Dad, look at this”, I blurted out. Examining the coin, my father seemed to enjoy the novelty of it as much as I. Until he turned it over. There it was. The image of Queen Elizabeth II in all her youthful beauty.
First, his jaw went slack, and then his eyes started blinking out some type of Morsecode. We had seen those telegraphing eyes before. Whatever was coming wasn’t going to be good.
“You’re a *&^)#%@*^# ’Limey”, shouted my father. “I say”, said my sister’s Caller. Well, he didn’t get to say much else, I can tell you that. The last we or my sister saw of him was the back of the tweed bending over to pick poor Elizabeth up from the sidewalk in front of our house.
It would be several years later before my sister would agree (with permission, naturally) to marry a very nice man. Of Irish descent, ofcourse. All went well until the day before the wedding. It was then that dad found out that while the young man about to marry my sister was indeed Irish, he wasn’t the “Right Irish”. His great-grandfather had come from…get ready…Belfast, Northern Ireland. My sister was marrying a “Collaborator”. Neither I nor anyone else in the family knew what the heck my father was talking about. Which brings me back to the beginning of this story, living in The Real.
When I say that we live in the country it’s that we are surrounded mostly by farms. Dairy, goat, poultry, horse and agriculture farms abound here. Some are small, some quite extensive. Our immediate neighbors in this neighborhood come from different backgrounds and professions: teachers, technical engineers, business owners, medical professionals, skilled labor, etc. Many come from small towns or farms. And, of course, this city boy. Each of us have been drawn to this area for reasons, while specific to us, have similarities, too: the need for “elbow room” in order to have privacy or to have a garden, the need to escape the costs, congestion and craziness of large cities. Yet, there is the tacit understanding that we would help one another. And will be kind to each other.Perhaps it is by being so close to nature, to God’s abundant blessings, that we have become so aware of how beautiful life is.
And so, this past week, we celebrated our good fortune in two ways. First, we had a “block party”. Every family in our little hilltop neighborhood came to “the crossroads” to enjoy a beautiful, sunny day and sharing food, laughter and the feeling that, at least within our little community, all is well.
Secondly, The Redhead and I ventured out for a drive yesterday that took us out beyond Route 42 into deep farm country and finally heading westward along Route 250 through the Allegheny Mountains into the small town of Monterey. Monterey is the home of the Maple Festival, drawing craftspeople and maple syrup product connoisseurs from great distances. Unfortunately, like most other festivals, this year’s was cancelled due to the pandemic. Nonetheless, Monterey is a nice little town (really small) but it has several nice country- style restaurants, inns and spectacular scenery. I will say, that prior to yesterday, driving over the mountain was something beyond my comfort level. Do it slowly, carefully and in good weather and you could have a nice outing. Hint: Monday may not be the best day to make the trip – some things are closed.
Along this section of Route 250 you will also find the Confederate Breastworks and the battle field of McDowell, dating from 1862. Both locations, near one another, while relatively limited in scope, were where Confederate and Union troops clashed for control of this mountain pass. Standing at the Breastworks and looking down the valley where so many men had struggled, fought and died two thoughts came to mind: What a terrible tragedy that Civil War was, pitting neighbor and family against one another. And, later last night, after mistakenly watching a few minutes of the “news”, I thought back to the beauty, bounty and friendship we had seen all around us this past weekend and wondered, why this country is being torn apart.
Will we ever let the transgressions, real or imagined, of Queen Elizabeth, Stonewall Jackson, Columbus, Kit Carson, Junipero Serra and on and on stay in the past? Will we ever again live in The Real?
We have been in our new home since mid-June and, for the most part, we are unpacked and settled. What a feeling of relief!
To say that we are grateful and realize how blessed and lucky we are to be here in Staunton – at any time, but especially during these days of crazy, would be an understatement. It certainly is a time for reflection and prayer.
For this, my first blog in three months, I’ll divide it into basically three parts and in reverse order of the Clint Eastwood movie: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
The Ugly: Building a home is not for the feint-hearted, easily discouraged or those expecting everything to be as planned – or promised. Sometimes it can get real ugly. There, I’ve said it and now to move on.
The Bad: Between the Covid virus and the continuing riots in many parts of this country I feel as if we’re living in The Twilight Zone. Nothing makes sense. Yesterday, I read yet another report, this time from the Director of the CDC, that many – up to 17% by CDC’s estimate, of reported deaths from the Covid virus are fraudulent. Why? Because apparently hospitals and doctors are making money when they diagnose and treat someone for having been “exposed” to Covid. And, of course, politicians are driving this system. Why has our national health care been hijacked by fraud and politics? Bad stuff.
But, what has struck a personal note with me is the abandonment and demonizing of our police by politicians and large and vociferous swaths of the public. It is a rare day when a cop, of any rank, can hope for and much less expect to be backed by a politician. Still, there was, until recently, a feeling that many, if not most, of the public still supported police in general. Corrupt, brutal, ignorant or untrained officers are a different topic.But, the vast, overwhelming majority of cops are decent, honest, compassionate and willing to work in environments most people have nightmares about. And now, many of our political elites attack and want to jail or fire them. Groups of agitators, paid, sadly misguided or mentally impaired riot nightly, violently attacking police and burning and smashing the dreams and work of ordinary people. This is will not end until every decent person says, “Enough”. This is very bad stuff, indeed.
And now, The Good!!
We are Home.
Many of the design aspects we planned for our house have come to fruition. Our front porch has become one of our focal points and a great place for friends and neighbors to stop by and sit a (long) while. Morning coffee seems to taste better and ending the day looking at sunsets and talking things over while sitting in the rockers is a slice of heaven.
Our fireplace with “instant” (gas) flames has already provided several somewhat chilly nights a cozy feeling. And, The Redhead can’t wait to decorate for Christmas. The Sunporch is a bright, sunny room. It faces East and offers a view of the sun rising over the mountains and treetops. In some ways it reminds me of both our Connecticut and Florida homes and gatherings of friends in the book clubs we hosted there. Maybe again?
Once again I have a library. But, surprisingly, to me anyway, is that it has a somewhat cluttered look. Too many books? Never! But, looking at a jumble of wires draped over and around my desk is not pleasing. It’s unfortunate that whoever built my desk in 1790 could not have better planned for computer and speaker wires to be tucked away! But, there are nice cubbies for fountain pens and ink bottles…and that’s something.
The kitchen has turned out quite well and cooking once again with a gas flame is wonderful.
Our house has become our home. We are blessed with wonderful friends, some neighbors, others close by. We have family – of the heart and blood. Some have already visited. The Redhead was in heaven this past week when, after 7 long months, she was again able to hold Grand baby Jonah.
And, finally, my plans to once again find, research and restore American vintage and antique furniture has begun to come about. Shelving has been set up in the basement, plans for work benches and stands are being drawn up and area auction houses (my hunting grounds) are once again opening up. There are several items on hand that require the Redeux Furniture treatment but then it’s on to newer, yet old, pieces of America’s past.
Thanks for reading and bearing with me. The pictures that are posted were taken sort of impromptu so ignore any out of place sofa pillows or coffee cups, etc. The Redhead has not edited any of these photos, so who knows!
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