Saturday, February 7, 2009

Contestant #3

I love this, but I am befuddled by it. Is it a shed? Is it someone's former residence? If it is either one of those two things, why is the entrance so low to the ground such that you'd have to stoop to get in? To me--and I'm just Chesapeake Bay Woman who knows a whole lot about nothing, but a little about a lot--I'd say it was the top section to an old farmhouse (we don't know where the bottom section went), and that door you see is really a window. No brain cells were injured--or even used--in the uttering of that last statement. Speaking of old houses and looking through the window of the past, we turn now to a story about just that.

This is Day Three of reading the entries in my little Story Contest, and let me tell you we have some really good ones from which to choose. For anyone just joining the party, here are links to the first two submissions:
Contestant #1
Contestant #2

Below is our third entry. Enjoy.
Everything Old is New
Contestant #3

I read on someone's blog the other day about a little polite trespassing going on in my home town, and I was reminded of my Daddy's penchant for crossing property lines.

When Daddy was a child in post-depression Virginia, it was an unsurpassed joy to go riding in the family sedan with his mother and grandmother. He was the fifth of six children, so alone-time with his much-beloved mother and grandmother was a rare treat -- and only made possible by the fact that his older siblings were probably in school, and his younger brother had not yet been born.

Grandma Alice and Grandma Susie's travels included a detailed travelogue designed to educate their young charge in the nuances of kinship, and his family's place in Tidewater society. He was chauffeured to his ancestor's home sites and the dwellings of his cousins both far and near.

The man had a memory for genealogy and geography. He knew his own family tree back seven generations, as well as that of many other families in the area. Sometimes he was a little shaky on the specifics ("Daddy, how did you say they were they related?" "Well, he was his brother or his cousin or his uncle, or somethin'"), but with a few (prying!) questions, he could place you and your family in that vast network in his head. He had lots of strange information stored in that cranium of his: he probably knew what kind of truck your grand-daddy drove, the location of the saw mill your great uncle operated in the 20's, or perhaps the name of your grandmother's sister-in-law who used to carry the mail!

Needless to say, he soaked in all the information those fine ladies were so anxious to impart, and in his turn he was equally anxious to impart it to me.

To understand my reluctance to receive it, you have to understand a bit about the geography of my region.

Tidewater Virginia, and specifically my hometown of Mathews, is blessed with a surrounding network of river, creeks and coves that, until the advent of the automobile, made traveling by land completely unnecessary. Study a Civil War era map of Tidewater and the Northern Neck and you'll notice a decided lack of railroad tracks east of the fall-line of Virginia. Why construct roads and rail-roads when you could travel so easily by boat instead?

Therefore, all the older homes in the area were not constructed near the road, they are almost all located on the waterfront. To view these ancestral halls, (now most likely inhabited by a couple of "come-heres" from Richmond) one must trespass drive down the long, narrow, bumpy lane, with no idea whether these were friendly "come-heres" (sipping iced-tea in their newly renovated kitchen), or grumpy ones (who might shoot us).

The thought that anyone might be less-than-enthused about our unannounced visit never occurred to my Daddy. He meandered on down the lane, and never worried about what he might find at the other end. You can do that when you're 6' 5 1/2" and weigh 275 lbs. (Unless they actually shot at you, grumpy "come-heres" mattered little in his reckoning). He was not worried.

I, however, was examining every hedgerow and road-shoulder for a spot wide enough to execute a three-point turn. I was sure we were going to be shot, or worse, embarrassed. I cowered in the back seat and waited for it to be over.

Skip forward thirty years, and my mother and I are touring the back roads of Hanover County near the historic landing at Piping Tree Ferry. We've been told by family-lorists that my great-grandfather's first wife, mother of my father's half-uncle (yeah, you heard that right, would I make something like that up?), was from this area, tantalizingly close to my current domicile, and that her ancestral home still stands! I've lived here for over seven years and never found her house, although in recent years, with clues from my eldest uncle, I've gotten really close.

On this particular sunny day, we've located a subdivision with a road named after the old home, but no evidence of a house old enough to be the right one in sight. On the way in, we passed a tall, elegant old place whose property borders the little subdivision. Its painted brick facade looked to be of the right vintage, so I determine that I will just STOP IN and ASK.

A certain four-year-old captive, tightly spancelled in her booster in the back seat, immediately begins to protest LOUDLY. "NO Mama! Don't get out of the car! Please don't knock on the door!" I can read between the lines - "YOU MIGHT GET SHOT!" I ignore her protests and proceed to have a perfectly lovely conversation with a very nice gentleman (who I swear was sipping iced-tea when I got there).

I explain to him that I am searching for the ancestral home of my great-grandfather's first wife, who died in childbirth. Her baby boy lived to a ripe old age, but was childless. His half-siblings loved him so dearly, that they passed his mother's family name down to their children, and we carry it forward in our family line to this day. I would dearly love to see her family' home.

The very nice gentleman just beams, and happily assures me, "This is why I just love Virginia."

His home was not the one for which I was searching for, but he directed me to it. The object of our search stands just around the corner: a beautiful old farm house -- majestic, plain and stately at the top of hill, hidden by a bend in the road.

I love Virginia, too, and if I don't someday get shot for trespassing, maybe I'll get a chance to pass that love on to my own little captive audience.


Unknown said...

I loved this story of checking out sites of historical and geneological sentimment as well.

Getting shot could be a deterrent though...but I love it.

Ann Marie said...

trespassing.. around these parts? I think.. NOT.

I loved the story.. today I am off to capture some of my family tree via tombstone.. guess what I have to do to get some of the shots!!!

Anonymous said...

Oh the terror that strickens that 4-year-old captive. What a pleasurable, if sometimes frightening, journey from one generation to the next.

A former colleague who grew up in the West said that the fondness that Virginian's have for their home is rooted in the state's rich history. There's certainly some truth to that.


Thanks for sharing a bit of your past "Contestant #3".

Mental P Mama said...

We used to do this all over Middle Tennessee when I was a girl. I hated it then, but wish I could go back there now;) By the way, when you fly in to Norfolk or Newport News, it is a beautiful sight to see all those stately homes on the water.

Anonymous said...

I guess that's when a trip down memory lane becomes, literally, a trip down SOMEONEELSE'S lane!

Ann Marie, do you have any Snows in your family tree? If you happen upon any Snow tombstones would you snap some pics and send them to me? (hubby's family) My email's on FB.


PS CBW, about that basketball game. I'm afraid that would result in a Gazette Journal headline of "36 year old mother of two croaks on MHS gym floor, apparent cause of death - Heart Attack"!

Ann Marie said...

AMN quite funny that you bring that up.. hubby.. related to me... so that makes you family by proxy or some crap such as that LOL..

Wait until you see what I have.. David and I have been working together gathering info.. As in hubbys uncle David..

pjhammer_1965 said...

Ah, a happy ending. I like this one.

Anonymous said...

A little bird (Osprey, Eagle, I couldn't tell) told me that CBW put Life in Mathews on autopilot for a day or two. Rumor has it that she's at a Slick Willy concert spilling the wine, playing the drums and raising money for Blogfest. I'm sure she'll check-in sometime tomorrow.

Y'all have a good evening...

Anonymous said...

Wait . What? Did you go to a concert without ME??? I'm crushed:(

I LOVE being a Virginian! (V-I-R-G-I-N-I-A-N, not what you think I said.) Yes, The history is rich, the tales are tall, and there is NOTHING that comes before family:) Great story Contestant #3!!!!

Annie said...

That is a great story. It reminds me of my own childhood, and trips I used to do with my husband through foreign countryside to get to his family. Always wondering if the natives were friendly!


ps Have been a little worried about family down south here. Dreadful fires to the south of the country and flooding rains to the north. What a country! It gets a little scarey sometimes, especially when it gets close to family!

foolery said...

First of all, Annie, I hope your family are SAFE.

And Contestant #3? This was wonderful, and it warmed the cockles of my cold, cold heart. Your story -- all of these stories -- are why I'm sure I'd love Virginia.

I want to go there.

I've never worried about getting shot, but I've had the same fear of taking photos, or meeting the inhabitants, of ancestral homes (which, in California, are usually only two generations back).

Come to think of it, I've gone poking around in communities where I MIGHT have gotten shot.