Chameleon: An Interactive ExplorationPart VI -- Reminiscing Anecdotally
-- Clarence Shepard Day, Jr., once-reknowned author, poet, artist, and outspoken supporter of women's rights
"My love for you is like the ocean: vast, volatile, and potentially deadly."
"The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so."
"For you shall go out in joy/ and be led back in peace./ the mountains and hills before you/ shall burst into song./ and all the trees of the field shall/ clap their hands."
"In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you."
I, A Woman
Prelude (Abbreviated Synopsis of the Synopsis of Technology and Me) -- Strophe -- Growing Up Rich (To The Manner/Manor Born) -- Manhattan! -- Music and Hippiedom -- Settling Down and Yuppiedom -- Technology and Careerism -- Wilderness Basics (Beasts and Heathens Part 1) (Beasts and Heathens) -- Art and the Internet (Beasts and Heathens Part 2) -- Epic Coitus Interruptus -- Town/Community Life -- Frivolities -- Beasts and Heathens (Finale) -- Recoveries -- Reprise -- Joie Plaisir Eibr -- NOW (New Original Word)
She's The One
Note: Prisons and jails are built and sustained for criminals, not responsible, hard-working and enfranchised, voting and actively particpating adult citizens of the United States of America. In the summer of 1978, I sat on a grass and sand bank of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and asked the spirit of my grandmother if she agreed that I should use money she left me to buy the A-frame house erected behind me and the one acre of land on which it was built way out in the country, 17 miles down a dirt road from the nearest town, Luray. The man I worked for at the time had seen it for sale on a canoeing trip he'd taken with friends and recommended it to me. It reminded me, and the effluence/aura of my grandmother, of her island house in Maine where we had shared interesting and bucolic summers during my childhood. So, I determined to buy it. Because of its remoteness and relative isolation from town amenities like fire department protection, and its lack at the time of water, plumbing and a septic system, a mortgage was not attainable, so I paid cash for it and struggled with obtaining fire and homeowner's protection over the years I owned it. But it seemed like paradise to me, and I finally moved into it full-time in the fall of 1983. From $45 week in 1962 as a Boston Massachusetts inventory clerk to a full-time 1983 salary of $30,000 annually as a Roslyn Virginia database design and maintenance programmer, run-time coder, systems and client support manager, and user documentation technician for federal, state and local accounting and payroll, I'd graduated up to $577 a week -- mid-range for that profession in urban areas then and where a friend still employed in that field earns well over $100,000 yearly in the 21st century -- plus liberal benefits of vacation and compensation time, insurance and unpaid leaves of absence with company encouragement also of independent IRA investment accumulations for retirement. Working part-time from Page County, I continued to work in user support and code modifications particularly and was paid for two months after resigning when requested strongly to work full-time from their suburban offices again by newly appointed supervisors. A few months thereafter in early 1984, AMS hired me on a three-week contract for $2500 plus all expenses paid to work in Arlington and at home designing, coding and documenting a personnel tracking system for a California client of theirs. When asked to accept another contract as a "trouble shooter" involving travel and stay in Orange County California, we drifted apart with reasonable good will and memories as I devoted myself instead to basics of "the good life" in the country, citing to them at the time an obligation to feed and take care of my chickens daily instead."MacArthur's Park is melting in the dark/ All the sweet, green icing flowing down.../ Someone left the cake out in the rain/ I don't think that I can take it/ 'cause it took so long to bake it/ And I'll never have that recipe again/ ... There will be another song for me/ For I will sing it/ There will be another dream for me/ Someone will bring it/ I will drink the wine while it is warm/ And never let you catch me looking at the sun/ And after all the loves of my life/ After all the loves of my life/ You'll still be the one./ ... I will have the things that I desire/ And my passion flow like rivers through the sky./ ...."Earth and Sky: I owned my home in the Shenandoah Valley from 1978, when I bought it for cash from Johnny Allen and his wife and children, Northern Virginia residents who built and used it as a vacation home, and the elderly and country-colorful Robert ("Robby") Janney Sr. processed closing papers to early spring of 1998, when I sold it under criminal duress and pressure to Pam and Joe Sottosanti, with me holding the mortgage after a fair downpayment from them, who used it as a relaxation and rental property until selling it to a Northern Virginia woman realtor who rented it out weekly and on weekends and subsequently sold it to yet another Northern Virginia couple with children who use it, with their extended family, as again a vacation home.
The "main draw," of course, of the A-frame, aside from its enticing architecture, was its shelled and pebbled beach and inviting riverfront. Bob organized many well-attended weekend parties of friends to "camp out" in the living room and bedrooms and loft, so we could all end up partying in or near that free-running water. To begin with the river was not as heavily-trafficked with canoes, kayaks, rafts and rubber dingies as it became later on, so we were relatively free to sit unremarked and undisturbed in the "riffles" where rock ledges created white water of a relatively gentle sort and drink our pina coladas or beers from nearby coolers in usually sun-drenched and wind-tossed peace. Following a somewhat long-lost hippie call, he encouraged every visitor to disrobe wherever they were, whether it be water-borne or grass-entranced. Some did; others demurred. We barbecued the usual fare over hibachis and grills and drank our breakfasts of mimosas and Bloody Marys to the trills of songbirds seduced by wildflowers gone truly free as we sunbathed on blankets and lounge chairs, planning and discussing our next foray to the temptations of the Shenandoah unwatched and unbound.
After moving there myself full-time, as soon as weather permitted every spring I spent all my free hours alongside and in the river also until chill and frost made that once again uninviting through winter months generally. The Shenandoah, though, initially and for many years teemed with life and promise, truth and ecstacy, beauty and suggestion. From dragonflies hovering low in their irridescence over deep blue to aquamarine flowings that sometimes ebbed but never ended to guppies nibbling enthusiastically at ankles and toes while pileated woodpeckers landed and knocked in all their brightly-etched splendor on tree trunks of the opposite bank, the river and riverside offered an infinite variety and show of natural delights unsullied by the artificial structures of wo/man and governments, politics and policies. It was truly and profoundly, blessedly free. And I know that not too many are ever so joyously lucky as to know that particular paradise of nature unstressed and undefined, unlimited by the limited minds and manners and mores of wo/man in any century, particularly so-called "modern" ones.
Necessary liveability upgrades prior to full-time residence in the A-frame included hiring craftsmen to complete plumbing pipes and connections and to construct a chimney with ample fireplace and hearth. I chose white, mottled brick for the interior and red for the outside of that unusually tall structure. The contractor, my elderly female neighbor's son, suggested that a heatolator, which circulates out via two fans warmth from the fire area into the room, be built into the edifice and I agreed, although it never seemed as effective as advertised. Later, I purchased for the hearth a modern free-standing Sierra heavy cast iron, glass-fronted wood stove with an innovative design for capturing and retaining heat, and that proved most reliable in sustaining a comfortable temperature during winter months. Contract installation by another neighbor of replacement double-paned patio doors and acquisition of floor-length foam-backed draperies also helped to stave off cold chills for reasonable wonderment from indoor safety at two or three foot long icicles draped and dripping artily from the eaves. Later improvements -- most done under contract with owner labor assistance and supervision-- included installation of cushy, thick wall-to-wall carpet nearly throughout, replacement linoleum in kitchen and bath, paneling in the downstairs bedroom, all-weather surround decking, storm windows and door, numerous interior repaintings due to depredations of burning wood for warmth and outdoor restainings consequent of seasonal weather extremes and harshness. The most extensive, and expensive, upgrade involved installation of a septic system -- permitting, choosing a contractor to upend a large swath of bottomland and lay six 65-foot lines of drainage pipe plus a pump and to connect all that to indoor plumbing. Finally I designed a remodeling of the second floor to afford there a spaciously pleasant second bath and laundryroom. Work completed during a few summer months at an hourly wage by Massanutten neighbor Frank Slivinski, it involved considerably complex rewiring and replumbing along with some innovative construction of new walls and cabinetry.
Never a Civil War afficiando, I knew nothing at the time about the Valley's position as "bread basket of the Confederacy" or the fascinating history of the people of the Blue Ridge Mountains, their forcible removal for tedious construction of the Parkway with its stone guard rails and scenic lookouts as part of FDR's New Deal work projects with mountaintop housing and feeding for workers, or clearing, routing and maintaining of the Appalachian Trail which runs through it all. Settled mostly by Pennsylvania German Lutherans with some protest from roaming indigenous hunter-gatherer Senedo tribes, who created Big Meadows by annual burning to keep that large patch of aery land free for vegetation and grazing, it had retained a rich heritage of native artifacts from its many transitions. Original large land holdings had been grants from the English King to lure development and commerce westward in the New World. Over generations those grants were divided amongst progeny and finally subdivided by developers to become suburban homes on tracts of ever-decreasing size.
The Parkway, in particular, has markers recounting "Stonewall" Jackson's successful campaign through it in evading Union armies and his legendary military tactics in keeping the Valley a holdout of resistence and supply for the Confederacy. As in other blue-and-gray regions, there were and are annual reenactments of major battles, the most famous perhaps being Cedar Creek and New Market, both towns having dedicated themselves variously to preservation and remembrance of a conflagration that took over 625,000 lives from both sides during its increasingly vicious and destructive course, ending with a razing so devastating that the Union vowed "a crow passing over would have to bring its own lunch with it," and as vindictive in a way as the Reconstruction measures inflicted on conquered territories and white people. Against the advice of Illinois' Lincoln and Tennessee's Jackson, who missed impeachment for his outspoken views by only one vote, but passed by Congress those draconian and frequently ludicrous enactments left a legacy of hatred and continued defiance of Union values that exists to this day.
In some respects, the Shenandoah Valley has become one of the last stands of "the angry white man" in a profoundly multi-cultural, religiously complicated and fractured country and world. It has a diminutive minority population, although Latinos have recently made some inroads into hostile and denigrating pockets here and there. Ignorant of the wealth of wisdom and knowledge to be gained through positively involved diversity, it clings steadfastly to its tradition of slavery, although relatively few landowners actually kept slaves or could afford them, and Caucasian male genetic superiority in the face of vast scientific, historic, evidentiary and experiential proof of the falsity of that theory. In that sense, the area is a backwater of 21st century America, frozen in time and place and a living museum of the mid-1800s. Not even the mass introduction of internet technology and communication with its worldwide cultural and informational connections has much changed an atmosphere that generally clings to the past, perhaps for comfort against the confusions and challenges of vast innovations that have now taken us far beyond our own solar system and galaxy, and revolutionary socio-religious and military transformation that has changed borders and leadership structures around the planet. In the tradition of Custer's Last Stand, it holds out rebelliously against the message of a victory won over 150 years ago, Civil Rights advances going back five to ten decades, and technological change begun in the 60s, at least, when we first shot an astronaut through Earth's gravitational field to float in outer space and plant a Union flag on the surface of our moon.
Some time after its purchase Valley neighbors confided their relief that "a white couple" had purchased the A-frame as recent federal legislation had made advertising and sale by ethnicity illegal in blatant practice anyway as an attempt to end "red-lining," integrate neighborhoods and therefore more naturally schools. Busing for that purpose is expensive in administration, extra personnel, time and materiel, somewhat danger-fraught, and had not evolved into the tolerance and equality originally hoped and envisioned. In Page County as throughout the nation blacks most particularly along with other ethnicities have congregated for safe housing, small commerce, filial organization and community religious observance in separately distinct squalid slums to sturdy middle-class sections of cities, towns and countrysides. This geographic demarkation has fostered solidarity, purposeful and progressive self-organization and reclamation, restructure of cultural identity. It has also maintained and encouraged separatism from the mainstream polyglot of America, somewhat ameliorated by affirmative action and equal opportunity in higher education, hiring, and professional/entrepreneurial entrance and advancement. Someone there once asked where "the invisible blacks" were in Luray and where, for instance, they did their shopping? The answer proferred was in the city of Harrisonburg, over the Massanutten Mountain chain west maybe thirty miles distant and a beautiful if rugged traverse mid-winter.
Jake, as my third husband pointed out clearly and unabashedly, looked completely white. He had healthy light skin, darkish hair, a robust constitution, and somewhat Anglified facial features with nothing remarkable at all about the entire package except that he was ethnically African-American and both his parents and siblings were demonstrably just that, very dark-skinned and in possession of other outward markers generally accepted as denoting in the main derivation from our first settled continent. A middle-aged man, he lived and farmed in the general area of his family, extended kin and other blacks in a country section accepted as being theirs over many decades. Due to genetic random combinants it's entirely possible that a long-dead plantation owner's daliance with a slave woman suddenly asserted its truth across centuries. However, I wouldn't be surprised if Jake's mother had at the beginning a little explaining to do when her son first emerged from the womb in all his pale and gentrified glory. No person could ever more easily and unnoticeably have "passed" anywhere -- except the home region where he was diligently remarked and recalled -- than Jake.
As a Shenandoah Park Skyland resort employee one summer, I worked with a long-time, middle-aged, African-American employee who "took me under his wing" and swooped in when I got in trouble, or just tired. The only other I recall meeting and conversing with somewhat socially was the pleasant and personable mother of a Shen-Paco Rehabilitative Industries client. Both of those adults resided in that separate part of town one drove through frequently without much mention or knowledge. A black couple canoing down the river one time was a source of much observation and comment as being so unusual and unwelcome, a potentially frightening portent of changes that might come if one didn't remain vigilant against them. The "n-word" was accepted as commonplace and natural, although not in my house, in conversation and designation with harkenings back to the days when Africans were originally considered not human but more akin in evolution to monkeys and apes, which made keeping, breeding and working them as animals similar perhaps to hunting dogs or working horses logical, along with exotic sexual daliance. Women too have been considered off and on an inferior form of masculinity, perhaps some kind of created mistake not worth much notice or attention except as breeders and menial workers. That all of this mindset maintains a complete ignorance of the history of humankind stands to undergird its acceptance and continuance. Education is anathema to a structure based on warped and narrow memory and interpretation of reality and a tracking of humanity based exclusively upon physical characteristics.
The commercial business (H&H Painting Company, for which business cards and billing forms were printed and flyers distributed) I built up to allow us fairly remunerated self-employment at hours and in places that suited us personally began with a few three to four line small newspaper ads, which I replenished during slack off-seasons, offering experienced services and free estimates of job cost. After awhile, most of our work was consequent to word-of-mouth positive referrals to friends, neighbors and family from clients satisfied with projects completed on time and well and affordably and with our diligently skilled, affable, trustworthy company. For larger jobs, I required half of the total price in advance, or occasionally at the halway point. Life was simpler when clients provided their own paints, many having specific preferences as to brands and shades and textures. An unavoidable overhead expense to be considered in advance as part of the cost-of-doing business, naturally, were acquiring and maintaining tools of the trade, necessarily requiring regular replenishment: drop cloths, good quality brushes, variously-sized sturdy ladders and ladder racks, sprayers and lines, buckets and trays for mixing, rollers and rolling poles,and vehicular conveyances for all of that. And disposable clothing for ourselves. A drawback to insisting on pris fixe work-- which gives the contractor extra freedom in determining who does what when -- is that the best of clients will wheedle for "just this one more small thing" to be done as part of the agreed-upon overall amount, which has been determined assiduously as is to take into account projected time and materials and travel to be required. Depending on the extent of extra effort requested, it's essential defensively to learn the knack of stating gracefully and firmly something on the order of, "We'd be happy to do that unforeseen extra for another..[whatever's appropriate]... dollars." As unofficial book keeper, I kept the historic record of jobs scheduled and already completed, averaged our hourly wage per job and overall and employed that information as education for making accurate future profit and cost estimates, wrote up detailed bills, and collected the amounts due in person.
An upscale visitor in crisply clean cottons -- fearful of following paths or roads unescorted without forewarning and of sleeping the night in a nearby renovated isolated farmhouse rental near my a-frame -- asked in an awed, cautious whisper once, "Where are the 'inbreds'?" She had been warned against generations of crazed creeps in activity and aspect that breed to eke out darkly primitive mournings and evenings in mountain hollers long-abandoned of civilized rule and cultural norms adopted by our urban leagues, the swarm of mid-rung workers and homeowners that comprise burgeoning and bulging megatropolises, the sprawling garishly overbuilt multi-lane corridors of our urban city-states in the post-modern era.
In the fall of 1983, I began tele-commuting for my employers, who installed a "foreign exchange line" in the house and provided computer hardware I needed so I could work part-time from there, and let the man who became my third husband move into the A-frame uninvited, but with my acquiescence, bringing nearly everything he owned in two brown paper grocery bags. Later, he returned to his family home and retrieved his 30-30 rifle and mounted deer trophies. He was "down on his luck," as they say, and without a vehicle, but he did have a job in his skill, painting interiors and exteriors of development houses in Northern Virginia. On parole from a Maryland conviction and incarceration for petty larceny and having lost his driver's license for drunk driving following an unfortunate encounter with a telephone pole on Highway 340, I encouraged him in positive directions as well as I could, for his benefit and that of the community. In time, I came to believe he was also the father of a son he refused to claim or support, although his mother did, and that despite some federal legal actions to accomplish those ends, which local attorneys advised him to ignore. He did, and that avenue was never pursued again by the child's mother or agencies that paid for his welfare as he grew.
My now third-ex began talking with me while I was attempting to restain the exterior of the A-frame. Commercial painting being his trade and skill, he took over with appropriate brushes and ladders and rollers and completed the job for me excellently, a task he repeated twice over the ensuing years, in addition to joint repainting and some paneling of the interior. I had most of the deck rebuilt with treated lumber, and together we reconstructed the small roadside deck, as well as a larger square oneo off a camper we purchased later in 1994. We also constructed together four domestic bird coops of various sizes and dug out three large-ish gardens: two by the house for spring and fall vegetables, and annual and perennial herbs, respectively, and one by the river for summer vegetables. About half maybe of the house and land improvements were paid for jointly, but he never had the burden of a mortgage or rent to assure a roof over his head and furnishings. After over two years of daily requests, I finally agreed to marry him, after checking with a local lawyer who assured me my financial assets were safe in my name under Virginia law and not subject to his claiming at any time thereafter. The civil ceremony was, to me, an acknowledgement of the status quo and bow, with some reluctance, to social convention and pressure, which I did later come to regret.
Because the A-frame was a half-hour's drive to the nearest store, station, or professional medical care, I kept backup stocks of necessities like powdered milk, coffee, flour, sugar, tomato paste, loose tobacco and wrappers, whiskey, first aid kits, and a freezer-full of vegetables, meats, whipped eggs, poultry and fish, most of it raised and prepared there. During inclemencies like floods, mud, and ice, the electricity, which also ran the well pump, might be off for up to three days, so there were cleaned milk bottles of drinking water in the hall closet too. I learned to make pizzas from scratch, mixing dough with the food processor to make it quicker and easier, and they were at least as good as restaurant-bought and a lot of fun in the creation. The wood stove would do in a pinch for slow cooking stews and once I did my best to cook nearly all the frozen meat, as it had begun to thaw precipitously, over outdoor fires. As far as health went, I tried very hard to be careful about not falling or hurting myself to avoid that kind of care requirement and kept aloe vera gel and plants for cuts and burns to help them heal properly and without scarring. Somewhere along the line, I became allergic for the first time to stinging insects like bees and hornets and had to become aware and cautious of that. They like to hang around the containers of smashed aluminum cans destined for recycling, I learned the hard way, for instance. Neighbors helped each other out with needs and wants when we were all isolated by storms, and we could nearly always walk to each other's houses, although one hurricane-related rain made the A-frame an island even from that.
Over the years, with some ups and downs, including seasonal ones related to the summer uptick in housing construction and winter slowdown and an on-the-job accident which eventually entailed a Workers' Compensation settlement, he managed to accumulate in his name savings, vehicles, more personal property, and a half-interest in our jointly purchased furnishings and real estate. He rototilled and weeded the gardens, dug all holes for the many trees, bushes and flowers I planted and graves for our dead pets, bushhogged the bottomland with a tractor we acquired, carried 100-pound feedsacks of cracked corn without a strain, fished and hunted for the game we ate most frequently and gave me, during his first year there for my birthday, my favorite present: a pair of golden pheasants, for which we built a very large, high and airy coop by the dirt road, so anyone driving by could easily see and admire them.
The female pheasant, never having raised any chicks and being weaker, died first. The resplendent male with his two-foot-long brown, white and black tail feathers, gold and red on his back, bright orange around his neck, and gold on top of his head died, after annual moulting, in 1997, his beautiful, wild spirit set free finally. He did get loose one time, but we caught him and got him safely back into his cage. Raised in captivity and without survival skills, he'd never have been able to live in the forest, where he'd also have been a prize hunting trophy. I always called him just "Mister," and the short story called "The Last Pheasant" is really about him. When he died, a part of me did too, and he's one of my "altar egos," an animal spirit friend and guide in the parlance of Native Americans. Shortly after moving to Jonesborough in 1998, I purchased from my Apache friend a large round Indian hanging of beads, fur, leather and felt with the feathers of a golden pheasant arranged as they should be in the center. It's hanging now above and to the side of my couch in the Jonesborough apartment.
Like many somewhat isolated areas and towns, that one was difficult for securing good employment, especially full-time. In reaction to learning of that situation amongst filing various applications and enduring a few extraordinarily tedious and sometimes even hostile interviews, I decided to create a painting business based on my now ex's expertise in that and what I learned increasingly of the skills involved. I wrote advertising copy and placed it weekly in our local newspaper, but very shortly most of our work came by word-of-mouth from satisfied prior customers, which is the best kind to get and have. I based our price for each job on how many man-days I believed knowledgeably that task altogether would take times the amount of money I wished us to make each for our daily labor. Materials, paint and caulking and stain, were almost always extra and frequently provided by the clients themselves. If we provided those, I added a reasonable amount for our service, the time and travel consumed in obtaining them. All of our prices were reasonable and very competitive for the area so, in good weather at least, we were usually busy, as occupied as we wanted to be remuneratively. I had business cards printed along with bill forms and filled them out on completion of each job, after ascertaining the client/s were happy with the work and final product, presenting them separately at the end and receiving payment and thanks, predominantly, for a good job and pleasant, dependable, proficient and honest company. Most of our work was out-of-doors and, having worked in offices for years, it was a complete delight to be able to enjoy the sunlight and fresh air while providing a service I was proud of and, perhaps strangely, liked. Interior work was similar, of course, but frequently more difficult because of furnishings that needed to be moved and worked around, covered with the painting equivalent of tarps to protect them from splashes and spills. Having refinished so much furniture and remodeling homes, the joy of making something that's become delapidated, or is unfinished, into something bright and beautiful carried over to restoring or creating exteriors and interiors that present themselves appealingly.
Despite occasional grumbling from clients, I made our own hours, which tended to be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., unless there was some rush that needed to be accommodated. One of the joys of owning one's own business is establishing personally amenable professional parameters, and that was one of mine that we seldom deviated from. Because we often worked out in the countryside, we met some very interesting and friendly farm-type people who sometimes offered and gave us wonderful homemade hot meals as well as gifts from their gardens and their pantries. They also gave me advice on what to grow and how to do it and recipes at times for family secrets of entrees and desserts. Many shared personal stories, conversing while we worked or inviting us into their parlors and porches for a little country talk. I learned a great deal about the area and the people through that kind of intimate interaction in their home setting where they felt comfortable in telling and sharing their lives, experiences, insights and advice with an interested and completely nonjudgemental visitor/guest. Garden and home tours to show off what they loved and had worked hard to make and have were also frequent treats, side "bennies" of that occupation, along with stories of their ancestors and personal histories of their small sections in particular of the region. From mountainside to "holler," there were tales seldom if ever written but handed down through family and neighbor.
There are, of course, a few down-sides to that kind of business. It's dependent, first of all, on what may and may not come your way in terms of jobs. If you're busy, you can reject ones that are less than appealing. If not, you may take them grudgingly and work in some situations that are unattractive or somewhat dangerous. I never did any high ladder work or rolling but concentrated on trim, detail work for the most part, as well as scraping off peeling paints and brushing the sides of wood plank buildings, or "cutting in" -- doing the brushwork around edges and corners required prior to rolling paint on a wall. My ex, on the other hand, occasionally accepted some very high and precarious ladder work that made me very nervous -- at least until he told me that my being nervous made him nervous and that that was much more likely to cause an accident than if I just did my best to have faith that he knew what he was doing and watched with quiet and calm appreciation as he reached and hung over 30 foot falls that ended in concrete depressions. In a typical expression of Valley town values, I once mentioned my anxiety to a married female client, who opined simply that I should get life insurance on him. Another down-side is that kind of work can be messy and requires quite a bit of cleanup, of tools and self each day.
In a representative country job, we painted once for an elderly Bentonville couple whom my ex had known as neighbors all his life. Their older two-story white-frame home was very badly in need of scraping and repainting, and they were satisfied and capable of the price I gave them. He had had an accident many years prior that took off the front quarter of a foot. I'd never realized until then that walking is very difficult without toes, but he was completely used to it and uncomplaining, a farmer who very much enjoyed showing us proudly his rows of sweet potatoes, which he said he was one of very few in the Valley who knew how to grow them successfully. He helped us some on the work we did despite age and disability with a very sweet enthusiasm for being a part of the improvement, and every day his wife fixed for us around noon a gigantic hot country meal, dinner not lunch, with all the fixin's. It was always very tasty and very filling, leaving us a little full and woozy for returning to our work, but we did with the assistance of cold teas. The exterior had been left so many times between paintings with peeling and rot that up close no special techniques could truly make it look well, but from a distance on completion it was shiny clean smooth and neatly white.
The A-frame's location down 17 miles of an increasingly arduous and sometimes perilous, hilly and winding, narrow and partially dirt or mud back road made winter travel speculative in forecast and unpredictable in reality. Additionally, our painting work "dried up" in the worst of winter months, January and February, even of interiors, so I saved discrete savings amounts during good weather times to carry us over until March or April and also made sure we had excellent credit available for emergencies. The larders would be stocked also in anticipation of several weeks possibly of incapacitation from making trips into town for replenishment of anything at all considered a necessity, including over-the-counter medical supplies. The road could be iced or snowed over, or the river could rise and flood parts of it making the whole impassable and impossible. It takes a great deal of foresight in planning and activity to survive comfortably under those geographic and geologic circumstances, but the good weather days, in all the senses that phrase may convey, made it all worthwhile for the time that it lasted in a place, unfortunately from my point of view, that has changed completely in atmosphere and presentation. Today it is much more built up and differently settled by folks mostly from the Baltimore area, escaping what they experienced as an uncomfortable invasion of their urban and suburban neighborhoods by various unwelcome ethnicities, most particularly African-Americans but also Chicanos, and increasing crime related to disparities in wealth and income and employment opportunities, as well as general hostility and socio-economic dysfunction. All the old farmers there have long since passed on and passed by. There are no working fields of hay or corn or cattle, no over-sized homemade rafts held up by 55-gallon drums beached or floating or wafting downriver with folks fishing off of them and bathing in the sun.
Never having attempted to live organically "off the land," I studied books about companion planting, rotating crops, natural fertilizers of compost and chicken or rabbit manure, and talked with farming people about techniques of seeding and caring for successful gardens. Some followed proscription of the "Farmers' Almanac," which adheres to synchronization with phases of the moon, in addition to warmth of the earth and air. Others, myself included, simply attended to directions for correct seasonal timing.
I dug my first very small garden with a shovel, but thereafter tillers were rented to loosen and turn the soil. Worms are important in keeping it aerated, and roots need frequent watering, natural and otherwise. Swiss chard, snow peas, spinach, turnips, radishes, lettuce varieties, onions, potatoes were rotated in first. They were followed by Blue Lake bush green beans and Silver Queen corn. Peanuts were not a success, as the Shenandoah Valley growing season is too short, and I never tried sweet potatoes or cantaloupe although some neighbors did with good results. Later, there was an herb garden enhanced by the delicate ferns of asparagus, along with thyme, basil, oregano, parsley (a bienniel), rhubarb, and mint spread alarmingly in the yard. It was the catnip variety and felines rolled sensually and playfully in it.
What we didn't eat fresh, I put up in plastic containers, bags, or wrap and kept in a standup freezer from the Arlington house. Vegetables were quick-steamed in a colander inside of a huge covered pot to kill enzyme action and deterioration. Game -- mostly deer, catfish, perch, smallmouth bass, and sunfish, but also rabbit, squirrel, occasionally bear or goose, and once commercially-raised chickens their owner allowed us to catch, a donated lamb, trout, snapping turtle, carp, frogs' legs were butchered or filleted. Once I fixed an eel from cookbook directions but didn't care for it, and cooked groundhog meat which was okay. I ordered quail at a local restaurant, but it's too spare. A neighbor brought dandelion wine, another thick and sweet grape. Farming neighbors allowed me to pick chestnuts for roasting. Fertilized eggs, plentiful and delicious in season, were cracked and lightly stirred for storing. Leftovers went into the compost bin or became animal and bird treats. It was all fairly hard work, including weeding -- with expenses of hunting and fishing, building and maintenance supplies, feed and farm equipment, seed (although I gathered, dried and saved some) and, later, minimal chemical sprays and dust to discourage devouring insects like bean beatles and potato bugs which became rampant over the years.
Loving to cook and enthusiastic about country living, I learned how to prepare game, eggs and fresh vegetables in new and traditional ways through an extensive cookbook collection and talking with farming community neighbors. In addition to standard and show banty chickens, ducks, goats and guineas, we also raised beagle ("rabbit") dogs in a good-sized outdoor area enclosed by us with wire fence, and sold or gave away the pups. When one nanny goat became pregnant, she finally delivered a stillborn female and a beautiful solid white male which died within a day. As was common with early human settlers and their offspring, many of the free-range chicks perished also from predation and disease, although we provided treated feed and tried to keep them safe.
Following one of the frequent 100-year floods along the Shenandoah River homes, lawns, vegetation and wells in a lovely older development called Lorelei Estates were inundated with ten or more feet of muddy and polluted water for several days as residents fled before the rising, unstoppable turmoil and torrent. When the river began to recede, floodgates at an elite development upstream were raised to save some architectural marvels and beauties there. The river rose again, of course, from that and reached footings of the A-frame before slowly sliding back into its banks during the following days. With other neighbors, I helped one elderly couple, the husband partially paralyzed by a stroke, pick up debris from their Lorelei yard and shrubbery and wash down interior walls and floors. All of their furniture had to be discarded, their well was contaminated and electrical wiring compromised, requiring complete replacement. After finishing the remodeling, they sold their riverfront home and moved into town. Subsequent residences built in that area were generally constructed on "stilts," similar to those used on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and other waterfront settlements, although that solution has not always saved structures from hurricane tides either.
To myself, I called the A-frame and its grounds Hollyhock Hill, an old-timey country appelation for the pink with gold centers and white with maroon centered Rose of Sharon that sprang up voluntarily all over the slow rising from bottomland to the road. I meant for years to make a wooden sign near the mailbox with that name on it, but never got around to actually doing it although I kept the name forever in my mind.
Always open and inviting to drop-in guests, the house and grounds were frequently full with neighbors, relatives and/or friends during good weather from early morning until very late at night. The stand-up freezer and the large one in a good refrigerator we acquired overflowed with nature's bounty and bulk purchases of sale items like Thanksgiving turkeys for 29 cents per pound and rolls of hot and mild sausage at 39 or 49 cents for a pound package. During the last few years there, his sweet and polio-disabled mother, Shelby Jean Bailey Henry, gave us boxes and boxes of packed lunches she received from a government agency for the elderly and/or unwell. She died in her early 60s, finally, following prolonged and horrible illnesses, including cancers of the breast and stomach, after my ex and I separated and divorced, cared for by her six children, four boys with bookend girls. His hard-working and reclusive father, with an explosive and sometimes violent temper, had quadruple bypass surgery around the time he retired from Avtex, a Front Royal factory on the EPA SuperFund cleanup list for quite a few years, and died in his mid-60s of a heart attack while working in his large garden, which he loved and tended well over many, many years beginning when all his children were very young, babies, or just a gleam in the eye of God.
My third husband and I were married by Robert Janney, Sr., Page County Justice of the Peace and long-time private lawyer, in his downtown office. He was a well-known character in town with thick white hair and country attire and speech. Mr. Janney had also been the attorney providing services for the legal closing sale of the A-frame to me and my second husband quite a few years earlier, and its ownership had been transferred to me in Arlington VA during our subsequent divorce in early 1984. Prior to the little ceremony he made of legal formalities, I had stopped by the County offices to get our marriage license approval and was given, as I had been twice before in Fort Lauderdale FL and Arlington VA, a small bag said to contain wedding gifts from area merchants. As ever, loving surprise presents, I opened it with a small thrill of anticipation to see only one item: a product box of feminine douche provided by the local pharmacy. To my sensibilities that was a crass and stingy welcome by commercial interests there, which I pushed as far back in my consciousness as possible to concentrate on more inspiring realities and possibilities of life amidst nature in all its changing colors, contrasts and delicate delights.
My mother-in-law and father-in-law had been married when she was 14 and he 19, and my ex was born by the lower Florida East Coast when they moved there for employment in 1957. Too fertile in the days before birth control pills, she confided to me that she'd had one abortion, illegal then, about which she felt sad and motherly, but justified in their earthly economic and physical condition -- a common reaction I've heard expressed from friends and in literature. Christmases in her fairly small, old and remodeled two-story house were an overflowing abundance of decorations, gifts, adults, children and babies, and foods from store-prepared turkeys to home-baked sweet potatoes and pies, some brought by visiting family. Her birthdays on January 1st were also an occasion of multitudinously colorful and gifting celebration. I was fascinated and educated by the ways she refused to favor one child or grandchild over another, but loved and attended to each individually and differently according to personality and need.
Religious in an unpushy way, one Christmas she gave each grown child a large and dedicated white-bound Bible and tried very hard to follow and instill Biblical precepts in a humane and quiet way. Her father, who raised with his wife twelve children, had been a beloved Pentecostal preacher with a small church all his life, as well as a farmer. I enjoyed the company, there and in my house and on my land, of the grandchildren, most particularly MaryBeth ("Ibbles"), an adorable, enthusiastically entertaining and companionable child who danced voluntarily with glee on her bare toes and enjoyed playing on my computer. She's a whiz at it now and has a very long list of friends from both genders, along with an interesting series of boyfriends and hair colors and styles. With her older sister, she's been very spoiled with love and material blessings from many directions which hasn't seemed to harm either in any way at all. Encouraged by example and instruction to work and study responsibly, they're both productive and contributing members of their family and community. I'm very sorry, and sick to my stomach over what they saw as the Valley heaped illegalities on me and my property and whatever they learned and gleaned from all those extended and very public improprieties over so many years as they grew into women from girls. But they're pretty strong and well-grounded in good values. I think they'll be blessed and okay as we all struggle toward a better day for everyone, not just a few perverted and criminal egomaniacs there who couldn't care less about children or their welfare, really, and have been out of control in evil ways for their own seeming benefit exclusively for a very long time.
Sometime in the mid-1990's, my favorite sister-in-law, Nona -- very intelligent, witty and also strong, the daughter of missionaries stationed in Hawaii -- was having trouble with the delivery of her second and last child, what turned out to be a beautiful and bright girl. Labor was taking a very long time and they'd put her in a "birthing chair" to encourage delivery with gravity and physical position. All of a sudden, exasperated, she got up out of it and said, "I'm getting out of here," as she walked toward the hospital room door. Her attentive and affectionate husband managed to convince her finally that leaving was not really a viable option, and she sat back down, from there transported somewhat later to the delivery room. Missy, another great, very small in size, sister-in-law swore she was never having another baby, that although she loved the boy she had, the pain was just too much for her and that was the end of it all. A few years later, she delivered an out-sized baby girl and called it quits, really. Employed full-time, like Nona, all her adult life, she now cares additionally for her husband badly and painfully disabled from a work-related accident about eleven years ago, raising with him and his household assistance their two children, the son a baseball star like his gifted father who had a scholarship for that to a Florida university, but couldn't stand being parted from Missy, who finally agreed to marry him. Instead, he played with regional accolade in a league for many years of Warren County citizens.
One Friday afternoon around 1984, to amuse myself and my house companion whom I thought would enjoy it, I made up my face with sophisticated and colorful cosmetics. Anticipating happy and surprised laughter and fun, I went downstairs to greet him home from work. His reaction completely confounded me. He scowled, became angry, and commenced a suspicious harangue of my behavior, despite my astonished protests of innocence that he completely misunderstood the meaning and significance. Oddly, many years later in the mid-2000s, he begged me to wear lipstick and "color my cheeks" to no avail. I wasn't interest then in looking other than exactly as I was and am, or appearing enticingly welcoming of anyone's fun-filled or otherwise company there. Maybe because of childhood stage makeup, I've seldom taken it as other than a decoratively interesting adventure, but in primitive Christian structure, that of his family and many others native to that area, it's "the painted woman," signifying the low status of immorality and the evil magic that may evoke that. In the socio-commercial world, it's the mask presented in "playing the game" as superficial actor -- not the secluded and secretive, manipulative and calculating self accentuated also by advertising-induced worship of the visually appealing exclusively and the clear, smooth, unwrinkled and unblemished facade of youth. That is also glorified in hardcore commercial pornography's elevation of copulation between sex objects rather than the complex, expressive interactions of responsible freedom and restraint between lovingly sexual human beings. Studied poses, facial expressions and cosmetics cannot, of course, survive intact the furnace, foment and furor of true passion and real lovemaking. Relinquishing formalities is a frightening proposition or actuality for some to contemplate and confront with its intrinsic exposure of a sensitively vulnerable being capable of wounding as well as glorifying in a socially unstructured, intensely intimate and trusting encounter -- an honest exploration of self and other.
Arrestingly colorful Baltimore Orioles picked all the fruits from black cherry bushes right before they ripened. Peach and pear trees produced dependably, and black walnuts, tall and spreading sturdily, grew wild, as did persimmon. Mild honey bees spread pollen between flowers. Variegated hummingbirds siphoned nectar from hollyhock bushes gone wild. The lilac to the right of the front door expanded to cover the entraceway, so its sweet-scented bulbous blooms had to be pushed aside for entering the house in springtime. The outhouse, grandfathered in as legal and kept painted, was a second, and then third bathroom. Violets and orange daylilies transplanted from other sites landscaped buildings. Birds built individualized and interesting nests in the eaves. Climbing roses twined around deck supports, and peonies sprouted each year to the north of the house in partial shade.
Sliding downhill toward the river, daffodils and tulips, anemones and wild cactus bloomed. Wild daisies, forsythias and domestic rose bushes scattered, and a wisteria grew and fell near the top of the hill. Unreliable white locust blooms dangled their drunken fragrance by the deck. Red and white delicate wild roses and the snarling vines of wild grapes grew and wandered west of the house, as did osage orange trees with their intriguing large green fruits. Sweet-smelling cedars popped up everywhere. And then there were the entrancing diminutive wildflowers of various design and shade. And the moss. Wild cherry, small, hard pear and apple trees flowered and fruited. Gypsy moths attacked some of the trees but never killed any. Wild blackberry, raspberry and blueberry bushes lined fence rows and mountain paths. Azaleas and mountain laurel bloomed alongside them. By late fall, acorns and dead leaves carpeted higher grounds. Wild chestnuts disappeared long ago.
Nearly all the land, barren to the wild at my purchase of it, had been planted and filled. Children, in particular, loved it, and the domestic animals, and some adults were entranced, too. Robins, finches, sparrows, cardinals abounded, and an occasional indigo bunting in its spectacular glimmering blue, or a bluejay, passed through. Woodpeckers, large and small, pecked at tree trunks. Raptors -- hawks and eagles -- soared on skywaves. At night, owls stared and hooted. Wild geese hung out by the river where mallards glided with their chicks in tow during the summer season. Beaver chopped small trees down and built their community dams. Sometimes woodducks, herons or seagulls would visit. Butterflies and dragonflies particularly enjoyed hovering and dancing in the air or fluttering and mating on multi-nuanced stones of the beach, or around stands of water reeds. Fallfish, helgrammites, minnows, freshwater oysters, clams and mussles, muskie, water snakes, bullfrogs, mudcats and little tomcats hiding snugly under rocks enlivened the ever-moving, rising and receding Shenandoah waters.
In the fields, groundhogs dug deep, and sometimes precarious holes. Small, glistening, multi-colored lizards crawled and tiny tree frogs hopped on the grounds. Once in a while, a wild turkey hen with her babies would peek out from the borderline forest. Deer and rabbits were common, as were the only North American marsupial, the ugly possum. Red and more plentiful gray fox ran and prowled through fields. A very rare sight was a cougar, bobcat, red or flying squirrel, or skunk. There were rumors of wild boar, but I never saw any. Two good-sized field rats once set up house in an outbuilding, but were trapped and disposed of quickly.
It was a very beautiful, and generally peaceful place -- a wild and domesticated orchestra of nature's bounty crescendoing toward summer annually with a nearly overwhelming explosion of shape and color and movement by breeze or storm or self-directed and empowered.
One fall after a very heavy rain, some friends and I rented canoes and, despite warnings that the Shenandoah River was high and dangerous, paddled down its South Fork from Page Valley Estates toward Overall. The waters were muddy and traveled like ocean waves in a storm. At Compton Rapids, a Class III, we capsized, all wearing life jackets. Contents dumped and widely spewed, the canoes crashed bottoms up against outcroppings as they drifted swiftly away downstream and out of sight. A few of us ended up standing on or clinging to sheer rock ledges on the far east side, while others emerged in the center here and there, heads bobbing up from the roiling wet turmoil, including that of the drummer's girlfriend, shaking water out of her eyes and with his little plastic baggie of marijuana clenched firmly between her teeth. He said that was when he knew he had to marry her. And he did, within the next few months. We all got rides with other canoers and managed to retrieve our boats, but not most of our belongings, dispersed against muck-and-stone shores to arrive at the pickup point where we returned in the Outfitters' bus roundabout and to our cars.
The A-frame had mostly window glass on the south side overlooking the river and field. I put a mattress on the floor in the loft and fell asleep most nights looking at the stars and moon. Because of its isolation and my husband's work, I was alone maybe half the time I lived there -- just me and God and God's additional creations, including the weather and minus other people, free to do as we pleased -- taking care of many assorted domestic animals, interacting with them and watching their behaviors with fascination and contentment, as well as reading, eating, keeping house, buildings and yard cleaned up, and driving to town weekly for supplies. Mostly I loved to see heavy rains and wind bending tall field grasses down as lightning jagged through smoky skies, fiery sunsets spread across and falling behind mountains on some evenings, brilliant vegetation colors arrayed along back roads and paths during each fall, and changing hues of the Shenandoah from very deep blue to aquamarine, and tumultuous dirt-and-clay brown amidst seasonal flooding, as its waters flowed northward toward Harper's Ferry from clouds gathered into rivulets and creeks to the Potomac and thence joining others in salty oceans of the Atlantic. Sometimes I fasted for a few days, just drinking water (and smoking cigarettes), and discovered that creates a natural high, sort of like "tripping on acid," but legal and in a long tradition of paths for denial of physicality in pursuit of soul cleansing and renewal through divine apprehension and alliance.
We kept and raised a large and varying assortment of domestic animals over the years, and I learned a lot from caring for, interacting with, and observing them and their wild cousins. With chickens, for instance, the mother hen will fight to the death against obviously insuperable odds to defend and protect her chicks. With only one or a few hens, a flock of roosters will grab them by the neck and mount them with their claws, removing back feathers until there are none, and in some cases the hen(s) die from exposure and exhaustion. One unusually beautiful multi-colored rooster wouldn't come down from the trees, flying from branch to branch for days and perching very high up in them, until we got rid of all the other roosters so he had no competition in mating with the hens. Roosters will fight each other with beaks and claws until blood runs all over their feathers and onto the ground in determining predominance for mating and territory. Our variegated mallard ducks marched single file everywhere with the largest drake at the head of the line. When all the hens had disappeared from predation while setting on eggs in nests they'd carefully hidden, the drakes mounted and mated with each other. Male and female guineas will all band together to take care of one hen's chicks, including setting on them protectively and to keep them warm. Unusual in the avian world, geese mate for life and may not find a new mate if their original one dies. Male goats spray themselves copiously with their own urine to attract females during their mating season and perhaps to mark their territory, as dogs and some other mammals do. During puppy-birth, the uterus of a canine named "Love" fell out completely, although her two offspring were okay. Dogs will occasionally get "hung up" while mating and have to be manually separated after breeding.
A few years after moving into the A-frame, a friend gave us a very special, unusual, gorgeous, multi-colored and patterned against a white background, large banty rooster. He warned me that I'd have to get rid of all the other roosters to keep that one, but I didn't believe him and let the new rooster loose, knowing that he'd go straight to mating with hens new to him. Instead, he made a running bee-line for the trees, flying very high up and roosting in their furtherest branches for days and nights. Resigned and wanting his genes in the pool, we rounded up the rest of the roosters, cut off their heads and legs, plucked the feathers after scalding to loosen the quills, cleaned and froze them. However, my former favorite red rooster, usually tame and easily caught for cuddling, refused to come within reach. He seemed to sense the direction of things. Finally, I cornered him in an outbuilding, where he screeched, wrestled and slithered away until finally we just sat looking at each other. At last, I promised him telepathically that, if he'd let me catch him, I'd take him down the road and set him free. He calmed and, apparently agreeing, let me put my hands around either side of his back to carry him to a box for riding in the car. I let him loose, with corn and water, in a large old, abandoned barn and checked back once in awhile, leaving more food and water, until he disappeared. With a clear and safe playing field, the rooster in the trees flew to the ground and stayed there, producing many unique and beautiful chicks from our happily cackling, then broody and nesting mother hens. And that's all true, so help me God. Talk to your pet today! They really do hear you.
Carniverous birds like the beautiful red-tailed hawk will spy and dive for a full-sized chicken, grabbing the back with its claws, and soaring upward again to carry its heavy feast to a safe spot for devouring. Wild animals don't see or notice a human who stays completely still. What they discern is movement in detecting possibly hostile incursions into their territory. Large and shiny black snakes are predators of poisonous vipers -- copperheads and rattlers, and on some old farms they dangle eerily from trees surrounding houses. Wild turkey chicks will not survive separated from nature and their mothers, despite having food and water in a comfortable enclosure. They simply refuse to eat or drink and die. Wild rabbits -- gentle, non-predacious, and generally unafraid of humans, although keeping some modest distance from them -- play with each other by hopping around fields, nibble on wild and cultivated vegetation, and breed in nests they make, sometimes in groundhog holes. On hearing an unexpected noise, they sit up on their haunches with long ears flared and stretched upward, discerning its import and whether they should flee or resume their activities where they are.
A farmlady neighbor kept a shiningly black Tennessee Walker that was just called Horse. She ran wild wherever she wanted to go and be, but she was by herself and had been foundered. One afternoon, five or six riding horses from a stable down the road got loose and came down that way, running and grazing through our fields. Tossing her head in elation at company of her kind, Horse galloped and snorted in glee with them, at last part of a glorious free herd. Within a few hours, their owners reclaimed her new-found friends, mounting and riding them home, and Horse was once again alone until she died a few years later. Sick and unable to stand for any length of time, a neighbor finally shot her through the forehead with a pistol to put her out of her misery, and she died instantly. Horse was 24 years old.
My older neighbor who lived in a fairly comfortable long gray trailer, also on a hill overlooking the river, had served during WWII in the Army I believe. He had also worked in a Civilian Conservation Corp encampment on the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains where the federal government under President Franklin Roosevelt was building a long, two-lane scenic Parkway bordered by boulders and large rocks across the mountaintops. Other Park enhancements such as side roads, service buildings and lodging were also being created as part of economic recovery work programs during that pre-war Depression Era brought on by massive failure of unregulated banking and stock markets, most particularly, in a "trickle down" effect that caused widespread job/income loss, a housing debacle, and great privation cross-country in terms of basic necessities for large numbers of individuals and families from all walks of life.
Carl, nephew of Robert and Edith Yates close down the road, was very handy with nearly any construction skill from years of experience in his home and as a paid laborer. He masterminded and helped to build the underpinning -- sheets of heavy wood to cut chill winter winds especially -- of the A-frame and provided emergency plumbing services when pipes froze. Like most if not all of the elderly residents there, he'd been born in his parents' home which was now across the road from him down a long winding narrow lane that ended at an eight-room two-story white clapboard house with generous porches. As with other older residences there had once been home gardens, hog pens, chicken houses, fields for hay-making, grazing cows and a few horses, and other expanses for raising corn and wheat. Like others there, their ample acreage had once stretched from the center of the river to the top of the Massanutten as part of the original English Crown land grant that included the unknown and untamed wilderness of a good-sized river bend -- the continuous, deepening "S" of an aging and widened mountain stream.
Carl's father had died young, as was somewhat common, of pneumonia during an unusually difficult winter of work and attempted warmth and health, leaving his mother Emma to raise him and a daughter and to keep the farm going with the help of them, neighbors and other family members. Nearly all of these earlier settlers were related by blood in varying degrees of distance and complexity by marriage and by less official liaison. Caroline, in describing that situation, was fond of saying that -- although they had reached across the river into the unincorporated outpost of Overall for these occasions -- in her case, "Four sisters married four brothers. There warn't no other." Within a few years of each other in age, Emma and Caroline were good friends, and cousins, from childhood through maturity, marriage, childbirth and raising, gain and loss and aging. Eventually, though, Carl moved his mother into a room in a large country home near south of Luray where she could have needed regular company and convenience for her last decades. As disabilities and senile dementia assailed her, Carl moved her finally to a private nursing home, also a private residence in the same general area. Advised that Emma was probably in her last month or so on earth, Caroline suggested and insisted on a visit with her very close and long-time friend. One day on agreement, my ex and I drove her there, walked briefly around the pleasant gardens and grounds, and guided her inside with some staff assistance to Emma's room. Naturally, Caroline was expectant and softly excited at the prospect of rejoining and reacquainting with her old neighboring family friend.
Emma -- a somewhat good-sized woman with still-black cropped hair, multiple and crisscrossed wrinkles of course, and a very dour and unpleasant expression on her face -- sat back in an over-stuffed arm chair with blankets over her lap and grimaced at Caroline without recognizing her. As we explained that, Caroline gently reminded Emma of their past. "Don't you remember... [this when we were children] ... and [that when we were newlyweds and new mothers] ...?" she coaxed and nearly begged. Emma's eyes cleared with cognizance quickly and then hardened. Instead of the joyful remembrance and reunion we'd all imagined oncoming, Emma recalled once instead, and with spiteful anger and hate, an argument they had had over some incident or possession years and years earlier and berated Caroline unmercifully as tears began flowing from her eyes, down her cheeks, and onto her specially chosen dress. Caroline tried to appease and ameliorate the hurtful chism with gentle words and pleas, but Emma would have none of it and demanded brusquely without empathy or affection that we all leave, and Caroline in particular.
As we hugged and comforted our neighbor on the way back to the car, we explained and she understood that Emma was no longer in her right mind and obviously not the dear person any longer that Caroline had so enjoyed and loved in presence and memory. But she was for the rest of her time here heartbroken and distressed at that parting and so were we that we'd ever agreed, unaware, to take her there for that final and very ugly, unforgettable spat. It's certainly true in all the old stories that folk who cooperated almost always when needed also fought with bare-boned ferocity and sometimes to the death, at least in case of the men, from time to time, coexisting in a fairly isolated glen or holler like the murmur of the river ever-passing and sometimes raging out of her banks.
In an area of sometimes overwhelming conservative to reactionary white macho dominance, I was enlivened from time to time by the humor of women friends. "What," one asked me thoughtfully one afternoon, "do women have that's worth more than all the money, prestige and power of men in the world and can't be purchased at any price?" "I don't know," I said, after running through possibilities in my mind and giving up, "What?" "Multiple orgasms," she answered with a laugh and we collapsed on the ground where we were sitting into a pile of delighted giggles with her small children watching us in wondrous incomprehension. Another woman friend used to yell from banks of the Shenandoah where we lounged in the sun to men canoers passing by, "Take off your clothes!" None ever did though.
A woman friend was very funny in expounding on her husband's behavior as a lover when he'd had "a few too many." According to her, he was absolutely sure he was Don Juan and better, the stud of the Valley really, while he fumbled with her clothes and his, and their various bodily appurtenances amidst much confusion of what was what and supposed to go where and when and how and, increasingly, if. Usually, she reported with amused relief, he passed out fairly quickly and woke to the feeling that once again he'd met the marital challenge and conquered it all gloriously. However, her recounting as she aged of the stories to small groups of friends in his presence may have relieved him of that illusion fairly thoroughly. Several others of us recalled instances where men had literally fallen asleep on top of us midst motion and had to be lifted and rolled off to the side to snore their ways on to clearer and more successful tomorrows, hopefully.
One young woman I met there had some six years earlier given birth to an out-of-wedlock, premature baby girl. Joodi told, and later showed photographs, of the child swathed in medical tubing and tapes, small enough to fit comfortably in the palm of an adult hand. Fortunate in some ways to live at the time in a progressive Pacific Coast city, she and the infant received excellent care despite being indigent. The girl thrived and grew to be taller than her classmates with whom she excelled academically. The mother survived in California by working for an abusive pimp who rented her out to anyone for just about anything. Finally, she managed to get back to the Eastern mountains and meet a man who was an excellent and avid hunter and took fairly good and interesting care of her and the child. Joodi soon had an out-of-wedlock son, his only one and named Sammy. Once while visiting, in an affectionate, friendly and funny way, she suggested "licking me dry" sexually. A little surprised and off-balance, especially as the offer came kind of out of the blue mid-conversation about various events and people, I declined, offering to get us something else to eat or drink instead from the kitchen where I could reorient.
Joodi and the man split, she drifted off out of the region, and Danny settled in with another woman by whom he had his second child, a daughter named Amber. When those two adults split, she to Virginia Beach and he to upper Pennsylvania, we all lost touch. Enabled and set up as a teenager by his Northern Virginia parents, including a widely abusive father and diabetes-afflicted mother, Danny had served five years in prison on a drug charge. When later jailed in Page County for a domestic disturbance with them and with my believing that nearly everyone can be saved, I put up the A-frame to post his bond during Easter holidays, housing and feeding him until his pro bono lawyer had him committed, instead of sentenced, to a somewhat luxurious residential abuse therapy program hailed for its successes in Charlottesville. Target practicing one afternoon from the deck, he commented that, if there were ever a war he wanted me on his side, since I outshot him, that time anyway.
Danny struggled with abuse and interactional problems, along with anti-social behaviors, still after that treatment, which included follow-up A.A., but he had good and endearing qualities. In a different life, he'd probably have been a very successful salesman because he had the gift of gab, insight into individual humanity, and creatively intricate illusionary abilities. A tall, well-built, multiply-muscled "stud," mean and tough-looking at times with longish, curly red hair, on at least a few occasions he hung out on East Coast beaches in his bikini underwear, once catching a huge skate and holding it over his head as evidence of prowess as a fisherman. Raw man in all his unsocialized glory, Adam, or Hercules holding the world up on high. Danny could clean and cook any game, knew most flora and fauna by name, and was totally comfortable and attuned with natural environment in its survival savagery and beauty. An entrancing teller of truly embellished tales and factual bits, as well as trickery, he also liked books and ideas. Beings were all potential "marks," although his schemes were good-naturedly entertaining and funny in recitement about foibles and gullibilities of those "in the box." All they lost was a little money in exchange for the imaginative spinning of his mind and company.
A good, loyal and protective friend to me, he also stole a considerable amount of my cash once when he needed it and spent it in two dizzy evenings of non-stop, high-stakes poker gambling. Eluding deputies on another occasion, he survived living with mobility in the woods for three days before being caught and hauled again to jail. From frog-fishing to scouting soft-footed with bow and arrow for larger game to minor dealing in drugs and materiel, some of it stolen, Danny was a larger-than-life character in that area for quite awhile. He wasn't a man by size and capacity you wanted to be around when angered either. About six years ago, he shot himself, leaving a note that said, "Tell Sammy Daddy's gone hunting.". Thanks, though, Danny for being here for the interim. You were one in a million. And a great story carved out of everyday millstone and mile.
Although my family had kept no arms in their homes, it was within acceptable heritage values to be a good marksman. In summer camp, I'd learned that sporting skill, along with archery, aimed at formal targets from stands on a level countryside shooting range cleared and surrounded by thick conifers. We were instructed, tested, graded and ranked in that just as in swimmimg, diving, rowing, sailing, craftsmaking, even outdoor fire-making and room and uniform orderliness, as well as tennis and volleyball, tent-pitching and trail-cutting. We knew how to use a knife and an axe, and a compass. I'd enjoyed it all, learned and done well. Now living out in hunting country it made sense to keep and expand on a collection of rifles, although following childhood family warnings, I didn't allow any pistols kept there as being too easy of accidental misuse. Friends and neighbors stopped by, especially around deer season, to practice-shoot from the railing of the deck overlooking a wide expanse of cleared bottomland. Generally, we set up empty beer cans on rock outcroppings to pop them off their bases. Sometimes a piece of cardboard or thin paneling would be marked in its center and nailed to a tree for similar purpose. Following one such occasion, a neighbor of legendary local prowess commented on leaving, "If there's ever a war, I want you on my side." I'd had a good day and outshot him -- possibly with his own gun, since I'd bought my favorite, an older .22 with lovely wood and a good scope, from him sometime earlier. Another favorite, more for interest than use, was a WWI German Mauser I purchased in a gun shop on Route 11. It had a fascinatingly accurate old-fashioned mechanical scope and a kick worthy of a Lippizzanner stallion. After the first few exercises with its weight and long range, I left it alone to admire the grain of its stock and the experiences it might have had elsewhere. A colt .45 made a brief and unwelcome appearance. Other than that, the collection consisted of standard larger game arms and munitions: mostly .30-.30s and an over-and-under -- soldered .22 to a .30-30 -- I bought from a neighbor one year. Another neighbor, a much older retired man, stopped by one afternoon to show me pridefully his latest acquisition, an unusually small and light-weight silver pistol. Intrigued, I asked to try it, aimed it at a pole base on the grape arbor, and fired. It went off, and I commented something like, "Thanks for telling me it was loaded," grateful to be a good shot and have aimed at something other than my foot, or a chicken, or him.
When my third spouse broke his ankle at work by stepping inadvertently into a misplaced bucket of drywall and falling down some stairs as a consequence, he received Workers Compensation benefits for about a year, along with two operations to set the broken tibia and therapy to regain full movement of that joint, which he never quite did. After about a year, the insurance company cut off his benefits, saying that he was capable of working full-time again but, advised not to accept work outside his profession, house and commercial painting, he resisted and I went to work at Shenpaco Industries instead to make living expense income for the duration. His lawyer advised against the first two lump sum settlement offers, although my ex was inclined to accept the second. I counseled him to follow Terry Armentrout's advice and the offer he finally accepted was for $50,000, minus the attorney percentage, leaving $37,500. The plan had been and remained to use that amount, whatever it turned out to be, to buy rental real estate for investment and income purposes, which is what we did. While looking at homes for sale with a real estate broker/friend, I noted that I'd seen a new "for sale" sign on one that I knew to be a good location and very probably within our price range. It was a fixer-upper, of course, and we managed to meet the asking price before the property was ever listed publically. As a consequence of all that, my third spouse said voluntarily that the monthly income from that property was mine in payment and gratitude for the supportful help I'd provided in making that end a reality. It was also my job to collect the fees due, keep bookkeeping records, pay the taxes and repair bills on it, and supervise its upgrade and upkeep.
For about a year, then, I used my Richmond clinical experience in working with handicapped patients as a Supervisor for two groups of adults served by Shen-Paco Industries at their run-down and flood-prone old basement facility in Luray. (Since then, they've built a new and modern one.) The first group were the higher functioning, but the second was my favorite. They were the seven or so profoundly to severely handicapped, mentally and/or physically. All lived in a group home and were transported by van to their daily activities. For a very minimal hourly wage, they worked a few hours a day counting, sorting, and bundling hangers for a local company. During other times, we practiced daily living skills with the goal of teaching them to be self-reliant enough to live on their own with supervision in the community. The Supervisors were all required to attend a day-long Winchester Red Cross class and tests, receiving certification in life-saving techniques, for which we were not paid or remunerated in any way, and the salaries were less than generous, as were the benefits in insurance and vacation/sick days. Like many teachers, we frequently brought our own supplies for work with clients, as the shop budget was very limited, and were not paid to receive any immunizations against communicable diseases like hepatitis, although we were required to pass an employment TB test provided by the town clinic. We were advised that some of the clients might be HIV carriers and to be careful to avoid any contact which might entail the exchange of bodily fluids.
One tall, handsome, thin young black man was autistic and never spoke, although tests had shown he had an above-average intelligence. He always snapped two fingers of his right hand together in the air and cried sadly a few times, possibly because he couldn't communicate how and what he felt and/or needed. His name was Warren. Another, in a wheelchair, was Ernie who always smiled and laughed and joked. He could only count to two, although he was in the mid-40s. Finally, I got him to understand the concept of three. He was very, very happy and proud of himself and full of glee. Another was a very short man in his late 50s or early 60s with reddish hair and a jolly attitude usually, although he could be very stubborn about something he didn't understand or not getting what he wanted at any particular time. He was severely retarded but competent to do a fair number of chores, including taking care of himself and following directions, at least when he wanted to.
Weekly, we made a grocery list for what we had decided to practice cooking the following week, and three or four of us rode to the local store. They picked up, with some assistance, the items we needed. Our budget was meagre, but adequate for basics. We practiced preparing meals, fixing plates and eating properly, washing dishes and pots, and putting them away. We painted and counted and taught each other sign language, which I hadn't known until employment there. The most popular sign was the one for "toilet," as they indicated a need to be excused from the group to attend the bathroom there. All of them knew it, even the one introduced toward the end who was the most profoundly disabled and disturbed patient I'd ever encountered anywhere.
He'd been abused as a child, medicated and institutionalized for years, and just then in his 30s "mainstreamed" back into the community in a group home, although he was autistic, a "biter" and carrier of Hepititis B. His intelligence, also, had somehow been tested as being above average. All the time, he made at varying decibels a high, whirring, kind of screeching sound, which we tried to get used to as background noise. It pervaded the facility. He was tall, good-sized and red-haired. About that time, Shen-Paco came under the rules and regulations of Medicaid, as management had requested, to help fund services in addition to local support through donations. That government entity insisted that we abandon the concept of teaching patients skills for self-reliance, cut back their work hours, which the men very much looked forward to, and saddled us with piles of detailed paperwork to be submitted and filed daily about every minute activity.
Following the unfortunate showing of a Mideastern film depicting horrid natural incidences, including a large, black tarantula attacking its prey, the newest autistic man "lost it" and ran around the facility in ever-higher screeches, waving his arms, scaring everyone, and finally backing me into a corner of the manager's office, scrunched against a file cabinet. As he leaned his head repeatedly and very closely toward mine, barring his teeth and with his eyes looking very wild, I tried to communicate with him in sign language, but got muddled and failed. It probably wouldn't have gotten through to him anyway. Finally, I managed to duck around him and got out of the way. Medics called by another Supervisor arrived and took him to the local hospital for observation and medication.
It wasn't possible for him to be reinstitutionalized easily, although he obviously was not suitable material for community living and work. When I returned to the facility, he followed me around, if not physically then with his eyes. I believe in his mind I'd become prey like the tarantula's in the movie. After a few days, I decided for my own safety and peace of mind I needed to relinquish that job. The General Manager from out-of-town called me at home, eliciting details of what had happened and paying me for two weeks after my reluctant resignation. I had nightmares while working there, though, of being pulled into a large sort-of cave with a light at the end of it, maybe a death warning. But I've never regretted meeting and working with the patients there. They were very often a great joy and pleasure. And they were friends. Those experiences are somewhat encapsulated in an OSCR short story called "'Stop' McNeil" about a grown retarded man, his father, and a woman he and his dad love.
In a typical example of a somewhat prevalent backwards archetype and incident, we knew a woman around my age whose husband -- of whom she was very proud, possessive and jealous -- was much younger and for whom she'd years earlier abandoned her six children by an ex, actually murdered around that same time in an event of jealous rage and revenge by being shot in the face unawares and at pointblank range with a high-powered pistol. This present husband was infamous for widely-varied promiscuity and once a Court caught up with him in terms of resultant support for one out-of-wedlock child. He owned a borderline service company that did well financially off and on and his untutored, garbled, rapidfire and gulped speech was extremely difficult for me to understand. One Sunday afternoon they appeared uninvited, unannounced and relatively unwelcome at the A-frame, conversed in the livingroom fairly awkwardly for awhile and thankfully left us in peace for the remainder of that day. Shortly thereafter, however, I learned that the woman was professing her anger and indignation amongst the cross-river grapevine that I had that afternoon been flirting with her husband -- a man I wouldn't freely choose even to know as a passing acquaintance, nevermind be remotely in his company for any duration. I expect it inflated her ego and reputation to believe that to be true or promulgate it as fact. Given his proclivities, however, it's very probable the reverse was true and that I didn't notice what I certainly wouldn't have in any way invited or encouraged from him. As good friends, including cherished male companions, have long known, flirting behaviors don't compute coherently in my repertoire of understandable earthly conversions to useful existence and experience. Generally I have no idea what's going on in that circumstance and require interpretation from those more grounded in that field of intent and expression. That may be true because I'm usually thinking about and pursuing accomplishments much more important and interesting to me and others and it just passes me by like an unidentified errant breeze not worth noting or mentioning.
In the summer of 1994 a precursor of our current socio-economic structure problems as they relate to "the health care industry" presented itself early as a "warning sign" I didn't totally understand at the time. A back upper tooth became absessed and painful so as usual I made an appointment with the local Luray dentist I'd come to depended upon more or less regularly. Asked to extract it, he took several x-rays, pronounced it intact and refused to do that, referring me instead to a Harrisonburg specialist in root canals with whom I next made an appointment for a week or two in the future as his schedule also was full. That specialist took x-rays, pronounced the tooth fit and not a proper object for root canal, referring me to a nearby periodontist instead. After another few weeks of increasing painful dental daliance, that specialist took x-rays and declared my gums in need of treatment. When asked if that would solve the problem of my tooth ache, an attendant said she didn't know. After perhaps four or five visits to the peridontist and more over-the-counter medications for discomfort and excruciating pain, I finally declared that having my head shot off might be the only solution, whereby my husband at the time drove me back to the periodontist's office unannounced and demanded in a rage that they do something about my tooth. Finally assailed by a large and badly tempered man who refused to take anything but immediate tooth extraction for an answer, they referred me to a nearby oral surgeon within the hour. Immediately that specialist took x-rays, discovered a tooth split in two with bacteria fermenting and spreading from the crevice as it had been for the past too many months. The separate pieces of tooth came out with sharp, grinding pain that soon abated permanently from the spot. I had in the process lost one tooth and my faith in a system that obviously didn't work well any longer. Over the ensuing years other systems -- legal, business and political -- followed that path of creating work and income through negligence for so many citizens worldwide that most were and still are either ill, dying or dead of what were once easily-remedied problems. In terms of the legal one, had my later facetiously-entered charge of assault following a call to Emergency 911 for assistance been vacated immediately, as I requested variously, not one of the near and sometimes completely fatal, and roundly sickening, consequences would have ensued at all. But not one person involved to date has corrected in any way the harm caused or made a move in that direction, believe instead apparently that keeping what belonged only to me legally, including my own freedom in and on my own property, would somehow benefit them individually, or communally. There is no truth to that and there never has been. It is simply the pathway of sin to the gates of hell permanently for them, as well as those of prison eventually which they threatened me with -- in trying to kill me and others with stress to line their coffers with stolen goods -- for continuing to protest and comment on their ignorant arrogance and evil behaviors and attitudes and press for correction and restitution. In closing the circle on that incipient dental experience, some ten years later I again visited the same dentist with another absessed back tooth. In contrast to earlier days, his waiting room was empty, he had no employees and seemed unhappy with his circumstance and trade although he had the latest equipment, used it well, and pulled the currently presenting unhealthy tooth without much discomfort for me and no qualms or trouble at all for him.
For quite a few Independence Day celebrations, Mickie and her husband and their families, from her elderly mother to their little grandchildren running around excitedly on the grass, provided expensive fireworks they set off by a fire in the bottomland along the riverbank. As the higher, larger, louder, brighter, more colorful and extravagant displays unfolded against the night skies, we all cheered and clapped our hands in delight and awe. I put festive decorations, including a thick red, white and blue, shiny and weather-resistant garland on the riverside deck, and for some of the day we sat there, usually with visiting friends, for awhile watching happy, early canoers pass, also with celebratory decorations of clothing or on their boats. Later, we would drive down with a cooler of beer and folding lawn chairs to the beach to more closely enjoy and participate in the colorful and cheerily noisy river parade of various watercraft filled with adults, children and dogs and the river itself, that being a good time of year for temperatures, depth and clearness, amidst all its teeming fauna and lush flora. It was a perfect place to celebrate the beauties and joys of free Americana with all its natural splendor and rich diversity of humanity and wildlife.
The large American flag draped from the A-frame's riverside deck railing was given to me by Grady, one of our camping friends -- most of whom were union steel workers and coal miners from the Appalachian Mountain region of Pennsylvania -- and a tall, badly disabled Vietnam Army veteran with shrapnel still in his legs. One of that group, John, who worked and studied his way up into management, used to berate me from time to time about wasting my skills, talents and education. Another, Bill Bob, also a Vietnam-era Army veteran but stationed, by some fortuity, in Germany for the duration and one of my best friends, used to come through the sliding glass doors for his coffee and chat every morning during visits saying, "Hi, honey. I'm home." I'd met all of them, and some of their families, around 1982 while still living and working full-time in and out of the DC metro area. At least once, Bill Bob and my third husband got into a somewhat drunken argument about who saw me first. Grady occasionally offered his generous service disability payments as a similarly smashed enticement. Another good friend, Jesse -- a younger, wiry and good-looking biker and steel worker -- said he and Shine, a married steel worker and father, flipped a coin one late afternoon to see which one would deliver town groceries up to me when I was staying in the A-frame between marriages. Shine won and gave me the best back rub I've ever had. I didn't have any bones or muscles left when he was done.
Jesse and I used to dance together and separately to rock and country music blaring from portable radios and stereos in the bottomlands where they all camped in two separate places, the first a lovely secluded glen with a large circular clearing and narrow path down to a private river cove, all belonging to my elderly neighbor, Caroline Keyser. Caroline loved visting with them, enjoying their generous and enlivening company. Jesse later married, moved into a house on the banks of the very polluted Menongahela River onto which he put a cruising boat, and fathered two, last I knew, children by his small and attractive biker companion and wife. A few Polish recipes in OSCR are from Claudia, Bill Bob's second wife, mother previously of three children, and an excellent, friendly cook totally smitten with him who provided through many vissisitudes a seemingly-endless supply and variety of cookies, freshly prepared ethnic specialties, and home-canned vegetables like hot peppers, sauerkraut and pickled beets. My third husband said later that Claudia wanted to visit me when in Shenandoah County Jail but they had never made it over to that essentially dreary and deadening place. One of the great aspects of OSCR was its inclusion of Valley life in "all the colors of the rainbow," or most anyway. It lacked participation from, but not notice of, the area's small African-American and foreign population, it being a region of generally sanctioned intolerance and prejudice toward barely noticeable minorities, and women.
Early every spring, I scoured the riverbanks with a large plastic garbage bag for discarded cans, bottles, dirty pampers, and other refuse thrown there thoughtlessly or resultant from watercraft overturning and spilling their contents into rapid river currents. One day, I asked a couple to leave my beach where they were picnicing amidst the "no trespassing" signs. As they gathered their possessions together for canoeing departure, the man, neatly accoutered and from Northern Virginia, imparted in controlled irritation, "You have me, and people like me, to thank for the river being cleaned up," then referencing an environmental organization to which he belonged, as if it gave him some claim to my private river holding which extended by deed to the low-water mark, precluding even wading close by the bank. I wished him a less-than-fond adieu and constructed a 5'x8' sign with supports on either end, all of sturdy wood, with "NO TRESPASSING" painted in very large, red lettering, which I placed in the center of the beach.
Throughout the time I lived along it, there were warnings of pollution and contaminated fish in the Shenandoah River. At first those warnings were very vague and quiet. The message was that there had been mercury but it had dissipated over time and the fish and river were safe. As years progressed, that information changed to an awareness that runoff from farms of fertilizer, including dung from cows and chickens, caused balance and health problems in the aquatic ecosystem. There were mumblings of other contaminants from factories strung along the river from end to end releasing chemicals deliberately or accidentally also into Shenandoah waters. Downriver sat the aging plant of Avtex, a major employer for the region and an EPA Superfund site for years in violation of many regulations affecting workers and residents. At the apex of its disregard for environmental health, the factory released toxins in such quantity and levels of harm that the river was closed to fishing up and downstream from it for a few years as potable water in nearby wells was lost also. Fish appeared by the A-frame with ugly sores on their sides, and we didn't dare of course to eat them although that area was not under the ban imposed elsewhere. Fish have no inherent sense of direction in circumstances like that and most likely swam upstream for a safer home to live and play in.
One afternoon, I was babsitting as a favor for a young neighboring woman a six-year-old girl and her little brother. She was a study in miniature toughness by her mother's choice and he was outgoing, lively and cute. Both were in the downstairs bedroom. I'd given her a book she liked to read and the boy was playing with toys happily. Leaving them occupied for a few minutes to talk with my third husband about something important, all at once we heard a loud crash. Racing toward the sound, I found the two-year-old looking with awed and interested curiosity at the two large pieces left of a full-length mirror he'd managed to bring down. It was so heavy with its backing that I had difficulty handling it alone, and to this day I have no idea how his little body reached high and strongly enough to propel it into the room or without it landing on and around his sweet and misguided head. I stayed with him from then on for the duration, advising their mother when she arrived of my retirement and demise as a sitter for small children, especially of the male kind.
It's been my observation for quite a few years that little boys in particular seem intent on committing suicide, or a close approximation to it. A little neighboring boy of about the same age in Arlington escaped his mother one day to explore and fall all the way down concrete stairs to an outdoor-accessible basement. He survived a little bruised and broken temporarily and so did she to tell the tale. There are other examples I've observed and off and on I've thanked God for the blessing of not having had to raise death-and-mayhem intent boys, although I've believed I'd have enjoyed dolls, shopping and tea parties with a daughter. Knowing there are problems there too, however, perhaps I've been spared some of life's usual range of viscicitudes in simply having Godchildren to cherish, honor and spoil, trading without conscious choice parenthood for profession and other interesting personal pursuits. A fairly well-known book of humor and pathos about having sons is entitled Raising Demons. I'll leave the conclusion up to those who've really mothered and fathered them all the way through. I do always thank God that, despite variously intermittent railings and retardations, I am born female with natural care and concern for humanity rather than male with what seems sometimes like an innate "death" wish" and propensity to cause harm.
Another afternoon, I looked out from the loft windows to see a group of 12 to 14 adults playing, eating, and splashing in the water right in front of it. Walking down with my third husband to get them to leave, he became mesmermized by a shapely younger woman in a wet, see-through, white bathing suit and forgot what we were there for, ending up speaking with warm friendliness to all of them. I was somewhat surprised that he didn't offer to give it all away to them free of charge. Once, when I called Shenandoah River Outfitters, also devoted river cleaners for themselves and their craft renters, to complain about their boaters invading my beach and using the bottomland in plain view as a toilet, as happened fairly frequently, one of Joe Sottosanti's daughters said, "Don't you have a shotgun?" I did. And aimed it from the deck at a few close riverbottom trees, which did get the trespassers startled attention, after which they packed up in chattering and scattering disarray and paddled off quickly, no doubt with stories to tell back home warning of the crazy wilderness natives that lived along the Shenandoah River.
My most cherished antique find was a maple 5'x5' drop-leaf table with beveled legs, all heavily smeared with gray paint, and acquired for $15 from a junk store that hasn't existed there now for years but once carried in its dusty, jumbled interior stuffed wild animals and mounted birds as well as furnishings. As with many other wood trimmings and household items over the years, I stripped the table down to its native grain and glory with liquid remover and sandpaper and brushed it with layers of varnish until it glowed warmly. It served well on ordinary days for two and on special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas, leaves braced up with their angled wooden bars, for four. The chairs for it were also hand-refinished, oak with seats I wove in an old-timey braided pattern out of thin rough ropes. Amidst refinishing a large and intricately carved light maple living room chair, a neighbor once thought to assist while I was away in town by using an electric hand sander on the right arm. I could never quite match with sandpaper the smoothly delineated surface he revealed on that one appertenance throughout the rest of the piece and muttered under my breath occasionally at the distentions of unrequested volunteer "help." But I thanked him anyway and explained my preference for redoing the furniture by my own hands. They're piled now, unused, along with other of my possessions, including a hand-written small poetry book dating back to the 1970s, in a trailer owned but rarely occupied by my third ex-husband and his youngest sister.
During my years there, I discovered and explored three somewhat mystical and mythological places, all of them set on fairly expansive and naturally lovely grounds. They were seldom if ever remarked or remembered by local residents, although their distinction was apparent then if not, except for the latter, now. The first was a remote and somewhat isolated estate known as Westenberger's. Set against the South Fork of the Shenandoah River's western bank, it had devolved by law to become part of George Washington National Forest after the creator/constructor's death without progeny or relatives in this country, razed to the ground of what ruins remained after decades of disuse, dismissal, unrestrained vandalism. Once the wood and stone, three-story mansion had contained an extensive wine cellar and a very large, multiply-windowed and near-circular dance room with parquet floor where legendary formal balls were held complete with orchestras and perhaps other entertainments. There were many rooms of fine wood detailing and many stairs, hidden passages and closets, with a nearby vineyard and, across the dirt road, a wrought-iron-fenced cemetery containing gravestones back to the 1800s and, later, an A-frame-styled mausoleum with stained glass for its originator, bones resting in a stone crypt. Westenberger was German-born and a homosexual at a time and in a place where that was not well-accepted, or perhaps well-known.
Maybe five miles to the north, another site of a completely different architectural and social concept lay in analogous state of disrepair and disregard where once it had graced in a hopeful dream the eastern bank stretching back from those waters across hills to plain surrounded by fields and private forest. That was the complex of Buckminster Fuller geodesic domes -- from sizes suitable for one or two persons to commodious enough for commune gatherings, formal and not -- created by well-to-do and well-educated, talented Hollywood "hippies" who'd wanted to embrace and know alternative structures of interaction and governance amidst a natural setting of beauty and bounty. Along the riverside boundary it also included some extant, remodeled country houses and small, one-story A-frames built by them on the cliff edge overlooking river traffic, delights there and onto the wilderness of the western bank. The third site is Swannanoa, slightly north of Waynesboro, mind-child of millionaires Walter and Lao Russell, constructed in the mid-1940s as their summer home (palace) and locus of their fairly world-reknowned home-study University of Science and Philosophy. Abandoned also on my visit there, it was still in an excellent state of repair and resplendent as it had been meant to be.
The backcountry farmland north of my A-frame was finally sold to a developer maybe five years before I moved to East Tennessee, and it was divided up into five to twenty acre lots, all of which were bought, mostly by people from the Baltimore area who built homes and became permanent residents there. The man who purchased the acreage that included an old easement to "the ferry landing," allowing boaters to cross back and forth across the river at the deadend of the road, closed that off with rope, posted "no trespassing" signs, and patrolled the spot with a pistol prominent at his side, running off anybody he found with threats and, if necessary, calling the police for backup. Since I and friends there had been using that entry-and-egress point regularly for years, I created a petition which cited the legal "public access in perpetuity" clause of the original land transfer and collected signatures from sympathetic home and boat owners up and down that long road, finally presenting it to the Luray Town Attorney for an official ruling. After some disinterest, hemming and hawing, he finally sided with the original deed and majority of citizen residents, sending a "cease and desist" order to the current landowner, who alternatively honored and ignored it thereafter.
One of my third husband's numerous uncles by marriage or blood owned a large farm on the other side of the river. He'd married and had five sons while earning his living first as a railroad man and then by growing crops, legal and otherwise, like cows, tobacco, and marijuana. Untrusting of banks and government, he hid all his cash money, at least some of which his kin kept finding after his demise in his 70s, variously in building crannies and the rusted hulks of abandoned vehicles. Although he had plenty of it, Oliver never installed indoor plumbing for his ailing wife, a younger sister of my mother-in-law, or children, or allowed them luxuries of any kind. Once appearing in Court on a charge of abuse, the Judge asked, "What do you raise on your farm, Mr. Deavers?" And he answered truly, "A little hell, mostly." Three of his sons did prison or jail time, one for the best part of his adult life. The youngest was iff-y, and soon fell to that side on adulthood too. The fourth joined the Marines and came back tough and mean with a postal job shortly thereafter and a penchant for sharing absolutely nothing with his four brothers of property and possessions, being the sole heir of his father. One son earned certification and runs his own well-regarded business as well as being a conscientious father of two sons. Another is a perceptive carpenter also skilled in other construction trades, who's come around to being, or trying to be, a good father to his daughter and reasonable friend to his neighbors. And he can slow-roast a pretty dam good country pig too.
Toward the end of my A-frame sojourn, our elderly and beloved area icon, Caroline, developed Alzheimer-like behavioral symptoms including that, always a clean and neat person, she didn't wash or change her dress for many months. With a family oblivious to her plight, Mickie Sweeney and I determined to take a day together to straighten up and clean Caroline's house and self, despite her protests, being unaware of her condition which entailed a great deal of mental confusion as to time, identity and location. Against her lamentations, and refusal to discard her underwear, I gave Caroline a bath and found a clean dress while Mickie washed and tidied the kitchen, particularly. By then, Caroline was so disoriented that she tried to get newborn kittens to suckle on her small female dog, wandered backcountry paths, and misnamed her neighbors, including us sometimes. We finally prevailed on her family to commit her to Hawksbill Rest Home. Ostensibly taking her to Tastee Freeze, which she loved, for an ice cream cone, I delivered her there in my car one parting afternoon.
Caroline was well-cared for in the Home, although still outraged at being forced to take regular baths. Carolina was 78, I believe, when she finally died, basically and heartbreakingly a crying vegetable kept alive by machines and intravenous feedings paid for by insurance and government for many months, at Page Memorial Hospital two or so years later: a generous, lively, entertaining, adventurous, funny and affably immortal soul no doubt enfolded very lovingly into the welcoming essence of God and eternity, possibly still wearing one of her large brimmed and bowed, patterned Pennsylvania bonnets and leaning on a hand-hewn walking stick very lightly with a large white duck quacking behind. Her sad, formal funeral in Luray was crowded as friends, family, and gospel musicians bade her earthly presence Godspeed and farewell.
My neighbors, Robert and Edith (long-deceased now), were first cousins who married each other and, by agreement, had no children because of their close kinship. They never shared how they managed to accomplish that in the days before "the pill" and legalized abortion, and no one ever asked that I know of or explained. It was just accepted and somewhat admired that they'd done the right thing there. Edith's side of the family had been at one time slave-owning and largely-landed including a two-story home of hand-fired bricks with expansive wood porches. Although they had chosen to live in a small and cramped, low-ceilinged, converted corn crib with three rooms and heated by a woodstove, "the big house" still held its now-antique furnishings and was visited on occasion for an hour or so, usually to retrieve something from a large freezer kept there. They raised a few cows, including one for milking, and vegetables in a garden that provided their produce year-round, by canning particularly over another woodstove in an outbuilding during hot summer months so as to keep that heat out of an already sweltering little home. Robert was frugal to a fault and even hammered out every old, bent and rusty nail so it could be reused. His reference, along with others their age there, was to privations of the Great Depression when new and replacement, store-bought goods were not an option for folk living completely off their land for survival and sustenance.
Most if not all of their clothing were gifts from campers they allowed to use their riverfront, for fishing, and mountain, for hunting, acreages that stretched for over a hundred of those, mostly put into "land use" officially to avoid paying annual real estate taxes on them. At one time they'd had expansive rows of field corn for animal fodder but those had dwindled considerably along with the herds. They hadn't raised hogs for years but Robert assisted his cousin Elmer, living "down the road apiece," for the yearly fall butchering so they always had some souse and pickled pigs' feet of their own. Edith was heavy and never in really good health during the time I knew her, but Robert was out and about daily. He maintained both the family and slave cemeteries, sometimes with the help of campers and neighbors and had a little Social Security income from having worked part-time as a school bus driver, about which employment he was very proud. He didn't fish or hunt although his neighbor and cousin Elmer raised and kept beautiful, if unusually thin, coon dogs -- that nighttime chase being his favorite country sport (since racoons aren't eaten, generally, there). Very occasionally Robert and Edith, who actually owned most of the land in her name it having come down bequeathed through her ancestors separately, sold some smaller parcels and one large mountaintop tract to an older bachelor from metro D.C. named Stan. A very long and winding four-wheel-drive road, path really, led up to it most days, although it became completely closed off during some snowstorms and spring floodings.
My neighbor Caroline was another cousin in that family that had once owned all of Burner's Bottom -- a horseshoe along the Shenandoah River's South Fork stretching to peaks of the Massanutten and originally part of an even larger land grant from the English Crown awarded with the understanding and agreement that the Blue Ridge mountains to the West be forged and it all be claimed, settled and made productive by its recipient over the objections off and on of Native Americans who traversed it seasonally for fishing, hunting and gathering. Those early white settlers made their stands in log homes, a few of which still remained, and farmed it as time went on with African labor, and perhaps their own. The slave quarters had long been demolished or fallen down. A very large and weathered red barn remained, generally unused.
The first time a woman friend and once AMS co-worker visited the A-frame, we went "antiquing" in Luray and a few little towns along Route 11. She is a connoisseur of heritage artifacts with a Maryland mansion carefully and lovingly filled with them. As we meandered and browsed through outstanding area shops of various sizes and offerings, my friend became more and more outraged and insulted at the snobby attitudes of store attendants and prices required for purchase. She returned to the riverside empty-handed and expressing with disgust and disdain her opinion that dealers were "trying to take" prospective consumer/collectors at costs exhorbitant to those easily accessible in DC suburban regions.
From sometimes grungy "used goods" stores and very occasional home auctions of furnishings, I acquired over those years a fairly interesting assortment of indoor and outdoor tables and chairs, most of which I refinished with paint and varnish remover, sanding, and Minwax to bring out hues and markings of natural grains. Finally, the once near-empty building became a somewhat crowded home of country treasures. The pieces de resistance were four redone primitive oak chairs with rope seats I wove in an old-timey traditional manner to go with the dropleaf maple dining table, a find at $15 with layers of ugly paint originally and other refigured signs of abuse and wear. My interest in the hard manual labor of restoring wood interiors large and small had begun years earlier with the Richmond house, built in 1901 and layered subsequently with increasingly garish and clashing colors of wallpapers and paints and floors whose natural beauty had been ignored until sanding and coats of polyurethane brought that out again for enjoyment and admiration of newly gleaming surfaces throughout. Along with other once refinished glories, the dining table and chairs are piled now haphazardly by my third ex and unused in a nearly-abandoned old trailer seven lots north of the A-frame.
Kelly and her husband rented the little camper next to the A-frame that I'd fixed up to be cute and comfortable. I thought it was a good and healthy, healing place for city refugees from the rat race to relax and enjoy the natural bounties and beauties of country living: river and fields, mountains and wildlife, peace and relative quiet, serenity and fun too. They had two children: a thin girl about eleven years old who was smart, polite and did well in school; and a boy around seven years old who had severe learning disabilities and couldn't read despite many and varied professional and personal attempts to teach him. Because of that, he was ridiculed by his schoolmates, so had psychological problems too. Kelly finally fought and got him into an innovative new program which worked. He learned to read! And quickly caught up in school. With that, and familial love, his social interactional problems dissipated and he appeared to be a normal and healthy child, playing and participating with friends in games and exercise. After I moved away, Kelly and the daughter kept in touch with me by e-mail for a few years. Later, I heard she fell in love with someone, left her husband and remarried. A Northern Virginia court awarded custody of the two children to their father, who wasn't competent to raise them well and responsibly, and ordered her to pay him $200 a month child support. He was a well-off business owner and she drove a school bus, had only a high school degree, I believe. She also had lupus and had contracted lyme disease.
Despite it all, when I knew her, Kelly was funny and positive and good, a loving and actively concerned, dependable mother, and wife too. And a great friend. One evening her husband initiated a game supposedly revelatory of intelligence where participants had to remember and repeat out loud individually and in sequence a nonsensical list of more and more unrelated things. Little by little everyone dropped out except Kelly and me, and we joked that we had no brain cells left having filled them all fully with funny inanities. But we also proved, we said, that women are indeed more intelligent than men, although perhaps, in retrospect, they were simply too smart to devote their minds and concentration to winning such a silly and actually meaningless, if comical, game.
One friend's joke about stay-at-home wives involved a daughter asking her mother about various activities. When she asked why her mother did all the washing and cooking, her mother replied, "That's how you get a house." Walking in on her parents having sex one evening, the daughter asked later, "Why do you do that?" Her mother answered, "That's how you get clothes." Finally, one morning she walked in on Mommy "doing" Daddy and later inquired, "How come do you do that?" "That's how you get jewelry," her mother explained, and then my friend held out her hands to show that she herself had no jewelry on them.
In ways I didn't understand at the time, Fran Varnum believed vehemently and unequivocably that wild animals were infinitely higher species than wo/men and that earth would be best off with just them and not the rest of us. With a degree in physics and decades of programming and systems experience as a manager and worker for the U.S. Defense Mapping Agency, Fran had a security clearance and excellent computer skills about which he was endearingly humble, usually helpful, and generous. He was also an outstanding craftsman of innovatively designed knives for which hobby enthusiasm he converted a barn into a workshop and attempted sales off and on through the internet and otherwise. He and his wife, Joyce, had raised her three children by a previous marriage (to Frank Slivinski) on his income and all three had done well in college and their professions. On his retirement the couple sold their metro residence and moved from the D.C. area to Burner's Bottom and into a house purchased and extensively remodeled by her son, Mike, and his wife (and later twin daughters), Dilka, a highly-skilled environmental scientist/engineer and native of Puerto Rico. Within the first year or two Fran and Joyce inherited about $50,000 each and purchased for themselves the dilapidated and abandoned family house of neighbor Karl Yates on its substantial, raw acreage and set about doubling its size with additions and modernizing the original interior. Since Joyce was entranced with astrology, Fran wrote for her in Basic computer language a complex forecasting system called Astro*Logic, along with user documentation, to market and to use in predictions herself.
Both born and raised Catholic, but later abandoning that in the process of divorce after a high school marriage and brief parenting experience together, Joyce several times explained her repeated unemployment to her first husband and later ex with the advice that she couldn't keep a job because all the other women employees were jealous of her appearance and made trouble for her because of it at the store or office. When she and Fran separated at her insistence and in a place that rewarded determinedly criminally inequitable aggression and avericiousness, Joyce ended up in possession of all their joint property, Astro*Logic, and portions of his government retirement pension. Fran settled involuntarily -- after a sojourn of sleeping on the beach in North Carolina's Outer Banks -- for living first in a camper trailer on the joint property near "the big house," and later at the grace and whim of a stepson he'd worked and paid to raise on his expansive property, purchased from the estate of Robert and Edith Yates, in their converted corncrib.
For extra income, Joyce worked then as a hostess and waitress occasionally for a few in-town bed and breakfast establishments owned by friends and acquaintances. A few years later in a head-on collision consequent to falling asleep at the wheel, both of Joyce's arms were broken and took awhile to heal. She sold "the big house" for $200,000 -- after having used it also as a bed-and-breakfast she managed and serviced to keep up with the mortgage payments -- and purchased a residence in the town of Luray, certainly more convenient for her age and resultant disability, but kept some Burner's Bottom acreage and had two additional houses built there, one for rent to her youngest and most favored child, Diana, who'd given up an earlier metro-based career, and a devoted and once-beloved husband with a PhD, to work eventually with a town bakery.
Once my third husband hung a spotlighted and wounded doe from her back legs on hooks that had been affixed to the ceiling of the A-frame's underpinned dirt floor "basement." To sicken and drive away a disliked and somewhat effete, educated "city slicker" who wanted to learn more about country ways, he gutted the deer while still alive, rather than cutting its throat and bleeding it to death relatively quickly and less painfully. The doe baaed loudly and long in piteous, stomach-churning wails as he removed her liver, heart and entrails before she finally quieted in death. The pale-faced "city slicker" carried a few of the deer parts meanwhile around the house and into the kitchen in his effort to acquire and maintain manly rural distance and disdain before finally throwing up involuntarily and copiously into the double sink. He moved back subsequently to the city still occasionally pursuing elucidation from country visits elsewhere before finally disappearing permanently from our radar. Personally, I'm on the side of the deer. As Fran Varnum noted once, animals are higher species than some others supposedly sentient and walking generally upright on two legs and without wings.
Sometime after purchasing the rental lot beside the A-frame, I noticed an advertisement for acreage at a very reasonable price in Nelson County near Charlottesville, a convenient shopping and dining jaunt it turned out from that wilderness development site. Like most it had been an over-sized farm sloping down on one side to water for grazing, dipping, boating and fishing. The lot sizes ranged from five to thirty acres that couldn't be sub-divided by provisions of its charter. It was gated, serviced by a wide dirt road graded and graveled through annual maintenance fees, and governed by an elected board of owners, all of whom had exclusive access to the private riverfront area sometimes flooded over its entranceway by fairly predictable, torrential seasonal rains. It's a slightly arduous but interesting drive there from Burner's Bottom, so one pleasant spring morning we made a trip over the Blue Ridge and through small and somewhat isolated flatland towns, fields and forests, generally on two-lane back roads, toward the Tye River, a sliver of water running through those antique glens on their ways to entrancing Amherst and the larger city of Lynchburg eventually. The authentic setting of The Waltons long-running television series is up a bit to the left before arriving there. To the right is the winding and slightly confusing complex of Wintergreen all-season resort, where we ended up staying later at least twice, having ascended the exciting curlycue of its entrance roads from either direction, east and west.
That lot -- covered with new growth native deciduous and evergeen trees, wild bushes like mountain laurel and rhodedendron, and tall, winowy, multi-green grasses -- with its view of the Blue Ridge west from its top and ending east in a wet weather stream caught fire along with those adjacent by unknown origin and we were offered a 15% discount on the sales price to finalize our signed contract. It was sad and ugly to see the charred remnants of life on our first visit back but with each passing year the ground greened over more again until that event and happenstance was just a tale and a memory for those who'd "been there when." A few weeks later, we tied the knot with that five-acre plot in Lovingston, the County seat and a very intriguing small, older town that in my remembrance is nearly all white with some brick here and there. During the following few years, perhaps the best part of owning that lot was the excuse to "check on it" by staying in nearby Amherst at an entertaining and uniquely small, older hotel with local musical entertainment in its lobby and lounge on weekends, and once for a night in the used navy blue camper trailer we bought subsequently to have driven onto it in the thought that we'd rent it all out sometime later as we did our other lot. We never got around to it though and sold both together at a decent profit, doubled our money, some ten years later.
A few months later, on what seemed like eventful advice from a market and investment program, I looked into buying a timeshare somewhere nearby and found one that seemed reasonable and enticing in Canaan Valley WV being sold at a discount by its then-owner. We completed the transaction, sight-unseen, over the telephone within a week or two and, as time and weather allowed, finally drove through fields and mountains west from the little towns along Virginia's Route 11, through Fulks Run, amidst national forest, and into Petersburg for lunch to another all-season mountain resort nestled between a National Wildlife Refuge east and Blackwater Falls State Park on its western flank, both of which we explored along with getting to know for a week our pleasantly furnished two-story, two-bedroom condominium-style townhouse with its wide back room and bath with water jets installed, and the communally-owned on-site heated outdoor pool. On the trip back we opted for the Harrisonburg route which entails, it turned out, a long, winding ascent without guard rails overlooking precipitous drops to the Valley floor. The next year, having joined an association for swapping timeshares, I traded ours for a Peppertree Resort in Cape Hatteras, Outer Banks NC, along the Atlantic shore. Those modern and abstractly furnished one-floor condos circled by outdoor porch decks and stacked within round buildings (Peppertree Atlantic Beach) were my absolute favorites, at least until discovering so many years later White Rock British Columbia's Pacific Inn. The following year we stayed in a less spectacular but perfectly comfortable Peppertree in mountainous "High Country" Banner Elk NC, and the next again in Hatteras at another that was somewhat blocky but acceptable. All had outsized jacuzzis installed and were wonderfully located for natural and manmade entertainments and luxuries. We visited nearby historic sites, played miniature golf, and sampled the best we could find of regional restaurants and cuisines. In Banner Elk, two of my closest friends from East Tennessee and college days there met us for a few nights and days of sightseeing and amenities also. Gail, my AMS friend and by then owning a startup small software design and implementation company headquartered in her home of Annapolis MD, and I also splurged during a week at Peppertree Atlantic Beach one year, checking out the best of gourmet restaurants and in-residence cuisine possibilities most particularly. Later, without a fair or otherwise division of our jointly-held properties, that one devolved unused to a point where the timeshare condo association reclaimed and resold it, but we hadn't paid very much for it and probably got at least our money's worth out of the attendant vacation experiences, which ended up in consequence costing around $760 per week, about par of commercial retail rates for similar or like accommodations.
Since we both loved to travel, explore new scenes and experiences in cuisine and wildlife, separately and together, we ended up in numerous fairly close by venues in addition to our annual visit on my birthday to East Tennessee's Johnson City and Jonesborough with college friends of mine there, which usually entailed stopoffs at Blacksburg VA most particularly. One of the choicest, however tacky it may seem to some, was Charles Town WV and its trotter track with gambling and wining/dining facilities along with stabling. The awesome confluence of the Shenandoah with the Potomac and pivotally historic settlement at nearby Harpers Ferry WV is yet another enticement to enjoy that area. We stayed overnight each time at the Turf Motel, a wonderfully raucous place in decor and dining, near to the horses and jockeys I loved to roam through and talk with before and after each race, on which I placed no bets after the first visit, being naturally not an afficiando of gambling although I don't mind it reasonably as others engage in that mental sport and enthusiastic excitement, thrill. My ex was very studious in discerning the best picks from a few "crip sheets" sold there, and we always left with enough money to pay for the experience and an extra dinner or so on the way home, once via Route 81 where we dined at a very large truckstop and I came to understand why those are so fondly storied in some gastronomic minds.
Of course we visited frequently nearby small towns along Route 11 for little shop shopping and diverse eating from a homey diner in New Market to more upscale restaurants like the Edinburg Mill Inn, the Mimslyn and Parkhurst in Luray, a horse farm and elegantly expensive hotel/restaurant accommodated within an old manse in Stanley, Winchester's Apple Blossom Mall boutiques and cafes, Harrisonburg's hidden mid-town specialties and delicacies, and a few downhome country establishments in small towns over the mountain along the two-lane route toward Charlottesville and Washington DC. We drove along Skyline Drive a few times a year, ate at Skyland a few times including our wedding dinner with friends and family, and Panorama on the way there or back atop the curving road from its base. With little in the way then of live entertainment within safe reach of nighttime driving, we entertained ourselves with rented movies, satelite TV ones as well as other programming, music records and tapes, and the occasional visits of a few friends who played musical instruments, one of which set up his band on the front deck of the A-frame one afternoon. A young man and his companions, they played rock full-blast to the curiosity of passersby, including deer and other wildlife.
I bought fruit and flowering trees and bushes, as well as bulbs and seeds for perennials and annuals from local venues like La Dama Maya Herb Farm and Gardens outside Luray, the Farmers Co-op there, other garden shops and local grocery store displays, as well as through mail-order catalogues during the anticipatory indoors of winter. My ex did most of the heavy digging while I ascertained the absolutely perfect location for each amidst amenable companions or alone in solitary splendor like a few rose varieties and the wisteria. Others were wildflowers I dug up over time and transplanted around the house to more auspicious and conspicuous locales. Most thrived except the few turning out to adore acid-only soils. The object, of course, of flowering is to have a landscape in bloom cascadingly throughout the growing seasons. It seems that yellow is the color and shades of spring, blue and lilac of summer, reds and oranges of fall. I'm sure that's an over-simplification with many exceptions to point out, but there does seem to be a natural spectral order to it all, at least if done and arranged in sympathy with land and weather patterns and proclivities. The greatest delights of country life seemed to be small and delicately strong gifts like tiny wild violets appearing exactly where they chose to be and the kaleidescope of shade and form half-hidden in the new-growth grasses of early spring that comprise other miniature flora left alone to "do their thing."
Wild grape vines for wreath-making or natural entwining by the ground. Pinks and white wild rose bushes flowering with too faint a fragrance, too brief a delicacy. Osage orange and persimmon trees growing "volunteer." The towering strength, solidity of black walnuts. Cultivated weeping cherry trees. Lilacs, of course, and daffodils in all their delightful presentations of profusion and profundity. The heavy, heady, unpredictable blooms of locust trees, and wild mountain laurel cheering finely the wildness of woods. Blackberries so widely thick they rot on spindly limbs before picking can save them to a welcoming palate. And mimosas with their feathery charms spread like air-borne pink dandelions to blow off and away on the winds of a nearing storm. I can see and smell and hear it all sometimes just as if it's not years ago but this minute today. And that's a blessing also to be truly grateful for and graciously sharing toward as the changes of decades and centuries go forward.
One afternoon during an annual week-long, country-lavish holiday visit from Florida with her husband, my mother expressed dismay and distress that their finances had deteriorated to a disastrous extent, saying that she didn't know how to pay their bills. She cried describing how they'd been living on credit cards, plus their fairly generous Social Security monthly payments, which were inadequate for their atrium-enhanced living arrangements. My ex and I had just bought a fixer-upper house a ways down the road from the A-frame toward town, and I suggested that they move to the Valley and rent that affordably. Loving the area, she was very enthusiastic about that prospect. During the two months or so that we spent totally renovating the rental house, they returned back to Page County, as I offered to pay my stepfather $15 an hour -- the wage he'd been earning for similar work in Florida -- to use his carpentry, plumbing and electrical skills in the remodelling, and stayed with us for three sumptuous weeks, at which time I insisted we couldn't afford any more help, and they returned to Florida to pack. We had paid for their gas and lodging on the way up to Virginia also, as well as providing all their meals, snacks and drinks while there.
My mother chose the new carpeting and fixtures and, having pretty much designed it herself, later called it "our lovely little house." Arriving in a large moving van and a car hauling a trailer without enough money to pay three movers who helped get their belongings into the house, we loaned them $600 over the first few weeks as they settled in. I got her a video rental card and helped acclimate them to their new home area. One afternoon at their kitchen table, mother explained that she'd gone through their bills and discovered they owed more money than she'd realized. She asked to borrow $5,000 to catch them up but, after explaining that we couldn't afford that kind of loan due to my ex's part-time employment at the time and my lack of any job at all, I suggested they declare bankruptcy, which they did. My ex and I did have, together and separately, retirement savings and cash-value life insurance at the time, but I considered those inviolate.
My ex soon found full-time employment, as did my stepfather at a local factory, and I broke my right ankle, becoming totally disabled according to the attending physician/surgeon for a year or so. My medical bills for that accident totalled around $10,000, and I paid them in full in installments over the next three years. Objecting to the exorbitant costs for some products and services enumerated on the detail hospital bill I'd requested, an ombudsman for Rockingham Memorial Hospital, where I received excellent care, explained how providing services for prior Medicaid, Medicare and uninsured patients caused those costs to be allocated to prices in future years. For instance, she said, an operation may cost the hospital $8,000, but Medicaid or Medicare only allow a payment price of $5,000, or even $3,000. So that $3,000, or $5,000, or $8,000 loss, accumulated with others, is spread over the next years' fees. In other words, we pay through our taxes and then again whenever we need medical assistance.
During the three months I was on pain medication, in a cast from toe to knee, and hopping in a somewhat wobbly fashion on my left leg while using a walker to get around occasionally, my friend from D.C., Pris, called suggesting another visit to the A-frame. Surprised and shocked to hear that my mother was not helping out, as I explained my inability to entertain in any way, she offered instead sympathetically to bring provisions and cook for me. When asked, I detailed how mother had stormed out from an unwelcome and uninvited midnight visit with my stepfather, saying as she rose to her full height and width from the couch, "I never want to see or hear from you again as long as I live." Her protest concerned my reiterated refusal to loan her credit in the way that she wanted -- by giving her one of my unused cards, because I couldn't. I'd offered another solution, which entailed repaying me at five dollars a month on an amount of around $275.00, to their dilemma, but they were dissatisfied with it. They cornered me without my walker for mobility and refused to leave for nearly an hour as they wheedled and berated me, despite repeated requests that they leave. I felt very relieved when they finally did. Pris arrived with all the fixings for a spaghetti dinner with fresh salad and waited on me with collegiate company for two days. It was over a year, during which mother sent regularly unpleasant and unanswered letters to me through the mail, that she ended up sending my stepfather down to the house to suggest that I visit in person. Perhaps she'd heard that I'd recovered and any assistance she might have provided would no longer be needed.
During that winter, unable to do many things I'd ordinarily have enjoyed that required facile mobility, I decided one day to go through the papers in a family mahogany chest my stepfather, George, had insisted on bringing up with them. They hadn't emptied any of the contents and it turned out to contain letters, notes, documents that went back at least a century in time of interactions between various family members and some friends. There were letters from my father in Los Angeles to my grandmother in Massachusetts describing work and married life and my progress as an infant. Other messages detailed business transactions and family woes between members of my grandmother's family long gone now, as well as visits and more enjoyable activities. There were mostly black and white photographs from through those years, and then I came upon my grandmother's check register whose content astonished me. During the month prior to her final hospitalization for a sudden fall and hip fracture, she had been paying all of my mother and stepfather's bills, including their rent, as well as providing spending money for other necessities and for luxuries. I hadn't realized until then that the Baillies had been completely broke financially at that time and dependent on her for their financial sustenance. But it explained the reason that they had moved into my grandmother's condominium apartment only days after her accident and recusement to a hospital and later a hospice facility. They needed a stable roof over their heads immediately. Shortly subsequent to that, mother gained power of attorney, something she'd never have been allowed by her mother for her reckless abandon over all of her lifetime in dealing with credit and funds, over my grandmother's assets. When my grandmother begged and attempted to bribe a nurse to have herself released from the hospital and taken care of at home with nurses as my grandfather had been previously, my mother and stepfather refused to accommodate or agree to that. For the last two months or so of her life, my grandmother had no control over anything that belonged to her, and I know that was a source of anguish and incredible stress because she had always been a very independent woman in rational and responsible control of herself and everything she owned. It may very well have been the reason she had a fatal stroke finally in a barren institutional room, where she might have more contentedly and pleasantly passed from this world in the home she loved and decorated with beautiful care tended by well-remunerated and comfortably ensconsed professionals and all the material mementos of a long lifetime here.
In my childhood mahogany trunk, full unbeknownst to them apparently with revealingly unflattering and damning documents, that mother and my stepfather brought up from Florida were letters my mother had typed to my grandmother in voluminous pages single-spaced saying the most heartbreakingly horrible things about me, my character and motivations, and relating her derogatory and denigratingly warped view of my behaviors and activities and relationships. I'd had no idea that she wrote, or no doubt said, such things behind my back, which they had to be since many were falsehoods easily disproved and dismissed summarily. It was a terrific shock, though, to discover how viciously she'd worked against my being loved and cared for as is and had a natural affect on how I felt about and related to her from then on. Of course, if I'd known about all that to begin with I'd never have suggested they move down the road or offered to help when they needed assistance from judgement errors and what turned out to be criminalities they'd engaged in to seize assets belonging legally to me. During my growing years, mother had delighted in asserting her parental authority in ways that compromised and destructively corrupted consequences of worthwhile endeavors, frequently involving my friends also, that I'd worked hard and diligently with her knowledge to bring to successful conclusions. My consequent wailings had no softening effect on her dedications in that manner and may actually have fed the fire of her desire and enjoyment in arbitrary and nonsensical power, underscoring thereby its profoundly sadistic verity and maliciously harmful extent. In a place other than the Valley, she'd have never been later so free, actually rewarded and encouraged for her archetypical tendencies of sadistic hypocrisy and calumny in attempting to claim an identity and property not her own legally, as too many others there were also. and are to this day. Her fatuous Letters to the Editor were sometimes featured full-page in the "Right Wing" Republican Byrd-owned Harrisonburg Daily News & Record and chosen occasionally as "Letter of the Month" by the equally "Conservative" Page News & Courier, neither of which obviously checked her statements against easily verifiable fact, e.g. her claim to be an active volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, which she was not and never had been except for two contentiously unproductive weeks or so years earlier.
During the time it took for my ankle to heal pretty completely, I was unable to use the stairs from first to second floor in the A-frame. Along with not being able to get outside and enjoy the animals and the gardens in particular, I missed very much not being able to sleep in the loft where for so many years I'd drifted off under starshine and woken to varied skies over fields and river. It was really a few years following the accident before that joint was fully functional and dependable, so I decided to have the small eastern bedroom on that floor turned into a bathroom instead, allowing me to stay up there comfortably year-round with the addition of an air conditioner in the contiguous bedroom, which became a lounging and "computer" room. I hired a multiply-skilled neighbor, Frank Slivinski, at $15/hour to complete the design I'd made and developed as that work progressed. Most particularly pipes needed to be run for water flowing in and out and septic waste from the toilet. Because of the sloping roof, only a comfortable beige-colored bathtub was possible, but no shower. As it happened, I'd always enjoyed warm-hot baths most particularly, especially with bubbles and fragrance, for both relaxation and cleanliness, so it didn't matter for my comfort and pleasure at all. On the spigot end the bathtub had a low shelf covering plumbing necessities. At the other it had a waist-high shelving and back for decorative use and including a cabinet for storage underneath. The room was large enough when completed to hold also a small antique table and its remaining closet useful for nightclothes and other storage. The shelving material I chose was actually outdoor rough-grooved plywood stained a light nautical gray. The floor and shelving tops were covered in a lightly designed linoleum and the latter held in addition to bath necessities some favorite family china and crytal pieces. An appropriately sized enclosure was designed and built with necessary wiring and plumbing in the corner of the loft at the top of the stairs and back from them to house a washer and dryer. It had louver double-doors also stained to compliment other woods in the immediate area and was a pleasant vicinity to wait for clothes to clean while enjoying happenings and views of the bottomland and its waters and parts of the livingroom, including the white brick chimney and hearth with its black, glass-fronted woodstove.
Throughout the changes of four decades, in times of doubt or upheaval and celebration I returned to East Tennessee and friends here to get my bearings on true value. During my Valley sojourn as home and business owner variously, I looked forward also -- in addition to grounding visits during the development of OSCR -- to annual birthday vacations with those friends from college days and their children, staying always with my longest-held best friend and Goddaughter. My fiftieth was an exception since mother prevailed on me to stay there and commemorate that milestone with her, which seemed appropriate and reasonable, biologically at any rate. When the day arrived, she sent via my stepfather presents and a message that she was too ill to fix the merry meal she'd offered previously so I spent those daylight hours meditatively at home instead. Northeast Tennessee, and the Mountain Empire generally, combine the best of familiar New England broadly with a more beneficent climate, easily accessible and awesome natural beauty, and relaxed, gifted intereactions private to commercial and educational to artistic and neighborly, a comfortable sophistication blended into admirable Appalachian histories of folkway and fortitude, so I made my next visit back fairly soon.
Maybe a year later, my ex and I bought the lot next to my A-frame, cleaned up and painted the little camper on it in matching colors, built a good-sized square deck off it on the riverside, and rented it annually to a Northern Virginia couple with two children, all of whom became good friends. A few years later, we bought a five-acre wilderness lot outside of Lovingston, near the charmingly historic town of Amherst and many other attractions, and about an hour south of bustling and bursting, old and new Charlottesville. About a year after that, we bought an old camper from a hillside neighbor there, where we all had private access to the Tye River from our dirt-and-stone road, with the intention of fixing it up as a rental too. We only stayed there once, without water or electricity, but it was comfortable and cute. The creek, ever-running according to the sales agent, behind it turned out to be a wet-weather stream, or torrent, depending on the volume and length of rains. We had a lot of fun staying in area hotels off and on and sampling restaurants and lounges, as well as enjoying scenery east of the Blue Ridge, in the process of visiting the lot a few times yearly.
When my mother died, after my visiting helpfully every other day for about a year, in Page County years later, she and my stepfather had just declared bankruptcy for the third time, the first being years earlier in Florida. They lived reasonably well in the meantime, acquiring a good four-wheel drive car, new furnishings, wigs and clothes, restaurant dining, and extravagant care, including whole boiled and skinned chicken daily and veterinary assistance, for their four mixed-breed dogs. And they continued to invest in and work at home-based commission schemes to sell products, now over the internet. My stepfather was a one-time mutual funds salesperson with a Florida insurance license, and an active Lions Club and Habitat for Humanity member. He stayed with full-time factory work -- at the end, oddly, for a copper-producing company -- even after having a hip replacement, until he was laid off for good at about age 80. When my mother, who also had a Florida insurance license and a real estate one too, died, he moved back to Florida where he'd lived since being in the Navy during World War II and was happiest with the climate and amenities available.
I've always loved Christmas trees and was thrilled to live somewhere that I could easily get and use beautiful, thick, sweet-smelling cedars. My first one in the A-frame was a kind of funny-looking affair: about two feet tall with my grandmother's large, old-fashioned multi-colored lights, heavy wires sticking out everywhere, and a few incongruously big ornaments. But I was just happy and satisfied to be there and didn't really care. Over the years, the size of the cut trees grew until the tops reached over the railing of the loft and had to be affixed to it to keep them from toppling over. My holiday ornaments and decorations had been gathered and saved over an adult lifetime, including in some cases that of family members, and were quite numerous. Quite a few I made myself over the years: embellishing tree globes shinily and crocheting snowflakes and angels and stars. Others were garnered from after-Christmas sales and some were collected gifts from friends and relatives. Still others were boutique specials: straw angels and farm women, a country-attired cloth drummer boy, children on brightly-painted wood swings, glittering tin balls, and Santa Clauses of wood and silk. Pris sent precious and unique signs and metal constructions and once a large basket made of candycanes which, sadly, shattered in the mail and arrived eatable only. Although I had a few large light sets from childhood, my favorites were runners, two white and two red, of poinsettia flowers with little blinking bulbs in each center. The treetop star was multi-pointed with small white lights flashing and there were garlands of many glittering colors from gold to silver to red-and-green.
The tree always sat in a five gallon bucket held fast in place with heavy rocks and hidden with a festive skirt around which, as the day approached, wrapped presents piled to give and to open to the sounds of old 33 rpm's and tapes accumulated of religious and secular, classic and popular seasonal tunes by a variety of artists worldwide. With a little luck there was snow somewhere around the propitious date to at least get a heritage glimpse of this nation's holiday vision and history. Even then, I avoided shopping around that time except once or twice perhaps, having picked up and saved during the past year as they appeared in passing bargains and treasures for the occasion of giving. A few weeks after that, the tree came down and all its festivities put back up in boxes and plastic bags for saving in a second-story storage area during the other seasons.<
I baked cookies, gave some away, shared the rest with whomever happened by, and bought inexpensive gifts for my eight oldest and closest widely-scattered neighbors to put, along with Christmas cards, in their mailboxes annually. And, of course, I sent cards -- from the handicapped Veterans association, to which I sent a donation -- to friends and family through the post office, along with wrapped and boxed gifts where appropriate. Each year I knit a colorful afghan for a different woman in-law, which they came to look forward to receiving. I wanted to put a large white-lighted cross where the tall panes met their wooden frame on the river side of the house, but never got around to having it built.
For a few years, in addition to the usual local and national monetary donations, I "rang the bell" as a volunteer for the Salvation Army, my favorite charitable organization for many, many years. Standing outside in winter cold and wind, bundled up against it with boots, hat, scarf, heavy coat and wool mittens, I said "Merry Christmas" in front of Jamesway and Food Lion on appointed days to generally welcoming shoppers who dropped spare change into the red "kettle" swinging on its tripod. One year as an expression of gratitude, the Salvation Army treated us to a lovely luncheon at the elegant old Mimslyn Inn when the fund-raising drive was over. A long, white linen-covered table had been decorated with seasonal floral displays and candles. At each place setting a small white china swan filled with little candies sat enlivened by a thin, red bow tied around its neck. That became the origin of my swan collection as it developed over following years.
Christmas Eves, I stayed awake by myself until after midnight watching services broadcast from the Vatican and other famous cathedrals and churches worldwide, enjoying the peace, quiet and beauty of the twinkling tree and stars outside, surrounded by piles of gayly-wrapped gifts to open and deliver, bright garlands strung on the stair railing and from the living room chandelier and table decorations everywhere, and drinking wine in a long-stemmed glass by a flaming fire in the glass-fronted woodstove. Some years it even snowed and long, twirling icicles dripped and gleamed from the eaves. What could be more glorious than holidays country-style?
Except, I later learned, the enchantments of a friendly and historic small town with its beautiful choirs and churches, inviting foods and festivities, musical groupings and cheerful shopping amenities, decorations and sparkling lights, all nestled shiningly amidst ancient hills and mountains, rivers and creeks, and natural and man-made lakes under spreading and stretching Appalachian skies amongst the true glories of The Mountain Empire in Jonesborough TN.
In the mid-1990s, I located and we purchased a bargain-priced two bedroom timeshare week in a Canaan Valley WV mountain resort close to national forest and skiing amenities as well as fair weather recreations. After the first year of summertime use, and the beautiful if somewhat frightening drive through Harrisonburg access and egress, I traded it three times for intriguingly luxurious Peppertree Resort offerings: twice in Nags Head NC oceanside for me and Gail, a supervisor/co-worker AMS friend, and later a somewhat discordant week there similarly hosteled with my soon-to-be ex; and another vacation in Banner Elk NC where we met up with my best friend and another from college days for some '60s sojourns there together. That encounter included a curio visit to the top of a very high new condominium building in a mountain ski resort where I refused to enjoy closeup views from a balcony-enhanced apartment for sale, to which our realtor/broker friend professed interest, having barely survived in tact totally the hairpin turns of driving up to the site's lobby a little earlier and still reordering my nerves for the drive back down again, before which I chose the mountainside side of the back passenger seat on the theory that it's better to land on someone friendly than something unfamiliar and unknown. A later trip to Tennessee's tip-top Beauty Spot which provides a clear and wide-ranging view of several states evoked a similar reaction and had us singing old Beatles tunes gustily for distraction most of the way there and back. If we slid off the rutted and muddy one-lane, four-wheel-drive track into the deep northside ravine meanwhile, at least we'd chosen the style and spirit of our passing.
Because during all these years my husband arrived home, when we weren't working or relaxing together, at unpredictable hours in the late afternoon or evening, depending on his work and whims between wherever he'd been and the kitchen, I figured out after awhile usually one-dish meals that could be prepared and allowed to sit, either on the counter or in the refrigerator, as-is regardless of the time interval. Since all he knew and would learn to fix were bagels and baked potatoes in the microwave, on arrival home from any separate employment of mine or any mutual, meal preparation was entirely my responsibility, as were the bills and investments, and general home upkeep. I enjoy within reason all of those activities, so it wasn't really a burden of any kind. Learning to fix country meals from fresh or frozen garden produce and wild-caught fodder was interesting and involved, as ever, quite a few cookbooks and experimentations with ingredients, techniques and combinants, including spices and sauces. Fresh fertilized eggs with their richly large and orange yolks were one of the joys of raising free-range chickens, and not too many ever experience that particular taste treat. There is a huge difference between them and store-bought from farm factories, or even roadside produce stands which also generally offer unfertilized ones with their paler and lighter yolks. I learned to make omelets for the first time, plain and with various ingredients added also -- whatever we had at hand generally. Once I'd thought to raise fresh mushrooms in the darkened dirt under the house, with its plywood enclosure, but some distraction deterred me and occasionally neighbors and friends stopped by with wild morels, another special treat that can't be tamed for deliberate growing. Greens generally comprise easy and dependable spring garden rows and I learned new uses for them as well as new varieties, like hardy chard, I'd never known of before. With the nearest store half an hour away on the best of road-days, I made sure right from the beginning that there was plenty of food kept variously -- canned, fresh, frozen, dried -- at home for nibbling and for cooking and only shopped once a week, if that often, for essential staples like sugar and coffee and fresh milk.
That lot was one of eight created out of road-to-river pastureland owned by Jesse and Caroline Keyser, the latter a descendant of the original land-grant assignee to that whole bend in the Shenandoah River from its center to the top of the Massanutten Mountain chain and known as Burner's Bottom. I'm the only owner of Keyser Subdivision Lot #1 who chose to make a home and live there full-time. All of the rest, at least five since its 1970 demarkation, have used the property as a part-time vacation outpost from Northern Virginia work and residence.
The "good old boy" politics and undercurrent of criminality beneath a veneer of polite town social interaction had little effect on me way out in "the boonies," at least until I created the internet business revolving around OSCR as a commercial entity that, by its nature in promoting local businesses and civic organizations, encountered all of that somewhat abruptly and cataclysmically. There had been the tales of drunken or overly-medicated officials repeatedly forgiven their driving errances, for instance, and the outstanding example of a gas station owner who had been the Sheriff of Page County before being convicted of crimes against women in the performance of his duties, most particularly demanding and receiving sexual favors in return for leniencies for purported vehicular offenses -- although the illegalities, most of them minor, in which he engaged extended beyond those but were never prosecuted, a certain level of crime for all residents being tolerated as a matter of traditional acceptance. That individual subsequently ran for Sheriff of Stanley, the next town south of Luray, and was elected handily by voters accustomed to corruption and extraordinarily tolerant of the abuse of women and minorities, which was more a matter of learning and lifestyle than one regarded as deserving of censure or penal punishment. Another gas station owner provided marijuana in particular to some deputies and cops and was in turn treated leniently for his legal transgressions, financial and otherwise. Interlocking favors of allowance for individual illegalities gridlocked the area in mutual support of that structure and made the existence of real law and order not only impossible but unwelcome -- and farcical in assertion -- since most benefitted materially in one way or another as the society, however criminal, existed. I hadn't realized or understood the pervasiveness of all that, however, until I developed OSCR and, unfortunately or not, eventually in exigency called Emergency 911 services unaware and in complete naiivete of the profundity of criminality there, socially and cognitively.
As with so many residents there, my ex had some problems with minor criminality, most particularly petty (usually) larceny, for which he'd served six months' jail time in Maryland previously and been paroled. Although I didn't agree with those activities or encourage them in any way, it isn't possible to force morality on someone else, particularly perhaps someone so much larger physically and also determined in weakness and/or enjoyment, and many of whose activities are out of vision and conceivably corrective comment at the time. In attempting to dissuade and perhaps one day end any criminalities he might engage in, major or minor, in process of creating a more healthful now and future for himself and others, I did repeat decisively off and on and intently that, were he to be jailed for any, I would not bail him out or visit him while incarcerated. The consequence of that was that I seldom found out if he'd broken the law seriously, except accidentally. In one instance, as an example, that happened because he was actually proud of what and how'd he done something disreputable and couldn't keep himself from a kind of sideways bragging about how clever that crime was until finally I realized the truth, asked him point-blank, and he conceded the true culprit was himself. In other instances, his behaviors were potentially criminally and/or financially harmful to me as the owner of that property in which he lived and refused consistently and determinely to leave voluntarily.
In a business and individual world more and more dependent upon and interwoven with the latest technologies that insistence dooms a region or state or country to lower rungs of socio-economic status, exactly what it and we as a nation have become statistically amongst those counted as "industrialized." We are now rated amongst all countries on Earth as sixth in overall quality of life and 37th in health care provision for our citizens. In democratic realization, we are not amongst the highest-rated 15 in the world now, a list which is top-heavy with Nordic nations and includes also Canada, Austria, Ireland, and Germany. (The Economist) "If China became a Free country, the percentage of the world’s population living in freedom would rise from 46 to 66 percent." (Freedom House). In other words, those advocating and living in freedom and democracy are a minority in our early years of the 21st century on Earth.
My third husband and I had major differences in age, background and education, talent and intelligence, knowledge and interests which limited our interaction and caused varying levels of friction over the time he lived in my house. Finally around 10 p.m. on Friday, October 3, 1997, that dissension blew up frighteningly and I called EMERGENCY 911 for assistance, telling the officer who appeared at my door, "This is my house. I just want my husband to leave."
In a business and individual world more and more dependent upon and interwoven with the latest technologies that insistence dooms a region or state or country to lower rungs of socio-economic status, exactly what it and we as a nation have become statistically amongst those counted as "industrialized." We are now rated amongst all countries on Earth as sixth in overall quality of life and 37th in health care provision for our citizens. In democratic realization, we are not amongst the highest-rated 15 in the world now, a list which is top-heavy with Nordic nations and includes also Canada, Austria, Ireland, and Germany. (The Economist) "If China became a Free country, the percentage of the world’s population living in freedom would rise from 46 to 66 percent." (Freedom House). In other words, those advocating and living in freedom and democracy are a minority in our early years of the 21st century on Earth.
My third husband and I had major differences in age, background and education, talent and intelligence, knowledge and interests which limited our interaction and caused varying levels of friction over the time he lived in my house. Finally around 10 p.m. on Friday, October 3, 1997, that dissension blew up frighteningly and I called EMERGENCY 911 for assistance, telling the officer who appeared at my door, "This is my house. I just want my husband to leave."
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
["(12) Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
"In order to be defined as an EMERGENCY, the incident should be one of the following:
"Many EMERGENCIES cause an immediate danger to the life of people involved. This can range from emergencies affecting a single person, such as the entire range of medical emergencies which include heart attacks, strokes and trauma, to incidents affecting large numbers of people such as natural disasters including hurricanes, floods or mudslides.
"Most agencies consider these to be the highest priority of EMERGENCY, which follows the general school of thought that nothing is more important than human life...."
-- EMERGENCY, Wikipedia
And the rest is history, very bad history, because that member of the Page County Sheriff's Department refused to honor my legal request for help, never attempted in any way to convince my now ex-husband to leave peaceably, and chose instead to arrest me in contravention of historically legislated and prevailing federal and state laws assuring citizen homeowners safety and security for themselves and their possessions. I had called the emergency number, installed involuntarily on the telephone listed and paid for in my name alone for twenty years, because I was desperately in need of peace and security, safety and protection for myself and my property. I would never have called EMERGENCY 911 for the first time in my life if I hadn't considered the situation an emergency for myself and others, but no one in the community at the time ever really listened to me about that, just proceeded on to prosecute me, and allow or pursue other illegalities. One thing I learned from my encounters with legal authorities there is that the warning of "whatever you say may be used against you" means that prosecutors will twist your words and import in Court, an adversarial construction, for the benefit and support of their side of the argument exclusively.
Interestingly, the magistrate who signed the first papers abrogating United States of America assurances of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," most particularly those guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the Bill of Rights of the Constitution was someone I knew. Dr. John Huddleston, who has a PhD, was, and probably still is, a member of the Page County Chamber of Commerce. A wealthy landowner and rancher politically active and well-known as a conservative Republican supporter and backer, he was at the time fascinated with "the artificial insemination of bull semen." He had talked with me about it extensively just a few weeks previous to my illegal, and later Court-nullified, arrest and overnight incarceration all through a Chamber luncheon buffet at Skyland near the highest point of Shenandoah National Park. I had happened to end up sitting at a table with him, his wife, and a few other members. When I mentioned later his seeming obsession with unnatural procreation to another member, he laughed and said, "Oh, he always talks about that until he bores people nearly to death with it." In some ways, the whole country and world have been infected, sickened and deadened by "the artificial insemination of bull semen" -- lawlessness and lies, advertising and otherwise, defilement of our forebearers concepts in crafting the Constitution for the nation, and the real will of the people, much to the detriment of earth and its species. As gas prices, and those of other commodities affected by that, rise now in mid-2008 and more go under worldwide while others struggle to stay barely afloat, it's a very sad day for all but a few, and they too with their children have to live in the rising cesspool of land, air and water, illegality, harm and hurt we all share equally, whether we like or want it or not. It's a home to all of us, rich and poor, citizen and criminal, adult and baby, powerful and not. Even starting today, should the powers that be agree, to clean it all up will take a very, very long time, nevertheless a worthwhile enterprise for the future of their children and their children's children, as well as everyone else's here on the third planet from the sun.
Shortly after my arrest on a charge of assault, for which the maximum sentence if convicted was twelve months in jail, I employed Luray lawyer Sam Price, at the recommendation of OSCR's Literary Editor, John Waybright, who later described subsequent events there as "terrible," "appalling," "shocking," "Godless," and "womanless." In Sam's office I explained the circumstances surrounding my calling EMERGENCY 911 and requested that he contact the County Attorney, Nancy Reed, also a founder with two other women of Choices -- a shelter there for abused women, to have the charge dropped. I had given him a copy of my very complete resume, the website address of OSCR (which he said later he looked at), and also mentioned, since it was defamatory and illegal, that I didn't want that instance of error published in the local newspaper. In my presence he called Mrs. Reed and asked that the charge be dropped, saying, "She doesn't want her name in the paper." He relayed to me that she refused to drop the charge, and I paid him $500 for his legal representation.
It is impossible for women like Page County Attorney Nancy Reed to prevent or ameliorate the abuse of women by participating in criminal abrogations of their Constitutional rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of reasonable happiness, nor in collaborating with a filthy "good old boys network" for her own professional and personal gain exclusively. That those rights were also denied to some men in the community is simply equal opportunity despotism and renunciation of real citizenship responsibilities and obligations professional and personal to a fatality of place, people, country and environment. The consequence of criminality and abuse in every sense of the word is more of the same to the utter desecration and destruction of "The Daughter of the Stars" and nearly the United Sates and planet, and the diminishment of all through corruption and sickening contamination of atmosphere and reality, rule by fear rather than law, as too many attorneys there and elsewhere are accredited to know, practice, and uphold. If those behaviors sunk me and my possessions, including business, to a low point by massive and vast violence, it brought those who initiated, cooperated in and perpetuated it further yet toward the molten center of the earth in creating lives and communities for themselves and their families and neighbors of total destitution and depravity. God and Jesus cannot exist or prevail in areas where the majority refuse to see, apprehend and secure themselves accountable for the truth about themselves, their real activities and values as expressed and enacted repeatedly. Children, in particular, see though false identities and specious justifications and platitudes offered in pursuit of profoundly evil ends. Neither I nor any other entity earthly or holy can save a walking, breathing, actively operating and determinedly persistent lie.
I'm sorry for the citizens and communities I once loved there and no one can say that I haven't tried over and over again to steer it and them toward more positive and liveable, survivable, sustainable and sane actualities, but it has been for over a decade dead set in its worship of false gods and graven images including of itself and themselves. It is actually a place no truly good or Godly person would want to live, work or even know, except in a few small oases here and there, exists anywhere, a coffin of zombie-like creatures tearing off the flesh of each other to no purpose really, good or bad, lost and unreactive, autonomon-like, lifeless, and completely devoid of feeling, emotion, or heart, thereby allowing infinite cruelty and immorality without a second thought -- obedient drones caught in absolutely inhumane and criminal systems, historically and perceptually wrong, with no way out except exposure, punishment and condemnation with perhaps therapeutic treatments for some still retaining a spark of independent mind, spirit and will to really live and love.
For a woman to cooperate with illegalities in removing hard-earned liberty, real estate, investments, credit, private commercial enterprise and franchise from another woman, and a late middle-aged one at that, is a malfeasance of mentality, method and misery for which there can hardly be comprehension and lexical attribution. One would expect from one's own gender, both professional in different fields, empathy, support and cooperation in respect for women's real struggles and achievements against many years of prejudice and discrimination. It's heart-rending in its cumulatively spreading ill-effects on other women and girls generally and specifically and particularly there in the Valley where I've seen the consequences to youngsters in particular close up and personal. Other Valley women colluded too against their own gender and the healthy futures of daughters and granddaughters there with a very sad reckoning to face and deal with. Truth does march on, despite its murderous and theiving disclaimers who've broken vows at every corner leading to this present place and what we see all around us. It is a country -- state by state to county by county and home to home, world, and universe of laws, not of men and women, just as many who should have been honored but weren't have previously written, followed and said. Their abrogation surrounds us now in sadness and consequence.
On a subsequent visit, as I explained circumstances further, he leaned forward and said, nearly yelling, "Did you hit him??" I was stunned and replied, "I don't think so." At another point in my recounting events leading up to my calling EMERGENCY 911 and requesting legal assistance in convincing my third husband to leave my home, Sam asked, "Why didn't you kill him?" A more cogent question would have been, Why did deputies arrest me instead of him? When I repeated the comment in some surprise to John Waybright, he opined that "Murder would be easier to defend." In discussing possible property settlements, Sam asked if mother and George couldn't buy the rental property from us to simplify things. I shook my head and said, "No, they've declared bankruptcy twice in recent years and wouldn't be able to qualify for a loan." So, we didn't pursue that direction any further.
I requested that Sam draw up a Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney naming my fabulous and unimpeachable Goddaughter, Leah Daily, now also a Board Member of ACR, Inc. and mother of my great-Godson, as heir and administrator with authority to make life and death decisions about my welfare whenever I might become too incapacitated to do that myself. Handing me papers for signing the afternoon before my Court appearance, he then refused to complete the process, apparently concerned that I would commit suicide before the hearing. I had previously said, "My husband won't testify against me," and was looking forward to moving to Tennessee to live nearer old friends and in Jonesborough, a town I adore, so had absolutely no interest in ending my life, or anyone else's for that matter. After the charge was dismissed without prejudice for lack of evidence, Sam completed processing the papers and gave me three copies, of which my Goddaughter has one, her mother, my long-time best friend, another, and the one I have. In early January and to the very apparent surprise of County Attorney Nancy Reed (co-founder of Choices, an excellent shelter for abused women in Luray, and the only woman attorney there at the time, to whom I'd first gone for legal representation, not understanding that she would be arguing for the prosecution), my now-ex refused to testify against me, swearing under oath instead that I was the one who called EMERGENCY 911 for assistance. Sam stood up quickly and said, "Move to dismiss," and with equal alacrity the Judge agreed. Sam later referred to those three words by saying, "I got you off."
On one subsequent occasion Sam was upset to learn that I'd communicated, and in a friendly way, with my now ex-husband. Paid by me as a civil lawyer to represent my interests and viewpoint in divorce proceedings, he insisted vociferously and arduously that all discussion proceed through him due, he said, to possible legal ramifications otherwise. I did not, and do not agree with that and continued civil conversations off and on with my ex until circumstance intervened to preclude those. Much later, a Bristol TN holistic therapist in the fall of 2007 divined easily that, "You're a Communicator and not being able to do that well or at all made you sick spiritually and physically," along with her offerings of concrete behavioral suggestions for healing and overcoming that natural deficiency.
We are all nothing if not a highly communicative species, as are nearly all other lifeform phyla variously of wants and needs. We understand immediately if our domesticated dog is hungry, if a wild bear is angry or curious, and if a songbird is happy about its life and the day. Repressed and suppressed histories, desires, hurts and lost belongings have long been known to be the stuff of illness mentally and materially. That is not an actuality to force on anyone unless one envisions a world comprised exclusively of unscrupulous lawyers, physicians and their helpers, psychiatric and occupational therapists, pharmaceutical companies and representatives, and institutions for the damaged in every way. That is hardly a healthy, sane or truly productive and contructive vision for our country or world and its citizenry, including the children of the perpetrators and themselves promoting and engaging in undergirding it all as a socio-economic structure. Historically and within the model of capitalist theory and practice, that proceeds by the inventions and enthusiasms of entrepreneurs in all fields of human inquiry and product construction of artistic, scientific and material merit.
Apparently, legal professionals involved, and others in some parts of the nation, misunderstood the concept of "EMERGENCY 911." It's fairly simple, and I believe a person of average intelligence can grasp it, if they really try. The EMERGENCY is with the HOMEOWNER, the PERSON WHO CALLED and is BEHAVING LEGALLY, NOT with the person trespassing, thereby engaging in a crime punishable by fine and/or jail, on the homeowner's property. I think if this basic fundamental is repeated several times, or maybe more in the case of a few, that deputies, sheriffs, magistrates, judges, and even some trial attorneys can get a grip on its meaning, so that in the future misunderstandings of basic word meanings won't deter the legal system from its duties and responsibilities under their oath and the Constitution. Again, THE EMERGENCY IS WITH THE HOMEOWNER, THE PERSON BEHAVING LEGALLY, NOT ANYONE ELSE THAT MIGHT BE ON THE PROPERTY BUT HAVE NO LEGAL CLAIM TO IT. Get it? Say it again. One more time. Okay.
The purpose, of course, of Police and Sheriff's Departments and legal systems generally is supposed to be to discourage and punish really criminal behavior(s), not encourage, reward, and/or participate in them. The latter simply creates a criminal state. None of the crimes against me, then or subsequently, personally or to my property, have ever been punished, or attempted to be -- except one trespassing warrant served finally on my third husband, while he was still occuping my home by himself and refusing to leave, which was never pursued or prosecuted -- by Page or Shenandoah Counties or the Commonwealth of Virginia. It/they have, however, as of 2008, taken away my right to vote and keep/bear arms, my freedom five times, and nearly all of my property as a consequence of calling EMERGENCY 911 and making a very legal, and peaceable request.
In other words, they're all criminals and those who colluded by activity or passivity with them are co-conspirators, accomplices in a very extensive list of obvious, well-documented, known and recorded crimes. It's time for everyone in those two counties and government representatives in Richmond to face the facts, including who they really are and what they're really done. There's no escape for anyone. They'll have to face the truth, and it will set them free, just as promised. Trying to kill me, or drive me insane, rather than do that was a very bad choice for people there to make, simply compounding their crimes and mistakes. Perhaps they shouldn't have picked on a woman whose name means "Gracious gift of God," with a high honors degree in Psychology from VCU, professional employment with the capitol's criminal justice system, sole ownership of her home to the knowledge of many, many people for twenty years, and single proprietor of a fairly prominent business there and worldwide. It really does seem like a stupid, little thing to do. Futile. Feudal. Feudalism was defeated in this country, The United States of America, over 200 years ago. I don't believe anyone, certainly not the majority, wish for its reinstatement anywhere really. We want to be what we are meant to be, a democratic republic of free, enfranchised, active and caring citizens, proud and overjoyed to be just a very small part of that entity called "the greatest nation on earth."
The charge was vacated and Sam advised that the record could be expunged on petition to the Commonwealth, suggesting that he be put "on retainer" for $750 to pursue further legal matters, including ordering my third husband to leave my house. Harrisonburg attorney Kerry Armentrout, retained by my now-ex, advised him that he hadn't a case, suggested in Court that he be excused on the grounds that he knew me, and said only during the proceedings the soon-to-be most-famous one-liner in jurisprudence history, "Huh," once when Sam introduced a legal precedent from many years earlier in establishing another instance of a homeowner reclaiming their property. For his physical presence and affirmation of existence and hearing, Kerry received $600 from my insistent(ly insane) third husband. I returned briefly to Tennessee, and in a subsequent hearing a Judge ordered him to vacate himself and his belongings from my property within three days. I called the Page County Sheriff's Department and requested that deputies supervise his departure but was told, "We can't do that without a warrant. Don't you have any brothers?"
If I'd had siblings, perhaps I might not have felt the need to request from deputies the assistance to which I was entitled and for which I had paid with my property, and other, taxes over the past 15 years by calling EMERGENCY 911 to begin with. That service had been installed just months previous, involuntarily and paid for by me through the monthly telephone bill, on the phone line installed and kept in my name alone by Shenandoah County's Shenandoah Telecommunications Company upon my first moving into the A-frame in the fall of 1983. Shentel was also my internet service provider at the time for work on the two websites, OSCR and Peace (a personal poetry site), and for personal, professional and legal communications via e-mail. Unbeknownst to me until over a year later, they had launched "the original Valley's home page," shenandoah.com, in the fall of 1997 at around the same time I was first wrongfully arrested, a fact subsequently attested to by the charge being vacated in Court upon hearing under oath of the facts involved. My previous encounters with the wrong side of the law had been receipt of two parking tickets years earlier in Richmond. I found the sudden putting of my life and freedom -- including my choice of whether I wanted to go to Court in the first place or hire a lawyer for representation, and who my company might be in and on my own property and with me -- into the hands of strangers very disturbing and alarming.
Shentel's site, when I later discovered it accidentally, was obviously commercially competitive for audience and revenue to OSCR with its local and national acclaim and six area advertisers. It had been created by a politically conservative, mostly family association of male officer/owners within that generationally-established company. At that time in 1997, OSCR had up to a year-and-a-half headstart over other regional sites, including theirs, in content, regional and inter/national awareness and acceptance, and approving distinction ("glorious"... "an adventure"... "stunning"... "full of interesting subjects"... "delight-full"... "felt right at home"... "exceptional"..."cheery-style layout"... "Enjoyable"... "excellent"... "lots of fun to read"... "a remarkably fine product"... "Classy"... "deserves a bookmark"... "an enjoyable exploration"... "homey"... "professional"... "a grand job"... "heartwarming"... "fine layout and quality"... "uplifting"... "Great!!!"... "Lots of interesting content"... "extremely well done"... "peerless"... "wonderful"... "a positive reflection of southern life"... "love to come back again and again"... "striking design"... "a place to read and think and dream"... "excellent job!"... "creative"... "much better than most I have seen on the Internet"... "lovely"... "Great Job!"... "spectacular"... "fabulous"... "innovative"... "like a travel guide to someplace in the heart or memory"... "outstanding"... "WOW!"... "brilliant"... "nice flavor with soft backgrounds"... "humorous"... "most fun and the most beautiful"... "lyrical"... "love your e-zine"... "cool"... "incredible"... "charming"... "the very best site on the web"... "great approach to valley mindset"... "a jewel on the Web"... "an excellent source"... "Love it"... "really great"... "entertaining"... "the best I've seen"... "very user-friendly"... "pretty neat"... "incredibly beautiful") from individuals, media, and many other sites with reciprocal links. Quite a few of the latter also published various of my poems, short stories and articles, including New Market's Shenandoah Valley Travel Association. Since OSCR, and later ACR, brought positive inter/national as well as regional participation and recognition, and potentially excellent revenue into the Valley and its smaller businesses, tourism destinations and artists, it was and is difficult to understand exhibited behaviors and attitudes on a practical, as well as legal level. They seem basically self-defeating and suicidal, instead.
My third husband requested from his lawyer and conveyed to Sam, who told me, "There isn't much we can do about it," a two day extension which allowed him time to empty the property of everything that had been acquired jointly and separately in the previous 15 years, including the refrigerator, woodstove that heated the house adequately, and satellite connection but not, thankfully, my computer. He later said that one of two neighbors who helped him requested that for himself, but he refused. He also stated that he'd been served during those five days with a trespassing warrant for which he was to appear in Court, that he was advised by a legal representative to ignore it, and that the charge was never pursued. On being informed of the looting of my property, Sam requested a list of all the missing things with their approximate value, which I compiled into three typed pages and sent to his office. I never heard any more about that until years later when my ex said he'd received a letter from Sam instructing him to pay me half the total listed amount. He never did and kept it all stored in the basement of a nearby neighbor's house. I was told that individual, the sole owner of his property, was also arrested subsequently when he called EMERGENCY 911 for assistance with a guest behaving badly and out of control. According to them, that late middle-aged man was brought into Court handcuffed and shackled, forced to carry a large, heavy, round ball in his hands before him, and prohibited by the Court from going within 300 feet of his own house for three months until the charge against him was heard formally by a Judge.
Although he said six years later that a friendly neighbor had given him the advice, in a note left in the A-frame by my later-ex he wrote, paraphrasing as accurately as possible from memory, "My attorney told me to take everything I did. I don't understand what's going on. I love you. I love you. I love you." Of course, that advice would have been criminal as the Judge ruled that he had three days to get his (not our) possessions and himself out of the house. Sam relayed that he had requested a mysterious (until I discovered what had been taken) additional two days to accomplish that and that "there isn't much we can do about that." Attorney Kerry Armentrout sent an overnight express letter to my mother and stepfather shortly thereafter advising that, if they weren't out of the rental house by the end of the month, my now ex-husband would move in with them. Although I assured them that wouldn't happen and wasn't legally viable, it gave my mother nightmares until the date passed eventlessly and I wondered what might have happened if, instead, a civil note had advised them of a few months' notice to vacate the leaseless premises so a co-owner could take up residence there as might have been logically reasonable, acceptable, and acquiescable by those with an intimate interest in the outcome and their own health and well-being. As it was, my ex was essentially homeless, and sometimes suicidal, for a year before securing independent housing for himself. A system that invites and encourages endless legal wrangling for its own financial benefit exclusively rather than equitably peaceable solutions serves neither citizenry nor community and collapses on itself in the end in elevating non-productive work to the detriment of life and construction. Of course, my attorney knew that I owned valuable personal property, also, as a large and heavy bag of sterling silver pieces taken from the A-frame was returned on demand and at his direction to his office and subsequently by him to me for safe-keeping, with apologies also conveyed through him for its temporary disappearance.
After regaining my gutted house and wrecked credit, I protested aloud to my mother the consequences of calling EMERGENCY 911 for protection and service homeowners pay for, in my case over 25 years there and elsewhere. She said, without empathy (or "unconditional love") or reference to ethics, morality, or legality, "You just didn't get what you wanted." It's important to remember that citizens are supposed to get what they want in terms, particularly, of what's done to their property, including their bodies, as well as their houses, furniture, money, investments, businesses/employment and credit. That's what freedom/liberty means: the right to choose the disposition and direction of self and possessions. Anything else is despotism, fascism, autocracy, degrees and variations of rape, and negates the concept and meaning of the word "ownership."
During the first three or four months of 1998, I lived without refrigeration, television or sufficient heat, as I packed boxes and worked toward selling the house. One morning when I woke up it was 45 degrees inside before I found, at the suggestion of my best friend in Tennessee, a buyer, Joe Sottosanti, who was a developer and friend, paid the asking price without argument and sent me monthly payments for quite awhile during the nebulous time that Sam, named as the attorney for the closing in the sale document, refused to process it although he looked at the document and said, "It looks okay to me." The house stayed vacant for the duration and uncared-for, as grass grew taller and the interior baked in the sun through its nearly all-glass southern exposure. Much later, he explained, "I'm a criminal attorney." A few years earlier, Sam had been the closing attorney during purchase of the house we rented to my mother and stepfather. The buyer's lawyer finally put the contract through and, maybe a year later, as Pam Sottosanti, Joe's wife, had been harassed on the property, including fairly extensive damage to her car, by my ex and some others, paid off the full remaining purchase price in the process of selling it yet again to an out-of-town buyer. I had paid Sam Price, of course, at his request and recommendation, a $750 "retainer fee" to represent my interests in divorce proceedings, part of which would be to process, as named, the sales contract on my house. Although he said, "It looks fine to me," when I sent a copy to him for processing through the Courthouse, he never did that. His later claim that he was a criminal attorney, implying he was that exclusively, is specious in every sense including the one that he should never have suggested or accepted monies paid for any other purposes if that were true. That behavior was again and later still an abrogation of his contractual responsibilities as well as service to real law or equity or truth anywhere.
During the previous decade or so, I had used my lifelong excellent credit history, which included an unlimited and free American Express card for years, to obtain new credit, adding my then-husband's name, trustingly but mistakenly as it turned out, to the cards. One was obtained because I was the daughter of a United States war veteran, and I was particularly proud and gratified with that one. While I was gone from my house to maintain personal safety while Page County decided whether or not it would honor the Constitution, truth and reality, he cancelled all of those and refused to make payments on any of the bills received there, ruining my credit for years.
As part of the quest and goal of a simpler and more honest life, I'd embraced game hunting for sustenance, as well as gardening, since I'd come to terms years earlier with being a natural and enthusiastic carnivore, or omnivore. With the exception of occasional market sales, usually on hot dogs, sausages, chicken and turkey, I learned to butcher, defeather or debone just about any creature living there and allowed for consumption. There's an odd irony in eating animals one loves when alive, which drew me closer, I believed, to our ancestors who did similarly and the concept of thanking God and blessing the sacrifice through generally silent prayers of forgiveness and gratitude before each meal. Eating everything from the smallest -- squirrel, chicken, and rabbit -- to the largest -- bear and deer -- I discovered new tastes and flavorings, as well as preparation, cooking and storing methods, along with the self-restraint and emotional containment of reason drawn to a true culinary conclusion.
Whatever a "gamey" taste is that some people don't like, I never perceived it and enjoyed that wilderness dining very much. In the midst of it, we all learned that marooned Andes survivors had eaten flesh of dead comrades to stay alive in hope of rescue. I never agreed with or consented to hunting simply for trophy antlers, hides for stuffing, or wasting any edible part of the game, so cooked barbecued venison spare ribs (first boiled to tenderness), gizzards, and livers out of which I usually made French terrines. Eggs also seldom went wanting for use in an ever-increasing accumulation of recipes from chocolate mousse to omelettes and in scrambled freezing for baked goods like souffles. And because Domino's was half an hour away without possible home delivery, I learned also to make one of my favorite items, including crust, from scratch.
Fortunately, I'd loved for nearly an adult lifetime varieties of cooking experience and innovation, so it wasn't all a chore but delights in novelty and a joy. "Squirrel gravy" to venison roast with pockets of butter and thyme, it was life in the slow lane seeming very rich and fine culturally and spiritually. With the woodstove for winter heat and thickly riotous spring wildflowers at my feet, it was country sublime and a gift -- acclimation and accommodation to nature, civilized wilderness balancing history, heritage and technology -- to share through new media worldwide as time went by. All that destroyed by hideous and macabre criminals and traitors to this nation and that region turning dreams into screams and nightmares everywhere and for everyone, including themselves if they ever wake up and pay attention to what's around and inside them and their loved ones in that area and the planet elsewhere, as lies and wrong crash down and the weight of them becomes a pool for drowning where nothing can stop or staunch the fall. Murder for hire, and then the fire. Some things are just inevitable. What good will assault rifles do against the barons of Wall Street, mega-banking misdealers, and oil profiteers? Or the folks pushing pharmaceuticals and booze? All of creation is behind, around, and in front of us all -- and too many dismiss it with an arrogant and disdainful wave of the hand. Who cares about that when one has cash and a crock to tend to?
-- Lydia M. Child (1802-1880), abolishionist, activitist, novelist, journalist, and poet who wrote extensively on justice issues for Native Americans, African Americans, and women
"Our life is frittered away by detail.... Simplify, simplify."
Meditations/prayers from Silent Unity's 2008 On Sacred Ground calendar:
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