Like The Queen
Whatever happens to strike my fancy, but surely some sort of fiber content.


That is a beautiful story and lovely post.

By Blogger Catherine, at 8:04 AM  

Yes, beautiful. I don't have such vast and varied kinfolk around me except immediate family, since both my parents moved here from the midwest. But as good Catholics, propagate they did, as did their children, (save me), and we're therefore creating our new generations and family history right here and now, for future descendents to reminisce and hold dear.

By Blogger Mary, at 8:44 AM  

Whenever I read one of your lovely "life and family in the country" posts, I am reminded of a wonderful book (which I've read and re-read) called Hill Song by Lee Pennock Huntington. Now it is about Yankee country - I guess Vermont is about as Yankee as you can get - but it evokes the same love of the country life as many of your stories do. Have you read it? If not, I think you would enjoy it.

Thank you for another wonderful story -

Your loyal reader,
Carol in Oregon

By Blogger Rogue Knitter, at 11:57 AM  

Pardon me Bess for using your Blog to do this....but I would love to know where in Oregon, "Carol In Oregon" is? Since I am here in Oregon, I am curious.

Miss you, Love you, can't wait to see you again!

In Oregon :)

By Anonymous Patti, at 1:36 AM  

Pardon both of us Oregonians, Bess!

Hi, Patti - I live in Jacksonville and I work in Ashland at The Web-sters (of which you may have heard...).


By Blogger Rogue Knitter, at 10:59 AM  

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Sunday, July 30, 2006  

That wonderful Austen line flung out by Mrs. Bennet, "I’ll have you know, we dine with four and twenty families!" echoed through my head all day Saturday and while we may dine with slightly more than that, I agree with her that Country Living is a Vast Deal Better than Town. I’d venture to say even country dying is better. At least, bidding a soul good-bye in an ancient colonial church, nestled like a brooding hen beneath even more ancient trees on a hot July afternoon and then laying a simple pine box in the family cemetery at an ante-bellum home, with its great sweeping fields fringed by hardwoods and its rolling lawns that slope down to the river, greatly softens the sting of death.

We said our farewells to Mr. Mac yesterday. He was another of those threads that kept me close to those old ways, those long ago times, that world before the phrase "random access" had been coined, back when a consequence marched smartly behind every choice. Mr. Mac was like me, a brought-here, marrying into one of those vast web-like families who claim kin to half the population of the county and durn near half of the state - NOVA residents of shiny new vinyl villages excepted. He was even a Yankee come-here, mind, but having married a local gal, had greater claim to brought-herednesss - which I have been assured, is a vast sight different.

When we first moved down/back to Essex, Mr. Mac was head of the local branch of the VA employment agency and his wife, Miz (a southernism, not to be confused with Ms.) Mac had bought the old Champlain Store and Post Office from the Truslows. The store was a very plain cinder block rectangle with living quarters on one side and the big open store building opening off the kitchen. The Truslows had raised two children in that little house, built before 17 was widened into a divided highway. The property wouldn’t pass set back laws now and I think that’s why it’s been on the market for 20 years.

But 30 years ago you could still keep a running ticket at that store. It still held our post office, there were two gas pumps out front, a kerosene pump out the side door, with two pew-like benches flanking the oil drum wood stove that warmed it in winter and an ancient blue industrial air conditioner that mitigated the summer’s heat. I could write for a week about the old Champlain store and still leave out quaint little vignettes from my own memories, and I have only a decade’s worth of ‘em. Partly this is because Miz Mac was so vivid. I’d call her peppery except she was also loving and even kind. More like a fireball (the candy, that is) than a jalapeno.

Her love particularly targeted her family and most particularly, Mr. Mac. And he was a worthy recipient; kind, patient, soft spoken, tolerant and, I suspect, a bit hennish, when it came to his children. Typical of his devotion to them was how, when his first grandson neared high school graduation, Mr. Mac began to haunt the library, lingering in the 300’s, pouring over all the college selection books. This became his pet project and I have no idea how his kids felt about it, but I would bet it was with tender forbearance, not with irritation. You’d just have to feel tender towards Mr. Mac, because he was so tender himself. The other thing I’d be willing to bet is that he never hollered at his children. I’m sure he left all that to his beautiful, fireball wife.

The gathering was a sampling of Upper Essex families, leavened with the sort of new folk who like rural life, so they fit in even if they did come here (from someplace else). The setting, as described above, proves that it’s not all Gone With The Wind. The stretched out emotions had a faded quality to them, like the picture of Mr. Mac, in lace baby dress, held proudly by beaming parents displaying their wee little 1919 first born baby son. He’d survived World War II, including the taking of Iwo Jima, he’d come home to a handshake from the new bride he’d left behind. He’d raised two children and watched the next generation not just hatch but fledge. He’d been very ill at the end. He’d been able to die at home, surrounded by wife, daughter, grandchildren. He’d been loved for 87 years. Taken all together, he’d had a good run.

We all stood solemnly around, among the family markers: Old Fielding and Louise, Big Nancy, Aunt Imogene, Gerry, who didn’t make it past 20 and Peter, who just made it to 21, proof that death is an arbitrary reaper. We drifted into the big house, chatted softly to each other, huddled in corners with frosty glasses of ice tea, nibbled on ham biscuits and little pecan tarts, hugged each other a lot, and took our deepest relief in the children sprawled, climbing or crowding on sofas, porches and lawn. We’re becoming the top layer these days, BD and I, and Roger and Isobel, Kim and Cupper, Mac and BettyAnn. Miz Mac is the last of the Wheatland siblings to remember when, during the 1930’s, when cash hardly existed, they sold the boxwoods in front of the house to that Rockefeller man with his dream of a Colonial Williamsburg reborn and shipped them down river on a steamboat, using the money to send children to college. Where once we were the young things - and held that position a long time - we’re now the old ones, or the almost old ones, with very few of us sheltering beneath the umbrella of living parents.

It was beastly hot all day. By the time we were climbing the riverbanks and wending through the forest up to Highway 17 I was ready to fall asleep. Instead, we just stopped off at home to pick up the wedding gift for Cousin Robert and his bride Marcy, before heading to town to celebrate another of those important life markers with all the Central Essex families who snuggle up to our hearts. Here were the Hundleys and the Lovings, the Brookes and Acrees, and the mythical Caroll Lee Walker from Walkerton, VA, (KaraLEE is the phonetical spelling) with his gravely voice and heart melting King & Queen accent. Robert is one of 4 cousins who went through the high school together in the early 1990’s, along with my own LD.

This party was a family production, everything fresh from the garden, or Alice Mae’s kitchen, or from Gramma’s recipe. This was the Millers Tavern branch of the family and all the stories that are lifted out of the memory trunks and shaken onto the table took place at Beaver’s Hill or Fleetwood or Retreat. Some few come from as far away as Mechanicsville or Varina, back when they were both intact little towns surrounded by cornfields. The stories are all farm based. They’re all family centered. They’re just the thing for a new couple, starting a new branch on the family tree. They aren’t too different from the memories pulled out at the funeral, but they have a brighter color to them. They’re less wrapped in sighs and softness, more couched in laughter and teasing. The guest list overlapped a tad, the genetic pool is pretty much the same in the central portion of the county as in the upper end. You would be forgiven for thinking the bartender was a Cooke, not a Hundley. The great-grandmother was probably a Clarke.

I had to take a moment to sit in the corner, though, so my own emotions, slightly detached from, and yet so utterly connected to all these people, could resonate like the sympathetic strings on a theorbo. I needed to soak up all the feeling of community, of humanity, of wholeness, with which back-to-back family events on a hot southern summer day fairly thrum. Before I could get up close and personal, I had to savor this whirling entirety in the third person. Later on, for those of us who had spent all day in society, there were little jokes about finding a christening to attend somewhere down in Laneview so we could take in the whole county.

All the time, I was wondering, is this a rare glimpse of society or is it the American norm? I felt as if I were watching something special, something delicate, even anachronistic. But that’s because it’s mine: my county, my cousins, my friends, my farewells and my hellos, my world of many decades. I rather think, though, that it’s yours too, you folk in Port Royal or Bowling Green, Suffolk or Bedford, you Rockvillians and Jeffersonvillians. This combination of friends, of DNA, of long shared memories and inevitable tomorrows; it’s probably something any rural community could cough up on any given summer Saturday. And that is a bond of a sorts as well - that my little world is probably pretty much like yours. The names may be changed, the ethnic body type, but the basic recipe is the same. But if it’s not, and if I have been even slightly successful at painting this landscape, you welcome to borrow some of mine.

posted by Bess | 6:32 PM