Tag Archives: Virginia

The Best Day

The wind was brisk as friends and I plodded through crunchy snow to the top of the hill. Heavy snowfall during the night ended and now in the morning light it appeared as though someone sprinkled glitter across the accumulation. We blew into cupped hands to warm them as we surveyed the glistening slope.

Snow doesn’t fall often in Richmond and if it does it’s rarely deep. Today a good snow had finally come, so we had headed to Forest Hill Park with sleds in tow. We hoped to get in several early rides before crowds reduced the snow to slush, but already we heard muffled voices approaching from across the park.

A group of excited kids, probably half our ages, led two men and a woman in our direction. The children dragged sleds and pulled eagerly at the adults who were stepping through the fresh snow at a painfully slow pace. They said nothing to the kids, just sipped slowly from travel mugs, oblivious of their children’s urgency.

Eventually stopping beside us, the kids immediately split off from the three adults, their youthful shouts and shrill cackles fading as they launched themselves downhill. The adults struggled to juggle discarded gloves and stocking caps tossed aside in the excitement. As the kids squealed in delight the adults stood by solemnly. Already impatiently checking watches, they were motionless except for the irritated shifting of feet. It was clear they were not thrilled to be there.

“Not staying long,” the first man said determinedly.

“Same here,” the second responded. “Anyway, it’s Richmond. Snow will be gone by noon.”

“It’s too windy!” the woman snipped as she pursed her lips and tightened her scarf.

The rosy-cheeked kids, having already taken several frosty rides, appeared back at the top of the hill for another. I moved aside as the woman in the scarf took a few hurried steps towards one little boy to get his attention.

“Just one more time!” she said sternly, tightening her scarf again.

In spite of the warning, the exuberant gang managed several more uninterrupted runs, laughing all the while. On one return trip the little boy yelled to the woman in the scarf. “Ride with us!”

She frowned a “no.” When the boy sailed down the hill she yelled after him, “Just one more time!”

Although my friends and I had arrived early hoping for a hill temporarily to ourselves, we were soon enjoying the frivolity of the young bunch. We challenged them to races and began to time our returns to the hilltop with theirs. At each return one child or another invited the adults to join. At first the grown-ups hardly noticed the invitations, so intent on being miserable, but one by one the kids’ laughter won them over.

I watched the adults finally begin to grin as sleds jetted down the slope—after one hilarious collision at the bottom the three actually howled. Finally, their reluctance was fading.

“They’re having fun,” the first man said. “We might stay a little longer.”

“Same here,” the second man responded. “It’s Richmond. They should enjoy the snow while it lasts.”

The woman casually touched her scarf. “It’s not so bad since the wind died down.”

Drawn in by the children’s joyful whoops, the three adults edged closer for a better view of the kids who now ran and belly-flopped onto their sleds to gain more speed in the already melting snow.

Minutes later as the sleds were being aimed downhill, one of the men, to the surprise of all, tossed aside his mug and rushed the kids. Hopping on the back of a sled, he startled one boy who shrieked with complete joy as the man’s momentum catapulted them both down the slope.

We all laughed. Next time, both men joined the kids.

“Just one more time!” the woman with the scarf yelled when the entire group slid away leaving her alone. In spite of herself, she laughed as they zipped downhill. On their return she needed no invitation. She hopped onto a sled, pushed off and screamed all the way to the bottom. Adults and children, together, took several rides until they agreed that the best of the snow was gone.

When the exhausted children dropped to the snowy ground to rest, I watched as the adults looked at each other in agreement, grabbed sleds, and headed once more for the slope. The kids held on to discarded travel mugs and car keys as they watched the older folks slide down the now-slushy hill. When the exhausted adults returned, panting but smiling, one tired little boy stood up slowly from the snow. Worn out and sweating despite the cold, he called out to the woman in the scarf that he was ready to leave.

The woman looked at him, tightened her scarf, and yelled over her shoulder, “Just one more time!” And with that she sailed down the hill alone, scarf trailing behind in the chilly wind.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Virginia Living – The Greatest Show!

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I have another essay appearing in the current issue of Virginia Living magazine!

It was a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine again (my fourth essay for them) and as a Virginian, like my parents and theirs, it was especially fun to contribute to a publication I’ve had in my own home over the years.

Below is a link to my piece in the online version of Virginia Living.  Check it out, and if you like please comment on their site in the space just below the essay. I’d love to hear your feedback!

http://www.virginialiving.com/home/the-greatest-show/

Thanks to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to some great opportunities.

I’ve included some garden photos (before-ish and after-ish) from the experience.

Stuart M. Perkins

23.4.5.1

7.8.9.11.6.

 

 

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Strangers?

It was early morning when we stepped quietly into the cozy dining area of the bed and breakfast. A quick glance told us we were first, so we took a seat at one of the several small tables arranged intimately throughout the room. Soon other guests trickled in and sat where they liked, usually leaving the empty “buffer” table between themselves and those already seated. A few “good morning” nods were traded but no one spoke. We were, after all, strangers.

Each table solemnly eyeballed the others to see just who chance had decided they spend that particular weekend with. No one in the room knew the other guests, but by luck of the draw and an online reservation we were about to share breakfast. Bad hair, puffy eyes, and all. It’s an awkward silence that wins as strangers size up one another.

That silence was broken when the friendly owners burst from the kitchen. With genuine smiles they floated gracefully from one table to the next informing each of the breakfast menu, asked how we slept, and were sincerely interested in our plans for the day. As they spurred on discussion at one table, another listened in, and then another. In their wake, the owners effortlessly seeded conversations between tables which grew through breakfast.

Though brief and somewhat formal, as conversations between strangers generally are, we all slowly began to open up. Where are you from? Where do you work? What will you do while here? Suggestions from one table spilled over to the next which prompted ideas from another which resulted in recommendations from one more. Conversations dwindled as we began to eat, but cracks had formed in that initial awkwardness. Still, when breakfast was over, we parted ways to go separately into the day. We were, after all, still strangers.

The next morning’s breakfast shaped up a little differently. “Good morning” nods were replaced by the real thing called across the room. People sat beside each other to compare notes on the previous day’s adventures and “buffer” tables ceased to exist. Conversations were lively as common experiences were discussed. Oh you went there too? We must have just missed you! Where are you going today? Several invitations were offered to join in another’s day or perhaps meet for dinner. The awkwardness had vanished.

People who otherwise would have never crossed paths met in that cozy dining room as strangers. Conversations ultimately revealed the cities and states each had traveled from to be there. One woman, I learned, was from my own hometown. We talked about our high schools, how things had changed over the years, and wondered how many times we’d probably crossed paths on the streets around home. Yet, the one and only conversation we were likely to ever have took place miles away from home in that dining room over breakfast. A weekend of relaxation and fun was surprisingly enhanced, for all of us, because of a few chance conversations over breakfast.

In the end, none were strangers.

Stuart M. Perkins

 

 

As a special note: The bed and breakfast was The Hope and Glory Inn in Irvington, Virginia. I couldn’t write a proper review even if that were my intention – so I won’t try here. I enjoy watching what goes on around me, seeing stories unfold, and telling them in my own words. That’s what my blog is about.

In this case I watched unfold the story of a group of strangers who became, through the power of simple conversation, friends for a weekend. Conversations that were often initiated, always encouraged, and certainly made more entertaining by the participation of the owners of The Hope and Glory Inn, Peggy and Dudley Patteson. I’m not sure a friendlier or more down to earth pair exists!

I’m from Virginia and my extended family has ties to the Irvington area that started before I was born, so I’ve spent a lot of time on the Chesapeake Bay. Some of my blog posts center around family time there. The Hope and Glory Inn has a long history. That history, combined with the obvious beauty of the place, first prompted my interest to stay there even though it was just down the road from the family cottage where I’ve spent many happy vacations. So glad I did.

Rather than repeat all that I love about the Inn, the area, and the people, I’m attaching the Inn’s link below. It’s so much more than a bed and breakfast and Peggy and Dudley are happy, and certainly able, to point guests in proper directions so they’ll not miss what that beautiful part of Virginia has to offer.

Or you just might learn all you need to know over breakfast.

http://www.hopeandglory.com/

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Virginia Living!

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I have an essay appearing in the June issue of Virginia Living magazine!

It was a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine again (I also had an essay published back in their February 2016 issue) and as a native Virginian, like my parents and theirs, it was especially fun to contribute to a publication I’ve had in my own home over the years.

Below is a link to my essay in the online version of Virginia Living.  Check it out and if you like please comment on their site below the essay!

http://www.virginialiving.com/home-garden/a-new-leaf/

Thanks to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to some great opportunities.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Home Is Where The Nose Is

“I wanted to tap my heels together three times in that bakery!” the woman said as she sat down beside me for the flight back home to Virginia.

I glanced at her feet expecting ruby slippers.

“Smell this.” she leaned towards me and opened a paper sack containing several blackberry pastries. “I loved France but the smell of blackberries made me miss childhood summers at home!”

“Well, there’s no place like it!” I added.

I was fortunate to do some traveling over the last year and found myself captivated by the beauty and history of various cities in Colombia, Spain, and France. Every day, in every city I visited, I’d daydream about what life might be like to leave the place I’ve always called home and live abroad in such majestic locales. I doubted that a hint of blackberries, or anything else for that matter, could cause me to pine for home the way this woman seemed to. Just because she smelled a pastry? I wasn’t so sure about that one.

However, while waiting for our flight to depart Paris we continued discussing the strange power some scents have to unlock fond memories of people or places and to sometimes make us homesick. She insisted that the mere hint of blackberry instantly transported her back to summers as a little girl. She stopped reminiscing as the plane took off but I continued thinking about the power of scents. I admit that a remembered smell is like a souvenir from the past, but how silly this woman’s sudden urge to tap her heels three times to be home – because of a smell!

Born in and spending most of my life in Richmond, I then realized, had given me many scents to fondly associate with those years. During countless youthful Saturdays along or in the James River I remember its water’s pungent dank aroma in summer and how it took on a crisper essence whenever rainfall upriver came barreling through. Cookies baking at the FFV off of Broad Street made my mouth water almost as much as a whiff of sugary sinfulness when passing by Krispy Kreme. Closer to home, the call from fresh slices of our garden’s first cantaloupe would lure me into Mama’s kitchen. To this day, the aroma of butter beans cooking makes me homesick I confess. Maybe I have wanted to tap my heels a time or two after all.

For decades now, summer trips to my uncle Tuck’s cottage in Lancaster County where the Rappahannock River meets the Chesapeake Bay have provided many a memorable sniff. Saltwater marshes with their fishy odors make me recall the childish excitement of simply nearing the bay. Even the acrid sulfur stench of the paper mill in West Point has the power to remind me of long gone summers. In the air is a bracing spice given off by layers of decaying pine tags along the shaded sandy road approaching the cottage and entering the cottage itself I experience a rich potpourri of aged wood, salt air, and a suggestion Old Bay. Every one of those aromas has the power to take me back in time.

Another uncle, Jiggs, owned a farm in Lunenburg County where I also spent many summer weekends. The musty old wood of a barn is comforting to me and hundreds of bales of fresh hay emit a tangy sweet bouquet. Summer sun beating on a field of dry alfalfa causes it to release its zesty aroma and sometimes I think pure country air itself is invigorating perfection. Just after a summer rain, I know that it is. The fragrant perfume of honeysuckle on the fencerow, the peppery redolence of old tobacco barns, the faint sweetness of cornfields in the morning, and the lightly pungent pile of composted cow manure behind the barn all make me smile when remembered. Even today I can brush by a tomato plant and have the sharp scent from the crushed stem take me right back to the country. The more I thought about it, tapping my heels didn’t seem too silly anymore.

It was back to reality when I heard the pilot announce our landing. The woman beside me held up her bag of blackberry pastries and smiled. Once on the ground I gathered my things and made the slow walk up the aisle to the exit. As I neared the door a gust of wind from outside blew into the plane. Wow, I thought. There really is a sweet Virginia breeze. In that small burst of summer air I smelled trees, blooming trees of some kind, and remembered the pasture at home.

I’ve enjoyed my world travels and hope there are more in store. Surely my daydreaming of life abroad will continue with each trip, but as I walked from the plane that day I inhaled deeply and fought the urge to tap my heels.

Ahhh, I had just smelled Virginia and there really is no place like home.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Filled Need

One summer evening back in 2006 I happened to see a P.B.S. documentary on people living in the Appalachian region of Virginia. My kids, 8 and 10 at the time, had been with me for the weekend and we’d had a great time as usual. After they left, I cleaned and washed a few dishes. The television was on for background noise really. I hated how quiet it was once the kids left.

I started to pay attention to the documentary when someone began to interview an Appalachian couple as they sat on the front porch steps of their tiny frame house. The couple had two kids but little else of any value besides their home. The father worked as a coal miner and handyman while the mother took care of the kids and worked a part-time job at a corner grocery store.

During the interview the couple held hands as they spoke about the hardships of living in such an impoverished area where most people had little education and jobs were scarce. I was struck by the fact that they never complained. Not once. The simply did the best they could and were grateful their good health allowed them to work.

They were serious when they spoke but smiled when asked about their kids. The mother described how much they loved them. The father smiled at first, then his expression changed. This big, burly, tough, coal miner and handyman who lived a rough mountain life began to cry as he spoke about his children. He expressed disappointment in himself because he was unable to give his kids things he knew other children had. At Christmas, he said, it was especially rough. It was hard to tell what he said, he cried so hard as he said it.

I cried with him. To some extent I understood that disappointment. This couple worked as much as possible to keep the kids taken care of and happy. In spite of their efforts, they felt shame and disappointment because in their minds they were letting their kids down. Every empty Christmas was a reminder of that feeling.

At that time, I had very little myself. I have never had much, but that was an especially rough period. Still, as I watched that grown man cry, and not just tear up a little but completely sob because he felt he was letting his kids down, it dawned on me. This was suddenly all pretty simple. I had very little, but he and others in his situation had even less. Surely there was something I could do.

The first call I made was to my friend Mary Dell. I told her what I’d seen, how it made me feel, and asked what she thought of collecting clothes and shoes and once we had enough we could take them all…somewhere. I had no idea where. She immediately agreed. After my call she drummed up donations on her end while I did the same on mine. Friends and family eagerly pitched in. Over the next few months a spare bedroom in my basement began to overflow with bags of clothes and shoes.

As collections grew I began to email various community action programs operating in Virginia counties within the Appalachian region. I also spoke with various social service departments, charitable organizations, and even fire departments, anyone I could find who might know which agency would get the most use out of the things we were quickly stockpiling in my basement. The idea was not to start our own charity, but to feed into established programs that provided help to the people they served.

Amazingly, my calls reached many dead ends. No one was rude or unappreciative, they just didn’t know what to make of my proposition. I simply wanted an address of the office or warehouse used by the program. My friends and I would pack up the hundreds of items we were still collecting and deliver them. I got responses from those I contacted like “We can’t pay you anything.” or “We don’t have it in our budget to reimburse your gas.” I never asked for any of those things. I just wanted to deliver the clothes. Many times I was asked for the name of my organization. People I contacted seemed to have trouble understanding why one individual, hours away across the state, would call with such an offer.

If these program directors felt more comfortable feeling they were dealing with an organization, then I would give my group of friends a name. I decided on “R.E.A.C.T. Virginia” (Reach Every Appalachian Child Today) and registered our group online so that my contact information could be accessed.

After weeks of back and forth with about thirty agencies, I managed to get the attention of the director of a community action program in a county in southwest Virginia. I told her we had hundreds of items, clothing and shoes for men, women, boys, and girls. All sizes. If she would tell me where her office or warehouse was, I would make sure the items were delivered.

She initially responded with comments I’d heard before. “We thank you for your desire to help, we can’t come to Richmond to pick items up, we can’t pay for shipping.” I told her I understood, that friends and I had collected the items and at this point we only needed to be told who needed these things the most and where we could take them. If her agency could use them we had no problem packing it all up and driving the four or five hours to deliver them.

The director’s next email to me was one word. “Why?”

She was baffled as to why anyone from across the state would contact her little program and volunteer to hand deliver such an amount of clothing as I had described. I once again quoted my grandmother, Nannie, to a complete stranger. I repeated the line of hers that I have repeated many times. “When you see a need, fill it.” My friends and I were just trying to fill a need.

Still baffled, she sent me directions to her office warehouse. We agreed upon a date to make the delivery, which happened to fall on my 44th birthday. I couldn’t wait to tell Mary Dell, her son Greg, and her sister Brenda, who had all been instrumental in making this effort work. I was thrilled. Finally I had found people who knew how to make the best use of all we had collected. I walked downstairs and looked at the room full of clothes in bags and boxes.  The room was literally full to the ceiling in the corners. Then it hit me that all of these things would have to be packed onto the truck.

What truck?

Without hesitation, Brenda’s husband Fred offered us the use of his pickup truck. What followed next was a blur of the core group of friends, my sisters, and my mother who arrived with a cooler packed full of sandwiches working like ants over that room full of clothes and shoes. We sorted, sized, folded, bagged, and laughed for hours. Everything was ready to go on the truck in the morning.

When Mary Dell, Brenda, and Greg arrived in the truck early the next morning I remember thinking we probably wouldn’t need so big a truck. I was wrong. Before the packing was done the truck was piled high, rounded over with bags of clothes, a tarp stretched across and lashed with ropes. All we lacked was Granny Clampett in a rocking chair as the cherry on top.

The four of us left for our five hour trip to southwest Virginia unsure of our directions, where we were actually going, or what we would find when we got there.

What we found was a small but effective organization run by kind, caring, and determined people. We drove to the back of the office warehouse and were greeted by a man at the door. When he asked if he could help us with something, I told him my name and who we were. He suddenly disappeared from sight but we could hear him yell to someone inside, “Come quick! R.E.A.C.T. Virginia is here!”

I was embarrassed and suddenly feared that maybe I had overplayed the amount of things we were bringing. What if they were disappointed?

They were not disappointed. There was disbelief in their eyes as they saw the mountain of bags of clothes, contents all clearly labeled. That alone had saved them a lot of work, we learned. It took a while to unload the truck and I stopped counting the number of times we were thanked. With the truck unloaded I looked at my friends, knowing we were all feeling pretty good that we had accomplished what we set out to do. That’s when we were invited inside for a tour of the office.

We went inside and were told in detail how they work, what they do, where the items go, who can receive the donations, and every other detail. We were also told that our delivery couldn’t have come at a better time. There had recently been two house fires in the nearby town and both families had been left with nothing. The timing was perfect.

They thanked us, we thanked them, and we told them we would be on our way since we had to make the return five hour trip. We were told we couldn’t leave until they took our picture. We were escorted outside where we lined up in front of the agency’s sign and had our group photo taken. R.E.A.C.T.Virginia was going to be in the local paper.

After the photos we headed home. It had been a long, satisfying day. My intention was to continue that effort. Maybe a yearly trip to other programs, if not that particular one. Unfortunately, life got in the way a bit. I changed jobs, moved, and the planned effort was basically left behind.

This has been seven years ago now, but just recently I got a phone call from the director of a community action program in North Carolina. She had learned about us from the director of the agency where we had delivered our truckload of clothes – seven years ago. She wondered if R.E.A.C.T. Virginia would consider helping agencies located outside Virginia and if we would, could she talk to me about their particular needs.

I apologized to her and let her know that we had not been active for a few years, but I hoped she would be able to find the help she was looking for. She very pleasantly thanked me. I hung up and since then have pondered how to make it work again.

It all started because I saw a hard working grown man brought to tears when he felt he disappointed his children. Even though I had little, I still had more than that man, and it caused me to remember what Nannie always said. Seeing that sad man sparked the effort, but my friends and family are what made it succeed.

I felt such satisfaction knowing that many, many people benefited from the huge amount of clothes and shoes we were able to provide. There is so much red tape, sometimes, in getting charitable acts accomplished.  The people who needed the things we delivered had no time for red tape. Somewhere a kid needed shoes, and he got them.

That truckload of clothes and shoes we were able to deliver was not the result of years of planning, debating, budget reviews, and demographic mapping. It happened because we saw a need and with the help of our families and others, we helped to fill it. It didn’t take master plans and countless meetings to accomplish.

It was accomplished by four friends and a pickup truck.

Stuart M. Perkins

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