Friday, May 26, 2006

Ketching Up Is Hard to Do

I am still a month behind with my blogging. This will get worse real fast. This afternoon my wife and I fly to Ireland for a week, and then from there to Scotland. I will probably have zero opportunity to blog from there.

Check back in two weeks. I expect I will have more tangents for you. Now One-Bag-Bibb needs to finish packing.

Have I mentioned what a busy spring this has been?

My Father's Boat

Dad's BoatIn the spring of 1956, a few months after my grandfather died, my father and I took an unusual Saturday morning trip to Riverview, the family farm. We did not stop at the then empty home but went straight down the riverbank to the boat house. There my father took measurements from the small rowboats my grandfather had built over the years.

These were Pamunkey River working boats, boats made for fishing and hunting. Nothing fancy; definitely not "recreational." I remember they leaked. We always had to bale them out before using them, and often while my father paddled, I baled. Baling is a good job for a small child; the idea of the boat filling with water - sinking - was a powerful motivating force for an otherwise easily distracted boy. That morning they were in even worst shape than I remembered, but they served the purpose. We went back up the hill and drove home.

The following year, or maybe 1958, Dad started building a boat in our backyard based on the design he documented that Saturday. However this boat would be larger, large enough to easily seat the four members of our family. It would also have a motor. He built it from oak and marine plywood, half inch on the bottom, with 3/8 sides. He covered it with newfangled Fiberglas cloth and a white gelcoat. It was just over 19 feet long, almost twice the size of its progenitors. It very definitely did not leak.

Our family used the boat for week-end outings on the large, newly build lake close to home. Daddy and I fished and hunted from that boat. We took it to my other grandmother's farm on the Potomac; one particular morning we caught more spot than we knew what to do with. Under full power it planed, but was very stable. We could make almost 20 mph; not bad for an 18-HP Evinrude pushing a heavy flat-bottomed boat. I even water-skied behind it.

After my sister and I went away to college the boat received less use, but it remained in our backyard until after my father died in 1981. After our local minister admired the boat my mother sold it to our church to give to him as a going away gift. She had asked me if I had any objections, and I had told her to go ahead. Just looking at it reminded me of my father and the times we shared. The pain of his loss was still too fresh; not seeing it I thought would hurt less. Besides, I had no use for it then. He would have approved; boats need to be used.

In doing research into my family's history - and the history of Pamunkey Neck - I have been reminded over and over of the dominant role of the rivers in people's lives. According to a letter I recently found and my latest conversation with Uncle Pickett, as late as the 1940's my grandparents helped support the farm by fishing with nets when the shad were running. They used those very boats I later baled from. And my grandmother could not even swim. I decided if I was going to write about Pamunkey Neck I need to spend some time on the water. And there would be no better way than in my father's boat.

A few months ago I located the now retired minister and gave him a call. He certainly remembered my family and the boat. But, unfortunately, he said that in a weak moment years ago he had sold it. Worse, he could not remember the name of the buyer, only that he lived near Lynchburg, a community called Forest. It was to Forest I drove that morning looking for a boat.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Further Adventures

After the last post the ketch-up condenses; think of a spicy tomato paste reduction.

The Monday following our trek to Pamunkey Neck I spent at the Library of Virginia looking at manuscripts, maps, & microfilm - the 3m's. Of the three the microfilm was the most valuable, and the most difficult to use. I don't know how many hours it would take before blindness, but it can't be many. Each time after a long session at the microfilm readers - for me anything over three hours - my admiration increases for those who, for love or money (or madness), make extensive use of these devices. As we say in the south, "bless their hearts."

After the LOV I retreated south and spent another day with my mother before driving to Charlotte, the Neighborhood Theatre, and my only rendezvous with Railroad Earth this tour. My daughter and an assorted collection of her friends met at Boudreaux's next door for dinner before the show, the band played to a moderate but enthusiastic Wednesday night crowd, after which I rolled back home by 2 in the morning.

A rare week and a half around home followed. The last Monday in the month found me again in Charlotte having a new starter installed in my car. The old one had been asking for relief for about a year. I guess after 200,000 miles one should not be surprised. Relief was granted.

I was then better prepared for another trip north. After a short visit with my mother and attending to various of her financial affairs I was off again to Richmond. My sister was again the gracious hostess. I spent a pleasant afternoon with my Uncle Pickett, his wife Jean, and my cousin who was visiting from Colorado. After another day at the LOV my sister and I visited with another cousin and her husband to talk with them about the mysterious five acres in the Northern Neck (see the May 21 post). They seemed pleased that I had already been trying to resolve the issues involved and we agreed on where we needed to go.

JohnSThe next day I bought a new digital camera (in an ongoing, generally losing attempt to keep up with my more technologically advanced daughter) and headed west to visit with one of my oldest friends. John, a contractor who has been living for a couple of decades in one of the most beautiful spots on the planet, surprised us all a few weeks earlier by having a heart attack. Much too young for that, he still handle it like a pro. He walked into the UVA hospital and walked out two days later (even though they charged him for three, much to his consternation) with a stent replacing a clot, new drugs to take, and some advice. He looked good despite it all and withstood my complaining about him setting a bad example for the rest of us.

I left the next day headed to western NC and dinner with my daughter. But along the way I spent two hours looking for a needle in a haystack, or more accurately the boat my father built about fifty years ago.

Monday, May 22, 2006

A Visit to the Other Neck

Have I mentioned that I am writing a book? Well, I am. It is a family & regional history with cosmic overtones. I am past 30,000 words now and just getting started. Collecting and tidying up over 300 years of Edwards and Virginia history takes some effort.

It also takes research, since information about Pamunkey Neck and my family is well scattered. And since I am separated from my topic by space as well as time I have decided to enlist help from those living in the area. That is why the Sunday following the funeral (which by the way was a gorgeous day) my sister and I set off to visit another distant relative on the other side of the family, a Pamunkey Neck native who, as a local forester, knows the county as well as anyone.King William Historic Features copy

My hook to involve him in my project was an out of print map published in 1976 - while I was actually living there - that located old county historic sites, mainly homes. Of course he is living in one. I wanted to update and expand this map (my draft shown) using modern computer technology. He said he would be happy to help.

After arriving we were warmly greeted and I laid out my maps and the other research documents I had brought along. If he and his family thought I was nuts they were polite enough not to show it. I outlined my map project and a little of how it fit into my larger book project. He answered my questions, corrected a few errors on my map, and made some suggestions. We agreed to stay in touch by email and that we would see each other at the family reunion in the summer.

After leaving my sister and I decided to take a detour on some back roads to the area of the county where my family has lived for hundreds of years. Driving past the church my great-great grandfather had built and preached in we noticed a small group of cars, people, and an open door. Although my sister had once been inside, I never had. So we pulled in.

The church had recently been sold to a local businessman along with the adjacent farm. The new owner had done a wonderful job renovated the long unused church and this Sunday afternoon he and his family were walking about. As we walked up introducing ourselves I noticed another distant cousin standing to the side. The new owner invited us to look around and he and his family left in their mini-van, stopping a few yards down the road to talk with our cousin's brother, the seller of the farm and church. We could quickly tell by the look on her face and the tone of the conversation on the side of the road that things were not well.

For the next 90 minutes, after the new owners had driven off, my sister and I were reminded of the deep passions land can inspire. Inside the church our cousins talked almost non-stop, generally about matters we little understood and people we did not know. Pride, money, land, time, and family were the themes with the both of them feeling that they had come out on the short end. The sun lowered, we made our way back to the car and said our good-byes.

Have I mentioned what an interesting family I have?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Visit to the Neck

GillsMy mother's brother was 89 and had been in poor heath for some time; so his death could not be called unexpected. Yet for me it was hard to grasp. He had always seemed a larger than life character, so very full of himself. I am confident that everyone who met him has a story about the time he did this or did that. He is on the left in this photo with my grandfather and his brother, about 1920.

Unlike my mother, who was too weak to attend the funeral, his mind was clear to the last. A couple of years ago at his wife's funeral of he reminded me of events from my childhood over 50 years earlier. Some of my earliest memories are of following him around my grandmother's farm as he did chores. I remember feeling so grown up when he let me ride on the tractor with him. I looked forward to helping carry slop to the hogs somewhat less. As I grew up I saw him less an admirable role model, but to the end he was always a force to be reckoned with, now someone to miss.

One of those spring cold fronts was moving into Virginia as I headed north to pick up my sister. But we reached the chapel with time to spare. The chapel, now owned by a local funeral home, was once a church co-founded by my great-great grandfather; behind it lie generations of relatives. Although the temperature had been dropping all morning with light drizzle, it was not until we headed outside toward the gravesite that the skies opened up. By now the temperature was in the 40's and the rain was coming down sideways. I stood with my umbrella behind my cousins trying to block the rain from coming underneath the tent, to little effect. Graveside remarks were brief. My uncle would have enjoyed it all.

After the service my sister and I escorted a family of distant relatives to my grandmother's home, now part of a subdivision and owned by a nice woman who gave us a tour. Then, while my sister visited with our cousins, I split off to meet with a local surveyor. I had hired him to do some work for my family on a lot we own in that sub-division, but now I needed to talk with him about a separate five acre parcel my mother co-owned with her late brother. I had been unable to reconcile the description of the parcel on the 1919 deed and its location on the current county tax map. The Q&D title search I had conducted at the local courthouse some months earlier had turned up more questions than answers; we needed professional help.

The surveyor gave me good news; he believed the lot still existed. It had not be surveyed out of existence. Things like that happen, much to the delight of the legal profession. It was just not where the tax map indicated. However he said that the parcel is landlocked; it has no designated right-of-way. After all these years obtaining that right-of-way now could be tricky. I told him to hold off doing anything else until I talked with my cousins. This will get interesting and there will certainly be a post or two about this coming up.

By now almost dry, I met my sister and our family of distant relatives for dinner at a local restaurant, a recently restored Hotel/Tavern. I was hungry and the food was good. We then drove back to my sister's. I slept well. Which, as it turned out, was a good thing. I had a big day coming up.

Next, tales from the other side of the family...

Saturday, May 20, 2006


HeinzIt has been a long time between posts, more a sign of mental fatigue on my part than a lack of things to post about. Time to play Ketch-Up.

The Saturday prior to our trip to Chicago we had a birthday party for my wife, the big L. We had a large crowd of friends and family, and a good time. My photos were not worthy, so I waited until PixieRn sent me hers. By that time I was well into the Chicago / Wisconsin trip series. Below are a couple of pix from the party.

The second week-end after returning from Chicago was to be Railroad Earth Week-End.Balloons The guys were on a southern tour and we had tickets to hear them open for the Derek Trucks Band at the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach on Friday night and in Wilmington Saturday night.

But three days after Chicago my wife became - in her words - as sick as she has ever been. Her doctor said it was a combination of flu and pneumonia; the effects lasted for weeks. Already struggling with keeping her classes on track after being at a conference the previous week - and teaching an overload this semester - she had little time to rest.Birthday-Cake So it became round after round of work / collapse / work / collapse, with me trying to be care-giver.

A music week-end for her became out of the question, but we still had two sets of tickets. Since PixieRn was already at the coast my wife suggested the two of us use the tickets while she rested. PixieRn was excited to join me but towards the end of the week she too was not feeling well enough to go. By that time we had received word that my uncle had died and would be buried Railroad Earth Week-End.

I had convinced myself that I could hear RRE Friday night and then drive to Virginia in time to pick up my sister and make it to the church mid-day Saturday. Technically possible, practically foolish. So I began trying to unload the tickets. I was able to give away the HOB tickets to a colleague of my wife's at the last minute, but the Wilmington tickets went unclaimed at will-call. Trying to give away the tickets was a short, frustrating experience.

Saturday morning I headed north into cold, rainy weather and a funeral.

Tomorrow, the story continues...