Friday, June 25, 2010
Virginia - June 25, 1788
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Back when my family used to drive to our piece of land in West Virginia from our home in Catonsville, Maryland we would pass a sign that said "Welcome to Virginia" and see a small picnic area, then we'd see another sign that said "Welcome to West Virginia." "My, what a small state", I would think, "it hardly seems worth the bother." (The map above shows where we must have driven). What I didn't know, was that in the "Mother of Presidents", which is really 39,594 square miles, (bigger than Maryland and West Virginia combined) on a street called Owl's Nest road, in a town called Manassas, a little boy named James was playing with his brother, riding bikes, and catching frogs and that someday we would meet, fall in love, marry, and honeymoon in historic Williamsburg. We recently visited Williamsburg again, and our friends Bill & Karen who live there. Bill took us to the Botanical Gardens in Norfolk,Virginia where we got to take both the boat and tram tours, and see some juvenile bald eagles. We also saw our first camelia sinensis plant (where tea comes from). We would see many more a few days later in South Carolina when we visited the Charleston tea plantation. See James' update to South Carolina for more about that.
Virginia is also the only place I have ever caught a fish. I actually caught two there, in Lake Montresor, when I was at summer camp in Leesburg during the summers of 1976 & 1977 I used a stick, some nylon thread, and a paper clip for my rod, and a beetle for bait to lure the sunfish. I threw one of the fish back, the other I gave to the camp cats to eat. The camp is now defunct, but recently I discovered this nostalgia page for it. Below are some photographs and certificates from my time there.
James' grandmother still lives in Fairfax, Virginia, and we go out there once or twice a year to see her. We can always count on her having a bowlful of peanut M&Ms on her kitchen counter. There is a lot more to say about "Grandma's house", but I will let James tell that story.
Portraits of America: Virginia by John Bowen is a coffee table book with stunning photographs, and rather bland text. I suppose I wasn't expecting anything different. Coffee table books are really meant to be browsed. I pulled this off of our own book shelf, where it has been for probably two decades. There are seven broad geographic sections of the book, each with subdivisions touting the regions' treasures, history, and culture. It is sorely lacking in maps, though. I counted exactly zero of them. Geographer James found these useful links for those, like me, who need a map:
General regions: http://chalk.richmond.edu/education/projects/webunits/vahistory/images/regionsmap.jpg
Descriptions of phsyiographic provinces: http://csmres.jmu.edu/geollab/vageol/vahist/PhysProv.html
Detail of Tidewater region: http://www.chesapeake-bay.com/
The narratives in this work show a clear love for the state and gloss over less appealing aspects of the state's history. Slavery is mentioned a few times, but is not explored. I also noted that where this book mentions that William Henry Harrison (ninth president of the United States) was born at Berkely Plantation "despite [his] association with the frontier", I learned more about this from Tony Horowitz's essay in State by State. His passage makes it clear that Harrison "became...president after campaigning as a humble 'log cabin' candidate." The book celebrates many Virginia heroes including the nine presidents born there, and Civil War Generals Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and Robert E. Lee. My Maryland schooling has made it very difficult for me to understand the southern predilection for celebrating a war it lost. There is more about this on my Maryland post. Virtually all of the heroes mentioned in this book are white males. Since it was published 25 years ago, I guess this shouldn't surprise me either. I was interested to see that both Bowen and Horowitz mentioned Edgar Allan Poe as a favorite Virginia son, although he was neither born nor died there. It is funny to me how many places claim him: both Massachusetts (where he was born) and Maryland (where he died) do, too. I noticed this even as I noted that Virginia seemed afraid to claim General Douglas MacArthur who was raised in Virginia from infancy, lived there most of his life and died there, but because his mother was traveling when she delivered young Doug prematurely, he was actually an Arkansan.
The Virginia Night Before Christmas by E.J. Sullivan (another one that was on my own bookshelf) is a fun spoof on the Clement C. Moore's classic poem "A Visit from St. Nick" incorporating Virgina landmarks and historical figures. For instance the reindeer are named for presidents born in Virginia. This does seem like it a bit redneck-y, but when I read that Sullivan also wrote a book called The Redneck Night Before Christmas I figured he probably had some practice.
Bedford: The Town they Left Behind tells the story of the 116th unit of the National Guard in Bedford, Virginia during World War II. The reservists earned one dollar each time they completed their drills - a lot of money in those days. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941 their unit was called up and sent to England, where they received additional training. The first fighting they saw was on the beach at Normandy on June 6, 1944 - D- day. Within the first 15 minutes half of the 39 men in the unit were killed. This documentary is based on interviews with soldiers who were there, widows, and other family members. Photographs, archival footage, and letters help to complete the story. The 116th is still active today, and the film includes interviews with soldiers recently returned from Iraq. Listening to family members talk about husbands, brothers and sons who never came back, after they spoke about how hopeful they had been, created a moving tribute, however tough to watch. Bedford, Virginia is home to the D-Day Memorial. I had not heard of it before watching this film.
Surry County Peanut Raisin pie was something I learned about in the Virginia book. I modified it a bit from the linked recipe, and used almond extract in the crust rather than going on a quest to find Frangelico liquer, and I also noticed that although the instructions mention flour (a necessary ingredient for crust) it is not actually listed with the other ingredients. So based on other recipes I found, I used 2.5 cups, which turned out to be enough for a top and bottom crust. I also substituted honey for sugar, as I am trying to use more of my own local ingredients in my cooking. This pie has a lot of texture, and is quite sweet. James and I shared it with our friend Anna. We all liked it, and agreed that one piece is all a person can eat at a time. It is quite heavy. I froze the rest of it to eat at a later time. James and I also had a bottle of Blue Crab Blanc wine with our dinner from the Ingleside Plantation Vineyards which we picked up on our recent trip to Virginia, along with several other Virginia wines that we plant to enjoy later. The Blue Crab was a bit sweeter than we usually like. We prefer dry white wines.