This post will be devoted to as much of the promised Trek to Virginia experience as the exigencies of time and space allow. My wife Betty and I went to Virginia to attend the wedding of our grand niece, Amanda O’Malley, in Norfolk; to visit friends and relatives in Charlottesville; and to give a performance of Love Letters of Lynchburg at the behest of the National Civil War Chaplains Museum,in Lynchburg. Here’s a photo of the happy couple (Amanda and Mike Calamari) and the cover of the Love Letters of Lynchburg CD—with its featured performers, Kitty Petruccelli (who would come down from Massachusetts by train), local Lynchburg actor Dallas Shipp. And me at the piano.
The trek unfolded this way: we had a fine, safe flight from San Francisco to Chicago—switched planes easily (thanks to floating walkways and a shuttle train to another terminal: from “A” to “F,” literally), but when we reached Western Virginia a flight attendant announced that a “tornado warning” had been received, the storm headed toward Richmond (by way of Norfolk!), and we would, of necessity, be making not an “emergency landing” but a “diversion” landing in Roanoke, a city which resides 242 miles (or 389 kilometers) from Norfolk. Or, in the words of the gentleman across the aisle from me, who’d been reading a Bible throughout the flight and now put it down to inform the person seated next to him: “It’s a four hour drive by automobile.”
Once landed in Roanoke, an “official” came aboard and told us that we had “two options”: we could “deplane” (although he informed us that no rental cars were available, nor bus passage, nor could the airline provide lodging, because this was not a “mechanical” inconvenience, but one with “weather” at fault); in short, if we got off the plane, we’d be totally on our own, thrown back on whatever resources we could manage. The second option—which produced a collective groan and some verbal outrage—was: we could remain on the plane, fly “back to Chicago,” and take our chances on getting to Norfolk on a flight the next morning.
Betty and I “deplaned” (because of the Lynchburg gig, there was no way I was going to fly all the way back to Chicago). Even if we were forced to miss the wedding, we could take a bus to Lynchburg (two hours away), or to Charlottesville, where we had a room awaiting us at the Comfort Inn University on April 28. However, while waiting for our luggage, Betty overheard a gentleman (truly a gentleman!) say he had a van and was driving to Norfolk. The Good Samaritan who would save us was Josh Spates, a Field Service Technician who works for Heuft USA out of Chicago, a man who, as soon as the flight attendant had posted notice of our predicament, had the foresight to contact his company, which in turn secured a van for him in Roanoke.
Josh turned out to be an Iraqi War vet who had grown up in Troy, Michigan, about a mile from where Betty and I grew up, and also a “jazz nut,” like me. When I told him about the Lynchburg performance, he said, “Have you ever heard of Maynard Ferguson?” [whom he’d once seen and liked]—so I told him that, being “ancient” as I am, I’d heard Ferguson with Stan Kenton’s band at the Michigan State Fairgrounds in 1953, when that aggregate was also fleshed out with players such as Art Pepper, Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, Bill Perkins, Stan Levey, Conte Condoli, Frank Rosolino, Lee Konitz, and Zoot Sims—with June Christy on vocals. This revelation immediately made us fast friends forever, and Josh regaled us, all the way to our hotel in Norfolk (where he insisted on dropping us off, even though he lived in Virginia Beach) with stories of his mom who, assigned to house his motorcycle while he was overseas, taught herself to ride “the Hog,” and still does ride it, astonishing people when she pulls into a gas station and removes her helmet, disclosing the face of a sixty-year-old female bike fanatic. She and Josh plan to ride the Blue Ridge Mountains together soon.
The four hour ride to Norfolk turned nasty about halfway there—and Josh put in a masterful, heroic performance driving: lightning flashes igniting the silhouettes of trees, a fierce rain storm lashing the windows to what seemed to me (but obviously not to him) at the point of zero visibility. And throughout this stretch, he managed to keep up one of the most engaging conversations I’ve ever had, talking jazz and Michigan and family (his wife works as a manager at Applebee’s) and life in Virginia and just about everything else under the sun (although it was totally dark and wet outside). He did insist on depositing us right at the door of the Norfolk Waterside Marriott, and refused to take any recompense for the great and gracious ride (his company was paying for the van, he said)—until, because he’d told us of the big barbecue he was planning for family and friends the next day, we offered to help pay for the steaks, beer and potato chips, which he accepted. We also offered our Guardian Angel, this Good Samaritan, all the gratitude we could muster.
Checking into the Marriott, we saw members of the wedding party returning from the rehearsal dinner, which we’d had to miss. My sister Emily, her husband Doug, my brother Lance and his wife Margie all traipsed in, so we repaired to the bar (Shula’s Grill 347) for drinks, and some food for Betts and me (we hadn’t eaten all day!). More wedding party folks arrived: niece Ginny (mother of the bride), her son James, her daughter Amanda (the bride-to-be), Mike Calamari (groom-to-be) and his family—and another niece from Colorado, Louise, and her daughter Ashley.
On the ride to the airport in San Francisco that morning, I’d discovered another disaster (not knowing yet, of course, about the “diversion” in Roanoke). I’m a good packer (my Daddy taught me two things: how to carve a turkey and pack a suitcase), but, not having worn a coat and tie since the last wedding we’d attended (five years ago), I took great loving care to lay out a clean white shirt (which Betty had freshly ironed) and to select a suitable tie. Only problem was: I forgot to pack the suit coat I would need to wear at both wedding and the Lynchburg performance! I discovered this sin of omission around San Jose, I think. Consequently, on the morning of the wedding, I realized I would need to go out and “procure” a suit or sport coat.
Our nephew Lance (one of the coolest “cats,” one of the most hip “kids,” I know) took charge and marched Betty and me (and his son Dylan, who was looking for basketball shoes) over to MacArthur Center—to Men’s Wearhouse, where with his assistance (he took on the role of salesperson: “We may have to take a bit off the sleeves here, Sir … and let out the waist!”) and that of a legitimate salesperson–actually the store Manager, a delightful woman named Val–we came away with not only a coat but a new shirt and tie (which Val picked out herself) as well as creating a Sit Com all our own in the process. Val wanted to sell me a $659 suit, but when Betty put a stop to that—and several other extravagant suggestions—Val kept repeating, “She’s tough, she’s tough” (to which I responded, “I know! That’s how we’ve survived!”). Lance kept clowning it up in his cool witty way, and a good fun time was had by all, to the tune of $221.95. Val even insisted on having, after I tried it on, the white shirt ironed for me.
Once back at the Marriott, niece Barbara, my wife Betty, my sister Emily, the mother-of-the-bride Ginny, and niece Gail commenced “preparing” Amanda the bride’s hair.
We were all set for the wedding—which took place in what I thought might be a small simple church but turned out to be something of a cathedral: Christ and Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church on West Olney Road. Back at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott, we’d had to abandon watching a lavish NATO street parade in progress forty-three floors below us. Flags and representatives of nations passed by, as in the opening ceremony of the Olympics, albeit each of these was accompanied by a drum and bugle corps. I think we got as far down the line as Greece, then had to leave–but seeing the church, now, made that sudden departure worthwhile. I don’t know a whole lot about ecclesiastical architecture, but having entered this impressive edifice, I wished I did, for then I could elaborate on a possible groin vault with its two barrel vaults intersecting at right angles, or could acknowledge the ribbed vaults spanning the area transversely, each composed of diagonal ribs, the transverse ribs stilted, marking a horizontal central line to the roof like that of a barrel vault. Actually, I’m not sure this Romanesque church possessed any of these properties (or that it was even Romanesque!), although I do know that, entering and looking up, I was stunned by the height from floor to ceiling, elaborate embellishment everywhere, from pulpit to choir loft, an organ with impressive pipes presiding in the midst of the latter—the distance from where we were seated (in the second row, left-hand “family” side) to the altar equally august or imposing. I realized the wedding party would get considerable exercise that day—and not only at the reception later (where “exertion” on the dance floor would run rampant).
Once seated, I realized I was not only surrounded by architectural splendor, but relatives as well—a number of whom we had not run into the previous evening in Shula’s Grill 347. Here were my brother’s other daughters, Barbara and Gail (the latter with her husband Pat, and daughters Mary and Kelly), my cool clothier Lance again, his wife Sarah and son Dylan, and a cousin I’d never met before: my cousin Alcorn Minor’s daughter, Lee. After acknowledging one another, we all turned to watch the wedding party solemnly yet happily parade up the main aisle, the maids of honor (a bevy of beauties) wearing dark blue strapless gowns; handsome young groomsmen in silver-grey (ivory?) tuxedos: my niece Ginny walking with her beautiful bride-to-be daughter, Amanda; Michael O’Malley (whom I’d talked to for first time in a long time the previous evening), the bride’s father leading, Amanda to a rail at which the groom, Michael Calamari, awaited her.
It was all the good classic wedding “stuff”: the ceremony unfolding as prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer—presided over by the pastor of a church Amanda had attended since her birth, a man well acquainted with her life, and if a bit too long (just a bit!) in the homely, heartfelt, and rich with verbal tones. The couple exchanged their vows in tones equally clear and articulate (skills acquired at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, no doubt), folks received communion, the couple was given the pastor’s final blessing and pronounced man and wife, the wedding party filed out at a joyful pace—and we all gathered in the open air to talk it all over while photos were taken in another spot.
Thank goodness we didn’t miss this wedding because grounded in Roanoke—and thanks again to our Good Samaritan, Josh Spates! The reception began with a cocktail party (and handsome hors d’oeuvres) back at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott, where a “grandparents” photo was taken (Lance and Margie, Doug and Em, Betty and me) and one of just the Minor siblings—and also afforded an opportunity to get truly “caught up” with relatives I hadn’t seen for some time, such as Gail Shouvlin and her daughter Mary, soon to get married herself (in September), to another Mike, who I would enjoy talking to later, at the large ballroom reception, because he’s a drummer with a band in New York. I also made the acquaintance (accidentally; we reached for celery sticks to dip in an artichoke sauce simultaneously) of a stunning young woman in a conspicuously flaming-red dress and amazingly statuesque heels who’d been a good friend of Amanda at the University of Virginia.
Betty and I drew a “family” table in the large reception hall, #13 (actually my lucky number), but everybody was roving about, so the good chatter and catching up continued—and the dinner was sumptuous: First course: Baby Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese, Figs, Candied Pecans, Virginia Serrano Ham, Strawberries with Red Wine Vinaigrette; Second Course: Tournedos of Beef Tenderloin with a Port Demi-Glace and Chicken Piccata with Yukon Gold Potatoes and Haricot Vert; Dessert: Tuxedo Dipped Strawberries (pick your brand of chocolate) and Wedding Cake.
The newlyweds arrived, and the party was on: speeches by everyone, including the groom’s sister, Vicki, who was one of the bridesmaids, and the bride’s brother, James O’Malley, who was one of Mike’s groomsmen. No band (I miss “live music” at weddings!), but a DJ, who was loud, loud, loud, and my Old Man (grandfatherly) status caught up with me, for I have an inner ear condition that makes it difficult to tolerate loud sounds, although I, even when the decibel count had grown outrageous, was having fun and hung in there for as long as I could.
Here are the newlyweds, arriving at the reception; their “first dance”; my brother-in-law Doug Roberts, niece Barbara, sister Em, and me; and Mary and Mike, soon to be married themselves.
In the elevator, when Betty and I went back up to our room, a large black man got on at the 18th floor, shaking his head in wonder. He’d seen a host of pretty girls in fancy gowns (from the wedding party) when he got on in the lobby, and dreamily, instinctively followed them out the door when they got off at the 18th floor. Now, safely back on the elevator, he was headed for the 21st (his own floor), grinning like a love-sick adolescent.
Next day, everyone (young and old) who’d stayed on after we left called the reception a total success, and had found the various dancers (if they had not been one themselves), and dances, impressive. My brother Lance and his wife Margie had to catch a plane that morning, so Betty and I went with them to the airport, so that we could say goodbye and also pick up the car we’d rented for the drive to Charlottesville. In spite of the elaborate GPS system we’d been granted, along with the car (but programmed for Charlottesville), we got lost trying to find our way back to the Marriott and ended up in Chesapeake, a frustrating but interesting diversion (we saw lots of country side and harbors we would not otherwise have been privileged to witness), and, unbeknown to us, such a detour would serve to foreshadow the history of missed turnoffs and wrong highways that would await us in Charlottesville.
Safely back at the hotel in Norfolk, we were able to CO (a friend of mine uses this abbreviation frequently now for: “Chill out’) and we joined my sister Emily, our cool hip nephew Lance, his wife Sarah, and their son Dylan on a large open deck adjacent to the 6th floor swimming pool—a warm sunny day (after the storm!) with a good view of downtown Norfolk. We spent the afternoon lounging there (Sunday, the Day of Rest), and when it got too hot, I retired to a shady area beside a wooden pavilion, where I continued reading (or rereading) Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, the book I’d brought along with me on the plane.
Lance is a good Daddy, and, with the assistance of an inverted chaise lounge and then a more appropriate in height doorway, he attached a small backboard and hoop with net for Dylan, who lost no time in diverting himself “shooting baskets.” Lance also gave me (I thought he was just going to show it to me, but he bestowed it as a gift—thanks Neph!) an article which had appeared in The Wall Street Journal: an article called “Life During Wartime: soldiers and politicians, civilians and slaves—a vast chorus that captures the nation divided”: a review of a 3,478 page book, price $157.50 (!), called The Civil War: Told by Those Who Lived It. The review commenced with a homage to Herman Melville’s “sprawling book of poems” (70 of them) about the Civil War, then compared that work to this four volume collection of accounts written on the spot, one of which (discovered in the fourth column of the review) was by my great-grandfather’s first cousin’s son, Charles Minor Blackford (whose letters I had assembled, along with those of his wife Susan, in the Love Letters of Lynchburg piece I was just two days away from performing in Lynchburg).
The portion of the review devoted to Charles began: “In one unforgettable passage from a letter home, Confederate soldier Charles Minor Blackford recalls a seemingly trivial incident as he rode across the battlefield at Bull Run”—the discovery of “an old doll baby with only one leg lying by the side of a Federal soldier just as it dropped from his pocket when he fell writhing in the agony of death … obviously a momento of some little loved one at home which he had brought so far with him and worn close to his heart on the day of danger and death.” Charles dismounted, picked up the doll and stuffed it “back into the poor fellow’s cold bosom that it might rest with him in the bloody grave which was to be forever unknown to those who loved and mourned him in his distant home.”
Out on that deck in the warm sun, we talked about distant relations, and I brought up something which has always puzzled me. My grandfather’s name was Launcelot, my father’s Lancelot (only a variant in spelling), my brother’s Lancelot (until he changed it to Lance), yet our nephew is Lance the Third? Why not “Fourth”—which is what we dubbed him (knighted him?) that day: Lance the Quarto We were having fun this way, feeling frisky, and Emily sent a text message to my brother, saying he was now “Lance the Turd”—a title he, not present at our totally playful time in the sun, may not have felt in a position to appreciate.
Our own small private party went on into the night, for we met Ginny, mother of the bride, and her son James (shown above with Lance the Quarto), in the lounge on the second floor, at “cocktail hour,” where a piano was situated (Em and I sang a few tunes together), and then we all decided to “repair” to a popular Norfolk restaurant claimed to be within walking distance—which it proved to be only for the more hearty (healthy?) souls, Ginny driving the rest of us, in shifts, to the place, which turned out to be called 4-5-6 Fish (while an art student in Brooklyn in 1955, I’d played piano at a bar called the 456 Club, so I had my picture taken next to a sign that stood outside the restaurant). The food was fine and we all had a grand convivial time, changing seats so that we each had a chance to talk with everyone present.
All of my brother’s “kids” are seen below: Barbara, Ginny, Lance the Quarto, Gail, and Louise.
Next morning, Betty and I, and Em and Doug set out, caravan-style, for Charlottesville. Em and Doug like to travel fast and furious and I feared we would lose sight of them in a flash, but they were quite considerate, allowing us to “tail” them gracefully—and the journey, replete with a cozy stop for sandwiches and coffee (espresso in my case) at Starbucks, was comfortable, the landscape made up of graceful rolling Virginia hills the closer we got to Charlottesville—ending at the Comfort Inn University, at which we were booked to stay, on Highway 29, otherwise known as Emmet Street.
However, as for finding our way around the city itself—that was another matter. Had I not known that Charlottesville was founded as early as 1762 (formed by charter along a trade route called Three Notched Road, present day U.S. Route 250, and housing a Mohacan village called Monasukapanough before that), a road that led from Richmond to the Great Valley, I might have been tempted to believe that the city’s overall street design or patterns had been planned and set up deliberately to confuse Union soldiers should they have attempted an assault during the Civil War. Actually, unlike much of Virginia, Charlottesville had been sparred the brunt of attacks—a single battle taking place (the Skirmish at Rio Hill) in which “George Armstrong Custer briefly engaged with local Confederate militia.”
Consequently, the next great Virginia Disaster for Betty and me (having survived our flight cut short and the forgotten suit coat) did not occur until, once settled in our Comfort Inn digs, she and I set out on our own for the city proper, to meet Kitty Petruccelli at the Amtrak station , and then have dinner at the home of my First Cousin Four Times Removed, Lloyd Smith, and his wife Ashlin–at what I’d described to Kitty in letters as their “mansion” or “castle” on Park Street (and in a sense it is: a large handsome brick home filled, as I remembered from my previous visit there, with elegant heirlooms).
I thought that, once again in Charlottesville, all of the streets we would need to find, for destinations I had walked to on that previous visit, would come back to me “like a song”—but that was not the case. I misjudged the site for the Amtrak station, and conveniently switched south to north in my mind, so that we got thoroughly twisted around and arrived fifteen minutes late, but found Kitty waiting, patiently, a backpack slung over her shoulder. Once she was safely ensconced in our car, I next–as navigator–guided us to a location as far distant from Park Street as possible, and we ended up in a totally unfamiliar residential area on Ridge Road: not Ridge McIntire Road, near the Omni Hotel, where I’d stayed before, and from which Lloyd’s house, or mansion, was within convenient walking distance.
Fortunately, Kitty had a cell phone and we got in touch with Lloyd, whose sun, Garrett, gave us directions and, after just a modicum of wrong turns, we were actually able to arrive at our destination—just in time for a Colonel Sanders dinner (fried chicken and cold slaw) served on handsome heirloom plates. We were directed to the Sun Room, which I remembered well from a previous grand chat there with Lloyd over a family photo album—and scotch on the rocks.
Lloyd Smith is a genuine scholar, the Real Thing. He’d been of much help to me on my previous visit to Virginia (to do research at the Special Collections Library on the University campus), and he’d sent me books he’d written for the Foundation of Historic Christ Church: books with awesome expansive titles such as Robert Carter of Corotoman: An Analysis of His Last Will and Testament; The Executors’ Letters of Robert Carter of Corotoman 1732—1738; and a monograph for which Lloyd wrote the Introduction and edited: A Letter from Uncle John: A Nineteenth Century Study on Carter Genealogy—a work that had a photograph of Charles Minor Blackford on the back cover (Uncle John was his uncle).
Here’s Lloyd at work in the Sun Room–and a photo of Aslin, another relative George Minor (who would later take us on a wine tasting tour), and Lloyd, in the living room
Lloyd and Ashlin are also most amiable hosts. We had agreed that, because Kitty’s train did not arrive until 7:30 PM (and we had managed to miss that deadline), and because she’s not favorably disposed toward Amtrak cuisine, Lloyd and Ashlin would not prepare anything fancy for dinner, but keep it simple (Colonel Sanders chicken, but served on elegant plates). I also wasn’t sure just how late we’d be able to stay, in light of the next day’s performance in Lynchburg. Once we “repaired” to the Sun Room, I sat at a table with Lloyd, his very knowledgeable and congenial son Garrett (also a lawyer, like Lloyd), and Garrett’s wife–while Betty, Kitty, and Ashlin occupied the other end of the spacious but cozy room. Kitty was ensconced in what looked to be a throne composed of banana leaves, until I realized it was just a chair surrounded by vines and flowers.
I sipped my scotch and enjoyed the flow of conversation at our end, but regretted later that, having observed some paintings set on a wall nearby, I didn’t ask whose they were—for they were Ashlin’s, a fine but far too modest artist (she’d recently had an exhibit of her work), and because I spent five years in three schools studying art (University of Michigan, Pratt Institute, University of California-Berkeley), I wish now I’d had a chance to “talk shop” with her. Lloyd did move over to converse with the three ladies, regaling them with some of his youthful exploits and extending Kitty’s knowledge of the life of Susan Blackford, the woman she would be portraying the next night.
Lloyd and Garrett gave Betty and me explicit directions “home” (back to the Comfort Inn University on Emmet Street). Kitty would spend the night in a luxurious room in Lloyd and Ashlin’s home—and we agreed to pick her up early in the morning for the ride to Lynchburg.
My brother-in-law Doug agreed to take us all there in his car: a blessing, because otherwise Betty would have had to drive back to Charlottesville late at night, after “the show,” and neither one of us relished that prospect. In spite of the solid directions we’d received (take the 250 bypass to Park Street, etc.), we did manage to create our own somewhat wayward (and slightly “tardy”) route again; but Kitty was up and ready, and we had a fine early morning conversation with Lloyd and Ashlin before we hit the road (I think I even managed to fit in a couple of Irish jokes, Betty displeased because she’s had to listen to them over and over again). Once on what the navigator (me) managed, once again, to chart as a wrong course (due west rather than due south), we came directly in sight of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park, but did make a correction in direction, and finally set sail, securely, for Lynchburg—Kitty’s sparkling wit and Em’s uninhibited laughter adding to the journey.
And I’m going to leave you THERE, Friend Reader—for what followed was a story of a different nature (although just as full of unforeseen adventure), and I have spent more than a few words here–Bill’s Blog Baroque!–on what led up to it. Stay tuned. There’s more of the Virginia Journey to come!