End of the Road: Our Virginia Adventure

I closed the last blog post with an account of our Love Letters of Lynchburg performance in Lynchburg—and I’d like to attach some “news” and the availability of two new performances of other work, before I move on to the conclusion of the Virginia adventure.

Bob Danziger’s “Mandelstam and Minor” video project has been posted on YouTube: a project for which he asked me to read my translation of Osip Mandelstam’s poem “No, never was I anyone’s contemporary.” You can find the YouTube video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxliLhcnyAY.

Here are two paintings I did incorporating other Mandelstam poems, and a series of drawings and woodcuts of his “faces” (from age twenty-one to age forty-seven, when he died, a victim of Stalin’s Terror). This work is a part of the video.

Mandelstam Helen2 Mandelstam 1

Osip 5  Osip 6 Osip 9

Mandelstam2 Mandelstam's Quick Hearing

Working with Bob has been fascinating and I’ve gained invaluable lessons in audio, film, and digital finesse–all at the mind and hands of the amazing Bob Danziger. First he had me select a piece from his Brandenburg 300 Project, general information on which can be found at: http://www.brandenburg300.com/; a YouTube demonstration of its making at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Km7f07FlbYY; and a printed version on the Project at:  http://www.amazon.com/Brandenburg-300-Project-Printed-Brandenburg300-com/dp/1494747855.  I chose “Brandenburg 22 Rembrandt,” with its impressive improvisation by Albert Wing, Mike Miller, and Bob.

I read the poem over (and “within”) that piece–to which Bob added visual material (I gave him the names of Russian artists from Mandelstam’s era: Kandinsky, Malevich, Chagall, Nathan Altman’s “Portrait of Anna Akhmatova,” Levitan, Vrubel; and also some my own work, the series of drawings and woodcut prints of Mandelstam and other visual art pieces of mine, and some photos from my life). Bob located excellent photos of Mandelstam–his intent to make this video a genuine “Mandelstam and Minor” (the title of the piece) collaboration: to honor the poet and also, as he put it, the fact that I’ve “survived.” I’m grateful for having survived in my own small life (compared to that of Osip Mandelstam) and grateful to Bob Danziger for the time, energy, and immense talent (which extends in many directions) he gave to this project–the results of which are a thrill for me to witness, and to have been a part of. Spasibo bolshoy, Bob Danziger! Thanks!

[I’ve had to revise this post, Good Reader, because the second performance offering, originally, a video taken by a friend on his “cell” at the event, didn’t work out–no sound after I posted it!]. On July 13, I gave a poetry “reading” with lifelong friend, Santa Cruz poet Robert Sward, at Old Capitol Books in Monterey. I put “reading” in quotes because I have been writing lots of original music lately and have set most of my recent poems to music, and now regard them as “song” (where poetry started in the first place, with the Singing Neanderthals and, of course, the Greeks, whose poems were at one with music—had a musical counterpart). I was handsomely assisted on July 13 by vocalist/actor Jaqui Hope, who did a beautiful job of interpreting the poem/songs—but unfortunately the video I’d hoped you could see and hear ran into “complications,” so, while I’ll post two photos from the July 13 event, I’ll offer another video (on YouTube) of Jaqui singing the same song, “My Fingers Refuse to Sleep.” That performance can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLqjmDeiz2s&list=UUmsUUneDzClTnUJeBaOPPhQ.

Bill and Jaqui at Old Capitol Books   Bill and Jaqui4

And now to return, and complete, our Virginia adventure—a trip to Monticello. My wife Betty and I had been to Monticello in 2000, and enjoyed the place, savoring every Jeffersonian detail or “small touch”: the Great Clock in the Entrance Hall with its cannonball weights that drove the dual-faced seven-day calendar (the marks for Friday and Saturday only accessible in the basement); Jefferson’s tucked away, built-into-the-wall double-sided bed alcove; the “Sanctum Sanctorum” with its “polygraph” or copying machine that duplicated his letters as he composed them; the revolving bookstand that could hold five open volumes at a single sitting; and the spacious Parlor where Jefferson and his wife Martha played musical duets, he on violin, she on harpsichord or pianoforte.

We were assigned a tour group and had a guide who possessed a refined Virginia gentleman’s manner coupled with considerable historical knowledge and a keen wit that could combine information regarding the past with clever humorous contemporary contrasts. The man was so open, so genial, asking the group as we passed through each room in the house, “Are There any questions?”, that I took advantage of his good nature, and did ask questions, although I could sense my sister Emily making gestures in the background that suggested I should refrain from doing so. When we’d heard a full account from the guide regarding the Book Room (Jefferson’s library was once among “the largest in the country,” even though he sold 6,700 volumes to Congress for $23,950—his personal collection reduced to a mere 1,000 titles, “including poetry, philosophy, and politics”), I asked our seemingly resilient, fully accommodating guide if he had ever heard of the Hog and Hominy Club, to which he replied, “No, please tell us about it”—and I did.

First: here’s the “historical sketch” of Monticello I found in a book, Anti-bellum Albemarle, my father showed me when I was a teenager, and the same of Peter Minor’s Ridgway—with “Tom” himself (as represented in the Rembrandt Peale painting–which serves as a frontispiece in Jefferson’s Albemarle)–between the two.

Monticello Thomas Jefferson Ridgway

When I entered my teens, my father, who was quite proud of his Virginia “roots” (his father, born in Charlottesville, joined the Confederate Army at age fourteen), told me about a relative, Peter Minor, an “active and successful planter” and secretary of the County Agricultural Society. My father said this Peter Minor had been “Thomas Jefferson’s personal secretary,” but I didn’t believe him, for my dad would tend to exaggerate the worth of his “clan” and all of its connections. When I began to study American history seriously and got interested in Jefferson, I could not find any mention whatsoever of Peter Minor. My father even portioned out–to my brother, sister and me–what he called “the Jefferson Plates,” crockery given to Peter Minor by Jefferson himself—but I assumed they were fake. To my shame, I discovered, not so long ago, that, while my father was not 100 percent correct (Peter Minor was never Jefferson’s “personal secretary”), the two men were very close friends and belonged to the Hog and Hominy Club, an organization which, according to Jefferson’s Albemarle, was formed to honor two of Virginia’s staples, but was nevertheless “rather more sociable than agricultural, rather more epicurean than utilitarian.”

Some of their meetings were held at Monticello (which is in Albemarle County) and at Peter Minor’s home, Ridgway—meetings described as “riotously merry.” And just who, during the days when his friend “Tom” was building the University of Virginia, served as secretary of the Hog and Hominy Club? Why, “Tom’s” friend Peter Minor, of course.

I regaled our guide and our group with this tale, and he thanked me. As we passed from the Book Room, I foolishly said, “And I’ve got another one” [story], to which the guide nodded and, unbeknownst to me but “caught” by my sister, frowned. We entered The Sitting Room, which had lithographs of architectural plans for the University of Virginia on its walls—the University being Jefferson’s “baby,” an institution he envisioned as an “academical village,” a “campus” clustered around a tree-lined lawn that would provide an ideal setting in which to pursue higher education. When the guide had completed his account of The Sitting Room, he turned to me and said, “What was the other one you had in mind?” I point to the lithographs and told my tale about an incident at the University in Virginia in 1825 that led the school’s founder, Jefferson, to claim the proceedings against students which followed provided “the most painful day of [his] life.” In 1850, when my great-grandfather Dr. Charles Minor’s brother John B. Minor’s father-in-law, professor James Davis, attempting to quell a “drunken melee” out on the academical village’s sacred lawn, he was shot through the heart by a masked student, in cold blood. On his deathbed, Professor Davis claimed “an honorable man would come forth” and confess to the crime, but no one did. An “honor system” was then installed at the University of Virginia.

Having completed this tale, I should have realized that our guide was no longer all that much pleased by my spell-binding revelations as counterparts to his own spiel, but when we surveyed the basement floor with its cellars, where Jefferson had facilities for making and bottling wine and beer, a woman in our group brought up an interesting question of her own. The guide had mentioned “restoration” still taking place at Monticello, such as removing the bricks in the walkway leading to the front door and Entrance Hall and replacing them with the “original” gravel. This woman said that she was restoring an old family home in Iowa, but was not certain just which portion of its long history it should be restored to. Our guide claimed that in the case of restoring Monticello, the significant date was 1794, when Jefferson fully retired from a life of public service and “returned home.” I should have kept my mouth shut (and my sister Emily, again in the background, was wildly gesticulating that I do so), but  I couldn’t help but ask the guide if it were not true that Monticello had been a “work in progress” throughout Jefferson’s entire life, and didn’t that fact make it somewhat difficult to determine just what the best date for restoration might be?

It seemed a fair enough question to me, but the guide acknowledged it with a look that made me feel that, should he have a derringer pistol hidden on his person—say, in his vest—he might very well, at that moment, extract it and shoot me straight through the heart, much to the approval and delight of my sister Emily, but not necessarily me. The question I had offered was my last and seemed to mark the end of all “traffic” between our originally genial guide and myself. Even though I felt as I’d been on a pretty good “roll” at Monticello, I somehow managed to keep my mouth shut for the rest of the tour, which had little or nothing left of it anyway. I smiled at the guide and thanked him, although I don’t recall him acknowledging my gratitude, or smiling back.

You can imagine the “fun” my sister had commenting on my indiscretion, for the rest of the day (and even that night). At least I’d had sense enough not to ask any questions regarding the existence of Sally Hemings, a subject on which I’d noticed our guide was somewhat reticent. We finished our tour of Monticello on our own, checking out the Kitchen, Cook’s Room, Smokehouse, Ware Room and Ice House. Em and Betty inspected the Jefferson garden, and that completed our “tour” of Monticello—both supervised (or chaperoned) and independent.

I felt that, when we had dinner that evening, we should try to find a place that provided some live music (preferably jazz) along with food fare, and to that end, back at the Comfort Inn University, I browsed through a stash of flyers and tourist “guides” to see if I could locate such a place. Rhett’s River Grill & Raw Bar was cited as one, a comfortable drive north on Hiway 29, away from Charlottesville, situated on Seminole Lane. This was in the direction of the airport we would leave from to fly home, so I thought we could kill two birds with one stone (three? Eat well, hear some music, and check out the route to the airport so we would not get lost the morning we must arrive there).

Our waitress at Rhett’s River Grill & Raw Bar was a plump, cheerful, funky and spunky specimen with a great smile who immediately informed us that the place provided no live music, and that she was surprised that it was cited as such—but the food was good. I had giant scallops (a favorite of mine) with rice au gratin, Yuengling Black & Tan Beer (great1) and a glass of Glenffidich for desert. Satisfied, back at our “digs,” we said goodbye to Doug and Em, because they would be leaving in the morning, heading back to Connecticut, but not before Betty and I got up to meet a 7:30 AM breakfast date with a former student of mine, David Maurer.

Here’s David with me outside The Nook, where we met, with Betty, and a shot of the Charlottesville Mall (not as seen in April, but the fall of 2009, when I’d been there at that time of year):

Dave Maurer and Me   Dave Maurer and Betty

Charlottesville Mall

David had taken a class from me at Monterey Peninsula College in California, after he’d served in Vietnam and elsewhere in 1969 (dropped into Laos, when we “were not there”) as part of a Special Forces unit. Discharged and back in school, he hoped to write a novel about what he’d witnessed, what he himself had been through. I’ll never forget the day when, having searched for the perfect first paragraph for some time, he came racing across campus, literally picked me up in his arms, and cried, “I found it!” And he had, the entire book in fact, which Dell published in 1986, The Dying Place, a book that Colonel Chuck Allen (former commander of the Delta Project) called “Gripping! Maurer rips away the top secret veil of MAC/SOG operations and describes the action with a style that makes you feel completely part of it … the finest account of Special Operations to come out of the Vietnam era.”

Here’s that first paragraph of The Dying Place, and just a bit more: “At twenty-five yards the front sight of the machine gun nearly covered the back of the reclining soldier’s head. It was the only part of his body visible above the green lichen-encrusted trunk of a large, partially submerged snag … Sam Walden watched through the rear peep sight as the black hair of the North Vietnamese soldier was ruffled by a gust of wind swirling down the stream bed that was between them. A moment later it swept up into the jungle tree-line where he and the seven other men lay.” From that point on the action is, as reviewers said, “Gripping!” … “will put you on the helicopters and ride you into the hidden war” … “Maurer served two combat tours as a recon team leader in this top-secret reconnaissance unit. His writing skills are such that he will make you a part of their deadly missions.” And he does.

David inscribed a copy of the book to me: “My true friend. A man who showed me his soul when mine was lost … he gave me his friendship.” On the basis of the book, and with just an A.A. degree (Associate of Arts, completion of two years of study), he was hired as a Feature Writer for the Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he’d been working for some time when Betty and I saw him again there in 2000, David impressed me as having become one of the best known and most popular persons in that city. He took us to a large 4th of July community picnic, where a country singer names Terri Allard was performing on a makeshift stage and, having finished an original tune called “Loose Change and Spare Parts,” spotted my former student and hollered out, “Why thar’s my old buddy Dave Maurer out thar—hello David!”—which, even though I’d only been his instructor (he’d taken a course called Rock Lyrics, and had written a terrific paper, one I’d kept, on Elvis Presley), made me feel like a proud Papa!

Walking with him down Charlottesville’s handsome Mall, or elsewhere, I was aware that everybody seemed to know and love David. He’d written about everything from Timberlake’s Drug Store and Soda fountain (advertised as “a step back in time, sporting a soda fountain with old fashioned milkshakes and stools that spin”) to the 1969 Hurricane Camille (which took the lives of 325 people, the “worst natural disaster in inland Virginia’s history”), another singer named Ashley McMillen and her series of shows (the Hitkicker Home Grown Session), to Lloyd and Ashlin Smith and their elegant brick home on hard-to-find Park Street!

When I first learned about the Virginia performance of Love Letters of Lynchburg, I phoned David and we agreed for breakfast at The Nook again—and there he was, looking as Special Forces fit and sturdy as ever (if a tad “ aged,” in the face perhaps, but not by much—whereas I felt my “longevity” was all too much in evidence). David, Betty and I shared a classic Southern breakfast (grits, eggs, bacon, the works) and we all got caught up, discussing the state of newspapers in general today—ours at home reduced to a couple of pieces of tissue paper sporting mostly ads and Chamber of Commerce reports (with photos), but not much news, but David, fortunately, is still writing feature pieces—one of which he had to get back to work on that day. He also said he was well into a new novel, but out of respect for not giving away the plot of “work in progress,” I’ll just say it may have something to do with the parallel circumstance of a Civil War and contemporary American soldier.

It was great to see David Maurer again—and we lucked out when we got back to The Comfort Inn, because Em and Doug were just then packing up their car out front and we were able to chat with them again before they headed back to Connecticut. We did learn, by way of David’s The Daily Progress, that the previous day, the day after the Love Letters of Lynchburg performance, a freight train derailment had occurred in Lynchburg, destroying three oil tanker cars, “lifting a plume of black smoke into the sky,” spilling thousands of gallons of crude oil into the James River. “No one was killed or injured when more than a dozen CSX tanker cars derailed,” but an emergency and temporary evacuation of part of the downtown area was declared—and a “possible switch to an alternative water source for the city’s drinking water supply, which depends primarily on the James.”

We wished Em and Doug a safe trip home. Betty and I had arranged to meet George Minor, another relative (like Lloyd), at 1:30, for a tour of wineries. I’d first met George, the son of namesake Bill Minor (who’d given me invaluable family and “local” material) and his wife Maureen when I attended the Virginia Festival of the Book in 2009. George and I had dinner together then, and I discovered that he had formidable knowledge of wine (which would come into play on this, the second to last day of our stay in Virginia) and that he was an accomplished violinist, having studied in Europe and performed with the Richmond Symphony Orchestra. I accidently rediscovered George Minor on LinkedIn before Betty and I set out on this recent trip, saw a photo of him holding a glass of wine, and looking hale, hearty, and happy, and learned that he was a “former harvest/winemaking assistant” at Jefferson Vineyards—which we would visit this day.

That winery led us back in the direction of Monticello, and on the way there we discussed plans to have dinner with Maureen Minor, George’s mother, that evening (Bill Minor, who was not well when I met him, no longer alive)—and we learned much (information supplemented  by a brochure I would acquire) about the wine industry in Virginia, which can boast of 250+ wineries, 27 wine trails, and 9 winemaking regions, the top grapes being Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, Norton, Petit Manseng, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot.

We started our tour at Jefferson Vineyards in the Central Piedmont area, nestled along the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains. George was greeted by friends, one of whom initiated the wine tasting session, which was so delightful that I momentarily forgot the etiquette involved and drained a first glass of Johannisberg Riesling ’11 (I believe it may have been), but retained some measure of decorum (or restraint) from that point on. I found my favorite among the reds, a Pertit Verdot ’12, flavored with “hints of espresso, cedar, violet, and pencil shavings” (!) followed by flavors of cassis, plum and blackberry”; a strong “tannic structure” lending this “full-bodied red the ability to age well.” My memory may not serve me all that well, but I think I also much enjoyed the Meritage ’10, and among the whites, Viognier ’12. After the tasting we were given a tour of the facility, which is set on a hillside with a splendid view. We purchased a bottle of Petit Verdot, for $18.71 (George got us a 25% discount). Before we left, I learned the winery hosts a May Through August schedule of live music (Sunsets Become Eclectic” summer concert series under the stars), bands performing on the grounds—and I was sorry to have to miss out on any of that.

Here are some of the views we enjoyed from Jefferson Vineyards:

View from Jefferson Winery2   View from Jefferson Winery

View from Jefferson Winery3   View from Jefferson Winery4

Next, we drove to Grace Estate Winery, located at the head of the Appellation Trail (a unique route that connects six wineries in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains), situated on even higher ground than Jefferson Vineyards. We tasted wine there within a handsome home modeled on an Irish castle (photo below), and my favorite wine in this excellent setting was the 2012 Viognier, although they too had a Petit Verdot, aged 16 months in both French and American oak, with a “bold youthful structure, a blackberry jam and blueberry nose, and leather & cigar box finish.” Both were served to us by an attractive and knowledge female friend of George. Alongside an “official” photo of the replicated castle, here’s one of George and Betty, with the splendid view (from another angle) as background.

Grace Estate Winery  Betty and George Minor

The third, and last, winery we went to was less ambitious, much smaller in size, but not in quality: Stinson Vineyards on Sugar Hollow Road (“the winding driveway boasts some of the area’s best views”—and look at what we’d already seen!). This area of Virginia can well brag about handsome landscape—and Stinson Vineyards can well brag about a fine 2011 Meritage, aged 14 months in French Oak (“This wine will drink well now and benefit from some aging”), a blend of 35% Merlot, 25% Petit Verdot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Cabernet Franc. I took advantage of the promise of “now,” since we would be leaving Virginia on Saturday and I’d already spent my wine “allowance” on the Jefferson Vineyard Petit Verdot.

What an afternoon! Not only had we savored excellent wine, but George took us from winery to winery on back roads that offered an endless parade of rolling hills, a landscape so different from that of California that I relished the contrast, and began to imagine a second home here that I would never, ever in this life be able to afford. Next stop: the gracious home of a gracious lady, Maureen Minor.

Much has been said–songs composed (espousing familiar images and sentiments such as “Soft winds blowing through the pinewood trees/Folks down there live a life of ease” or “The corn top’s ripe and the meadow’s in bloom/While the birds make music all the day”) and many stories told–about “Southern hospitality”; too many clichés concocted in its behalf perhaps, but the thing does exist, and we were treated to another genuine taste of it from the time we arrived at Maureen’s to the time we left her home.

Maureen has a cozy back porch that reminds me of the one I was fond of as a child (and thereafter) on Pleasant Street (how perfect!) in boyhood Michigan—but hers let in far more out of doors light, and possessed a better sense of spaciousness than the porch I recall, open (aside from screens to keep the bugs out) as Maureen’s was on her garden, a host of flower beds, and bird feeders (with birds that sang at them!) at either end of the porch. And we were treated, without asking, to gin and tonic, a drink I seldom have, but this was just the right setting for it—the beverage attended by the smell of … I think it must have been honeysuckle, which also came with the back porch of my youth. It was sundown, the perfect time for such “ease,” and then we moved indoors for an excellent dinner (Maureen, whose background is British, is a first-rate cook): crab cakes, a splendid salad (so splendid I just enjoyed it, and can’t recall the exact ingredients), wine from one of the vineyards we’d visited that day, and a dessert that Betty remembers as “special.”

After dinner, we went to the basement where I encountered a huge cardboard screen embellished with the names of all the members of the Minor family to whom we are related, dating back to the “Founder,” Maindort Doodes, born in the Netherlands (Rotherdam), June 1610, married to Mary Garrett about 1640, and died sometime after December 13, 1677 (will made on that date) in Urbanna, Middlesex Co., Virginia–a Dutch sea captain who had a son who took the name Doodes Minor when naturalized in Virginia in 1673 (I would learn that Maindort Doodes himself assumed the name Minor Doodes, more than likely because a British clerk couldn’t pronounce his first name correctly and wrote it down as “Minor”). Gazing at this heavily inscribed “wall” of cardboard with all its names, we each found our own respective  lineage “units” or “kin”—and then Maureen and Betty discussed the many very handsome quilts that Maureen works on at the other end of the basement room.

Here’s a photo taken when I visited Bill, George, and Maureen Minor —and a photo of Minor Hall (dedicated to my Great-grandfather’s brother John B. Minor, a Professor of Law at the University of Virginia at the time of the Civil War). Betty and I would visit the campus next.

Bill, George and Maureen Minor  UV Minor Hall

We had arranged a visit with pianist/retired psychiatrist Tom Hagerty and his wife Kate for Friday, our last full day in Virginia—and we decided to spend the morning exploring Charlottesville by way of the Free Trolley, one stop for which would allow us to get off at the cemetery where John B. Minor resides. I also wanted to see if we could find the grave of Willy Blackford, Charles and Susan’s very young son who died during the Civil War and for whose burial John B. had been responsible.

We returned to the Charlottesville Mall where we’d had breakfast with David Maurer and caught the Free Trolley on Water Street, the route taking us through a not exactly extraordinarily exciting portion of the downtown area, then past the by now familiar Amtrax station, a left turn on Jefferson Park Avenue and past the UVA Medical Center, School of Nursing, and Student Health Center, then alongside Cabell Hall and Minor Hall (the building named for John B.), swung around by the university stadium, Aquatic and Fitness Center, and up by the cemetery, where we got off. The left hand portion of the cemetery, where you enter, is devoted to the Confederate dead, row after row of solemn anonymous white crosses standing in the sun—and I couldn’t help but think of the opening lines of Alan Tate’s poem, “Ode to the Confederate Dead”: “Row after row with strict impunity/the headstones yield their names to the element,/The wind whirls without recollection … the inexhaustible bodies that are not/Dead, but feed the grass row after row now.”

Betty and I cut through this plot, past a low stone fence, and stepped into the section where we found John B. Minor’s “monument” much as we’d first seen it in 2000. When I was a teenager, my father told me that John B. had five (or was it seven?) wives, all of whom were buried beside his tall, phallic-shaped tombstone, surrounding him but residing in graves far less imposing than his. However, on that first visit in 2000, we’d only been able to find the graves of three wives, so, typical of my father, he must have been exaggerating. Now, standing before John B.’s stele, we still could count only three wives, so the man’s marital status had not undergone any significant change in nine years. And the inscription on the base stone of his monument read the same: “For Fifty Years Professor of Law in the University of Virginia. He faithfully and lovingly performed his duties unto death. Teaching with rare clearness and success the text and spirit of the law. A devoted Husband and Father, a loyal Friend, a chivalrous Gentleman, an earnest Christian. To live was Christ, to die was gain.” These words seemed in accord with all I’d ever read about him, and we paused to let the praise sink in, and then began an earnest search for Willy.

Here are two photos of John B. Minor’s monument, and the base stone with the inscription I quoted:

UV John B Minor Gravesite  John B. Minor Stone  John B. Minor Grave

The cemetery is so large, we decided to split up and search separately. The day was fine and bright, sunny but not overly warm, hot, so I took my time and enjoyed passing through this peaceful place. Several of the graves were sumptuously adorned with flowers, and the walk from stone to stone, checking out each name (some of them nearly effaced) was pleasant. I found lots of Minors (Dave Maurer had once told me that Charlottesville was “filthy with Minors”), but there was no sign of Willy. I did find, far back in a corner of the cemetery, some Blackford headstones, but none of them were his. Finally, Betty and I called out to one another, simultaneously, and we gave up the quest. Waiting at the bus stop, surrounded by young women wearing short shorts and halters, or some in what resembled long broomstick or gingham Hippie-style skirts, and young men dressed equally casually if a bit more substantially, I realized that, whereas John B. had taken responsibility for having Willy buried in the University of Virginia cemetery, Charles and Susan, after the war and their lives restored in Lynchburg, may well have brought him “home,” and had him reburied there.

Here are some of the fine UV buildings we drove by on the rest of our Free Trolley journey: the long stretch of the Colonade, the Chapel, and the Rotunda, with its statue of Jefferson himself standing out front, as if to protect his pet project from anyone who might not fully appreciate it.

UV Collonaded Pavilions       UV Chapel

UV Rotunda with Statue of Jefferson

We swung up 2nd Street, feeling as if we now had a complete handle on solid directions to any location in Charlottesville (the Free Trolley doing all the real work for us), took a right on Market (past City Hall), and returned to the spot where we had boarded that morning.

That afternoon, finding the home of Tom and Kate Hagerty presented our last chance to get lost attempting to find a specific destination in Virginia, and we took full advantage of it. Tom and Kate live, truly, “out in the country,” on a road I couldn’t find on MapQuest—but as it turned out, it was a spot, hidden away, not far from where we’d been the previous day on our wine tour, not far from White Hill Road and both Stinson and Grace Estate Wineries, with a splendid view of Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National park in the background, their home off Lake Albemarle Road, nested among trees and flowers. The best way to illustrate its quiet splendor—one picture worth a thousand words?—is to show you these photos of Tom, me, and Kate on a back deck just off their kitchen, shrouded in dogwood; two views of the “Landscape” so near by, and a photo of Tom at work on their handsome grand piano, inside.

Tom Hagerty, Me, Kate    View from Hagerty's Deck2

View from Hagerty's Deck                Tom Hagerty at Piano

I first met Tom Hagerty when I attended the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville in 2008. I had published a comic novel about the American Bicentennial called Trek: Lips, Sunny, Pecker and Me (the penultimate name that of a teenage son, Peckerwood—which should give you some sense of the tone of the book). Dave Maurer had written an article for The Daily Progress, and listed a time I’d be signing copies at the Book Fair—and Tom showed up (David had mentioned that I was a “professional musician,” had published three books on jazz and “150 jazz-related articles”), and an immediate friendship was formed.

I’d gone to Sunday dinner at their home, and Betty and I were now enjoying their hospitality on a Friday. While Betty (an avid gardener) and Kate talked plants and flowers while “fixin’” dinner, Tom and I took turns at that handsome piano, trading tunes; this after we’d first retired to the basement where he has a fully stocked bar and extra keyboard (portable electric), and fixed me a drink, Scotch on the rocks. Upstairs, I offered one of the songs I’d been writing recently (words and music: a tune called “My Fingers Refuse to Sleep”), and my fingers seemed to serve me fairly well. I like to sing and play, a la Nat “King” Cole (an idol of my youth: “What Can I Say After I Say I’m Sorry”) and Thomas “Fats” Waller (“Honeysuckle Rose” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’”), perhaps in my case due to a lack of genuine instrumental “chops,” but Tom has got ‘em, and I loved listening to him do full justice to Bill Evans’ tunes, “Turn Out the Stars” and “Waltz for Debby.” In spite of my own musical shortcomings, I love trading tunes the way we do, our styles quite different, but complementing each other well, I like to think.

Betty and Kate took a break, as did Tom and I, and we all went outside to sit on the deck and enjoy the last of the day, fragrant with flowers, and rich in another display of Southern Hospitality with these two gracious people who seem quite knowledgeable when it comes to their physical surroundings, and the inner person as well. Then we were back inside for a splendid meal: marinated steak which Tom fixed on a grill.

The Hagerty home is, similar to several we’d been in (Lloyd and Ashlin Smith’s; Maureen Minor’s) something of a museum, with tasteful paintings and artifacts present without pretense, but there to “flesh out” domestic amenity. Tom showed us a row of such work he has never “set straight,” as a reminder of a rare Virginia earthquake that left the row slightly askew, out of alignment, but did not dislodge the work from the wall. Betty and I had settled in so comfortably ourselves with these new good friends we did not wish to leave them, but we remembered that we had another early appointment in the morning–with a flight that would take us home—and we all, somewhat reluctantly, walked out to the car together. Betty and I took in the splendid surroundings one last time, and we said farewell to our last taste of Virginia hospitality, promising to return again, for more music, and grand conversation over a fine meal!

We had no trouble finding the Charlottesville Albermarle Regional Airport in the morning, turned in our rental car (and the GPS device that had proved of so little practical use to us), and settled in our seats for the flight home—filled with first-rate memories of the wedding, the Love Letters of Lynchburg performance, and so many adventures with old and new friends (I was only sorry we’d not been able to spend more time with Lloyd and Ashlin Smith—but next time we get to Virginia!). I think I had a smile on my face all the way back to our home in Pacific Grove, California.

The Virginia Adventure Concluded–Almost

I have enjoyed recalling and writing about our trek to Virginia so much that the tale seems to have reached “epic” proportions (in keeping with “Bill’s Blog Baroque”?), so I believe I will break the concluding portion down into two (manageable) parts: the first ending with the performance of Love Letters of Lynchburg in Lynchburg—the second closing with the last day of the trip itself.

At the end of the last post, I left our merry band of travelers on the road to Lynchburg. When I travel, I shut down my computer at home (it’s rewarding to do without it for a time), and aside from Betty’s cell phone, I’m pretty much out of touch with folks I’ve been in touch with regarding where I’m going to be while traveling (how’s that for a classic sentence—and paradox?). This was the case with Kenny Rowlette, the man who had extended the invitation for us to give a performance of Love Letters of Lynchburg, in Lynchburg, sponsored by the National Civil War Chaplains Museum—and set it up.

I’d enjoyed exchanging letters with Kenny before we left for Virginia: a man who wears many “hats,” not only as Director of the Chaplains Museum, but Special Projects Coordinator at the Liberty University library, and overseeing other campus projects, it seems, as well. However, I’d somehow lost contact with him up to the time Betty and I left home. On our way now to Lynchburg for that evening’s performance, I realized I did not know the exact time and place set up for an afternoon rehearsal.

I had received a letter in which Kenny spelled out a number of arrangements he’d made regarding publicity—only one of which actually materialized: a phone interview with Casey Gillis, a feature writer for Lynchburg’s The News & Advance, the result of which was a handsome article, “Reading of Lynchburg couples’ emotional Civil War era love,” in which Casey quoted very engaging portions of the script—so “choice” I thought she might have contacted Dallas Shipp, the actor who would play Charles Minor Blackford, and the only person to whom I’d sent the script. When I thanked Casey for the article, she said she’d taken the quotes directly off the CD I’d sent her—a labor of love I truly appreciated.

Here’s a portion of her article in which she quotes Susan (a moving scene in which Susan goes to Charles’ law office when he’s “off to war” and no longer in Lynchburg), the music from the score that accompanies that letter, a poster advertising the performance, and Kitty and Dallas again.

Casey Gillis Quote from LLL   Score for Susan at Law Office

Poster for LLL Performance   kITTY2   Dallas2

A WRVL radio host named Mark Douglas contacted me just before we left for Virginia, saying he’d like to do an interview for the “upcoming production,” but I had to respond saying we would be “in the air” (literally: our 6:00 AM flight from San Francisco) at the time he proposed. Consequently, I was more than a little “up in the air” when it came to publicity (how many people had received “word” of the event and how many might actually show up?), along with the rehearsal time and place for that evening’s performance. It turned out that Kenny had contacted Kitty Petruccelli, and we were to meet him at 5:00, in front of a large white building with pillars (the Student Union), after procuring a parking pass at the Visitors’ Center. So we were set on that score.

I had also written Greg Starbuck, Executive Director of the Historic Sandusky Foundation, which had commissioned the Love Letters of Lynchburg piece, and CD—and my sister Emily, her husband Doug, my wife Betty and I agreed to meet him at the Sandusky house, and then all have lunch together. Greg is a “good guy,” good musician (banjo and mandolin), and good company. Even though he was busy preparing to defend his M.A. thesis (“Hearth & Home: The Civil War in Three Virginia Communities”—Lynchburg, Winchester, Petersburg) just two days away, he made time for us, and took us to an excellent restaurant, The Crown Sterling. Here’s a photo of Greg and me that day, and also one of me holding a sword that belonged to Charles Minor Blackford, taken on a previous visit to Lynchburg.

Greg and I     CSA Cavalry Capt Bill Minor

Seated in a cozy warm wood ambiance at The Crown Sterling, near a splendid fireplace, we got caught up on recent activity, Greg having produced and directed a film, Hunter’s Raid: The Battle for Lynchburg—one which had been honored with three regional Emmy awards. Sandusky is a stately Federal Style brick edifice that “may well be Lynchburg’s most historic house” (it was once the “centerpiece” of a 1,200 acre plantation)—a home that landed in the hands of Major General George Christian Hutter in 1838; only to be given up, involuntarily, in 1864 (when Sandusky had its “fifteen minutes of fame”) to Union General David Hunter (notorious for the burning of Virginia Military Institute) during the Battle of Lynchburg (about which Chalres Minor Blackford had written a book!), a battle that lasted for two days, Confederate General Jubal Early having pulled off a ruse, running trains in and out of town, and fooling Hunter into thinking a “large body of troops” had arrived to defend the town—Hunter withdrawing.

Greg, a man of many talents, also produced a CD called Lynchburg Melodies: History of the Hill City in Song, as well as appearing on another CD, Vaughn & Starbuck: Songs of the Civil War Era, on which he plays banjo, mandolin, and sings, alongside Jerry Vaughn’s voice and guitar. Greg was also, at the time of our visit, involved in preparing a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of The Battle of Lynchburg. Catching up on all this, I was sorry in a way that we had not had more time at our disposal to take a leisurely stroll through the Sandusky house (the windows of which and parlor carpet had been recently restored), then to explore the Visitor Center, its patio also recently restored. But it was great to see and have lunch with very convivial Greg—and, as we left, he said he would be present at the performance that night at the Tower Theater, which cost millions to build, he said, boasting 640 seats, a balcony and orchestra pit, catwalks, a fly tower, and over 12,000 square feet of backstage and support area. Here are two photos of this excellent theater (the largest, most expensive “house’ I’ve ever played in):

Tower Theater3   Tower Theater Lynchburg

We were on our way, but in the rain again, and there’s a saying in Virginia, “When it rains, people just don’t go out.” I hoped that wasn’t true. We easily obtained our parking permit, from a very pretty, gracious, smiling young woman who seemed a Southern prototype, and we pulled up, as instructed, in front of the large white building with pillars. It was not long before Kenny emerged in the rain beneath an umbrella, a genial figure, and escorted Kitty and me to a room set aside for rehearsal. Em, Doug, and Betty would bide their time until show time—which meant at Starbuck’s.

Dallas Shipp was waiting for us, a young man every bit as personable as he’d appeared in a couple of YouTube videos I’d seen (O Brave New World of social media, when you can “meet” and learn quite a bit about someone before you fly 3000 miles to participate in a production and encounter that person in the actual, non-virtual world; seeing the videos, I’d decided Dallas was just right for the role of Charles Minor Blackford). Kenny left us to rehearse, saying he’d be back at 6:30 to take us to dinner before the performance. That gave us an hour and a half, so we chatted a bit, and then jumped right into a run through on the script, which went swimmingly, with ease and perfect timing. Dallas had obviously given much thought (and practice it seemed) to the script, and the exchange between the letters of Charles he read and those of Susan read by Kitty was perfect—and the blend of what they read with the music went as well as I’ve ever been able to bring it off.

Before we started, I told Dallas I was of the “Miles Davis School” of performance: find the best people and just let them do their thing, without interference or even “instruction.” The actor who had played Charles in California, Taelen Thomas, does one-man shows of everyone from John Steinbeck and Jack London, to Teddy Roosevelt and Leonardo de Vinci, and has a powerful voice. Dallas is of a milder disposition, and had an interesting “take” or interpretation of a section of the script which Taelen renders in disgust and anger: a scene in which Charles Minor Blackford returns to Fredericksburg and the home in which he grew up, after the dreadful battle there, only to find that “the Yankees had been up in the cuddy of the house and taken out barrels of old letters which were scattered all over the yard; among them I found a letter from Light Horse Harry Lee [Robert E. Lee’s father] to my grandfather. The whole house was covered with mud and blood and it was hard to realize it was the house of my childhood.”

Dallas felt Charles would not feel anger at this point so much as sadness, and he played the role that way—which was an interesting “twist,” and made me realize—even though I am no stranger to theater productions (I’ve had two plays I’ve written performed on stage)—that a variety of interpretations are possible given any particular role, that each actor brings his or her own reading or rendition to the part. In that rehearsal room, we seemed to “sail” through Love Letters of Lynchburg, in “one take” (as they say in the recording industry), and we sat and chatted and, in general, got to know not only the piece we would perform, but each other well by the time Kenny showed up and we set out to eat.

Kenny took us to a custom-made sandwich shop called Panera Bread, independent of the Liberty University campus but obviously popular with students. I settled for a Greek salad (love that lamb, cucumbers, Feta cheese, and Kalamata olives!) and we chatted about this and that (Kenny is a “Kentucky boy” and had some good tales to tell about growing up there—and we also talked music a bit). After, I rode with him (Kitty went in Dallas’ car) and Kenny took me on a quick tour of Liberty University (which, impressive as it is, seemed a “work in progress” with regard to building projects) before we arrived at the Tower Theater.

The theater is truly impressive with its splendid architecture, 640 seats and giant stage. We were met by a woman who would handle sound and lighting, and I was filled with delightful anticipation until I looked up at that stage (sets for Mary Poppins, in production, in place, but in no way compromising what we would do). I was filled with expectancy until I noticed that two microphones on stands were set in place down front, but … no piano! I felt as if I might have a heart attack on the spot. Love Letters of Lynchburg is a play for two voices accompanied by a complete musical score which has been performed by piano, bass, and flute—but this night by me on piano alone.

“Wh-wh-where’s the piano?” I asked the woman in charge.

“No one requested a piano,” she replied, in a voice that was decidedly official.

I pictured myself sitting in the front row, watching and listening to Dallas and Kitty read the lines in the script without a stitch of the musical backing I had painstakingly put together to flesh out the piece—and I thought of committing seppuku (Japanese ritual suicide, or harakiri) on the spot, although I lacked not only a piano but a good sharp samurai sword as well. Kitty spotted a piano behind a curtain, just off to the right of the stage facing front, but it was “wired” for sound for the Mary Poppins production, and the woman told us in no uncertain terms, “Do not touch that piano!” The stage area was monstrous (“over 12,000 square feet backstage”), and she marched us for a stretch that seemed like an extensive wilderness hike, all the way back to the Green Room, where we discovered an upright Kawai piano, which we wheeled back through the wilderness and to the front of the stage, off to one side of the microphones. It was hardly the Grand I had anticipated (and had asked for), and I had to tilt the angle so that I could see Dallas and Kitty, the audience, and the keyboard and score all at the same time. I also had to find a bench (but NOT the Mary Poppins bench, oh no!), and had to roll up my wet (the rain, remember?) outdoor all-weather coat to sit on, adjusting it for a height at which I felt comfortable playing.

But we were in business—sans Japanese ritual suicide. And the performance went as the rehearsal had gone: swimmingly, beautifully, pace, timing, execution, emotion—all! Dallas and Kitty were at one with the roles, the exchange of letters was quite moving, and I played some not too bad piano, if I do say so myself.

Here are photos of Charles and Susan in “real life,” as they looked in 1861, when the Civil War began:

Charles Minor Blackford       Susan Blackford2

Before we started, I did give the audience (not all 640 seats filled, by any means, but a substantial group for a rainy night such as Virginians are reported as not going out into) some background information  on the letters they were going to hear (the “state” of Charles and Susan’s life when the war began—a couple much in love and five years into marriage), and seeing Greg Starbuck in the audience, I introduced him and thanked him, publically, for having made Love Letters of Lynchburg possible in the first place. The audience was respectful, attentive throughout the performance, the applause sounded (and felt) good, and several members expressed their appreciation after.

Kitty, Dallas and I had our pictures taken out in the lobby, with Kenny, and with Greg, and we even received our due portion of the “gate” (although Kitty would have to wait a space of time for recompense for her train trip). Rather than leave to head back to Charlottesville right away (as I thought we would need to do), Doug, Em, Kitty, Betty and I decided we had time for a celebration beer (or two), Dallas and Greg Starbuck in agreement, Kenny declining on the ground that he was a Baptist and thought it best to go straight home. The rest of us “repaired” to a lively student hangout (the name of which I forget) at the campus edge, and enjoyed lively conversation that covered a wide range of subject matter, and beer (I had Guinness).

I felt great (emotionally, not just chemically) on the ride back to Charlottesville and The Comfort Inn, because I felt our “gig” had–in spite of the initial piano crisis–come off, unfolded, just as I’d hoped it would. It was a thrill to think that we had brought this performance to the very place, Lynchburg, in which half of the letters (Susan’s portion) were written, and also those of Charles in a metaphorical sense, for his share could not have been composed without his “home,” and those he called his “household gods” living there throughout the war years, in mind.

Love Letters of Lynchburg ends with a humorous account, on Susan’s part, of her having been sent to Charlottesville by Charles, at the time of the fall of Richmond. She wrote him: “And of course, My Dearest Husband, just what I told you when you insisted upon my leaving Richmond to come to ‘safety’ here in Charlottesville would happen has happened, and what I ran away from I ran into. When the rumor reached us that Union soldiers were coming down from Waynesboro, everybody set to work to prepare for the raiders by hiding everything of value. I first stored away the hams I brought away from Richmond in a safe place in the cuddy of Mr. Minor’s house [her sister’s husband, a professor of law at the University of Virginia]. We waited for the Yankees all day most anxiously, indeed in a state of wild ex­citement. I took our silver sugar-dish, cream pot, bowl, forks and spoons and put them into the legs of a pair of your own drawers from a trunk, tying up each leg at the ankle and buckling the band around my waist. They hung under, and were con­cealed by my hoops. It did well while I sat still, but as I walked and when I sat down the clanking destroyed all hope of concealment. Of course the ridiculous side of the situation struck me and I could not restrain my laughter, which sister said was very unseemly at such a time. But I could not help it. It was partly nervous, but there were many amusing scenes, as you can well imagine, and what is amusing will amuse me, you know? … [pause] … whatever the surroundings.”

And Charles responds with: “Left alone here in Richmond, I have missed you and your ‘counsel’ very much, especially following father’s death. Now, I have no one but you with whom to confer and upon whose judgment I can safely rely … [pause] … The streets are full of scared people, ladies and gentlemen, all in great distress, but all powerless to accomplish anything … [pause] … I hope to buy those hooped skirts you liked, with my last Confederate dollars … [substantial pause] … I just learned about the surrender at Appomattox. I’ve got a forty-two mile hike, alone, to Lynchburg, sleeping on the ground or in barns or sheds, but if I can get just one post-war legal case there, I can earn half a dollar and we can buy the first herring and slice of cheese we’ve had in four years … [long pause] … You’ve claimed that my letters to you are much superior to yours in every respect, and will be of more interest to our children because they describe ‘active operations,’ while yours are confined to the more limited circle of domestic life; but many such letters as I have written will be written by many persons, while there are few, if any, contemporaneous accounts of what took place at home and how people lived and thought during the long, dark days of this dreadful war. I am amused at what you say about our great grandchildren laughing at our long and loving letters. Well, let them laugh, but if they are only half as happy in their married life as their great grandparents, they will be far more fortunate than most people.”

It’s a perfect ending to what I felt had been a perfect night (with just the one, temporary. mishap—the piano crisis). I had hoped, here, to post photos my sister Emily took of the performance, but she is (by her own omission) the procrastinating type, someone who doesn’t get around to sending out her Christmas cards until April—so I have yet to receive the photos.

One quick “pitch”: the Love Letters of Lynchburg CD (with the original cast) is available for purchase at: http://www.historicsandusky.org/shop.htm.

Once back in Charlottesville, we dropped Kitty off at the side entrance of Lloyd and Ashlin’s home (after having the inevitable embarrassment of not being able to find Park Street again, at least for a while, when we reentered the city). We promised to pick her up early in the morning so she could catch her 8:30 AM Amtrak train back to Massachusetts—which we managed. Doug and Em would be heading north again themselves the next day, Thursday, so we planned to spend Wednesday at Monticello, which we did.

Monticello Thomas Jefferson  Ridgway

I’ll end there, with a small, mysterious visual enticement to (I hope) future reading—a sort of “Preview of Coming Attractions”: a “historical sketch” of Monticello I found in a book, Anti-bellum Albemarle, my father showed me when I was a teenager, and the same of a relative’s, Peter Minor’s, home Ridgway—with “Tom” himself, as represented in the well known Rembrandt Peale painting which serves as frontispiece for another book, Jefferson’s Albemarle, between the two.

The mystery of these “illustrations” will be cleared up next post—so stay tuned!