Reflections on the 4th of July and Other Things

On the Fourth of July we went for a ride along dirt roads beyond the woods in our backyard. I guess you could say we were visiting the neighbors. The houses were far and few between. The small towns were quiet. We saw an occasional outdoor BBQ with no more than six or eight people out on the front lawn. Some of them wore masks at their family lawn parties.

Dirt Road

Newfane, Vermont

After our holiday cruise Rich cooked the lobsters and steak while I made a salad and posted a photo of our drive on Instagram with this caption:

Picture this: Vermont dirt roads, a covered bridge, Bernie lawn signs, old cars in the yard, lettuce and homegrown ganja in the vegetable gardens, tiny houses and RV guests in the backyards. Very few flags flying. Music on the radio, call in your favorite protest song.
Miles from Trump.

Covered Bridge

Covered Bridge ~ Vermont

One of the songs we listened to was something we’d never heard before. Joan Baez and Jeffrey Shurtleff covering a Byrds’ song at Woodstock. It was written by Gram Parsons and Roger McGuinn and titled A Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man.

He’s a drug store truck drivin’man. He’s the head of the Ku Klux Klan. When summer rolls around you’ll be lucky if he’s not in town.

We heard about Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore.  We’ve seen bits and pieces of it along with the following day’s speech in D.C.  I no longer try to change hearts and minds. I’ve learned it’s a losing battle. Anyone who still stands with Trump is beyond redemption. There is no denying their racism and willful ignorance.

Coronavirus has come roaring back with a vengeance in the land of the free and the reckless. I often walk Lake Raponda Road but the lakes were closed this holiday weekend. The out-of -staters whizzing down Higley Hill with kayaks on the roof of their  SUVs must have been disappointed.

Lake Raponda

Lake Raponda Wilmington, Vt

Two weekends ago we discovered Grout Lake.

still water

Ripple in Still Water – Grout Lake, Stratton, VT

We met only one other man who was about our age. He had driven up from Massachusetts to camp for the night. He’d grown up in a town just north of the lake. He told us all the campsites had reserved signs.

“I don’t think this place is full tonight,” Rich said.

“I know but I don’t want to break the rules. I’m thinking the signs might be left from last summer but what if someone showed up at midnight and found me in their spot? I think I’ll head up to my old house. I know the owner and he’ll probably let me set up my tent for the night.”

Again, we’re in Vermont.

I am reading a lot of books. The gym where I work is still closed. I’m sixty three years old and enjoying this time of reading and writing. When I got home from Roanoke I was planning to go through all the old photos and organize things. That hasn’t happened yet. Instead I’ve been writing up a storm.

I read

Back at the beginning of the pandemic when we were in Roanoke, Virginia we took a hike to a waterfall. On the trail back down the mountain we came across what looked like a collapsed cabin or shed and the remnants of a clothesline.

fallen cabin Bent Mountain

Bent Mountain Trail ~ Shawsville, Virginia

Further along the trail we noticed a cemetery.

Cemetery #2

Cemetery – Bent Mountain Trail, Blue Ridge Mountains

“It’s the family plot,” Rich said. “It must be the people who once lived in that fallen down cabin.”

Cemetery #3

Bent Mountain, Virginia

The fake flowers weren’t faded but appeared to have been here for a long time. It was impossible to know how old this cemetery was. There were no names or dates on the headstones.

gravestone EH

RIP E.H. ~ Bent Mountain, Vermont

Except for E.H. Who was She or He? Did He live a long life farming here on Bent Mountain? Or maybe She died in childbirth? These people lived and died leaving no records behind. What did it mean in the grand scheme of the universe? Do their ancestors have any photos or stories or mementoes? Did She paint pictures or do needlework that someone still cherishes? Did he make wood carvings or keep a journal?

The family plot with no names haunted me for quite some time as I tried to write in the condo in Roanoke where we lived and worked for three months during the early days of the pandemic.

Back home in Vermont a luna moth hung by my front window for a few days.

Lunar moth

I found this in a Google search of luna moths:

For the very reason that they live for only 10 days as a winged adult after almost a year of growth as an egg, larvae and pupa, the life of a Luna moth symbolizes transformation, transience, the brevity of life, new beginnings, and a lot more. Some even consider them the most mystical of animal totems they will ever encounter.

Was the luna moth sending me a message?

Back home in Vermont I have taken several walks around the empty Mount Snow ski resort.

chairlift Mount Snow

Mount Snow chairlifts – Dover, Vermont

There have been only three deaths due to coronavirus in Windham County which is where I live. Two of the deaths were the Boyd twins, Levon and Clevon. I didn’t know them but I drive by their farm several times a week. Rich has met their brother Bucky. Their obituary was in the New York Times.

Does it matter if your obituary makes the newspaper of record or if you are buried without a name in a neglected cemetery plot along a hiking trail? What is immortality? I don’t really know the answer. I am an atheist. I believe the only mortality we have is what we leave behind. The memories of our loved ones. The things we create. The stories we tell. The Boyd twins left their family farm and the small community that they were a big part of.

Mountain Snow

Mount Snow, Vermont

On a recent walk around Mount Snow I saw a rainbow peek out from behind a cloud. It looked like it was headed straight toward the moon. I waited and watched.

Rainbow

Rainbow at Mount Snow.

 

shoot the Moon

A Rainbow Shot the Moon – Mount Snow, VT

I remembered a movie years ago titled Shoot the Moon with Albert Finney and Diane Keaton. I googled Shoot the Moon and found this: “Today, when someone says that someone will “shoot the moon” it is to go for everything or nothing. It is similar to the phrases “to go for broke,””to go whole hog,” and “to pull out all the stops.” In all cases, one would take a great risk. The idiom suggests that there is as much of a chance of success as there is shooting (a bullet, arrow etc.) and hitting the Moon.”

I went back to writing my fifth novel. A shot at the moon if ever there was one. I have been working on this story for three years now, with stops and starts, with determination and despair. Some days are full of inspiration. Other days are filled with hopelessness. Who will read this book?

 

Fog from my deck

Fog from my deck

 

E.L. Doctorow once compared writing to driving in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. Life is like that too and at this moment in time we are traveling through a thick, heavy fog and I fear we are headed for a deadly crash.

During these days of the pandemic I’ve also seen spectacular sunsets from my deck.


sunset on the deck

The view from here ~ Wilmington, VT

I have stood by still waters and felt peace and hope.

Reflection in a lake

Grout Lake – Stratton, Vermont

And I’ve wondered why someone climbed this dying old tree to hang a fishing bob on its bare upper branch.

fishing bob on a tree

Grout Lake ~ Stratton, Vermont

Maybe because it was a challenge. Maybe because it was a hard thing to do. Maybe because no one else had attempted it. Maybe because they were crazy.

Maybe because as Kerouac once said, “My witness is the empty sky.”

What’s Next?

What's Next? Roanoke, VA

Boarded Up Building – Roanoke, VA

On  our second weekend in Roanoke, in the middle of March when the nation closed, we took a drive to Rocky Mount, Virginia. There wasn’t much else to do when we weren’t working at the condo. I had a long list of sightseeing ideas so we set out to see what we could see during a quarantine in the days of a pandemic.

One of the first things that caught my eye was a boarded up building and a What’s Next sign? with the answer to the question blacked out.

I wanted the picture. Rich didn’t want to turn around and said we would get it on the way back.

Rocky Mount Burger Co.

Rocky Mount Burger Company – Wish we could have eaten here

Rocky Mount Fire Station

Rocky Mount Fire Station

Our destination was Rocky Mount where more than a dozen motorcyclists were gathered around picnic tables at the farmers’ market which was not taking place because the world had shut down. We parked around the corner from them just as they revved up and paraded through town. After they left the only person we saw was the man who owned the hardware store. He stood in the front door and waved to us from across the street. We were keeping our social distance.

Rocky Mount is the home of the Harvester Performance Center, a music venue I had never heard of but from the photos on the building we could see Willy Nelson, Kenny G, & many others have played here. Except for the local hardware store all the businesses in town were closed.

Rocky Mount Mural #2

A mural at the Hardware Store – Rocky Mount, VA

Speakers were attached to the lampposts and music filled the streets of the one block downtown. It was strange and eerie, like a science fiction movie where all the people had vanished but left the music on.

 

IMG_0576

Reflection in a Window – Rich inserts himself into the mural

I had made note of a landmark so when we were driving home we’d know when to slow down and turn left to get a photo of the What’s Next? sign. As we got closer we saw red and blue lights flashing up ahead. Fire trucks and police cars were on both sides of the road. The cops were directing traffic while the firemen hosed down a brush fire that had gone out of control.

“What about the photo you said we’d stop for?” I asked.

“Next time,” Rich said.

The sign would haunt me for most of the time we were in Roanoke. I wanted the picture but each time we took another road trip we headed along a different route.

Purple Highway Elliston, VA

The purple highways of Virginia in spring

On another day we drove to the Booker T. Washington National Monument where the Visitor Center was closed but the walking trails were open.

Booker T.

Booker T. Washington National Monument

In Booker T. Washington’s book Up From Slavery he describes the moment at the end of the Civil War  when a stranger came to the plantation and read the Emancipation Proclamation.

“We were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks.  This was the moment she had been praying for.”

Washington also wrote about his birth and nine years living as an enslaved person on the Burroughs plantation, a tobacco farm on the land we were walking.

“I was born in a typical log cabin, about fourteen by sixteen feet square. In this cabin I lived with my mother and a brother and sister till after the Civil War, when we were all declared free. Of my ancestry, I know almost nothing….the cabin was not only our living-place, but was used as the kitchen for the plantation. My mother was the plantation cook. The cabin was without glass windows; it had only openings in the side which let in the light, and also the cold, chilly air of winter…there was no wooden floor in our cabin, the naked earth being used as a floor.” He described never sleeping in a bed but just on “a bundle of rags.”

Determined to get an education after the war Dr. Booker T. Washington would go on to become a noted educator, orator, author, advisor to U.S. presidents, and a guiding force behind Tuskegee University, an all Black college in Alabama.

Coca Cola Hardy, VA

Coca Cola Hardy, Virginia

“No race or people ever got upon its feet without severe and constant struggle, often in the face of the greatest discouragement.”  ~ Booker T. Washington

There were other day trips traveled along different roads but the What’s Next? sign continued to haunt me.  What did I think it meant? Did it have to do with the strange and frightening days we lived in? Would life be forever different? Will there be a new normal?

On our days off we drove around new terrain. I took pictures of my latest passion, the plethora of soft drink advertisements on brick buildings in Roanoke.

Royal Crown Cola

Royal Crown Cola –  Hurt Park neighborhood in Roanoke, VA

What’s next? We got word that a friend was in the hospital with coronavirus. He was the first case in Manchester, NH where he spent two months on a ventilator, much of it in an induced coma. He is home now, using a walker and getting physical therapy.

What’s next? The economy was tanking. Unemployment rising. The stock market crashes and surges.

The stock market is not one of our concerns. Our 401k was decimated over the years of lay-offs, Cobra payments, self-employed health insurance, college tuition, the recession. When Trump was elected I moved the little money we had left in our 401k into a mutual fund. It earns pennies in interest but it doesn’t rise and fall. We don’t give a shit about the stock market. As Paul Krugman of the New York Times says, the stock market is not the economy.

We were grateful Rich was working but What Next? Would there be work when we got home? When is our $1200 stimulus money coming? At least I qualified for unemployment and the bonus $600. Will this be like the recession when people cut back on spending money on home improvements and Rich was out of work?

We put my unemployment checks in our savings account for What’s Next.

Trump confederate flad

Boone’s Mill, Virginia – Trump Country

The last week we were in Roanoke Rich hired a crew of Chinese floor guys. They arrived early and immediately started hammering and sawing. It was loud and chaotic in the condo. Rich suggested I go for a drive. I knew immediately where I would go.

I drove right by it the first time, made a U-turn further down the road, and drove back a mile then pulled into the empty parking lot to get the photo of the question without an answer that had been haunting me for almost three months now.

Board up Boones Mill

Boarded up house on Main Street Boone’s Mill, Virginia

I still had time to kill. The floor guys would be working all day. I decided to explore the town of Boone’s Mill, known as the wettest town in Virginia. As opposed to the driest town, meaning there are distilleries and breweries here. Or were here at one time. I only saw one brewery on the main highway and it was closed due to coronavirus.

Out of Business Boones Mill

The out of business Dog Gone Gorgeous dog groomer on the corner of  Boone and Easy Street.

House Boones Mill, VA

Boone’s Mill, Virginia

So this is Boone’s Mill? There has to be more. I headed down the other fork in the road and ended up at an empty old mill on a dead end. I drove up a hill and passed ranch houses with open fields but after awhile I turned around and headed back to the highway. Leaving Boone’s Mill I took the picture of the Trump 2020 signs and the confederate flag from a gas station across the street. I wasn’t pulling into that parking lot or browsing in that store. Let’s just say I don’t like taking left turns against on-coming traffic on my right.

Three weeks later I am home in Vermont. I spent this past weekend glued to the TV, watching America implode. It’s been a long time coming. I always knew it would happen. My Dad was a history teacher. History teaches us there are cycles of good times and prosperity, then comes complacency and greed, the haves and the have nots, followed by bad times with unrest and anger. Mankind has a short memory which is why history repeats, over and over again. In 2004, when the Republicans used the dog whistles Ronald Reagan and Lee Atwater taught them I warned people things would get worse. You can’t treat human beings this way.

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. ~ Frederick Douglas

Sixteen years later we find ourselves asking What’s Next? The youth of our nation are out on the streets fighting the good fight. The fight for social justice. They are demanding we keep the promise of the Declaration of Independence. The promise that we are all created equal. Yes, sometimes it does take a revolution. That’s how this nation began. But once again, despite progress over the centuries, we forgot the promise we didn’t keep. And the  stain of slavery that we never fully dealt with.

Booker T. Washington believed  once he was freed he could go when and where we pleased. What he didn’t imagine was that many years and decades later, if he stepped out for a jog, or returned home from working in a hospital on the front lines of a pandemic, or took a walk in a neighborhood where his Dad lived, to buy skittles and an Arizona ice tea he could be shot to death for being Black.

It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.
To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.

Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up. ~ James Baldwin

From Booker T. Washington to James Baldwin. From Trayvon Martin whom I wrote about seven long years ago to George Floyd, I hope the time when America finally gets this right is here.

But What’s Next? you’re asking. Was this it? The protests on the street? The worst president in history whose stoking the fires of violence is making things worse? Is that what was next?

I don’t have an answer for you. Summer is almost here. It was a dry winter with lower than average snow in places like Montana. Fire season is here. Hurricane season too. The president has gutted the EPA. Medical experts believe there will be a surge in coronavirus cases in the fall and throughout the winter flu season. The president has removed us from the World Health Organization.

We have a serious election coming up on November third. We still have the time between now and then to live with a president who is unfit for the job but couldn’t be impeached and is now leading the nation in its nights of anguish. On one of those nights he hid in a bunker in the White House with no words to console us. There are countless problems our children will have to deal with. The next generation will have to clean up the mess we have left them.

I alone have no answers to the question What’s Next? It takes a nation to fix a crisis this large. Maybe that’s why whoever put the question on the sad, empty, dilapidated building crossed out the answer. He or she left it to each and everyone of us to get it right.

What's Next? Roanoke, VA

A Set of Lies Agreed Upon

“If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” ~ Pearl S. Buck

Greeting from Lynchburg

Greetings From Lynchburg

Last Saturday we set out on an adventure. Our destination was the Poplar Forest where Thomas Jefferson built a vacation retreat and plantation. I knew the house tours were canceled due to coronavirus restrictions, but we could still drive through the forest and walk along the trails. I checked one more time before we set out on our road trip and saw the new message:  “Due to COVID-19, Poplar Forest is CLOSED to the public until further notice.”

There’s not much we can do about canceled plans during life in a pandemic. We live in a deeply troubled and confused country. As I write this there are tattoo parlors and nail salons open for business but here in Virginia they have extended closures to hiking trails in the forest. At least I am sheltering in place in a state that is trying to do the right thing.

Signs of the Time Lynchburg, VA

Social Distancing Lynchburg, VA

It was here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains where Jefferson retired to pursue his passions of reading, studying, and thinking. He was our first Secretary of  State, second Vice-President, and third President. As the Poplar Forest website states, as a statesman, he was without peer; as a slave-owner, he was not without faults. Jefferson recognized the evils of slavery, but he remained tied to the system and freed only seven of his bondsmen at Monticello.”

When we were in Charlottesville back in early March we hiked the grounds at Monticello. Restaurants were still open. It seems like a lifetime ago. The seven slaves that Jefferson set free were all family members of Sally Hemmings, Jefferson’s mistress. His concerns about emancipation ranged from paternalistic to self-interest. He believed most former slaves couldn’t survive independently. He also feared for his own economic survival and the safety of whites at the mercy of former slaves who had, in his words, been subjected to “unremitting despotism and degrading submissions.” In his later years he advocated freeing and returning slaves to Africa.“There is nothing I would not sacrifice to a practicable plan of abolishing every vestige of this moral and political depravity,” he wrote in 1814.

IMG_1249

The Craddock Terry Hotel – once a shoe factory in Lynchburg, VA

We moved on to Plan B:  A picnic at Riverside Park with over 49 acres of walking trails through the wooded hillsides along the St. James River. Then we’d explore the town of Lynchburg on foot and if we had time drive to Appomattox.

Rivermont Park

Riverside Park ~ Lynchburg, VA

Troubled to healing Waters

Troubled to Healing Waters – the sight of a former public swimming pool in the days of segregation

A Reflection of Society the historic sign said:

The spring fed 500,000 gallon Riverside Park pool acted like a magnet on hot summer days, attracting children and families into its cool confines. In 1931, 32,403 used the pool and the bathhouse’s 420 lockers. A sand beach eased swimmers into one end of the pool while the more adventurous used the diving platform at the opposite end. However as historic photos show an unspoken policy excluded a sizable segment of Lynchburg’s residents. Social norms reserved two of the city’s three public pools, including Riverside, for white’s only. When several African American men challenged segregation of the pools in 1961, the city closed all three and and seven years later, filled the Riverside pool with dirt and debris. Today only the pool’s outline is visible, a reminder of a divisive past in a park  now enjoyed by all.

We reflected on the disturbing fact that the solution to the segregated pool was to fill it with dirt and debris rather than desegregate it.

Roofdeck 1 Lynchburg, VA

Roof deck along the James River

 

We bought a takeout pizza at a small pub across from the Randolph College for Women.  An historic sign commemorates Pearl S. Buck, the author of The Good Earth and a graduate of Randolph.

The booths and barstools in the dark basement pub were empty.  Cars lined up curbside and we took turns running inside to get our pizza from the one employee who worked behind the cash register at the front door. All orders were pre-paid over the phone or on-line.

Back at the park, picnic tables allowed for social distancing. Two young mothers sat on blankets, one of them nursing an infant, while the Dads tried to teach their three year old sons how to play frisbee.

Lynchburg church

The First Baptist Church in Lynchburg, VA

House downtown Lynchburg

Lynchburg, Virginia architecture

Later in the week we heard the news that Ahmaud Arbery, a 25 year old black man, was shot to death back in February while jogging in Brunswick, Georgia. It took until May 5th for the  district attorney to recommended that a grand jury review Arbery’s death. The recommendation came on the same day a graphic cellphone video posted by a Georgia radio station showed the deadly confrontation between Arbery and Travis McMichael, the son of a former investigator for the district attorney.

Lynchburg Garden 2

Downtown Lynchburg #1

Lynchburg Garden 1

Downtown Lynchburg #2

I don’t know if it was us or our GPS but we seemed to have a hard time navigating Lynchburg and locating a few of the landmarks we were looking for. There were also very few people out on the streets who could give us directions.

I can tell you that although segregation in Virginia no longer has legal boundaries, based on the neighborhoods we stumbled upon Lynchburg is similar to Roanoke and many other American cities and towns. The people we saw sitting on front porches, mowing lawns, and walking their dogs confirmed that many communities are still segregated by choice and affordability. 

“The rich are always afraid.” ~ Pearl. S. Buck

Boarded up buildings Lynchburg, VA

Downtown Lynchburg

During the American Civil War, Lynchburg served as a Confederate transportation hub and supply depot. It had 30 hospitals, some in churches, hotels, and private homes. In the late 19th century, on a per capita basis Lynchburg was one of the wealthiest cities in the United States.

There are still quite a few old brick buildings with faded advertisements in Lynchburg. They happen to be one of my favorite subjects to photograph.

 

Coca Cola Lynchburg

The ubiquitous Coca Cola signs of Virginia

Brick Building Lynchburg

Hardware Company – The Warehouse Lynchburg, VA

It was now 4 o’clock, too late to drive to Appomattox where one of the last battles of the Civil War took place. On April 12, 1865 Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse. 

It did not pass our notice that although many died fighting to end slavery we are still struggling with racism and bigotry in the so-called United States of America. It is now dangerous to jog black, Native American women in Montana continue to disappear, and there is no doubt the man currently living in the White House is a racist.

“People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” ~ James Baldwin

We didn’t see any Robert E. Lee statues but Monument Terrace, a staircase with 139 steps lined with statues of heroes from all of America’s wars, was one of the sites we couldn’t locate. I’m not sure if Lee is honored here but as we know there was recently a lot of controversy over removing his statues in places like Richmond and Charlottesville. During our time here in Virginia we have seen Confederate flags flying on front porches and in the back of pick-up trucks. Don’t Tread On Me is a popular bumper sticker around here. The true history of the Civil War is still a work in progress.

Lynchburg, VA

A staircase we did find that brought us to Riverfront Park in Lynchburg

“The test of a civilization is in the way that it cares for its helpless members” ~ Pearl S. Buck

For several decades in the mid-20th century, the state of Virginia authorized compulsory sterilization of the mentally retarded for the purpose of eugenics. Between 1927 and 1972 at the Lynchburg Colony for the Epileptic and Feebleminded, over 8,000 children and young teenagers were forcibly sterilized. The state claimed they had hereditary defects that would be passed on to their offspring. The truth is most were poor, uneducated, and considered a financial burden on the state. 

It is estimated 8,300 Virginians were sent to Lynchburg to be sterilized, making the city a “dumping ground”  for the feeble-minded, poor, blind, epileptic, and otherwise seen as genetically “unfit”.

A young woman named Carrie Buck, no relation to Pearl, challenged the state sterilization, but it was upheld by the Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell. Carrie Buck was classified as feeble-minded and sterilized at the Virginia State Colony. If you’d like to read more about Carrie’s story you can find it here on the Facing History website.

Today Virginia is still trying to control women’s bodies and their choices. Although the fairly recent vaginal probing issue has come and gone, for now, women in Virginia still continue to endure a series of  pre-abortion obstacles. It’s rather sad to consider that abortion and sterilization were once forced upon women who wanted children but were considered unfit for motherhood. Hypocrisy has always been a part of American politics.

We walked the city streets and downtown waterfront and wished we could pop into one of the riverside restaurants. Bootleggers’ Burgers, Beer & Bourbon or the Shoemakers Grille in the Craddock Terry Hotel both looked enticing. Instead we crisscrossed paths with a young black man who was also taking pictures with a professional camera. We seemed to share the same interests, including rooftop decks and hidden street art.

another roofdeck - lynchburg

Another Lynchburg roof deck on the James River

Hidden Mural

A mural at the bottom of the stairs behind a tree – Lynchburg, VA

 

“The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future.” ~ Teddy Roosevelt

We had no guided tours with history buffs working as docents at museums, historic battlefields, and presidential retreats. No opportunities to sit at bars and get the scoop on the city’s vibe but we made the best of it and as always learned more about America and how she is not as exceptional as she pretends to be. Truth matters. It really does.

“Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it. ~ Winston Churchill

While I was researching Pearl Buck, the history of Lynchburg, the battle of Appomattox, and Carrie Buck’s tragic story, I came  across a band from Wales, the Manic Street Preachers.  They somehow learned about the state of Virginia’s  program of eugenics and wrote a song for their 2009 album titled Journal for Plague Lovers. Another song on the album is titled She Bathed Herself in a Bath of Bleach.

I don’t know what to think of this random information I discovered. It’s like a strange memo from the universe. The bleach part of it is creepy when you think about the inane advice our ignorant president shared regarding bleach and the plague we are now dealing with. This often happens to me. I seriously do not make this shit up.

“When good people in any country cease their vigilance and struggle, then evil men prevail.” ~ Pearl S. Buck

Until all of us seriously face our past we cannot fix the present. Donald Trump wasn’t a fluke. His presidency was created on a road we set out on in the late 70’s in a troubled nation that is just now telling only parts of the truth from the very beginning of the story when we stole the land and killed and mistreated the Native Americans and built a nation on the backs of slaves.

Still much of the shared truth is lip service while we continue to commit the crimes from Standing Rock to Bears Ear National Monument and walking in Trayvon Martin‘s Florida neighborhood to jogging in Ahmaud Arbery’s neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia.

We need to face the truths of why Black Americans and Native Americans die at alarmingly higher rates from coronavirus.

Signs of the Times Lynchburg, VA

Signs of the Times – Lynchburg, VA

Corporate commercials praising solidarity, songs sung from city windows, and signs thanking front line workers who risk their lives in grocery stores, nursing homes, ambulances, and buses won’t mean anything if after all of this passes and we don’t fight for a minimum wage of at least $15/hour, health insurance and safe working conditions for all.

Standing Rock May 2018

Standing Rock, almost two years ago today, May 2018

We weren’t alone on this adventure. We were accompanied by Pearl, Abe, Jefferson, and Ahmuad Arbery. The truth is always there if we pay attention and don’t shy away from it.

I set out to write an upbeat funny days of the pandemic story and this is what I got out of my day in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Lynchburg Stairs

Lynchburg, VA

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” 
― Abraham Lincoln

 

 

 

Date Night in the Days of Coronavirus

Recently we were out after dark. In the city. During the coronavirus.

Almost everything we like to do was missing. Soft lights, loud cheerful voices, clinking glasses, the maracas sound of ice cubes in a silver shaker, good music, interesting conversations with friends or strangers we’ve just met. Chatting with the bartender as he or she pours a tall mug of cold beer from the tap. Live or jukebox music. Sharing new and complicated food we don’t cook at home. Discovering new wines and whisky.

Wasena City taproom & Grill

Wasena City Taproom & Grill – Closed During the Days of the Pandemic

I miss eating out and sitting at a bar because when it’s just the two of us we always sit at the bar. Rich and I have been married for 29 years. We’ve been together for 38 so when we leave the house we like to chat with other people.

I miss other people. Bartenders. Locals in a new city or small town. New to me people in my own town. The regular workout fanatics who belong to the gym where I work. And then there are the carpenters, plumbers, oil burner repairmen, another guy we call the bug man, the cleaning ladies, the UPS guy, and contractors who stop in to get keys to the condo units where they are working on any given day.

So now when Rich and I get bored and stir crazy we hop in the car and go for a ride. Our date night began  at one of Roanoke’s landmarks that stands out as you drive through the city on Interstate 81.

Rich at church

Rich on the steps of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church – Roanoke, VA

close up copper steeple

Copper steeples of St. Andrew’s

The new coronavirus church hours were taped to the locked doors. The parking lot was empty. The school behind the church was closed. Rich and I are not churchgoers. I am an atheist. Rich has no opinion on the subject. We are both fans of architecture and stained glass. We have visited churches in places as diverse as San Francisco and Hoven, South Dakota. I have been to Notre Dame in Paris but I skipped the Vatican in Rome.

The doors were locked at St. Andrew’s when we got there at around 6 p.m. but the parking lot had a beautiful view of the city.

Roanoke hotwl

The Historic Hotel Roanoke to the left & The Wells Fargo Building, the tallest building in Roanoke.

The church is on the edge of the Gainsboro district of Roanoke so we took a little tour around the neighborhood.

gainsboro dr. pepper

The Gainsboro neighborhood of Roanoke, VA

Soda advertisements on old brick buildings are popular in Roanoke and they also happen to be one of my favorite subjects to photograph.  Public art and murals are other favorites.

gainsboro mural

A drive by photo of a mural in Gainsboro

Roanoke was once a segregated city.  From 1911 to 1917, there were city ordinances that required blacks and whites live apart, including a law that created segregation districts where blacks were required to live. Everything outside those districts, which were mostly in the Gainsboro neighborhood and to its north, was the white area. In 1917 a U.S. Supreme Court decision knocked down the ordinance.

Roanoke is also a front porch town and in the days of the pandemic the porches in the various neighborhoods we have explored are a lifeline in these communities. Spring is in full bloom here in Virginia and front porch conversations between the folks on the front porch and the neighbors on the sidewalks go beyond the six foot CDC guidelines. 

We have all learned a lot more about the CDC in the days of the pandemic. It’s too bad more people weren’t aware of the fact that Trump gutted the agency when he first took office but now that we’re all at home and glued to the news hopefully everyone’s paying more attention and watching and reading the real news.

Urban renewal in Roanoke helped launch projects such as an expanded Coca-Cola bottling plant (that explains all the soda advertisements on brick buildings), and the conference center at the Hotel Roanoke — but it also moved many Gainsboro residents from their homes and left numerous properties vacant.

We did see boarded up homes and small businesses. This area lacks a grocery store which is a common problem in many lower income neighborhoods in America’s cities. What we mostly saw were people walking their dogs and stopping to chat with neighbors sitting on their front porch. Kids played basketball and rode tricycles up and down the driveways. Homeowners mowed lawns and weeded gardens. A few people were grilling as it was dinner time. And yes, it appears that although the segregation is no longer legal it is still, again like many American cities, prevalent. If you’d like to find out more about segregated Roanoke you can read it here.

Date night moved onto a Greenway we wanted to explore. Hiking trails, biking paths, and city parks can be found throughout the Roanoke Valley and they really add to the livability of a city.

riverwalk

The Roanoke River Greenway connected to Wasena Park in Roanoke, VA

Wasena is one of our favorite Roanoke neighborhoods. There are a wide variety of bungalows in this neighborhood and it reminds me of Bethesda and Chevy Chase, Maryland. The photo below is one of our favorite bungalows in Roanoke. I doubt the owners would ever sell this place. Their pride of ownership is evident in the gardens, the porch furniture, the tiffany lamps seen through the windows, the all season porch on the side of the house, and the lovely carport where a car with the license plate PRFCT is parked. Perfect indeed.

favorite bungalow

Lots of people in this neighborhood have I Love Roanoke Co-Op signs on their front lawns.

When we first got here we stopped in the Roanoke Co-op for food supplies and to check for toilet paper (nada!). There is a small Trader Joe’s sort of parking lot here that requires a parking attendant who was extremely friendly. It was early on in the pandemic and he was one of the first people I saw wearing a mask. Standing 6 feet apart from each other we asked where the sculpture trail was and he directed us to it. He also told us about Wasena and many other trails. He used to work for the town, but now handles traffic in the parking lot in his retirement, and was a wealth of information on the area.

co-op parking attendant

The Roanoke Co-op and a helpful friendly parking attendant

At the time we didn’t know the sculpture park, which was recently closed due to coronavirus, connected with the Roanoke River Greenway. On date night this river trail was still open so we took a walk and two miles later we really wanted to head into the Wasena City Grill for an icy cold beer but out on the patio the chairs were stacked on the tables and the sign on the door said Closed Due to Coronavirus. Damn, that’s right. We are in the midst of a pandemic. For a moment out along the river we almost forgot.

Rich had thought ahead and brought a cooler with beers. We checked out the bike and kayak rental place and added that to our list of things we still might be able to do.

bike and kayaks

We walked past a condo in a renovated old factory building near the defunct railroad tracks along the Roanoke River.

railroad apartment

We walked past a cute al fresco dining spot. There were no signs but we assumed it was for residents only.

riverside railroad dining

Then we turned the corner and I stumbled upon pure gold. The mural was on the side of a self storage building.

pure gold mural

Roanoke Murals

Wrapped around the corner was an absolute gem. I love bird murals. I’ve photographed them from San Francisco to Providence, in Burlington, Vermont, recently Frederick, Maryland, and everywhere in-between. But this was perfection. Coronavirus may have closed all the museums but you can’t shutdown public art.

bird mural

We stood there finishing our bottles of beer and admiring it for awhile then we walked back to the car and drove the quiet empty streets of a usually vibrant city.

Patrick Henry hotel

The historic Patrick Henry Hotel is now luxury condominiums with a restaurant at street level.

It was when we were driving through the wealthier neighborhood on the edge of downtown that I saw it. The Star.

Daytime Roanoke Star

The Roanoke Star on the Star Trail in daylight

Rich and I hiked the Star trail numerous times when we 1st arrived here. It is a loop trail with views of the city and a wildflower garden next to the zoo. It was one of the first Blue Ridge Parkway trails to close, most likely due to the picnic tables and the families congregating on Friday nights with takeout dinners. We were sad when we saw the Road Closed sign. It’s a nice moderate hike ten minutes from our temporary home. We’d heard it was lit up every night but we had yet to see it because we’d never been in the city at night.

But here we were, out after dark, in the city, and as we turned a corner in yet another neighborhood, this time with large brick Georgian style homes without porches I saw it and shouted “It’s the star and it’s lit up! Pull over. I have to get a picture.”

roanoke star

The center of the star is blue but the I-phone couldn’t capture that.

We drove home, made dinner, drank wine, and talked about all our favorite restaurants and memorable dining out meals.

I still miss eating out but I did get to see the star in the night sky.

that star

The Roanoke star is the world’s largest man-made star and was erected in 1949. Roanoke is known as the Star City of the South.

Are you getting stir-crazy? What do you do when boredom sets in during these crazy days?

What’s Cooking at Your House?

We came to Roanoke to work for a friend and escape the long, slow end of winter in Vermont. It’s our retirement plan. We know we are never going to really retire but if we can work and travel we’re okay with that. For now. Until we get really old. But maybe by then I’ll be selling more books.

mural frederick, md

From the Road: Mural art in Frederick, Maryland

We hit the road on March 7th, the day after my birthday. Co-workers were scheduled to cover for me at my part-time job at a gym near the Mount Snow Ski Resort. We have a great team of women my age who all work part-time in semi-retirement.

Charlottesville, VA street art

From the Road: Street Sculpture in Charlottesville, Virginia

We got to Roanoke on March 9th. On the 11th I heard the news the gym and the pool shut down due to the coronavirus. As of April 20th I am still waiting for my 1st unemployment payment. I finally heard I’d been approved for benefits but when I went to the Vermont claimant portal to file my claim there was a message in very small type at the top of a long blank white page that said, “The service is unavailable.”

Leesburg, VA

From the Road: Leesburg, Virginia

I’m also waiting for our $1200 stimulus payments. Every time I go to the government website Get My Payment I get this message: “We can’t determine your eligibility.”

In the meantime Rich’s debit card that is tied to our joint bank account has been hacked and we received a notice regarding two suspicious charges from Chipotle in Santa Monica, California totaling $110. Rich called the bank’s fraud hotline and the woman he spoke to was helpful and told him a new card would be sent within two to three days. This morning Fedex delivered the new card but when I checked our account  I saw the charges were still deducted from our balance and I had an email with five more charges from Chipotle in Santa Monica. They totaled $300. Rich called our bank’s hotline again.  The man who answered confirmed our case number, told us the money would be returned to our account in 1-2 ‘business’ days and the new charges that came after the claim would not be deducted from our account.

culpepper, VA

2 Days on the Road: Culpeper, Virginia

In the meantime we are well stocked with food and booze. It wasn’t this way at the beginning. When we arrived in Roanoke on March 8th there were no nationwide shutdowns. The original plan was to be in Virginia for two to three weeks depending on how long it would take to strip the wallpaper and paint the rooms. There had been talk of removing the wall to wall carpeting and putting down a hardwood floor in the living room which might add another week or two to our stay before we left for Florida.

Neither our friend nor we had any idea what we were about to walk into. The last time he was in Roanoke was two years ago. Since then an old friend was living here, rent free.  When I sent him some photos he said the place looked like a superfund site.

exploding pumpkin

Under the kitchen table where I was told a pumpkin exploded. When? Back in October?

the stove

The stove

 At first we were overwhelmed.  The tenant hadn’t made plans to leave although she’d known for quite some time we were coming. We spent the first night in a nearby hotel that was mostly empty except for the highway workers in the room next door who had set-up a grill and a cooler full of beers outside their door.

“Why did they have to put us next to each other?” Rich asked. They ended up being quiet and went to bed early. Rich watched TV and I read articles in the New York Times on how to stock your pantry for the pandemic, toilet paper hoarding, and possible stay at home restrictions.

hoarding

Someone read the New York Times – Food Lion, Roanoke, VA

We decided we were here and we could do this so we went back to the apartment and I started cleaning while Rich got to work. The owner had asked the tenant to get the master bedroom ready for us. That didn’t happen.

bedroom before

Bedroom – Before

I found some clean sheets but washed them anyway. I threw away trash, picked up Q-tips that I found on the floors of every room and never got an answer as to why they were there. I vacuumed and dusted and sterilized as best I could. There were plenty of cleaning supplies – Clorox, Mr. Clean, Windex. Almost all full. Clearly they hadn’t been used for possibly two years now.

During the first week the bedroom was adequate. Since then Rich has painted the room sage green and I did a deeper cleaning and redecorated with what was available. It now looks like this:

Bedroom now

Bedroom – After

 

But I still had the challenge of how to stockpile food when the kitchen was a disaster, the fridge was a mess, and I had no idea what I had to work with as the cupboards and pantry were in a state of chaos.

kitchen sink

This story has everything including the kitchen sink

countertop

The kitchen counter

refrigerator

This is not the only empty bottle in the fridge and I don’t know what the bottle caps are all about.

By the time we visited the grocery store the toilet paper aisle was empty and still is. My daughter Michelle in Missoula has sent toilet paper. Michelle is also out of work and making masks. She recently sent ours along with a couple more roles so a month later I’m still getting my T.P. from Montana.

Once I got the kitchen clean but not quite functioning I stocked up with Ready to Cook items like chicken cordon bleu stuffed with asparagus, marinated boneless pork chops, boxes of rice and pasta, fresh veggies, and cans of Progresso soup. I tried to keep things simple as I still hadn’t tackled the chaotic cupboards with the shelves that were covered with flour dust, rice, and other crumbs. They weren’t ready for stockpiling.

We did have two nice dinners together. I did the cooking and cleaning but was getting irritated with our roommate’s housekeeping instructions from the ratty old chair in the living room.

the couch

I don’t know what happened here.

By Saturday we knew it might be dicey to go out to dinner but we were exhausted and there were no guidelines or restrictions yet so we went to a local Italian restaurant where a few days earlier we met a friend of our friend from Florida for lunch and discovered the restaurant had live Jazz on Saturdays so that night we sat at the bar, ordered a few rounds of drinks, had the most delicious mussels, listened to some good music, and met a friendly local who Rich hoped to play golf with. At this point we thought we would come here every Saturday night.

On Sunday we made coffee and english muffins with peanut butter that we ate in the bedroom where we stayed for the rest of the day, reading and napping with the door closed. We were exhausted. We didn’t want to engage in conversation. The next day, after a long week, our roommate left without a ‘thank you for cleaning my mess’ or a goodbye.

I was finally able to really start cleaning. I washed all the cupboards inside and out, rearranged things, took inventory, cleaned the fridge, threw away sticky cruddy old tupperware, old boxes of expired food, sticky slimy bottles of olive oil and vinegars.

The kitchen did have some nice things. I think our friend’s Mom liked to cook. I found a lot of interesting cookbooks in a box beneath a desk in the guest room. The only thing we were missing was a frying pan. We bought one at the grocery store and spent $150 dollars on food.

cupboards

A cleaner kitchen

The covers are back on the sofa cushions and we’ve covered it all with a clean sheet. The ratty chair is in a corner right now. We need to find a place to dump it but Rich has made friends with some local contractors building a spec house in the neighborhood and they’ve said we can use their dumpster. We have been cooking some great meals here and sometimes we eat fireside. Rich has painted the living room walls gray.

fireplace

Fireside dining

the pantry

The pantry

shopping

There are shopping carts in the parking garage that are helpful getting groceries up to the 3rd floor.

We are trying to avoid frequent trips to the supermarket. We get creative with leftovers. Here’s some of what we’re cooking in the days of the pandemic:

lettuce wraps

Lettuce wraps w/ leftover pork, mixed nuts, raw cauliflower, bok choy, onion, and tamari along with a spicy P.F. Chang miso chicken soup

 

hors dourves

An hors d’ouevre dinner of clam stuffies, cheese, prosciutto, artichokes, salsa fresco, and a can of progresso soup

leftovers

Ravioli in alfredo sauce, spinach salad, garlic onion bread, and another stuffie. They were on sale during Lent.

In the meantime the kitchen is up next. Rich is stripping wallpaper, getting ready to paint. It looks like we’re back to Stage One but our married life together has been lived in houses that are fixer uppers. I can manage this.

a mess again

Stripping wallpaper

So what are you cooking these days?

Hello Old Friends – Coronavirus Stories

Hello. It’s me. It’s been so long since I’ve written a blog it’s taken awhile to remember how this all works – how to download the photos, navigate the website, and even log in to my account. After getting lost a few times I eventually found my way and here I am.

It was Orson Welles who convinced me to return. I found a poster taped to the inside of a cabinet door at the condo in Roanoke, Virginia where Rich and I are riding out our days during the pandemic.

In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed, but they produced, Michaelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? ~ The Cuckoo Clock, Orson Welles from the Plainwell Philosophers Series


Orson Wells

I read this as a message that if you have a desire to write there is no better time to do it than during difficult times.

You may recall I have opinions. As Barbara Kingsolver once said: “I don’t understand how any good art could fail to be political. Good fiction creates empathy. A novel takes you somewhere and asks you to look through the eyes of another person, to live another life. Literature sucks you into another psyche. So the creation of empathy necessarily influences how you’ll behave to other people. How can that not affect you politically? We have an obligation to take it seriously – and I do. Perhaps that’s why I’m marked.”

We came to Roanoke to work and to escape the long winter in Vermont. A friend we met last year and did some work for in Florida has a condo here and it’s in need of some TLC before he sells it.

Virginia Highway

Virginia Highway

We hit the road just as the first cases of coronavirus in the U.S. were being reported. One month later we are still here. There is plenty of work and we are grateful for the opportunity to earn a paycheck. The Sugarhouse where I work back at home in Vermont is a gym with a swimming pool at the Mount Snow ski area and is now closed indefinitely. The 2nd homeowners who provide most of Rich’s work have left their homes in NY, NJ, and Connecticut and are hiding out in the Green Mountains. We are hiding out in Roanoke.

Teapot

Downtown Roanoke

Rich is stripping wallpaper, painting, and taking care of needed repairs. I am cleaning quite the mess left by a former tenant. My housekeeping resume is solid. It began the summer I was seventeen and worked as a chambermaid at a Howard Johnson’s along Route 95 just outside of Providence. When Rich and I left Florida we ran a Bed & Breakfast in Connecticut for a year. If you’re new to my blog those stories are here in The Innkeepers Journal and Walking – 365 Days, a chronicle of my two years in Florida. Since moving to Vermont, along with my job as a receptionist I also take on occasional housekeeping gigs at ski condo rentals. Not long after Trump got elected I stopped blogging but there are a few Stories From Higley Hill, which is where we now live.

Sheltering in place is strange when you’re doing it in someone else’s home but Rich and I are restless wanderers, seekers of adventure and variety. We have heard there is still snow on the ground in Vermont and we missed a snowstorm a couple of weeks ago. It is springtime in Roanoke. There are flowering trees, a variety of birdsong, and happy hour on the deck. We are ten minutes from the Blue Ridge Mountains where we follow our shadows along hiking trails that we have mostly to ourselves, along with the birds and the deer.

Besides cleaning I am organizing. Making room in closets and cupboards for things that were piled on the floors and tables. To put it in real estate lingo, I am working with what is here to stage the condo for showings. There were plenty of empty boxes scattered around so I carefully pack old mementoes and only toss out what is clearly junk – empty plastic grocery bags, Q-tips on the floor and carpeting (don’t ask, I never got an answer from the tenant), empty toilet paper rolls, (if only they were full – it’s been impossible to find toilet paper). Worn out mottled tupperware without matching lids, empty takeout food containers under the coffee table (more on that later). 

I myself am a sentimental hoarder and can barely part with my own possessions like  every drawing my daughters ever made and old souvenirs from long ago vacations. The Orson Wells message taped to the door of a cupboard that is filled with photo albums looks exactly like a cupboard in our master bedroom in Vermont so I am leaving it as is. These are not my lifetime of memories. I’m just creating order and trying to make it easier for our friend when he can escape his own days of isolation and get to Roanoke to retrieve his precious memorabilia. There is something very satisfying about creating order in this time of chaos.

Photo albums

Some of my earlier coronavirus stories are on my Instagram page. The link is to your right along with the links to my books if you’re looking for a good read during these quiet days.

In order for a blog to reach more readers it needs participation in the form of Likes and Comments which has something to do with algorithms and other technical things that are not my strong point. I do know it has to do with reader participation so please hit the Like button and/or share your stories during these difficult days in the comments section below. Join the conversation. I need to know you are out there.

BTW – Does anyone know the name of those purple flowering trees that are in full bloom in Virginia right now?