Thursday, October 12, 2017

                    Old McDonald's ate a farm
  I spent the first six years of my life in Richmond, Virginia. I was too little to remember anything about the houses on Grove or Patterson, so my first memories are of the house on the corner of Broad Street and Peachtree Boulevard. Peachtree was really only a short street that ran between Broad and Monument. So whoever named it a boulevard thought perhaps it would grow into the name. That part of town was actually outside of the city limits and still is. So technically, I lived in Henrico County for three years.
  The house itself was beautiful. It was typical Antebellum, three stories with covered porches centered front and back. An old barn sat out a few paces from the backdoor. It wasn't a particularly unusual or rare house, Richmond has dozens, maybe even hundreds of houses just like it. What was unusual about it was that it sat all alone on a whole city block, although the city was a half mile away. The number I remember hearing growing up was that the property was ten acres. It was really like a small farm.
  We didn't do much farming though. My dad was too busy working for a living and my mom was too busy raising 11 kids. I suppose we could have tried some kind of farming if we had made the effort, but we were just renting the place and knew we wouldn't be there very long. I do remember some apple trees behind the barn that produced some meager fruit in the fall. If tended properly those trees could have been coaxed into producing more.
  The southern border of the property was a dirt track called Cherry Lane, another street with an overly ambitious name. There wasn't a cherry or cherry tree in sight, just some big snails and a water moccasin to eat them. The water source for these semi-aquatic creatures was a spring or artisian well on the next property. It fed a small creek that wound it's way east and then north and dove under Broad street through a manmade culvert. This little creek had no name that I recall but it emptied into Jordan's creek, which is probably a familiar name to many Richmonders.
  I say we never tried our hand at farming but we did have a pair of chickens for a short time. One Easter, we got two cute little chicks from somewhere and tried to raise them as pets. My sister named them Pick and Peck.  They both grew up to be roosters and they were mean. It's not a good idea to have roosters without hens, it just pisses them off. They would chase us kids and fight with each other until finally one got run over in Broad street. We gave the other one to our cleaning lady and she ate him for Sunday dinner.
  Sometime in our stay at that address, a McDonald's restaurant was constructed across Broad street from us. It's still there and I believe it's one of the oldest in the country now. Broad street is six lanes wide there and traffic is always steady. We weren't allowed to cross it and after the chicken incident we weren't allowed to go anywhere near it. Being the intelligent children that we were and the smell of french fries tempting us from across the road, we found a way around this parental legality.
  We would wander down through the woods and hop down into the stream bed and cross under the road. Then after spending our hard earned pennies on burgers and fries, we would go back home the same way. My mother was no fool and asked why we were never hungry at dinner and why our shoes were always wet. We could only say we had fallen in the spring so many times before she started to disbelieve us. She soon got to the bottom of it and our bottoms suffered for it. Then the creek and the culvert were off limits.
  As I said, the McDonald's is still there and the culvert but the house was torn down many years ago. I didn't find this out until a few years ago when I was in Richmond on business. I stopped by the old neighborhood and found the house gone. I went into the McDonald's and asked about it.
  "What happened to that house across the street, they tore down my old house," I said to the girl behind the counter.
  She must have thought I was crazy or having a senior moment. She sat me down and gave me some water. She asked if I was all right and if she should call someone for me. I guess I sounded crazy to her, asking about a house that didn't exist anymore. Now, I'm not implying that McDonald's caused that house to be torn down but that's kind of what happened. New American "fast" culture is bulldozing it's way over old historic stuff all the time. People say," that's progress," and shrug it off. That house was old and had some history to it. We were told that it was some kind of hospital at one time, perhaps during the Civil War. But as I said earlier, Richmond has hundreds of these types of buildings and can't afford to preserve them all.
  I hate to see so little value placed on old historic stuff and the new plastic culture being glorified. The only bright spot in this sad little story is that a Barnes and Nobles sits in the exact spot where our house once stood and there's a Petsmart where the barn stood.
William Huber, former Richmonder.  2015

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

 Hey Doc, I have a bone to pick with you about this whole "We are stardust" thing. Two bones actually, and one is a chicken bone. Firstly, does Joni Mitchell know you are using her schtick? And secondly, being made of stardust does not make us special or unique. As I understand it, everything is made of stardust. The chicken sandwich I ate yesterday was made of stardust. When I pooped it out this morning, it was still made of stardust. The computer I write this missive on is also made of stardust. So being made of stardust doesn't really help me or make me a better person.
  But this whole train of thought got me thinking about space food. Your post about the cows also helped. So here's my idea. What if we could grow chickens in space? Not outside in space but on a big farm space station orbiting the earth. We could genetically engineer the chicks to be boneless. Why do they have bones anyway? Just to help hold up their bodies against the force of gravity. So in a environment without gravity, a boneless chicken would be right at home. Maybe we could also genetically engineer the eggshell to become some sort of exoskelton.
  Think of the possibilities: processing the critters would take way less time and drive the cost down. You would simply crack it's shell, gut it and drop it in the fryer. Or you could steam them whole like crabs or lobsters. Never again would you choke on a chicken bone while eating wings.
 I have even thought about the marketing plan for such a product. You would call it, "Chicken in the Sky" or maybe," Chicken from the Sky."
Then you could steal that old Beatles song and use it in the commercials. I can already hear it," Chicken from the sky for frying."
  I think this is a great idea but I don't have a whole lot of money. You however, have the money and the connections. What do you say, Doc? Can we count on you to get the egg rolling and take that first small step for chickens? Wait, boneless chickens in space wouldn't have feet, would they?
  Bill Huber is a writer for all seasonings with a taste for irony.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The True Story of Greyfrairs Bobby
   Once upon a time, King Mungo Jerry, who later became Saint Mungo Jerry, was jealous. He was jealous of his cousin, King Midas of the Golden Touch. So, one day, in the summertime, he decided to go fishing in the River Clyde. After fishing for many days, he finally caught a Sturgeon. King Mungo pulled the fish into his boat and it got air sick. It was no used to being out of water and puked all over the bottom of the boat. Then it said," please put me back in the water and I'll grant Ye one wish.''
  "What about three wishes?" said King Mungo Jerry.
  "I'm jest a bloody fish, no a genie. One wish is what you get for one fish.''
  "Aye okay. I wish everything I touch would turn to gold like my cousin Midas.''
  "We're fresh outta Gold wishes, the best I can do Ye is bronze.''
  "Allright, make it so,'' said King Mungo in his best Patrick Stewart imitation.
  So Mungo Jerry set the fish back in the water but it sank to the bottom and died because it had turned to bronze.
  Then he touched the side of his boat and it turned to bronze as well and sank to the bottom of the Clyde. He then had to swim to shore and because he touched the water it almost turned to bronze but turned to IRNBRU instead. King Mungo tasted some of it and said that it was good.
  On the way home, he ran into William Wallace at Stirling. They were old pals so he shook his hand and William Wallace also turned to bronze. When he got home, his wee dog Bobby ran out to greet him. King Mungo was no too smart and he petted the wee dog and it turned to bronze.
  Finally he realized the error of his ways and went to the Kirk to consult the priest, who was thought to be the wisest man in all Scotland. Mungo explained his dilemma to the priest without touching him. The priest thought on it a wee bit and finally came up with a solution.
  "King Mungo, the onliest thing for ye to do is to touch yerself until ye turn to bronze. Then the curse will be broken."
  "What? Touch meself right here in Kirk? Willnae that be sacrilegious?''
  "Nae matter. I'll absolve ye. But it must be done to lift the curse."
  So King Mungo Jerry touched himself right there in the Kirk and turned to bronze. The priest absolved him and canonised him on the spot. And there sits on that hill, the Cathedral of Saint Mungo Jerry. They have tours daily and sometimes serve sturgeon and INRBRU in season.
  P.S. it's considered good luck if you touch the statue of Saint Mungo where he touched himself. Right there in the Kirk.

Monday, July 31, 2017

                           History can be cruel
  History is a fickle friend. It can be kind and generous in one generation. Then it can be cruel and heartless in the next. The cruelest of all is when it forgets about the person in question entirely. Grace Sherwood is one person in Virginia Beach that I hope history never forgets. When I ask people if they know who she was I usually get a blank stare. When I say Witchduck Road then there is a glimmer of recognition. They remember the event but not the central figure in that event. So now, in Virginia Beach, we have Witchduck Point, Witchduck Bay and the previously mentioned Witchduck Road. Nearby, we have Ferry Plantation Road which does not lead to the river or the Ferry Farm house but only alludes to it. Perhaps once it did go all the way to the water but not anymore. The ferry was started by Adam Thoroughgood the Second in 1642 when he commissioned one Saville Gaskin to run the ferry. Gaskin was a Frenchman and small freeholder in Princess Anne county. Now he was working for Thoroughgood. He may have owned the ferry landing that was later to be called Witchduck Point. I think it was he who first ran a tavern there. Eventually the land and the tavern came into the hands of the Walke family by intermarriage with the Thoroughgoods.
  Now the Ferry Plantation house sits on that property and is a museum run by Belinda Nash and her daughter Danielle Sheets. Many other people all volunteer their time to keep the house running. They ask for donations for tours but get no funding from the city of Virginia Beach. Belinda and her daughter are the biggest advocates for Grace Sherwood. They were responsible for getting former governor Tim Kaine to pardon Grace in 2006, 300 hundred years after she was tried for witchcraft in what was then Princess Anne County. Belinda was also the driving force behind getting a statue erected on the very same Witchduck road. The statue resides on the corner of Independence and Witchduck just in front of Bayside hospital. The church where Grace was forced to confess sits just across the road. There is a engraved stone in the herb garden of the church that commemorates Grace's life and troubles. The stone was created and placed through the efforts of the church's historian, Bob Perrine, and the historical traditions committee.
    If Saville Gaskin had been more successful perhaps we would have a whole different set of names for some of our geographic features. If history had been kinder to both Gaskin and Grace Sherwood, perhaps we would now have Gaskin Point or French Landing or even Saville Road. It matters little for no one would remember and all we would have is names on a map and the intriguing history surrounding them would be largely forgotten. Now Grace Sherwood is remembered for her trial and troubles and not for the good work she did. She is alleged to have been a mid-wife and skilled herbal healer. But at least she is remembered. By the efforts of Belinda, Danielle and Bob and others like them, hopefully Grace will never be forgotten.
                         William Huber 2015
  
               One Armed Woodhouse
  At the northern limits of the Aragona neighborhood of Virginia Beach sits a church. That church is the Haygood United Methodist Church.  It has occupied that spot on Haygood Road for over 180 years. A small cemetery sits behind the church. It contains the remains of about thirty people, five of whom are Confederate veterans. I like to call them the Haygood Seven because I include the brother of two of those men who served with them but is buried in Elmwood in Norfolk. Another man is buried just down the street and also served with the Haygood Seven. Here are the names of these men; Littleton Waller Tazewell Land, John Smith, John Absalom, Josiah Woodhouse, Solomon Woodhouse, George Woodhouse and Miles Miller.
  The man buried in Norfolk is George H. H. Woodhouse. He was born in Princess Anne County in 1840 and lost his right arm at the battle of Malvern Hill in 1862. He went home and recovered for a few months and then went back to serve in the rest of the war. Steven McGary, an expert on small arms at the Colonial Shooting Academy on Witchduck Road informed me that a one armed man going back to active duty would have been issued a revolver, probably the Colt Navy. But he would also have been assigned some duty that kept him away from the front lines. Possibly young George was made the company clerk, writing letters for the other men and writing official documents for the officers.
  I know for a fact that he could write because he later became the clerk for the city market in Norfolk. He held this position from 1900 until his death in 1915. I think he was asked to fill this position by the city because of his sharp wits and even sharper pencil.
 Immediately after the war, he went home to his farm and worked it until he moved to Norfolk. He also tried his hand at oystering, his one good right hand. He had to have some help in these endeavors and I imagine his brothers and the other men who lived close by would have helped.
  He married Mariah Harrison and had one son and a daughter. The wife died soon after the baby girl in 1868. They are both buried near Littleton Waller Tazewell Land, the seventh member of the Haygood Seven. Then George married Georgiana Ewell and finally Derusia Smith after Georgiana passed away.
  Littleton is buried in the Land - Harrison family cemetery in Romney Park. It is a small playground area in Aragona, just two blocks from my house. The city is going to remove the playground equipment later this year and convert it into a urban green area type park. They were going to abandon the park entirely as they claim it is not city property. But thanks to the tireless efforts of Lorraine Samko, the President of the Aragona Civic League, and a group of dedicated members of that group, a compromise was reached that is agreeable to everyone.
  I can only imagine the courage and tenacity of this man who lost his arm in war , then lost his first and second wives and a baby daughter. His good friend Miles Miller, another of the Seven, fell from his buggy and broke his neck in 1898. I believe Miles was helping George in his farming and oystering endeavors and George decided to move into town after his friend's death. Soon after, George was asked to be the clerk for the new city market.
   All seven of these men served as privates. Two were captured and sent to Point Lookout camp in Maryland until the end of the war. None of them went on to do great things. They came home, got married, raised families and lived their lives. The sons of two of these men did go on to do heroic things and I will report on their lives in another post.
 
                          Old Times       
 Back in the 1980's, I used to work for an oriental carpet company in Virginia Beach. Once a month or so, we would have to go to New York to pick up fresh consignment pieces and drop off old ones. We always went up the Eastern Shore way on highway 13. Then we would take the Cape May ferry over to Jersey and continue on the Garden State Parkway. On one trip, we had to drop off a rug at one location and pick up another at a different place, both in the Virginia part of Eastern Shore. The lady who was getting a rug picked up gave me verbal directions on the phone. She said turn left at the third light and drive until you see a red barn and then turn in the second driveway. Do you know how many red barns there are on Eastern Shore? I didn't count them all but there are a lot. Also we didn't know if she meant stoplights or all lights, including flashing ones.
  Needless to say, we got lost and where the red barn was supposed to be was an old country store. We stopped to ask directions and felt like we had stepped back in time. The store had wooden clapboards in need of paint and an old rusted metal roof. There was no electricity and the only light came in a small dirty window. I walked up the steps, opened the creaky old screen door and went inside. It was very dark and it took some time for my eyes to adjust. I walked to the counter in the back of the store but no one was there. A curtain covered a door into the back of the place where I guessed the owner lived.
  I yelled," hello, is anybody here."
 Just then I heard a voice from behind me.
  "Whatcha lookin' for, son."
 I turned around and saw two older men sitting in rocking chairs by a woodstove. I hadn't seen them when I came in and must have walked right by them. I explained my situation to them and told them the lady's name I was looking for. They knew exactly who I meant and gave me new directions. They told me to ignore the flashing lights and to turn at the next stoplight. I thanked them profusely and continued on my way. We found the place, no problem and picked up the rug from her.
  I told her about getting lost and how helpful the two older men were. She laughed and said they were brothers and had been running that store for more than forty years. She also said that me coming in their store was probably the most exciting thing to happen there in a long time.
 As we continued on our way to New York, I imagined those two old guys sitting there, joking about that poor lost boy from the city.
  One would say," that boy sure was lost."
  And the other would say,"yep, sure was."
 Then they would laugh about it a minute and move on to more important topics like the weather, the corn harvest and who got a new tractor this year. I envied them then and still do because it seemed like they had slowed down time somehow and they were in control of it not the other way around.
               Blackbeard and Floyd Painter
  Growing up in Tidewater, Virginia, I often heard  stories about Blackbeard the pirate. In 1718, a pirate known as Blackbeard was killed in North Carolina by Lt. Maynard. Governor Spotswood of Virginia sent Maynard down there because the governor of North Carolina was not doing anything to capture the notorious pirate. In fact, Governor Eden was letting Blackbeard stay in the town of Bath and had pardoned him. Blackbeard had to agree to certain terms set down by Eden in order to be pardoned. It's true he no longer had a fleet to go pirating with but he retained one ship which he renamed the Adventure. He appeared to be living peacefully in Bath with his current wife. One of the legends about Blackbeard was that he had as many as thirteen wives. I don't know if that was all at once or one after the other sort of like Henry the eighth. Another tale told about the man was that Eden was in cahoots with him and that's how he secured his pardon. That is the reason Spotswood decided to take matters into his hands and sent Maynard down there after the pirate. A bloody battle took place and Blackbeard fell with many pistol and cutlass wounds. Maynard cut off his head and sailed back to Hampton with it tied to his bowsprint. Blackbeard's body was thrown overboard and allegedly swam around Maynard's ship three times before sinking.
  Blackbeard in our time is more a man of myth than fact and plenty of stories about him are circulated as real. For one, we don't know if he was born in Bristol, England or if he was a local man. Another story  about him that is unclear is his name. Some say it was Edward Teach. Others give his last name as Drummond or Thatch. No matter which one is used, he is most commonly known as Blackbeard.
  I became interested in learning more about him when I met another local legend named Floyd Painter. He was a self taught archeologist interested in local history. He first started digging before I was even born. I never got the full story of how he got interested but he certainly taught me a thing or two. By the early 1980's, I had moved out to Bayville Farms on First Court road with my sister and her husband and their one year old daughter. There was a huge field behind the bungalow they rented. Floyd would show up after a heavy rain or after the field had just been plowed to look for artifacts. He had permission from the farm's owners as long as he didn't trample on crops. I would sometimes walk with him and he would teach me things.
  One thing he taught me was that anything could be an artifact. It didn't have to be shaped like an arrowhead to be important. Any piece of rock could be something of significance as there was no natural stone in this part of Virginia. He also taught me to look for shells, pottery shards, glass, or brick fragments. Each little thing found could have a story to tell. Floyd was mainly interested in Native culture and early colonial activity but he was knowledgeable in all periods of local history. While we walked the field, he sometimes told me stories of Blackbeard. He must have seen the spark in my eyes so he continued to feed that fire. Sometimes I think he was just pulling my leg but he would always set me straight if I got too far off track.
  For instance, there was a story that Blackbeard had stayed in Virginia Beach before settling in North Carolina. In Lake Joyce there was an island where he supposedly built a fort. In those days the opening to the Lynnhaven was in Lake Joyce. Blackbeard would watch for ships coming in and waylay them as they came into the narrow mouth. That island still exists and has been on the market several times in recent years. Floyd said that the island was manmade but not by Blackbeard. He insisted that it was part of the Fort Henry complex and predated Blackbeard's time by almost a hundred years. He encouraged me to go check it out and see for myself.
  My brother-in-law, Kenny, had a canoe and we went to that island several times. It was very impressive and had several large holes dug in it. Apparently local kids had been going out there for years looking for treasure. When I told Floyd about it he laughed and said even if there were ever pirates there, they wouldn't bury their treasure right it front of all the men. A good pirate would take a captive and his treasure out on a dark moonless night to a remote spot. He would make the captive dig the hole and place the chest in it. Then that pirate would kill the prisoner and bury him on top of the treasure chest. After many years the chest would rot and collapse and leave a depression in the ground. So Floyd told me if I was serious about treasure hunting, I would look for soil depressions in remote areas. He said the spot would be hard to get to but no more than a day's journey from the pirates camp. I think he was trying to use the lure of treasure to get me interested in archeology. It worked.
  I spent the good part of my free time over the next year looking for treasure. I decided that I couldn't check all the pits I found. It would take forever. I devised a method where I would sharpen a wooden dowel and use it to probe the soil. If it hit something solid I would feel it. I used wood so as not to damage the stuff underground, whatever it might be. I finally found a promising spot and set about excavating. I didn't want to be found out as I was technically trespassing so I would cover the hole with plywood and leaves each time I dug. Finally I hit something interesting and pulled it to the surface. It was a piece of bone.
   At last I thought I had found the lost treasure of Blackbeard. The bone must have been from the captive forced to dig the hole.. I went back in and pulled several more bones out. I thought they were jawbones because of the large teeth in them. But the teeth were way too large for a human. There were also too many of them. One person would only have a left and right mandible that could become separated after death and decomposition. There were at least a dozen jawbones in that hole. I covered up my site and took one bone with me to show to Floyd. So now I had become an amateur archeologist without  even intending to. I wondered if Floyd had started out in a similar fashion.
  When I showed him the bone, he laughed and told me it was a pig bone. Some farmer must have raised pigs on that land sometime in the past. He urged me to find out about the pigs by asking locals in the area. I asked around and there was indeed a pig farm there that had shut down about fifty years prior to my excavations. Floyd then told me two reasons why he thought there was no lost treasure. One was that hard coin money was in short supply and a pirate would usually take whatever cargo was on a captured ship. The cargo would be sold or traded and then the pirates would party until the money was gone. The second reason he thought there was never any treasure was that if Blackbeard did indeed have thirteen wives, he seriously doubted if he ever had any money left over in his pocket.
  I moved away from the farm and back to Norfolk the following year. I lost touch with Floyd and I heard about his death when I was out of the country. I will never forget the skills that great man taught me and I only wish more young people were interested in this sort of thing. I guess if it doesn't plug in and have a little screen to look at kids will never be interested.