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Almost Heaven—Hume, Virginia

By Lori Welch Brown

Sometimes a piece of dirt is just dirt, and sometimes it’s your whole life. Sometimes it’s your slice of heaven on Earth. That’s how 2.24 acres on the corner of Leeds Manor and Hume Roads in beautiful Fauquier County is for me, and I’m about to hand it off to a total stranger.

I’m sure said stranger is perfectly nice, a fine man, but one never really knows these days do they? Regardless, his funds will transfer to the proper account, and I’ll hand over the keys and do what my realtor and the closing attorney tell me to do and that will be that. Nowadays, you don’t even meet. You docusign or doculoop your entire life away without even ever looking each other in the eye.

I won’t have a chance to tell Mr. Newhomeowner that my grandmother never had plumbing, let alone a hot shower and that a chestnut collie named Silver used to chase after me when I was learning to ride my motorcycle in the field until she got hit by a car and that I cried when I heard the news even though she wasn’t my dog or my grandmother’s for that matter.  Mr. Newhomeowner will never know that my mom and I were once trapped in the outhouse, surrounded by a bunch of horses angrily circling us (aka grazing happily) because my mom was afraid of horses. I don’t recall a time that Mom was ever so grateful at seeing Dad coming down that hill as when he rescued us.  BTW—the horses weren’t hers either, but rather the neighbors. Grandma had a deal with the neighbors for the horses to graze in her field in exchange for water from their well that she carried in buckets across the street every morning.

Mr. Newhomeowner also won’t know that my grandfather died after complications from being kicked by a horse, and all I remember is a hospital bed in the middle of the huge dark, drafty room I was only in long enough to race through past the fox who sat guard on top of the cupboard to get to the pee pot in the back bedroom with the church organ no one ever played and the warped linoleum floor because you know, splatter. Why no one ever hung out in the big room remains a mystery to me, but I am grateful nonetheless.

Nor will he know that the Leeds Ruritan Park just up the street was host to many a Welch family reunion, pig roast, and cutthroat softball games. Or that Mrs. Wright who owned the store down the street didn’t know my grandmother smoked Parliaments because Mom would go in and buy them for her. Mom smoked Paul Malls, but I guess Mrs. Wright didn’t know that. Grandma didn’t like people knowing her business even though – because she had a party line – everyone probably did.

He won’t know anything of the tiny metal desk Grandma used to sit and write me letters in her shaky scrawl in the evenings before she made her way up the rickety steps to the bedroom with the slanted floor and scary people pictures.  But, like Grandma, those are all long gone replaced by a prefab house with wall-to-wall carpeting, running water, and 2.5 baths where my parents once lived.

Mr. Newhomeowner won’t know about the horrible case of shingles Mom got after falling in front of Martin’s during one of their weekly trips into town for provisions or the night I went flying up Route 66 wearing my pajamas so I could pick Dad up and race to Warrenton hospital.  Turns out Mom lasted another 36 hours so I may have had time to grab some underwear or put on a bra, but you know what they say about hindsight. Days later, I sat at the kitchen table with Dad and the pastor from the Baptist church and discussed plans for the service. My parents, unlike most of the people in the village, weren’t churchgoers so he didn’t know her. When he asked Dad to tell him something about his wife of 50+ years, Dad looked up and said, “She kept a clean house.” It’s the only time I ever wanted to punch him, but I chalked it up to grief and Dad probably being nervous talking to a pastor so…there you go.

It probably shouldn’t be that big a deal since various strangers have been living in the house ever since Dad moved to Pensacola to start a new chapter with a new woman, whom by the way, I didn’t care much for and let’s just say it was mutual. And, I was happy when he returned to Virginia a decade later without her even if she was replaced by a wheelchair. He never lived in the house again, but he knew it was there, and we were grateful for the rental income that helped when circumstances dictated that he enter into assisted living where he passed from COVID in 2020.

I still run into people in Hume who remember Dad, and I always hear the same thing, “He was such a nice man.”  Yes he was. One of the best, and my heart hurts so much, but when I look at the magnolia tree in the front yard, my heart hurts a little less. It was an odd gift to give him, but what do you get a man who has all the grilling tools and car cleaning products a garage can hold? I still can’t believe how big the tree has grown, but I guess it was a long time ago. I wish I could take that tree with me or the lilac that Mom grew from a clipping off the one from our house in Woodbridge. Mom never had a green thumb, but somehow she managed to take a piece of our childhood home with her to Hume.  I tried to do the same, but it died so maybe that’s a sign to leave it behind.

A part of me really wanted to buy the house—magnolia, lilac and all—and keep it in the family, but then what? I don’t have children who would remember Silver or the fox or the Nehi’s we used to get from Mrs. Wright’s store. Like Dad, I have a new chapter or two under my belt, and for right now, it isn’t in Fauquier County – which pains me. There’s no place else where I pull off the interstate, gleefully round the corner of a two-lane road and yell, “Wheeeee,” as I glide down a hill and “Moooo” as I pass the cows who stare back at the crazy woman in her Jeep. There’s no place else where I pull up and can still see Dad riding his mower or my bestie’s daughter Morgan racing down the hill naked being chased by Mom’s poodle, Molly.  BTW—Morgan was three at the time, and will be married later this month. RIP, Molly.

Where in the world will I ever again be able to roll down the window and be gobsmacked by that special mixture of hay, grass, manure, and memories—my slice of heaven? The good news is that while Mr. Newhomeowner may get the keys and the run of the place, I won’t be signing over any of that.  I’ll be holding onto my memories and I can breathe in that sweet country air any time I choose.

Mr. Newhomeowner—I wish you and your loved ones as much happiness and history as we’ve enjoyed, and I’m sure everyone in the wonderful village of Hume will welcome you with open arms.

About the Author: Lori is a local writer, painter and pet lover who loves to share her experiences and expertise with our readers. She has been penning a column for the OTC for over 20 years. Please follow Lori online on Medium for more missives like this.

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