Thoughts on Remembering

We have been in Virginia for some days now, heading first to Accomack County, and thence to Chincoteague, where we had two days of beach, birds, and a boat. I posted a few videos and counted birds. Seeing the bald eagles made my day, and more views of cardinals, Carolina wrens and chickadees, and the black vulture, plus seabirds, added to my pleasure. We had meant to go to Williamsburg and see the homes and buildings but we ended up going to the Jamestown archaeological site instead, which was less about reproducing the past and more about revealing it. Let’s just say I didn’t realize they had resorted to cannibalism. They did.

We went on to Shackleford’s, an unincorporated area near West Point and the top of the York River, past a smelly paper pulp company. The Shacklefords were a family that married into the Bailey family about 5 generations ago. Wealth follows wealth, and Frances brought her family’s slaving wealth to the Baileys. The area is farming land, with fields planted with winter wheat, oil-seed radish and other covering crops

The area formerly known as the Shacklefords plantation.

It is pretty country (once the living areas of the Rappahannock tribe), with clear fields, cleared by someone who was likely not a Shackleford, and pretty houses, the oldest most certainly built by enslaved humans. I try to imagine what it was like back then. This part of the country is so forested, there are hundreds of thick trees in every direction, except where it has been cleared — I cannot imagine clearing so many trees to make a tobacco field, a cornfield, a wheat field. All by hand, using hand tools and elbow grease. Long days, Sundays off, perhaps, maybe. I have no idea what it was like to be enslaved, nor to enslave others. It boggles the mind.

We went on to the next site, on our way to Norfolk, to an industrial town called Newport News. I should say under the town, because where there are docks and cranes and container ships, there was once the plantation called St. Marie’s Mount, and enough enslaved workers to make it tun: tobacco and food crops for the family, farm animals to fill the table. Daniel Gookin owned the property (taken or bought from the Nansemond and Kecoughtan). He was the administrator of American Indian affairs, or whatever it was called in 1680-ish, the first in American history, for better or worse. He held the land on the Chesapeake Bay at the mouth of the James River. The soil is sandy and the fishing is very good, but I don’t now how it was to farm there. His son took land across the Bay at Nansemond between the Nansemond River and Chuckatuck Creek, and so they moved along, as they sought fertile soils and better/different/more land. I couldn’t get close enough to stand on St. Marie’s Mount land so I got as close as I could on public land—the King-Lincoln Park fishing pier.

I read off the names of those enslaved by our family in Virginia, and collected some sand and razor clamshells.

I have been thinking about our great-grandmother, Willie Doris (Upshaw) Bailey, that elegant, Southern, snooty lady, who fished in hat and gloves and swore her sons would never work with their hands. She couldn’t abide the song, “Marching Through Georgia.” I have thought her weak and silly and overdramatic, and dismissed her feelings with the wave of a hand. But as we were driving along the backroads of Virginia, my sister said something like she was glad we went one way and not the other because there were more birds to see, “and birding trumps family history.”

As soon as she said the T-word, I flinched. “God, don’t say that word,” I said, “I hate that name.” And then I got it. And I felt—a kinship. I understood the feeling. I know what she meant with her visceral reaction. The South is complicated. So is family. I’m still wondering and searching.

Hitting the Road

Old letters and photos, sepia-tones and showing age, with an old ink pen.

I am heading out on Tuesday to the East Coast, via the Deep South, to New England, following the course of our family history back through time. I’m starting roughly where we left off with slavery, in Alabama, and working my way backward through Georgia, South and North Carolina, up to Virginia; Maryland and D.C., then up via train to Boston and the Cape. We will end up at the Mayflower II, if all goes well.

Accompanying me are my elder sister and a cousin, both of whom share my family history, and who were willing to come along for the ride. We are also planning to stop to see some bucket list places, including Chincoteague (PONIES!), Mount Vernon, Gettysburg, and a side trek to visit my brother-in-law in Maryland.

This will add several states to my list, and we are hoping to go bird-nerd crazy (my sister is an excellent birder). I already downloaded the Merlin bird packs for Southeast and Northeast USA to my phone. It is my fondest wish to see a red cardinal somewhere, some time. (Our mutual grandmother Ruth loved cardinals best, and knew them well from her Illinois and Montana childhood. I’ve never seen one.)

Red cardinal bird on the ground.
Courtesy of eBird,
I’ve never seen one, but I hope to.

My plan is to stop at graveyards to visit ancestors, find their headstones, say hello, what were you thinking, how have you been? We would stop at houses if we could find them, but most of them are gone. There is the ruin of a mansion supposedly haunted by one of our Upshaw forebears, bitten by a rabid fox and smothered by her own servants (enslaved). We will find the plantation lands if possible, and I’ll take photos and see what it looks like now, maybe visualize what they were seeking when they stopped there. The journey has its dark side–but it’s part of my personal reconciliation and reckoning. I very recently joined Coming to the Table, an organization that helps white people reckon with and bear their ancestors’ past slave-owning. Reckon with it, because it is a story many people want to forget or rewrite. Bear it, because there is no reconciling it. Reckon — like recon, to know again, it means to count again, to account for. It’s what I’m trying to do.

Maybe it will just be a fun roadtrip. Or maybe it will change my life. I used to be terrified to travel, because when you leave your safe space (home), bad things can happen. There’s no control. #issues I have mostly grown past that, but once a Catholic, always a Catholic, even when you’re an atheist-pagan, like me. I slipped this little St. Christopher into my coinpurse because I need all the good luck and blessings I can muster.

Round silver medal of St. Christopher held in the palm of a white woman's hand.

I’m still packing. Trying not to be nervous. Mostly excited. Cemeteries and history and cousins, oh my!

What Would Jane Do? A Literary Pilgrimage

50703687 What Would Jane Do? A Literary Pilgrimage
By Julia Park

I’ve been to England twice before, and to the beautiful Georgian city of Bath in particular, because as a Jane Austen aficionado, a Janeite, if you will, that’s what we do. We follow in her footsteps, we look for the Jane connection, and we read each of her six novels (and the juvenilia, the marginalia, and the letters) as if they were travelogues.

Some of them are travelogues of a sort. In Pride and Prejudice, for example, Elizabeth Bennett and her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner plan a tour of the Lakes District, in part to forget about certain young men. “For what are men to rocks and mountains?” Elizabeth proclaims. Indeed. Two of Austen’s novels may be read almost as guidebooks to the city of Bath: Northanger Abbey uses Bath as a major locale for its foolish ingénue, Catherine Moreland, and Austen’s final completed novel, Persuasion, also takes place in part in Bath.

This time around, I was determined to find Jane Austen in the streets of this cobbled city. I knew that she had lived in several locations around town, when visiting her aunt or other relations. Her father, an Anglican minister, upon his retirement chose Bath as the place he wanted to settle, and the city became Jane’s home for some years until his death. They moved house more than once in that time, so finding Jane is more than a mere amble to a set location, much more than just a pit stop and an emptying of pockets in the gift shoppe.

I began my journey to find Jane down at the Pump Room, above the ancient Roman Baths (Stall St., tel +44 [0]1225 477785), built about A.D. 65-75. The adjacent hot spring feeds the baths at a temperature of about 115 ° Fahrenheit. It is worth the time to take the self-guided tour and get a close-up look at the actual green waters of the hot and cool baths. This is where various characters in Austen’s novels have been sent to “take the waters” – Persuasion’s poor Mrs. Smith, who is crippled by rheumatism, for example; Emma’s hypochondriacal father, Mr. Woodhouse, is also recommended to visit by the obnoxious Mrs. Elton.

Above the baths is the elegant 18th-century Pump Room, where you can take refreshment. Enjoy a delicious afternoon tea with finger sandwiches, petit fours, cakes, scones, clotted cream and jam, tea and Champagne. That sounds lovely enough, yes, but to fully appreciate the divinity of this experience, get this: I wanted some more cream (as in, milk) for my tea and asked the waiter, and instead he brought me another bowlful of clotted cream. Clotted cream in a bowl with a spoon in it, and the bowl is a special serving bowl that tilts toward you, so you are actually invited by its very shape to scoop from it.

Well, I had already consumed my scone, thank you, and all the jam, so there was nothing left but to eat the cream with a spoon. It was very, very naughty. But may I just say, in my own defense, that licking clotted cream from a spoon while you watch pigeons fly around the cobbled square and listen to a pianist perform the air from The Sleeping Beauty on a grand piano, in a room where Jane Austen and many of her characters strolled is divine. Simply divine. And what would Jane have done? The same, I am certain.

After eating so much it was a tough call whether to take the waters, to actually drink from the Bath fountain. It’s located over in the corner of the Pump Room, with a liveried waiter who will serve you a glass for about 50 pence. The water is warm, a bit cloudy and smells like sulfur, not exactly the after-tea drink I wanted. I decided to save the experience for another day. But fortified by all that pastry, clotted cream and the like, I was ready to brave the seven hills of Bath, and so off I went, clambering up the cobblestones in search of the domiciles I needed to see, to touch some part of Jane’s life.

I left the Pump Room and the magnificent Abbey Square, which faces Bath Abbey, with its lace-like fan vaulting and clusters of angels, and walked up Bond Street and Milsom Street, which is where Jane would have shopped. Now there is every manner of better clothing store, as well as electronics, housewares and restaurants. Running parallel to these shopping streets is Gay Street, heading up to the Circus, one of the circular “squares” for which Bath is famous. The Circus is John Wood the Elder’s masterpiece of circular building, with a frieze of masks, foliage, magical symbols, musical instruments and wildlife running all the way around. Further up Brock Street is the Royal Crescent, built in the 1760s and 1770s by John Wood the Younger.  Number 1 Royal Crescent (tel +44 [0]1225 428126, closed Dec.-Jan. & Mon. Feb.-Nov.) is done up complete in Austen style, with a sedan chair in the hall, port and pipes in the study, and the cheery kitchen downstairs, to re-create a mid-Georgian atmosphere.
However, I was not so bent on the architecture as the former resident of 25 Gay Street, Miss Jane Austen. The shiny plum-colored door with its polished brass would have pleased her. She lived for a time in the stylish house in 1805, which was up the hill from the River Avon and less prone to damp, but it proved too expensive for a retired clergyman and his wife and two daughters, so after less than a year, the Austens moved to other quarters. I plucked a leaf from a plant in the doorway, a little talisman to press and treasure. I’m sure Jane would have done the same.

My next stop was further uphill, to Number 1 The Paragon. Quite a bit above the rest of the town, the Paragon buildings are tres elegant, at least, they would have been. But residents weren’t expecting company, not in the form of a Janeite seeking second-degree relics, and they unkindly left their trash on the stoop. There were no leaves or flowers to press at this shrine, though I searched in vain, so I came away with a small crumble of plaster that had fallen on the ground, unlikely to date from Austen’s day. No matter – she hadn’t lived at the Paragon, only visited her uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Leigh Parrot, but the visit in November 1797 inspired Jane to write Northanger Abbey after her return to her home at the rectory in Steventon.

I took a turn around the Royal Crescent and made a stop at the Upper Rooms, which any Janeite can tell you are where Austen went, properly chaperoned, of course, to flirt, dance and meet gentlemen. Here is where Catherine Moreland met Henry Tilney, and where Anne Elliot also spent evenings in Bath society. Is it a coincidence that the street leading up to the Rooms is called Bennett Street? A Janeite thinks not.

The Assembly Rooms (tel +44 [0]1225 477789), built in 1772, feature a long ballroom lit by 18th-century chandeliers, an octagonal card room with a musicians’ gallery, and a well appointed tearoom. In the basement is Bath’s Museum of Costume (tel +44 [0]1225 477785), featuring modes of dress from various centuries, including Austen’s. The exhibits change; there I’ve seen an exhibition of wedding dresses from the past 200 years, as well as an exhibition of dancer Rudolph Nureyev’s costumes and hats, called “Nureyev Style.”

From the Upper Rooms it is downhill, at last, toward Queen Square, where the Austens let a house for six weeks in May 1799. Number 13, on the corner, has a terribly English shiny black door, but the current resident, a tax office, steadfastly refused to shut it for a photograph. I was lucky enough to find a pebble to take as a relic for my memories. Jane was pleased with the house: “I like our situation very much; it is far more cheerful than Paragon, and the prospect from the drawing-room window, at which I now write, is rather picturesque, as it commands a perspective view of the left side of Brock Street, broken by three Lombardy poplars in the garden of the last house in Queen’s Parade.” To think that Jane wrote her letters there, in her own hand, and now nothing but dull accountants and tax attorneys and duller-still clients come to call. It makes one want to weep.

My last stop was a far walking distance away – all the way back toward the Abbey and the River Avon, across the Pultney Bridge and beyond. The Bridge is one of the few in the world that has little shops and office built right into the bridge itself.  It was built in 1769-1774 and if I hadn’t been on such an urgent mission to see one last Austen house before departing, I might have paused in some of the many charming shops. But this is Jane we’re talking about, so souvenirs and tea cups had to wait.

I walked up Argyle Street and through Laura Place, where the Austens aspired to live but couldn’t quite afford, and then down Great Pultney Street to the end, where it meets Sidney Gardens and Sidney Place. The Austens eventually took a house at 4 Sidney Place, which pleased Jane and her sister Cassandra mightily: “It will be very pleasant to be near Sidney Gardens! – we might go into the Labyrinth every day.” In Austen’s day, there were concerts, strolls and other entertainment to be had in the public gardens, and it is a pleasure to read of her joy and contentment in the house.

Number 4 itself is the only house I saw that commemorates Jane’s dwelling with a plaque. As for my own commemoration, I couldn’t find a plant or a stone worth collecting, so well kept was the doorway, but I did find a weed in the crevice of the front fence. Pathetic, I know, but it’s a weed that was growing in front of Jane’s house. Jane’s house, I say. What would Jane have done? Enough said.

Walking on cobblestones is not fun but worth it to see St. Jane, anything Jane. The day I went to Bath to see all-things-Jane was the one day the Jane Austen Centre was closed. If you go, however, do stop in and have tea with Mr. Darcy – a portrait of Colin Firth in the Pride and Prejudice role gazes down from the wall and you can enjoy tea and scones as Jane would have. The Centre is located back on Gay Street (40 Gay St, tel +44 [0] 1225 443000) and would be well worth the stop.

There wasn’t much to do at the end of Pultney Street, with no concerts or labyrinth to be found, so I returned to the Abbey, and finished my sojourn in search of Jane with a small repast at the oldest house in Bath, the famous Sally Lunn’s. There, your dinner is served on trenchers of bread, known as Bath buns or Sally Lunn buns.

Sally Lunn, as the story goes, was a young refugee from the French Revolution who began to bake a rich round bread now known as the Sally Lunn Bun. The “Bath bun” became a popular delicacy in Georgian England and was enjoyed with either sweet or savory accompaniments. To our modern taste, a Bath bun is like a large hamburger bun, not quite the culinary thrill it once must have been. It’ll fill you up, or possibly give you a bellyache, as it did Jane, who wrote to her sister that she planned to “disorder my stomach with Bath buns” upon her arrival. A bellyful of Bath buns with a cup of tea seemed an appropriately English was to say farewell to Jane and the beautiful city of Bath, with my treasures in my pocket. I think it’s what Jane would have done, too.

Julia Park is a California writer and editor, and, of course, Jane Austen admirer.

vacation return

Back at work in my little city farm, at my little city desk, after a little mountain retreat at Lake Tahoe. Here are some beautiful pix of where we were and what we did.
Daveland, Meyers, South Lake Tahoe.

Mr. Husband and The Boy, with the Eagle Lake bridge behind them.
Yep. That’s me. Blocking the scenery.

The view from a walk.
Upper Truckee River, about a mile from Daveland. Source of all mosquitoes and peaceful views.
Here’s where I was, most of the time. See my journal?
Yes, it’s true. Everywhere I go turns into a hillbilly household.

So…that’s about it. Took everything we needed. The males spent their days at the beach throwing footballs and jumping off rocks. I stayed en casa and knitted, crocheted, embroidered, cooked, wrote poetry, took walks and looked at the stars.
It was nice. Quiet. Refreshing. And lovely. So long, Daveland, til next year (knock on wood).

stuff and nonsense

We’re getting ready to go on vaca for a week at Lake Tahoe, where we’ll stay at the cabin (“Daveland”) for just a wee spot of cash (pay the utilities for the week — sweet!). Vacations of any stripe always mean lots of planning, but this year I’ve planned a little more so than usual. Partly because this is a vacation for 3 instead of a vacation for 7 like last year. Why would planning for 3 involve more planning? Because I’m really planning for two separate weeks — one for those who stay at home (groceries, chores, emergency cash, etc.) and a different week for a single child w/o companions except his dear parents. [The photo above shows 4 of the 5 critters eating smores at Daveland a few years back. Crazy beasts!]
Challenges? One of the parents will be doing a full inner body cleanse, and the other of whom will be both indulging in usually forbidden treats like a whole box of See’s chocolates and shiny magazines, as well as working on the switch to vegetarianism (guess who?), while The Boy just wants to live off Flaming Hot Cheetos, Arizona sweet tea and Bagel Bites. One car instead of two. And an extremely well managed budget (that’s another way to say frugal, or cheap, or broke. You feel me, right?).

I’ve been scanning the sale papers for weeks, buying vacation supplies (sunscreen, aloe vera gel to soothe the burns), treats like shrimp for the barbie, good cheeses, and crunchy snacks bought for a pittance with the right coupon, then hidden from view of the marauding munchers who live here. I have used my coupons wisely, including a fantastic one from Groupons that gave me $40 off my shopping trip to the local natural grocery store. That trip included the purchase of some lovely portobello mushrooms, huge organic artichokes, veggie sausages, and a big sack o’ organic bananas going ripe, some of which items I rarely buy because of their expense or rarity. [Note bags of groceries, etc. waiting to go, as well as annoyed Fifi looking on from her perch.]
I had a coupon for Real Simple magazine that I used early in July to get the July issue, and then a second one to buy the August issue last week. I feel triumphant somehow with that paltry little scheme, because I don’t subscribe to anything anymore (paper waste, mags have a large carbon footprint, I can borrow/get it used, etc.). I know I’ll enjoy reading these, then will tear out recipes and pages for collage, and eventually they will either be shared, donated or recycled — a once-a-year treat that I’m planning to enjoy on the deck of Daveland.

Of course, that’s not the only thing to enjoy at Daveland. Writing on the deck with nothing but the sound of birds and wind in the trees? It doesn’t get any better. Truly. Not at all. Ever. In the history or future of the world.
But back to my evil plans…oh, no, I mean, my vacation planning. I get those two mixed up all the time.
Made some gorp, which is a 1960s term for Good Old Raisins and Peanuts — including pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, dried cranberries and chocolate chips, too. Good fuel for hiking, which we plan to do Tuesday. Some people call it trail mix, but we’re Californians. You know how we are.
When we stay at Daveland, we always replenish anything we’ve used when we leave. This time, instead of paying extra at the small tourist-priced grocery stores, I bought toilet paper, paper towels and briquettes here, recycled or organic, on sale, etc. We have to haul it up there, but we won’t have to pay the gouge-the-flatlanders prices they charge for basic necessities up there. Unfortunately, we can’t compost or leave any trash outside because of bears, so I have some recycled bags to bring home any cans or bottles, and we will have to make a trash dump every day or so elsewhere. I think —  I could be wrong, but I do think we’re just about ready to go.
We’re looking forward to a quiet week away from it all — but I will confess a little reluctance to go away and leave my beautiful sunflowers, which are blooming deliciously this week. I have a feeling Sally Squirrel and Three Ears (my two friendliest rodent visitors) will probably tear down the flower heads if no one is vigilant about watching. I am actually trying to harvest that seed for bird seed and chickens! I already miss my cats and chickens — certain that no one will talk to them or care for them as I do. Who can keep up my standard, anyway? No one.

Oh, well. We’ll call this an exercise in letting go. Peace out, pals.