Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter

What does the world look like when you travel home on a fall night after a day of packing up your Mom’s house after her death? Rick drove. I thought about how she loved this Virginia trip from Berryville to Stanardsville, through Front Royal, Flint Hill, Sperryville, Etlan, Madison, and Wolftown.img_5501

When Mom and I traveled that path together in the same car, she looked at Old Rag Mountain and recalled her hikes there – including decades ago, before hiking was a big thing, and there were no lines of people waiting to scramble around the next corner.img_5401


Greystone Building, Route 231, Virginia, at dusk

She told me about taking the bus to Flint Hill from Berryville as a young World War II – era high school science teacher. Her dad drove from the Culpeper area to pick her up for holidays. It always seemed odd to me that such a trip, so short by today’s standards, would be deemed long enough to require splitting into two legs.

Our passing through Flint Hill usually morphed into stories about gas rationing and boyfriends and various Mary Washington (then “College,” now “University”) professors she still loved although they were long gone – like the math teacher who could draw visually perfect circles on the blackboard, keeping his eye on the center point and imagining a consistent radius connecting it to the chalk he held.


Etlan, Virginia



Madison, Virginia

We passed by Etlan’s general stores with stories of her college friend who lived in Etlan, and then all her other college friends, and then the miracle that she went to college at all – how her school had no eighth grade, and how she got her drivers license at 14 in order to drive to “the big high school” in Warrenton, after a year of tolerating being driven to high school by some neighbor boy her dad paid.img_5429

She talked to me about the TV show The Waltons, how it really did portray pretty well her family’s life in Jeffersonton, Virginia during the 1920’s and 1930’s. She had a wonderful mom and dad and three sisters she loved both as a child and throughout her whole life.

But she wasn’t a Pollyanna – she also talked to me about being stricken with a new consciousness as her life progressed – with an understanding of the tragedy of her beloved Virginia’s deep racial segregation during much of her life. Not long ago, we arrived at the conclusion that my own school class was the first integrated first grade class at Berryville Primary School. Another miracle, she said, was that my second grade teacher was African-American.img_5421

How she loved the rolling hills, farm ponds, redbud and dogwood trees, craggy mountains, general stores, and hawks of this drive. How she appreciated and taught us about the coming of electricity to these hills through the REA – the Rural Electrification Act.


It’s late for this post, and all out of context and order. My mom died August 5, 2014. (Obituary). She was sick and getting sicker for months before. My blog, which was saved in her “Favorites” on her own PC, languished in favor of real time with her, even as she admonished me to “keep writing, Jeanne.”img_5450

So in these pictures, many of her well-loved trees on this drive still have their leaves, and many have not yet changed color. I am shooting photos from inside Rick’s F150 truck with 250,000 miles (yes, you’ll see the dashboard sometimes; yes, I’m all over the place with exposure — sometimes letting the darkness of the night show and sometimes bumping the ISO so that later photos are brighter than earlier ones), pulling a U-Haul trailer with Mom’s desk, her photo albums, the pink china that came piece-by-piece from the Safeway store, enough for my sister and me to each have eight place settings.

In the U-Haul, the precious wooden table where she sat bird watching out her back windows, reading, writing letters, doing the crossword, knitting, visiting with friends, feeding her family, chatting with grandchildren and great grandchildren, keeping her calendar, making phone calls.img_5418

Now, on Thanksgiving Eve, my first Thanksgiving ever without her, I have to write this before I can clear my dining room table of the layers so I can welcome family to dinner. On top are dresser scarves and framed photos that have come from her home; underneath is my normal scattering of papers and unmatched socks, since I didn’t seem to inherit her sense of domestic orderliness.img_5506

Or, I tell myself, I didn’t have the opportunity to live in one home for nearly sixty years; that’s my excuse. One of my sons, who has found himself moved and moved and moved around the country as my husband and I have followed the economic benefit of, uh, employment, calls it “being grounded.” My mom, in the one beautiful home she made for all those years, was nothing if not grounded.img_5408


Wolftown, Virginia

And yet, a simple two-hour drive from the Shenandoah Valley to the South River Valley of Virginia could make her mind take flight across years and eras and people she knew and loved – and cause her to ruminate on geography (the “fall line” of Virginia — which she learned about as she studied “the Tidewater, the Piedmont, and the Appalachia” on a sand table in her beloved two-room school house in Jeffersonton, Virginia in the 1930’s), history (from Native Americans to Civil War to Civil Rights), botany (the rare faint pink dogwood in the woods of her childhood and the trilliums of her more recent hikes), sociology (Jim Crow, two-income families, the importance of education), and good books.img_5445


Blue Mailbox, Blue Ridge Highway

And always, always, the birds. As we drove, we might see a flock of geese or a Cooper’s hawk or a bluebird on a fence post. This might lead to a story of the time she overturned the canoe on the Shenandoah or encountered a bear on the Appalachian Trail – trips she pegged to sightings of scarlet tanagers and cedar waxwings. She was thrilled that sightings of bald eagles were becoming common place; I remember her fear of their extinction in the ‘70s.img_5400

These trips to “clean out” Mom’s home were emotionally and physically exhausting, even if many times, her notes to us rose to direct us. “These papers probably are not needed; throw away,” she wrote on an envelope found in a closet shelf. “This was the box my daddy kept his collars in, when men wore them separate from their shirts,” she had tucked inside a small wooden box with an unusual glass top.

We packed boxes, loaded furniture, hit the road from Berryville to Stanardsville.img_5431

It was getting dark, but as we drove that familiar route, I remembered her sense of awe, her memories, her stories, her Virginia.img_5439

And lingering in my mind was the solo our friend John Hudson sang at Mom’s memorial service.img_5468

“Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you.” And the second verse. “Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter. Away you rolling river. Oh Shenandoah, I long to hear you. Away, I’m bound away, cross the wide Missouri.” 



This entry was posted in A Writer's Life, Family Life, Photography, South River Valley, This Day, Uncategorized, Virginia, Virginia Byways and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter

  1. Stephanie G says:

    This is beautiful, Jeanne. Thank you for sharing.

  2. What a wonderful, moving tribute to your mom and her place in your world and the world.

  3. David says:


    I’m a bit teary-eyed as I read this. To read a story like this often makes me a bit nostalgic, but when I read your blog piece, a story in which I personally know all of the characters, it touches my heart in a much deeper way. Over the years, I have been amazed at your ability to craft a story that enlightens the reader not only with what has happened, but you open your heart where we see and experience this evening trip home right along with you. It takes me back to a similar experience, having to help clear out my parents’ home after my father’s death; it was a task that none of us wanted to do, but it was a day I’ll never forget. I also love and admire your talent for taking an experience that brings pain and heartache, and transforming it into a thing of beauty. You have captured a bit of your personal and family life history, and expressed it in such an inspirational manner. Your photos add so much to the beauty and memorability of not only that one late afternoon, but also of a piece of family history that spans two generations.

    I also share your mom’s love for Virginia. I have felt like a fish out of water for the past 33 years of my life, lived outside of Virginia. Although the Potomac River, which separates Virginia from Maryland is only a couple hundred yards wide, culturally, it seems like an ocean. I miss the place and people of Virginia; I am consoled only in the fact that I live only a 1½ hour drive from Berryville and can usually get there easily any time I wish. Maggie and I cannot wait to be retired and to get moved back into Virginia.

    Jeanne, even seeing your name in writing brings back a flood of memories of my own mother, whose name is spelled exactly the same as yours. Sometimes I wonder . . .

    Please know that you and your family will be in our thoughts and prayers, as you prepare to experience the holidays for the first time without either of your parents. Although it has been a few years like that for us, it won’t get that much easier as the years go by. We can only give thanks to God that our parents live on in us and through us. And, if anyone on your blog site actually takes the time to read all of this, this next statement is for anyone whose parents are still here on this earth: Please take every opportunity you can get to spend time with your parents, and cherish every moment of it, because you will never understand what both Jeanne and I have expressed here until you are faced with the loss of your parents, or any loved one.

    By the way, Jeanne, as Christmas is fast approaching, and I’m very busily involved in Christmas music, I will never ever forget the story you shared with us many years ago (long before the inception of the “blog”) of your church’s Christmas music program, and all of the crazy mishaps that threatened to undo it, yet it was successful. This Christmas season would be a most wonderful time for you to commit it to writing and post it up. Many of us would benefit greatly from reading such a hilarious, yet true story.

    We pray God’s blessings over you and your family for a wonderful Thanksgiving together. Hope to see you around Berryville sometime soon.

    • Karen P. Thomas says:

      Beautiful! Thank you my dear sister, Jeannie. David, thank you for such a beautiful reply.
      Happy Thanksgiving. Jeannie, can hardly wait to see you tomorrow. We’ll be there around noon.

    • David, thanks for your wonderful comment. We did share an amazing neighborhood during an amazing time. Wisecarvers, Levis, Carlisles, Pottses, Diggeses, there on the immediate Dorsey/Treadwell corner, a sort of Wonder Years of back yard baseball, walking to school, riding bikes, and back yard picnics.

      I remember full well making the rounds on Christmas mornings, our parents playing cards on Saturday nights and celebrating New Years Eve together, their neighborhood project to have the brown paper bag luminaries edge the street during Advent and beyond, my dad and your dad manning the oversize barbecue pit my dad built in his back yard, playing “Dorsey League” football in “Levi’s Field.”

      I heard Kennedy was shot while I was watching TV at the Wisecarvers as barely more than a toddler, as our parents played cards in the “finished basement” below.

      My mom woke me up there on Dorsey Street to watch the first moon landing, and we promptly named our new kittens after various aspects of the Apollo mission. This was back before “spay and neuter your pets” was common sense.

      I remember you and I playing library at my house, and I remember your excitement to ride off on your bike to see a train passing by on the rail road tracks through downtown.

      And yes, I remember your Mom and Dad, both always ready with a big smile. Impossible to believe they are gone; they are so vivid in my mind.

      And yes, ha! I do remember the story you are talking about — where I told about the ill fated Christmas cantata at my little country church. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, that story pre-dates the internet, so it exists only as a hard copy in a box somewhere in my holdings, which have been shipped around the country and back to Virginia to land in chaos. Hard to believe all those things really did happen that night — from our choir getting off track with the recorded accompaniment to the soloist catching on fire as she backed into a candle on the piano (“O Holy Night”!) — the ushers rushed to “put her out” and she never stopped singing, but she was smoking a little – ha! A few other goofy things happened, and then the choir director was involved in an accident in the church parking lot when he was leaving. I’m sure I wrote it more coherently at the time, but it was definitely memorable.

      Maybe digging through Mom’s well-organized papers will inspire me to do something with my disorganized ones, and I’ll come across that story.

      Thanks for all the good thoughts and memories, David.

  4. Kendra says:

    Oh Jeanne, such a rush of memories….all Berryville based right now. Such a testament to what our parents, our roots, mean to us. They so affect our adult years, though we tend to often only truly realize that in times of loss. At least, we do have the memories we want to remember!
    Our daily lives seem so crazy most of the time. Brings me back to remember two things someone shared with me several years back. Distinguish what is important verses what is urgent…too often, especially for me, I live in the urgent world. Your sharing of memories grounds me again to what is important.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Kendra, you are wise. All of us, too often, live in the urgent world, and it is definitely times of loss that bring that to us so vividly. I am fortunate to have had a mom who emphasized time together.

      Saw many things in Mom’s home that reminded me of our growing up time together, K-Sue. I have the flower-painting-on-wood you did for Mom, which hung in her den beside her fireplace.

      I hate to admit there were still some high school art projects in the attic, including several of the collages from magazine pages we used to make; remember?

      I miss our moms.

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