Leaning against a sprawling cypress, draped in spanish moss, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn — both, no doubt, donning well-worn, faded blue farmer jeans, with fishing poles on their shoulders — were surely smiling from above as I took a summer weekend’s drive down the winding patch of U.S. 211 between Sperryville and Shenandoah National Park.
The late afternoon sunlight cast the stores open for business in a blaze of soft light, a natural spotlight somehow announcing the rebirth, renaissance and revival of the 1950s-era structures. Not so long ago, a trip down the road to Skyline was a quiet trip indeed. Lots of lackluster buildings dotting the narrow, winding highway, shops and stands with boarded-up windows and an eerie quiet.
What a pleasure it is today, however.
The Sperryville Emporium stands proudly, filled with wares and delicious foods, its parking lot full. The Beech Spring Gift Shop, famous for its quilts, thrives, as do Sonny’s Place and Eddie and Barbara Gore’s Bushels and Pecks of Bliss, a store handed down from generations of ownership. A number of other enterprises and fruit stands are thriving as well, and lend such character and charm to a once desolate drive. Eric Kvarnes’ Glassworks Gallery, with its landmark footbridge over the Thornton River, is especially appealing and a major draw to this section of U.S. 211.
All have weathered the economic malaise of recent years and are rebounding, with tourists and locals alike savoring their wares. A newly purchased woven basket, filled with extra large sunflowers and gourds creatively arranged and designed by Brenda Anderson of Sonny’s, graces this writer’s front porch.
Brenda and her husband Sonny have owned the shop now since he retired. He loves finding the treasures, and a sign at the entrance door store speaks to his good humor: “We buy junk and sell antiques.”
Their daughter, Sonya Wilson, helps out and lends a special smile to the place, when she’s not busy teaching first grade. Pulling up on a typical Saturday or Sunday afternoon, the chairs are out, locals are stopping in and saying hi and customers are happily sifting through Sonny’s hand-selected antiques and various gift items.
Eddie’s magical place, Bushels and Pecks of Bliss, is just up the road and much the same. He’s a Rappahannock man through and through, having lived here all his life. The store belonged to his wife’s grandfather and has passed down to him and Barbara now.
He talks of old Rappahannock and of Prohibition times, colorful stories of larger-than-life characters and stills nestled deep in the hollows. He tells too, of a favorite pastime of his, bull frog hunting — gigging — and shares a favorite recipe. A school bus driver of many years, he entertains his young riders with stories, and sometimes tells stories about them.
One night, not too many years ago, he and a friend had caught more than 100 frogs in a single night. The following day, he asked the kids on his bus to give him all their lollipop sticks. They asked why, and he smiled and said, “Well, I’m going to glue the frog’s legs on the sticks for all of you — lollipop frog legs.” The bus went silent. Eddie chuckles as he recounts the story, his eyes smiling.