It was 30 years ago this week that I, my wife Bette and our two children, moved to Washington, Virginia, or so we thought. It was months later that we learned that Washington was merely the location of our post office and not our hometown.
Our new address was far from the only thing about which we were ignorant and I can here only briefly mention pumps and wells, snakes, power outages, barnyard smells, eroding driveways, yellowjackets, trees across the road, bears, flooded bridges, poison ivy, non-February 2 groundhogs, bushhogging, errant cows in the driveway and various other delights of country living. (I perhaps should say here that Bette grew up in New York City and I in Chicago and the smallest town we had ever lived in was Washington, D.C.)
What we did know for certain was that we had purchased a lovely and special house and that from that house we had a panoramic view, looking out over Tiger Valley to the Blue Ridge. From the very beginning we were captivated by that always changing view. Early on we would stop several times a day and just sit and look. Now, a bit desensitized after all the years, we only sit and look two or three times a week.
We had purchased the house from an older couple, Sidney and Dorothy Mank, who had built it. They held our mortgage and as they lived nearby, I soon realized that I could easily save postage by direct delivery of our payment. And then I found that I not only saved postage once a month but also got a free lunch and a large bag of fresh, garden produce or, in winter, a couple of jars of preserves. Also, a steady stream of advice and tips. Country living, indeed.
After a few months — he might have called it a probationary period if he had thought of it — Sid sponsored me for membership in the Rappahannock County Lions Club. It was in the Lions Club that I really started learning what Rappahannock County is all about. It was there that I started acquiring wonderful new friends, some of whom were old-timers with long and deep roots in the county. They told me stories about the old days and I got from them a deep appreciation for the county and its history. But the Lions Club is not a social club; it is a service club. And, coincident to that, it is a gateway to the community.
Here is some advice for newcomers. If you want to know your neighbors, join a local organization. Become a volunteer. It could be the Food Pantry, the Rappahannock Association for Arts and Community, a church group, an organization connected to the schools, an environment group, a service organization, almost anything. Because volunteers typically volunteer in more than one organization, you can soon be part of a large and informal network that extends throughout the county. More than that, you will be enriched by people and things you could not otherwise know.
There are so many names and so many memories: making apple butter with Carson Johnson; working the food line at Camp Fantastic with Ester Settle; acting on stage with Norm Getsinger; exchanging quips with John McCarthy; working at the late “Link” with Melanie Thornhill Kopjanski; listening to Judge Raynor Snead tell his stories; getting rescued more than once by our neighbors, Richard and Sandy Antony; listening to great music in Wendy Weinberg’s Theatre (now Nancy Raines’); and working on a whole bunch of things with Jenks Hobson. The list is long and I mention these few entries just to give a sense of its scope and variety.
In the early days here, I was “retired” and Bette was not. Her turn came soon enough and her list is now as long or longer than mine, but with many a common memory.
Not all our memories are good; some are sad and some are bad. Rappahannock County is not heaven. This, however, is a letter of appreciation, not history.
More than a little random luck was involved in our finding our Rappahannock home. If we are lucky yet again, it will be our final home. Most likely, that will depend on the continued existence, even growth, of the network and structure of volunteer service that makes Rappahannock so special. So I close with profound thanks, for both our mutual past and our mutual future.
Mike and Bette Mahoney
Washington (or close enough)