I remember being in my Grandma Dwyer’s sitting room in Old Hollow, the pot belly stove filling the tiny room with warmth while the remainder of the house was chilling cold, listening to my parents catch up on the happenings in Sperryville and Washington.
It was a total bore at that time (I was a pre-teen), but oh how I wished I had listened more. I knew many of the local names and their personalities by hearing those conversations, before I would fall asleep and somehow end up in my grandmother’s feather tick bed.
The conversations would center around the Dwyer and Keyser families, of course, as well as the Millers, Fletchers, Johnsons, Baldwins, Cornells, Beahms, Bowens, Whartons, Hitts, Taylors, Pullens, Lees, and many more. Folks shared a sincere concern about their friends and neighbors. It was important to know who was sick and needed help, who could use an extra hand for hay making, who just had a baby, or who was celebrating a birthday and had company coming.
Even though the internet or text messaging hadn’t been invented yet, there were so many ways for folks in Rappahannock to stay in touch in our small county. Community and family gatherings of all types were the hinge pin to the camaraderie shared by all.
Mutt Atkins would deliver groceries from his store on Sperryville’s main street and stop long enough to chat awhile with each of the families. Many would visit the local country stores like Bradley’s, Hackley’s, Dennis’ Store, the Corner Store, and the Rock Mills Store hoping to gather some news during their visit to take back home or write to relatives.
Family reunions were popular and well attended. Thornton Gap’s all day church meetings and baptisms brought families together to pray, share hymns, and eat. Many families like the Whartons and Keysers got together to play music. Gardening, canning, and preparing vegetables on the porch was a way of helping your neighbor and spending time with those you loved too.
Of course, Rappahannock County had a party-line telephone which meant you shared your telephone line with three or four of your neighbors, so there wasn’t any privacy while having phone conversations. Traditional gossip was as prevalent then as it has always been. You know you live in a small, close community when you already know all the local news, so the only reason you buy the newspaper is to see if they got it right.
I remember the Washington 4th of July celebration with so many folks crowding into town to enjoy the festivities. What started out as a party for a few friends turned into a joyous community celebration revered over time. It was a fun filled day with a wooden wagon giving rides up and down the street, and the reading of the Declaration of Independence. There was food, arts and crafts and pony rides. Kenny Pullen and Frankie Huff manned the Flint Hill Volunteer Fire & Rescue truck on Gay Street.
It was more than just Independence Day, it was a “community reunion” with children and adults jumping from blanket to blanket until the festivities began. Everyone would sit on the hillside of Avon Hall and watch the fireworks reflecting into the pond as they screamed into the warm night air. Although this event caused Washington’s one and only annual traffic jam when it was over, I never remember anyone being rude or in a rush. I felt genuinely blessed to savor Rappahannock’s version of Mayberry.
Being a Rappahannockian means you likely have a special wave. It’s a wave that still exists in Old Hollow and many of the other hollows in the county. It doesn’t matter if you know the person or not, you still wave your hand with your thumb wrapped around the steering wheel. It’s a friendly acknowledgement to the oncoming driver, because even if you don’t know them you can bet you know who they are visiting in your hollow — and it’s the neighborly thing to do to show respect to the guests of your neighbor.
We’ve certainly seen a divergence from the many local names that were family founders of the county. There is always room to expand the love in our hearts, to accept each other and appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds us. Even with our differences in cultures, political viewpoints, or life philosophies, it’s important to continue to support our community events like the 4th of July celebration, as they still serve us today as they have those before us . . . reminding us that sharing time together, showing respect, and a friendly wave go a long way to being a good neighbor and friend and bind us together as a community family.
Administrator, Rappahannock County