Up in the Hollow: Dereliction of beauty

The late Sen. Eugene McCarthy was an irrepressible gadfly, a first-rate poet and a great tilter at windmills. He was the man who, in 1968, knocked Lyndon Johnson off of his Presidential perch. He was also a man who loved the hollows of Rappahannock County. Gene seemed to delight in our ways and byways here in the hills, and his writings about his adopted home were never for a moment intended to be condescending to his Southern neighbors. Indeed, his observations were often those of an enchanted arriviste.

In the volume entitled, “The View From Rappahannock II,” Sen. McCarthy talks of the traditional hesitance to tear down aged and empty homeplaces in Rappahannock.

“Rappahannock County does not give up its houses, its machinery, its customs easily. Houses once abandoned, as a rule, are not torn down, at least by older residents. They are left, on the possibility that they may be used again, and if that re-use is not likely, as a reminder to those who survive of the passage, by death or abandonment, of the last residents in the houses.”

I was reminded of this passage when I read the report in the Rappahannock News under the headline “County eyes derelict buildings, vehicles.” And my first thought was, “Well, County, keep your cotton-pickin’ hands off of my buildings and vehicles. They ain’t derelict until I say they is!”

Such, of course, is the country way, a way which may be foreign to the ever-increasing flood of newcomers hereabouts, some of whom show up having apparently taken a wrong turn on their way to the Hamptons or Bucks County. They seem surprised that people don’t find them superior.

Rappahannock people tend to be understanding of each other’s eccentricities, which is a good thing, because believe me, there are plenty of eccentricities around here of which to be understanding.

“Been Here” Rule Number One: Understand that we are generally friendly people, but we are not interested in being reformed or enlightened.

Now, however, the messianic urge for civic betterment seems to have infected some around the County Gummint. According to the news story, our crack county attorney, Peter Luke, had amended the county ordinance “to cover the removal of waste and inoperable vehicles from private property.”

After discussion, our supervisors then asked Luke to “present a revision” that better defined “motor vehicle” before approving the amendment. Does anyone reading this have any difficulty defining “motor vehicle?” And if you do have difficulty with that, do you drive a motor vehicle? Lord, I hope not. A motor vehicle is a vehicle with a motor in it. Or on it. Or next to it. Or up on a winch. Or out in the yard somewhere.

Well, I wasn’t there, so I missed the finer points of the discussion, if there were any actual finer points.

Now, I don’t know about y’all, but I have a serious problem with the underlying presumption of this ordinance. We are, first of all, talking about someone’s private property which, we assume, is also property which is on the said person’s private property. But if the county fathers (no county mothers in this group) decide that something is “derelict” and in violation of some ill-conceived code, our taxpayer dollars are going to go to serving a warrant on the owner of the “derelict” item, and hauling such taxpayer into court for dereliction involving derelict ownership of derelict property. I’m sure there is a Latin legal term for this, like “derelicto big-finus or jail timus.” This is not what the Founders were risking their lives for, ladies and gentlemen.

(Full disclosure: In 1972 I was arrested in Augusta, Ga., and charged with “failure to move on.” So I am a bona fide expert on dereliction.)

I like to look at old, abandoned properties. And old chimneys that tell of days gone by. There was one on Harris Hollow which was right across the road from us. It was torn down a couple of years back and I still miss its wonderful air of history and mystery. They even tore down the old johnny house out back. What a shame.

I would much rather look upon these old ramshackle farmhouses with their faded timbers and disappearing memories than to be confronted daily with the over-built architectural monstrosities which have recently dotted our country lanes. It ain’t even close.

There are those who say that an old abandoned tractor in a country field is an environmental hazard. There are also those who say that Warren G. Harding was a great president.