Letter: Thankful for the many blessings of Rappahannock

Whenever I tell people from outside our region I’m from Rappahannock they inevitably ask, “Is that near Fredericksburg?” I reply “no” and give them the geographic location and an explanation. Inevitably, their next question is, “What’s there to do there — what’s it like?”

I admit I am most always at a loss for words — how do you describe the Grand Canyon or the Mona Lisa to someone who’s never personally seen them? The fact is we live in one of the most beautiful places created, not just aesthetically pleasing but also spiritually. There are so many hidden little gems, occurrences and encounters a resident of Rappahannock County may experience on any given day, and any one of those could make an indelible and lasting impression on the fortunate few. On this Thanksgiving, I reflected on a few personal experiences I was blessed to be a part of during the past month.

Veterans Day at the high school, Mark Raiford snapped a shot of his dad saluting while his son, with fellow Troop 36 scouts, led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Veterans Day at the high school, Mark Raiford snapped a shot of his dad saluting while his son, with fellow Troop 36 scouts, led the Pledge of Allegiance. Mark Raiford

Halloween night is usually associated with goblins, ghouls and an outrageous amount of candy, but what my children and I discovered in the town of Washington was far from scary. As we strolled along Gay Street, my 13-year-old daughter ran into some friends and off she went, not a worry in the world and surprisingly not a worry (maybe a little one) for Dad. How worried can one be when the sheriff herself is passing out candy and safety-light necklaces in front of her office?

My 11-year-old son and I soldiered on without Big Sister and, after covering the better part of two candy-covered miles, came to rest in the outdoor courtyard of Tula’s restaurant. As usual, the Thompson family had managed to outdo themselves and had turned the courtyard into an outdoor community oasis complete with free hot cider and fire pits, and topped it off by showing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on the improvised drive-in-style movie screen!

After having a cup of hot cider and being sufficiently creeped out by Mr. Jackson, we made our way to meet up with Sister at our predetermined location, the Trinity Episcopal Church — yes, a church on Halloween. There she was, sitting on the floor in a circle with her friends counting the evening’s haul among the good-natured ghoulish props and displays with which the church was decorated. Needless to say, a wonderful time was had by everyone.

The very next Sunday, there was a gathering at Reynolds Baptist Church to celebrate the awarding of the Boy Scouts’ highest honor, the Eagle Scout award, to two of the county’s finest young men (you know who you are). Pastor Jon Heddleston, an ardent supporter of scouting and whose own son is an Eagle Scout, opened the doors of the church’s beautiful and welcoming community center. A delicious potluck was provided by families, friends and fellow Scouts that was thoroughly enjoyed while the guests were treated to a slideshow chronicling the two boys’ ascension to Eagle Scout. The evening epitomized a sense of community anyone would be hard-pressed to find anywhere.

Nov. 11 was Veterans Day, which is a day that has always held a special meaning for me — not because I served my country in a military capacity but because my father did. As it has been for the past nine or 10 years, my father, 92 years old and a World War II veteran, and I made our way to the Rappahannock County High School for the their annual Veterans Day program. Once there, we were joined by my older brother and sister. It took some coaxing to get my eighth-grade daughter to leave her friends in the bleachers and join us in the guest seats, but I could tell she was glad she did. Her reward was a front-row seat to see her younger brother and his fellow Boy Scouts from Troop 36 present the colors and preside over the national anthem.The high school band performed flawlessly, and the keynote speaker, John Lesinski, delivered an eloquent speech. Again, the entire scene could not have been scripted any better.

And last but certainly not least, this past Thursday was Belle Meade’s First Trimester dinner. This is my sixth-grade son’s first year at Belle Meade, and, speaking as a parent, the school has been a true blessing. The school comprises a pair of tranquil blue and yellow buildings that rest on serene farmland.

Stop in for a visit and you might expect to see a typical school scene: students sitting in classrooms hard at work, and teachers standing at blackboards explaining the day’s lesson. But what you will find is something different: students and teachers working together, engaging in valuable discussions and hands-on projects. Belle Meade School is one of few schools in the area that offers true “experiential education” in a natural environment. I can’t begin to explain the transformation my son has undergone since he started; I am brought to tears (of joy) almost daily.

The dinner was a celebration of the student’s accomplishments thus far, and the parents and guests enjoyed a meal of braised chicken from poultry raised by the students on the farm. After dinner the students provided musical entertainment whilst the guests, some reluctantly, participated in some good, ol’ fashioned square dancing! I cannot say enough about the school, the lessons that are taught, and the experiences my son is exposed to. All are truly important in life and growing up, and all come while students reap a valuable education.

So, on this Thanksgiving day, I can honestly say my well is overflowing, my cornucopia is bursting at the seams, my heart is warm, and my mind is at ease. . . . thank you, Rappahannock.

And now when an outsider asks me what Rappahannock is like, I think I’ll just smile and say, “It’s perfectly wonderful.”

Mark Raiford

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