All hat and horse, gentleman to all

Nancy Pulliam Sanders

Friday, August 24, marks the four year anniversary of the death of my father, Pres Pulliam. His affection for his native Rappahannock was truly evergreen and seemed to be part of his DNA. No matter if he resided in Alexandria, Warrenton, or Winchester, he would make weekly trips to Sperryville, Woodville, or Little Washington to satisfy his need to “go home.”

As children, my sisters and I didn’t quite understand his devotion to the place; he basically dragged us — kicking and screaming — there every weekend. As we got older though, we came to fully embrace and to love those beautiful Blue Ridge mountain vistas and rolling hills. Now, we have as much nostalgia for the landscape and the people as he had.

Maybe too often, we envision our father’s life as a child facing the good times and bad in Rappahannock, especially the wreckage of his home after the Woodville tornado of 1929. He told the story so vividly that we felt we had also endured it. Mostly though we remember and miss the twinkle in his blue eyes as he eagerly anticipated every trip there.The sheer joy he found in picking up some peaches or a crate of apples along the way was sort of contagious. To this native son of Rappahannock, the little things were important as well as the big things, like how you treated people. Neighborly. Genteel. No matter your color, class, or religion, or sexual preference, my father was all hat and horse when it came to being a gentleman to all.

My father’s last meal in Rappahannock was August 21, 2014 at Tula’s, another one of his favorite spots. The food was great, but as a keen observer of human nature he later spoke of the not-so-subtle encroachment of cynicism in his beloved Rappahannock. The joyous twinkle in his eye also dimmed in those final days, and his laughter seemed more just to humor us, than from the heart. Overall, his journey seemed the road of many men who had fought in WWII: sound, sturdy, uplifting mostly, and yet very bittersweet in the end.

Four years later, he is deeply missed by family and friends. We continue to hope his very last thoughts and visions included joyful moments like skipping stones on the Hazel River or taking the first bite of a delicious apple from Woodville.

— The writer lives in Dallas, Texas

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