Through the Eyes of Rappahannock’s Next Generation

What better way to learn about our county’s past, its present and its future than through the eyes of Rappahannock’s next generation?

Student art by Isaac Plaksin

Little did the planners — the school district, the Rappahannock News and the nonprofit Foothills Forum — know exactly what would transpire in shaping the inaugural RCPS Essay Contest.

The past/present/future subjects suggested themselves. The contest drew 65 entries, far exceeding expectations. And among those 65 were crisp, powerful reflections on life in the “jewel of Virginia.”

What began with a simple idea grew into a thoughtful partnership, a dedicated committee and a scrupulously fair committee. Judges from RCPS: Public Relations Officer Holly Jenkins (committee chair) and teachers Lilo Wolfe and Julie Ruth. They were joined by former Town of Washington Mayor John Fox Sullivan and Foothills director (and ex-BBC journalist) Caroline Anstey. Filling out the committee was Foothills board member Stephen Brooks and News publisher Dennis Brack.

The judges and writers came to see that the contest wasn’t about prize money; more an opportunity for middle- and high-school talents to express thoughtful reflections about county life.

The winning essays, published here, greatly impressed the judges. Read them and you’ll agree.

Larry “Bud” Meyer
Chair, Foothills Forum

I Will Remember

By Julian Cordero
11th Grade
1st Place, High School

One day, Rappahannock as we know it, will be gone. It is the harsh truth. Our small towns will become cities, and our farms will morph into modern day neighborhoods. The crawling urban sprawl will undoubtedly reach into our county. The idea is scary. Everything we know, love and cherish, completely wiped out by 21st century buildings and six lane highways.

Yet for some reason, I am not worried. I often asked myself why the disappearance of Rappahannock never truly bothered me as much as it should. I mean, this was the place I grew up. The place where I played, laughed, cried and lived. Why am I not scared of my home just wisping away? As I thought more and more about my home, I reminisced in my 17 years in the county. These 17 years were undeniably, some of the best a child could have. The memories that I created were unparalleled, and no place on Earth could simulate the mystical magic of Rappahannock. I then realized that the memories I created were the very reason I wasn’t afraid of losing my home. In fifty years, I may travel back to Rappahannock, which will have turned into a bustling city: Long highways criss crossing over each other, businessmen hurrying from building to building, flashing lights every which way. It would be a very sad sight. Yet I would be happy with the memories I had gathered. Because I would have held all the cherishing things I loved about this county deep inside my heart. It hurts me to hear my peers complain that this county is “boring,” or just a “drive through place.” Once people see it for what it is, rather for what it isn’t, it becomes drastically beautiful.

When I grow old, I will have forgotten many, many things. Yet I will always remember this place. I will remember the sun rising over the blue misty mountains. I will remember the rolling fields dotted with black cows. I will remember the smiling locals in their pickup trucks. I will remember the elusive black bears, and I will remember the ghostly white tailed deer. I will remember our fiery orange autumns, and our bright yellow springs. I will remember our quaint towns, with little cozy shops and churches. I will remember The Inn at Little Washington, our one-of-a-kind 5 Star hotel and restaurant. I will remember gurgling creeks and roaring rivers. I will remember cozy nature camps and colorful town parades. I will remember being lucky enough to stargaze into the night sky, a hobby that is becoming less and less available throughout our  growing world. I will remember my school, small yet connected as if we were a family. I will remember rainy winter mornings and breezy summer afternoons.I will remember cold morning hikes in Shenandoah National Park. I’ll remember it all.

All of these experiences were integral parts of my childhood. They shaped and defined who I am. Soon, I will enter my senior year of high school and then leave for college. I can’t help but want to stay here just a little bit longer. To hold onto this place for a few more days, hours, or even seconds. Because I know that one day, this magical place will have to come to a soft end, and I want to remember Rappahannock for the beautiful place it was. I feel lucky to have grown up here. So I say for those of you who are also growing up in this place (or already grown up): What memories will you hold deep down inside? What stories will you tell to your children or grandchildren? What will you remember about Rappahannock?

The Present Day of Rappahannock

By Alynah Cooper
7th Grade
Special Mention

The present day in Rappahannock, where do I even start?  Where should I start? There’s so much I could talk about, but who cares to be completely honest. It’s just  a small county that many have never even heard off. Sure, it seems like a nice place to live in, and that’s what many adults may think. But for their children, it’s horrible. But nobody ever realizes that.

People get bullied daily, and nobody says anything about it. Because it’s like they’ve normalized it. There’s drama, and verbal fights. But once again it’s been normalized. The teachers don’t have a clue about what goes on, unless it’s been brought to their attention. Which it rarely is. If someone is getting bullied or being called names and a teacher sees it, all they say is to leave each other alone. It’s funny how they think that it’s that easy. Kids aren’t going to stop unless serious action is taken. So when this happens they just learn to hide it better when a teacher finally realizes it.

Kids/Teenagers will call people horrible names, to get attention. People will do anything for attention and it’s not OK. Everybody here calls each other names, and make rumors for attention. The names that we get called are horrible. People cuss each other out, and people get hurt from it. Because words can damage you emotionally. I’m sorry to say this but it’s true. It damages people’s self esteem, and self confidence. For example guys will slut shame girls, while the guys get called cool. People get called ugly, and fat. That’s not OK, it’s horrible getting called those things. But people think if they make fun of people, they’ll gain popularity. And since it’s such a small county everybody knows, everyone. Everybody hears the rumors that people spread, and they choose to believe them even if they only know one side of the story. They’ll laugh about it. We will hear what we say about each other and just go along with it.

We have learned how to put on a fake smile. We let people assume we’re happy and OK with what’s going on. But these problems just get ignored. Words hurt. We all talk about people behind their backs and trust people won’t say anything. But when they do we get hurt, when it’s really our fault and not theirs. We are all guilty, but we don’t realize it in ourselves. We blame it on everyone else. When it is as equally our fault as it is their’s.

In conclusion this is the present day in Rappahannock. You might not like it or even realize it. But we’re not doing anything to change it. So if we continue down this path, it’s just gonna get worse. So what are you going to do to change it? Probably nothing, right? Just take a minute to realize that when you spread rumors about people, talk behind their backs, and call them names, it hurts. People are mean, so mean. And we act like it’s OK, but we know deep down that it isn’t. Take a couple moments to take in what I just wrote. Realize that we need to stop, we need to make an effort to get this to stop. We need to stop bullying people, saying stuff about them, and calling them stuff. Because how do you think it makes them feel?

The judges felt that this essay illuminated an important issue confronting society—and our community—and therefore needed to be recognized.

The Winter the River Froze

By Ava Genho
9th Grade
2nd Place, High School

On the tail end of winter break, the temperature dropped to single digits, freezing everything across the countryside, including the pipes at the elementary school. All the students rejoiced, for school could not begin again with no water. The freeze led to my brother and I, with our dog and two of our best friends in tow, setting out for an adventure on a free, frigid winter day. Everyone knows that the cold makes the perfect conditions for a magnificent memory.

Down the hill we went, away from the warmth of our house, toward the freezing wood. After crossing the field, we approached our greatest enemy; the river. Ten feet across at the widest, with banks that sometimes rose to over our heads, this was no mere creek to simply be jumped over. In the warm months, the water often came up to near our knees and required an hour of searching for a place to navigate over. We dreaded crossing in the cold of winter.

The river drew nearer with every step we took. Finally, we reached the bank. The water was strangely silent. Suddenly, Sveta, our dog, broke free of her lead and ran to the river. Howbeit, there was no splash of cold water. Instead her paws hit ice- thick, solid, sturdy ice. The river was frozen!

Such an enormous slab of ice was uncommon in our state, so we abandoned the forest quest, and silently agreed to explore the ice. However, who would lead us into the unknown? I volunteered my brother, Nathan, as he was the lightest, but he quickly refused.

The four of us stood in silence for a moment, unsure of what to do. Sveta bounced and slid on the ice like a puppet controlled by an unskilled puppeteer.

“I’ll do it,” my friend Roxie blurted courageously.

We watched warily as she stepped to the top of the bank and stood hesitantly for a moment. Then, she sat in the bank’s grass and scooted forward, reaching her foot down in search of a foothold. Roxie slowly lowered herself downward, until her head disappeared over the edge of the bank. I crossed my gloved fingers and held them behind my leg.

“Wow! Come here! This is amazing!” Roxie shouted from below. Gabe, Nathan and I rushed to see. There she was, standing on the ice! She spun around and let out a “Whoop!” Sveta slipped her way over, and licked Roxie’s chin.

We were eager to join them on the river. One by one, we inched our way down the face of the bank. In both directions, the river snaked and wound away, a silver thread twisting through the field. Where the banks sloped, the ice faded into grass or sand. Sticks and branches sprouted out of the frozen river. It was a winter wonderland out of a fairytale.

Walking on the ice was different than, say, an ice-skating rink. In the sections where the water had froze the right way, the bottom of the stream—and the water still running energetic underneath—were clearly visible. It was a bit disorienting, standing on a solid with liquid flowing below. In the sincere minds of youth, anything frozen becomes unexplainably clean. So, Roxie, the boys, and I pressed our faces to the surface, watching our breath create pools in the ice. It tasted strongly of dirt and fresh, outdoor air. Those precious days, the days spent lazily in nature, seemed priceless and valuable, exquisite and endangered. Out there, the world can’t get to you or threaten you. Things are surreal — or, perhaps, they are what is real. Among trees, on top of ice, surrounded by grass and dirt, everything is at peace, perfect and unique.

After hours of exploring, we decided to turn and head for home. We took nearly as long to mosey back around the bends to where we got onto the ice. Such an adventure wasn’t simple to cut off. Yet, we climbed up the steep bank we had slid down to reach the ice. I knew the cold would be forgotten quickly, but I would recall the ice, clear and white, and the bends and curves of the frozen banks. The curious way it absorbed the river and glittered in the light was imprinted in my mind. I made a silent vow to return the next day, with a camera. Such is the joy of growing up in Rappahannock County, where adventure abounds in every season.

Art that Brings a Smile to My Face

By Emma Jenkins
8th Grade
3rd Place, Middle School

A common saying is “A true friend supports you because they want to see you succeed.” I think this is a saying that all people need to know. We need to bring each other up rather than pull each other down. Mr. Robert Archer painted a beautiful mural on the side of his store. This “Welcome to Sperryville, Main Street — Est. 1820” mural brings happiness to Rappahannock and shows hospitality to tourists. I think instead of attacking Mr. Archer with every code under the sun, we should’ve been thankful for his art.

I live in Sperryville and see the art almost every day. I love looking at it and it brings a smile to my face when I read it. I don’t see how anyone can dislike it. The art gives the people of Sperryville something to look at and enjoy. I see the mural as something that should stand for the kind, welcoming, and loving people from Rappahannock which is quite ironic seeing how we have treated Mr. Archer. I would be devastated to see the sign go and I believe the tourists would too.  

Rappahannock is a destination that many tourists stop and enjoy. Do you blame them? It is beautiful here. The mural that Mr. Archer painted gives tourists a happy Rappahannock welcome. It shows them that they are welcome here and that there is so much more to see. Think back to elementary school when the teachers tell you all the parts to an essay. Well, first comes the hook and introduction. In our case this is the mural, it brings people into Sperryville and lets them know we are a great community with so many things to enjoy. After the introduction comes the body paragraphs, we have so many little shops and places for people to explore. While traveling through the body paragraphs we go through the different towns of Rappahannock as well. We end with a conclusion which is where the tourists choose to stop. Now they had an amazing journey all because of the hook that brought them here, the art.  

As I previously stated, I think we should be thankful for Mr. Archer’s art. He designated part of his property to share with the people. It gives everyone something to be proud of and shows that we love our home. Forcing Mr. Archer to cover up the art on his store would be a poor decision and I, along with many other people, would be saddened to see it go. Given these points, I am very disappointed with the reactions of many of the people of Rappahannock. I understand that rules are rules but, the whole situation could be handled much better. I hope that Mr. Archer gets to keep the art on his building, and I believe that many people agree with me. I am a proud supporter of the work and believe that it should be kept and that Mr. Archer deserves an apology.

Rappahannock of the Present and Future

By Grace Raiford
12th Grade
3rd Place, High School

Rappahannock County is a wonderful place to live in. Every day, I find myself surrounded by beautiful mountains and forests. The sun rises over my backyard, illuminating the tracks of countless animals. But the people are the most beautiful piece of Rappahannock County. The community of Rappahannock is incredibly close knit, and we stand with each other through thick and thin. The community makes up a vast network of friends, family, and peers that help whenever help is needed and never hesitate to lend a hand. All in all, Rappahannock County was a great place for me to grow up. It was the perfect place to call home. But recently I have begun to think about the next generation of Rappahannock.

I have wondered how they will fare in this community. Last year, there was a large debate heating up Rappahannock, dividing friend and neighbor with strife. The topic of debate was a bike trail that would connect Rappahannock County Elementary School and Rappahannock County High School. I for one was a fan of this idea. It would give me a place to walk after school, somewhere I could gather my thoughts and be surrounded by the beautiful scenery of Rappahannock. I also thought it would be a great opportunity for children at the Elementary School to get a change of scenery for gym class, and a good spot for elderly people to walk in a quiet and safe place. Ultimately, the bike trail plan never came to pass. Enough money was raised for it, but people were afraid of losing money, or spending extra money on something they wouldn’t use. It was a debate fueled by misinformation and fear, and it killed what could have been a beautiful thing. I can’t pretend to know the minds of those involved in the group that opposed the bike trail, or their motives. But I know mine.

While Rappahannock is a wonderful place, it is very hard for a young person like myself to find things to do here. I have to go to Culpeper or further in order to find things to do. Local businesses tend to cater their prices towards a more wealthy crowd from out of town, leaving those who live here full time out in the cold. This bike trail could have been the beginning of something beautiful for the young generations of Rappahannock. It would have given them a reason not to seek out other places to have fun, and instead enjoy all of Rappahannock.

One day, in addition to hiking in the mountains, they might also go to the Rappahannock County Pool. After school, they could walk the bike trail, or hang out at the local rec center. They could play in rivers, or hang out at a fun and affordable establishment.

The Rappahannock I love does not have to be compromised to make way for the Rappahannock of the future. One can have both. And I want the future generations of Rappahannock to have both.

Memories of Amissville Yesteryear

By Nathan Shenk
7th Grade
1st Place, Middle School

In 1939 my great grandma Lois Settle used to walk to school at the age of six. She would learn basic subjects in school: math, English, science, but when she was in high school she learned the basic subjects for high school, which were Algebra, English, and home economics. Home economics was what she liked the most since she liked sewing. They taught her health personal finance, family resource management and planning, textiles and clothing, shelter and housing, household management, design and technology, food science, and hospitality. She would even walk to school even if the snow was up to the ankles. If there was ice on the ground, her mother would put cleats on her shoes. The school was never canceled due to weather. Whenever kids went to school they had to pack their lunch no matter what. The school was at Amissville United Methodist Church off of 211. Instead of the school having two different bathrooms for boys and girls, it was just an outhouse for both boys and girls. Back then it was mostly farmland, gardens, and animals though.

Amissville got its name from an old family member of mine Joseph Amiss, and it was a coin flip between another person to have their last name be the name of the place which is now Amissville. That was back in the 1800’s though.

There used to be a store that Mr. Tapp owned, the Hittle Store. Mr. Tapp took care of people that passed away. One time a man had died in a chair and was left there for three days. Mr. Tapp and my great grandma’s father went to go pick him up and put him in a coffin that her father would make. When they tried to put him in the coffin they had trouble since rigor mortis had set in, which is where the body will go stiff, but they eventually got him in the coffin. Mr. Tapp would hold a funeral for the family. The family kept asking her father to open the casket so they can see him one last time but he kept on refusing. He finally gave in to them but when he did the body sat upright since it had been in the chair for three days.

They used to ride horses to their destinations but they still had cars, while her family still had an old Ford truck. Every Sunday her mother would fix dinner for family and friends. Her father taught her how to hunt and fish, which was not that different from nowadays. She could not talk during either one of them.

Since you couldn’t travel really long distances, if you were sick you would have to wait for the country doctor to come by, usually once a month. When he came by he would check up on you to see if you were OK. He never would ask for money but instead, if you had food, he would ask if he could have some.

Every fall they would have a hog killing party, and friends and family would help. They would make hams, sausage, and scrapple. After they gutted the hogs and such they would hang the pig from the ceiling so that mice and rats could not get them.

Her father used to work at Bel Air, which is now Mayhughs and every day she would bring him lunch and they would eat under an old oak tree by the store. If he was not there she would have to wait for him under the tree.

The house where she grew up is right behind the house I live in now and is still standing. I could walk over there if I wanted to. I haven’t seen the house fully but what I can see it is a big house.

She still sews today for people who pay her for her to sew for her.

In 1979 my grandpa was around twelve to sixteen and he would ride his bike around to get to wherever he needed to go. He would go to side work on a farm. When he was really young, he went to a daycare for kindergarten. I don’t think he was the smartest cause he had to go to summer school. He was in Boy Scouts and 4-H, which I did not know it was a thing back then.

In 1992 my grandma moved to Rappahannock to live with my grandpa and has lived here since then. She used to work at the Quicky Mart. She takes care of me and my brother.

Growing Up in Rappahannock in the 1950s

By Abigail Atkins
7th Grade
2nd Place, Middle School

My grandpa has interesting stories of growing up in Rappahannock County. He went through some very big challenges, but he and his six other siblings got through it together. He has some wonderful memories and stories, and I love listening to them. It’s cool to see how Rappahannock has changed over the years, and how my grandpa grew up compared to how I’m growing up.

My grandpa was the oldest of seven children, and his stories start around the age of 12 or 13, the same age I am today. He had electricity, but no air conditioning. Their heat was provided by a wood stove and they cut wood with a cross cut saw. There were no electronics like today, and he did not have a telephone until he was 16 years old. There was no inside plumbing, so they used an outhouse. He had to carry water from the spring to the house in buckets. For toilet paper they used Sears catalogs. When it was cold at night, they would have to wrap themselves in a bunch of blankets to keep warm, and in the morning when it was cold they would stand over the cook wood stove to eat their breakfast. He woke up every morning at 6 a.m. before school to milk three cows, and when he got home from school he had to milk them again. One day he was chasing a cow and he grabbed the tail and part of the tail came off!

They had two horses to help them with their work. Their names where Lady and Queen. They planted potatoes and in between the potatoes, they planted corn. They had to put muzzles on the horses so they wouldn’t eat the corn while they were plowing the potatoes. They would pick up by hand approximately 40 bushels each year.

To mow their yard they used a Reel Mower. When you turned the mower up the blades would roll fast. He did this and cut one of his brother’s fingers off on accident. He got a terrible beating by his father. They raised pigs and chickens. They butchered the hogs and plucked the chickens. One time while driving an old Dodge pickup to basketball practice, he had nine people in the cab. They did not wear seatbelts.

Sadly his mother died at age thirty eight. My grandpa was sixteen in the tenth grade and his youngest sister had not started school. His youngest sister was trying to bake cornbread muffins in her little play stove. All of his sisters had to learn to cook, clean the house and do laundry at a very early age. He and his brothers worked outside. Some of the relatives wanted to seperate them but his father said “no way.” And with the help of their dearest cousin, his father kept them all together. Four of them graduated from Rappahannock High School. They all survived even though it was not always easy. While their mother was living she took all of them to church every Sunday to the Beech Spring Regular Baptist Church. His uncle had an old Chevy Pickup, and sometimes they would ride in the back and sometimes he would make several trips since they only lived one mile from the church.

It was really eye opening to think about all the hardships my grandfather faced, but with faith and love he and his family were able to make it work. I am thankful he is here to share his memories with me. I love growing up in Rappahannock County now and I really enjoy learning about the past.

About Staff/Contributed 5507 Articles
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1 Comment

  1. Bravo! Ray Bradbury said it best, “Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”

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