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Tuesday, May 18, 2004


The day before yesterday, we stopped in at Mount Vernon. I hesitate to use the word 'visit', because L threw a kicking, screaming, temper tantrum the minute we walked in the entrance. I was forced to throw her over my shoulder, looking like a kidnapper, and remove her to the car until the rest of the family finished the mansion tour. Then I switched off with my mother, by which time L had fallen asleep. I buzzed through the house, ran through the grounds, and was met by S and my mother at Washington's crypt, who were looking for me because my parents felt that I was taking too long. Mount Vernon was very peaceful and homey. No wonder George wanted nothing more than to enjoy his farm, and what a great man to give that all up in the service of his country.


We moved on to Charlottesville. There was only one hotel nearby Monticello, a Ramada Inn that was being renovated. Entering the lobby, I was skeptical, expecting a dump, but pleasantly surprised to discover the normal tacky hotel interior had been redone with a modern, Asian feel to it. The Inn is owned and operated by an Indian family and the room decor reflected that, with rich looking fabrics used within the limited style of typical hotel furnishings. We were probably the first guests to stay in the room.

My mother made my blood boil. When she found L sitting on the floor and ordered her to get up immediately because the place was filthy, I disagreed. Normally, I am completely phobic about germs, especially hotel room floors, but this place was immaculate. I was even excited about taking a shower. She said that it didn't matter that the place was brand new, those people are not known for their cleanliness. I flipped. She seems to have forgotten that her relatives were scorned as Paddy the Pig when they first came over.

Anyway, Monticello was my kind of place. Great architecture furnished with a large library and interesting artifacts and artwork meant to instruct and inspire Jefferson's guests. The setting, on top of a hill overlooking forty or so miles of rolling, wooded landscape, was gorgeous. Jefferson called it his seaview, because the layers of distant blue and green hills resemble waves. Again, it was clear how difficult it would be to leave this place, but he did, all for the greater good.

We found Greenville and took a look into the basement of a house built in the 30s at the top of the hill, used by the current owners' manager, that was probably sited on the location of my ancestors' original house. There was a portion of an old brick foundation visible, but nothing more. Nobody has ever come across the family plot, which our records indicate existed and was used for over one hundred years. With all the land cleared but for a thin strip of woods dividing them from one neighbor, where the present owners found evidence of a brickmaking facility, it should have been easy to find. I think somebody pulled a "Poltergeist." There was one odd area in the yard. It looked like an old bulkhead, or maybe a well, that had been covered up long ago with pieces of metal roofing. Somebody had added a wooden railing around it. Nobody was sure what it was, but the owner and manager agreed they had always been curious about it and promised they would look into it and let us know what turns up.

The owner also gave us a tour of their house, an antebellum landmark built by the man who bought the plantation from my Dad's family, which had been a complete ruin when I last visited the property about eight years ago. From a contractor's point of view -- a magnificent renovation. Money was no object.

Today I drove. And drove. We made it from just south of Richmond, Virginia, to Jacksonville, Florida. I could have driven all night, juiced up on Doubleshot Espresso and Creams, just to get my parents and three antsy kids out of my car, but they wanted a break.


Barbecue seemed like a good idea for lunch, and in South Carolina we passed a billboard advertising a nice looking restaurant one mile east of the next exit. Up and down the road we searched, without success. I'd spotted another BBQ sign right at the exit and figured it would do. The food was awesome, pulled pork in a mustard based sauce, collard greens, sweet potato casserole, black-eyed peas with stewed tomatoes, banana pudding, and so much more, all buffet-style, but the decor was unsettling. Confederate flags and a state flag from every member of the Confederacy flew outside. Inside we were surrounded by walls covered with tributes to Confederate generals and soldiers. That in itself was not so bad. It was the literature for sale on the book rack, on a display table, and at the register. At the counter I paid for lunch and picked up a copy of The Truth About the Confederate Flag, which the lady let me have for free, with a wink, and went back after we ate for Honest Abe Wasn't Honest, a bargain at $.75.

It was a Klan restaurant.

The booklets are distributed courtesy of the owner and are transcribed from a lecture by Pastor John Weaver, a native of Georgia and graduate of Bob Jones University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theology.

That's a smart feller.

When S asked, "What do you think real patriots like George Washington would think of a man like Robert E. Lee?", my probably too loud reply was a hasty, "Robert E. Lee was a true patriot and the most noble soldier of The War. Remember Patrick Henry? He strongly believed in states' rights to govern themselves, so I'm sure he would have greatly admired him," and followed that with a quick look over my shoulder for eavesdroppers. Remember now, this is a part of the country where they don't just have memorials to the great generals, they have shrines. We made it out alive.

Is everybody watching "Colonial House?"

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