First Baptist Church in Little Washington, VA (Photo by David Hoffman)
I have always said I’m from two big cities, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., which is true, and now I’m from two more, New York and Chicago. However, that short rundown leaves out one small footnote. For a few years as a small child I lived a very small town life from a time that’s harder to find these days, in a special little place. The sense of community and safety I found there at three years old amazingly, I have kept for the rest of my life and serves as a reminder to me with my own son.
It was the early 1960’s and my family of three older sisters, one little brother and two parents lived in Washington, Virginia. Little Washington, bumper stickers proudly said, along with ‘ski’, in a very excited way. There was just the one slope, but it did have a towrope and was better winter entertainment than most tiny towns had.
My late father was the new rector at Trinity Episcopal Church, Bromfield Parish, in Little Washington, Virginia. His first church, fresh out of being ordained a full minister. It had taken the Diocese of Virginia, where he was from, where his family had always been from, a bit of doing to find a church large enough to be able to support all of us. He was making $4,000 per year, with a wife, four girls and a boy, finally, soon to appear.
Little Washington was a small place, even for rural 1960’s Virginia. To the south was Sperryville, six miles away, to the north, Front Royal, nineteen miles away. Warrenton was to the east and to the west stood the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachian Trail, stretching from Georgia to Maine. If I stepped out into our yard at the rectory I got a full view of the range.
To get around the mountains we had to drive to Sperryville and keep going. On the other side was the town of Luray and the famous Luray Caverns, full of stalagmites and stalactites.
Grocery shopping was done in the nearby town of Culpeper, a half hour’s drive in the old green Chevrolet with the rounded hood, sharp ornament hanging off the end, pointing us in the right direction. Cars were still known by who made them. There were no Windstars or Mustangs. The Chevrolet was just another of the old cars Dad learned how to keep on the edge of being able to drive.
The rectory in Little Washington sat near the jail separated by our large, wide backyard. The jail was always occupied, mostly with a drunk sleeping it off. One man refused to ever leave, realizing he had it better with a roof over his head and home cooked meals made by the jailer’s wife, Janie Burke. He traded his living expenses by working in the garden. He was always around, afraid if he left for too long they might lock up his cell behind him. [click to continue…]