Monday, September 29, 2008

Day 33/365 Getting Through The First Great Depression

On this day of rollercoaster stock market rides and financial Twilight Zones, I thought we could look back at the Last Great Depression (my new name for it, since it appears we might be having a Great Depression Sequel).

This lovely house belonged to Nathaniel P. Angle, who was born here in Rocky Mount on September 10, 1861, during the first year of the Civil War. He was married in 1891, and died in 1936, having spent his whole life here in Franklin County.

Nathaniel Angle built an industrial empire and became Rocky Mount's most prominent businessman, almost all due to his work to bring the railroad to town in 1895, opening up markets for tobacco and furniture in then-faraway Lynchburg and Danville. By 1898, Rocky Mount had 600 inhabitants, 100 buildings on lots, two hotels, two factories, a machine shop and 14 stores. Two years later, in 1900, Nathaniel Angle dominated Rocky Mount's manufacturing and commercial economy by developing a variety of businesses, a trend that continued through World War I, and until his death in 1936.

During the Great Depression, Angle's business endeavors were able to keep most of Rocky Mount employed making fertilizer, sewing overalls, processing tobacco and building furniture. Angle approached President Roosevelt directly, and secured major benefits from the Progressive New Deal programs, including the Works Progress Administration and the construction of the Rocky Mount Post Office, as well as the Federal Emergency Administration with improvements to the water and sewer system, plus a research article conducted by the Federal Writer's Project.

Following his death, Nathaniel Angle's businesses continued to grow and profit long after World War II. Today, downtown Rocky Mount still has a business district that bears the Angle name.

I shop regularly at Angle Hardware, famous for having anything you need, and a lot you didn't know you need. It puts Lowes's to shame. This block of Angle buildings are actually circa 1951 - the original buildings that housed the overall factory were destroyed in a huge fire during the winter of 1950.

Nathaniel Angle died in 1936, leaving Rocky Mount much better than he found it, a concept that appears to escape most people these days, whether they be on Wall Street or Main Street, or walking the halls of Congress.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Day 32/ 365 Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Sunday I took the DD to our county's national park: Booker T. Washington National Monument. For those of you who do not remember your American history, Booker T. Washington was one of the most influential Black Americans in the latter 19th century, and the beginning of the 20th century. He hung with folks like W.E. Du Bois, ran Tuskegee Institute for many years, and did more for education of black children in this country than anyone else (in addition to being a guest at the White House). He was also the first Black American to appear on a postage stamp.

The reason we have the National Monument for him is because he was born here in our county, in slavery, to the Burroughs family. At the age of nine, he and his family were emancipated, and off they walked to West Virginia (a two and a half hour drive, over mountains).

The national park has recreated the farm he lived on, the slave quarters, barn, and tobacco barns of his time, all in a rural setting that is down in a small valley, so when you visit, you can block out the modern world.

We took lots of photos Sunday (and argued over the camera a bit), so different aspects of the visit will be in different entries.

Today's story is about one of Virginia's biggest crops - tobacco- sortof our gift to the nation (love it or hate it - it played a huge part in building this nation), and it was not only part of Booker T's past but part of my personal past as well.

When the English arrived here just over 400 years ago, they met Chief Powatan, who ruled over approximately 5 million Native Americans in Eastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore.
His daughter was the famous Pocahontus. Together they introduced the English to tobacco.

The English (commercial scouting being the reason for their road trip to the New World) took tobacco back to England, and hustled back, anxious for more. It quickly became a cash crop, and has remained so for the ensuing centuries.

The top photo is of a tobacco field at Booker T. Most of the leaves are not ready yet - but a few have started to yellow, and then were picked from the bottom up, tied together, and hung over a rack made of branches (in the photo below).

Once it's dry, you can roll it and smoke it, directly.

The process of getting it dry or cured, has changed over the years. In between the rough racks and the modern day drying houses with thermostats and fans, came the picturesque Virginia tobacco barns, built 2-3 stories high of logs chinked with mud and clay, with hanging poles strung across the inside. The hanging poles were loaded with the tobacco shafs, then carefully llifted up and set in place, until the entire inside was layered from top to bottom in hanging leaves. During curing season, a fire would be lit on the ground floor,of the barn and the men would take turns staying in the tobacco barn for days, making sure the fire didn't get too hot, or worse, too cool.

Most tobacco barns have an incredible aroma inside them - no matter how long they've been empty or unused. They are huge inside, all dark and cool and empty. This is the only door, and might be closed up tight during curing, or left open in different positions to control the humidity and the heat.

This is the inside view of Booker T's barn - it's only minimally loaded for an exhibit as they don't cure the tobacco here any longer. Because they aren't controlling the humidity, the tobacco gets mold on it (the whiteish streaks). These racks are hung about six feet over my head, and there's room for at least 3 more hanging levels over this one.

When we first moved here eleven years ago, there were old tobacco barns all over. Until the last couple years, most farming families here grew tobacco and sold it to the commercial companies, picking their crop over a six week period and hauling it to the warehouses, to be piled on the floor, and bid on by the tobacco buyers and auctioneers. Now the trend is towards subsidies and buying out the tobacco farmers. Many of the old tobacco barns have been renovated into guesthouses, antique shops, equipment sheds, corn cribs or workshops, or have just fallen down from age.

While tobacco is not politically correct anymore, it fed and clothed a great many families here in Virginia (including my grandparents), and provided one of the few farming incomes that was commercially viable in a very poor remote region. It's a labor-intensive, backbreaking occupation, but also a craft - curing tobacco is an artform. What they do now with chemicals, the old-time grower could do with the type of plant, the timing of the pick, the drying, and the curing, including the temperature of the fire, how long it was left to burn, and what kind of wood was used. A good tobacco buyer could tell what county a particular shaf of leaves came from, just by the aroma.

Even with all my allergies, I love the smell inside a tobacco farm - it instantly takes me back in time to my grandaddy, watching him roll up a cigarette that he grew himself, then hearing the strike of the match on his shoe, and finally watching the smoke curl up and drift away.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Day 31/365 Why I Never Get Anything Done

Love, Oscar

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Day 30/365 The Magic Nap...Or Blinded By the Light

I promised Chewy that his mom could be the star of today's blog -she's had a traumatic day, with some scary news. Her full name is Millicent MacGregor Muncy, or Miss Millie, and she is an 11-year-old salt and pepper mini schnauzer, three time natural mom, one time adoptive mom, and all-time queen of neurotic dogs.

Millie has issues with opening doors, closing doors, going through doors, vaccuum cleaners (running or not), telephones (ringing or not), empty boxes (that may, or may not fall on her), loud voices (that may or may not be directed at her ) being picked up TOO high (TOO high is a purely discretionary designation and may change at any time), and especially, above all else, clippers, nail trimmers, scissors, or being groomed in any fashion, at any time.

When faced with any of the above, she will work herself into a tizzy, and sometimes hyperventilate while dancing on her tiptoes and chortling.

For this reason, she must be taken to the local groomer at our vet. This involves explaining to her the night before what the next day is bringing, explaining it again to her the next morning while putting her leash on, explaining it yet again in the car on the way to the groomer, and then leaving her there, standing shell-shocked with no idea why she's there and why we appear to be
abandoning her.

Millie's groomer is a wonderful, patient, animal lover-extraordinaire saint named Caitlyn. Both Millie and our family adore her, if for no other reason than she returns Millie to us clean and wiggly and so happy she is just beside herself, complete with stylish bandanna.

Caitlyn accomplishes this by employing The Magic Nap. In other words, Millie goes into the groomer dreading all manner of terrible things. But then, thanks to the miracles of modern chemistry, she gets completely stoned and spends her afternoon partying in a psychotropic haze chasing uncatchable cats, chewing giant squeaky toys, and sucking down a never-ending food bowl full of cheese and bacon.

When she awakens, she is devastatingly beautiful. It is Magic. She has no idea how it works, and regards it as truly an amazing miracle.

Yes, Millie is addicted to The Magic Nap.

Today was Magic Nap Day, and we managed to drop her off this morning without any hyperventilating on her part, still wearing her shaggy summer coat and hair all down over her eyes (which truthfully is pretty normal for a non-show schnauzer).

Late this afternoon we picked her up, all sleek and pretty, looking somewhat like a gray and pink sausage on four toothpicks, but with her sweet little Millie face smiling out at us. She chortled with happiness all the way home.

Unfortunately being able to see her eyes meant we could see that her left eye is badly clouded up. While her right eye is clear and the pupil contracts and expands in the light, her left eye does not. Now we know Millie is blind, or nearly blind in that eye, which probably accounts for her running into the gate, or missing the step sometimes. This sort of blindness is a congenital weakness in schnauzers, but we didn't expect it so early (miniature schnauzers can easily live to 17-18 years of age).

We have sat and talked with her and explained the silver lining in this situation: She can now parlay her chortling talents into a whole new career: she already has a little stool, so now all she needs is a small guitar and some shades. She's quite excited, and is now lying under my desk writing blues tunes in braille.

So this is how Miss Millie sees the world now. Of course our little pup has a comfy home with us no matter what - we will widen the ramp for coming in, so she won't miss her step as easily, and the other dogs will help guide her. The pups have a fenced play yard, so she's in no danger of getting lost, and at any rate, she's never needed her eyes to locate her food bowl.

Life goes on for all of us, and it's rarely fair, even for little pups that have done nothing but bring smiles to those around her.

Love and Kisseys from Chewy's mom, Miss Millie MacGregor Muncy

Friday, September 5, 2008

Day 29/365 Purple Blast

Certain other 365'ers turned *pink* today, and so as not to be outdone, Chewy added a little blue to the pink, and is willing to go only as far as purple.............

Purple butterfly bush blossoms.................

Purple houses.....................

My favorite purple morning glories...............

And me slaving away on ebay in my favorite purple T-shirt...............

And that's as close to pink as we're willing to get.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Day 28/365 Jubal and Julia

Now that my other city is in the clear, I can go back to stories about the current one.

Living in the South, the past is never too far past. Sometimes, it's looking right back at ya.

The photo above is what I call Deer Lane. It's our view off to the right of Court Street, as we start the climb up the hill, to our house at the top (also on the right).

The only traffic that use this little clearing in the trees now are the four-legged kind - usually a doe and her two fawns, although we have often seen a black cat stalking and playing in the open field.

One hundred and forty three years ago, this was an official road here in Rocky Mount. As we stand today, in the middle of the paved Court Street, the phantom road would have stretched straight ahead of us, approximately one block, and then turned left and run up Court Street Hill (parallel to the current paved Court Street), running through what is now a row of green-lawned, garden-filled backyards belonging to my neighbors and myself.

Now why would a small town need 2 parallel roads, , running up the same hill? No houses or stores stood on the phantom road; it was merely a cleared dirt road, approximately the width of a car-and-a-half (or a buggy-and-a-half), complete with occasional wooden split-rail fence on either side.

Even on our property deeds, the phantom road is still drawn in, both physically and legally. The Town of Rocky Mount has a legal right-of-way dating to the late 1700s, allowing them to put a proper street through our backyards if they so desire.

The answer lies in where both Court Street and its phantom road turnoff start from. When looking at the clearing, if you look to the left you see up the hill, to the large historic houses that were the homes of the upper class. If you look to the right, you see a second hill, that leads up to the outskirts of town, home in the 1800's to the servant and slave class of the black community
(actually from the 1800's on - the grade school there now was the black high school until 1972).

This phantom road was constructed and used entirely by the black servants and slaves belonging to the wealthier white upper class families living at the top of Court Street hill.

They were expected to use the back road, rather than walking in plain sight up the main road.
This back road would take them to the specific parts of the homes they would be working in - for example what is now our property had a separate large outdoor kitchen as well as a barn and stable.

At one point in time there was an orchard growing just above our house on the hill ridge, and the phantom road leads on past the former orchard, past some old brick law offices, then directly to the largest most prestigous house on the ridge of the hill itself, a 1700's brick home, built by a cousin of Robert E. Lee.

Did I say "white upper class"? It mostly was. Except when it wasn't.

For those of you who do not live in the South, and do not consume Civil War history with every breathe you take: General Jubal Early was one of the great Confederate commanders, a pivotal force at Bull Run, Marye's Heights, and Gettysburg. He was from Rocky Mount, and had a successful law practice here before The War. General Early did not take to defeat well, and in 1865 fled the U.S., refusing to swear the Union Loyalty Oath. He lived in Mexico awhile, then moved to Toronto and eventually returned home to Rocky Mount to open a law office which still stands about 2 blocks from our house (one of those old quaint brick law offices at the hill ridge). His law office is now the hometown office for our U.S. Congressman, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Before the war, Jubal lived openly with a black woman that bore him three sons. When he left the country after the war, Julia gave up on him and married another Rocky Mount man. Jubal's son's are listed in the 1880 census with the Early name, although Julia and her other three children bear her married name.

For the rest of his life, while living abroad, as well as after his return to Rocky Mount, General Early never married. He supported his and Julia's children until his death, making provision for them in his will.

If you ever read General Early's memoir, written while he was in Toronto, he explains that he is a fervant believer in white supremacy, and the difference between the races, stating that one is inferior to the other.

The puzzle then becomes how to reconcile that view with the man who openly maintained and provided for his black (and only) family, at a time prior to the Civil War, and who returned home to find the mother of his children married to another man. As well as how to reconcile a town that was not merely tolerant, but accepting of Julia, treating her as the lady of the Early house, but then turned and sent its best and brightest sons off to fight in a war that defended ownership of other people (or if you prefer, states rights, since those rights at the time defended ownership of other people).

A puzzle with a man who never, ever, married, and a woman that waited not only four years of war, but an additional three years, until finally giving up and marrying someone else.

That phantom road we pass every day - the one with the doe and the fawns- stretched right up along the backs of all those beautiful houses, right up past the old orchard, and right past Jubal's brick law office.

Every day when we pass it, I always wonder if Julia walked up that road everyday to take Jubal his lunch, and I marvel at how people manage to accept all the constraints society places on them, and still, somehow, move past them and go on to what's really important.