Monday, July 9, 2007

A Fishy Fourth

On July 4th our family - including several cousins, an aunt and uncle, and several small boys that no one wants to claim - converges on Virginia's "Eastern Shore" for a day of visiting and over-eating. If you're not familiar with this area, think of the lower portion of the Delmarva peninsula. If that doesn't jog your memory, you might recall the story of Misty the pony, and her place in the lore of Chincoteague and Assateague Islands. Portions of our family - including Drummonds, Silverthornes, Kilmons, Rues, and Justises - have called Accomac County home since the 1630s. So for us, the annual return is also about returning to one's roots in America, a perfect raison d'etre for our July 4th reunion. (This house, built at the beginning of the 20th century by my great-grandfather, was home to my grandmother and grandfather from the 1960s to the 90s. The wide front porch had a glider at the left end and a porch swing to the right. A daybed under the left window was my father's favorite post-lunch napping spot. Behind the right window there's a parlor with french doors. I remember spending long summer nights here, sweltering in the heat as large fans circulated the humid air.)

The high point of our 4th is a visit to the little Methodist church in which my father was baptised. For about 120 years the congregation has held a seafood feast to celebrate the occasion. We dine on crab cakes, clam fritters, ham, chicken, baked beans, cornbread, and lots of iced tea. (Too enamored with the crab cakes and fritters, I always eschew the salad, dinner rolls and mac-n-cheese.) Then we retreat to the huge porch of a cousin's large, turreted Victorian home in town and spend the afternoon chatting and dozing. Sometimes we take a drive around the countryside, pointing out the various homes and burial grounds that form the tapestry of our family's history in the area.

The town of Parksley itself is quite interesting. Although there are many communities on the Shore that trace their origins to the 17th and 18th centuries, this town was founded when the railroad came through the area in the 1880s. Until the early 1960s this was the primary lifeline for the community. Numerous family members boarded trains here to seek their fortunes elsewhere . . . and some returned at the end of their days to lie in the family plot at the town cemetery. When the Shore was connected to Virginia Beach and the mainland by bridge in 1964, the railroad quickly lost its position of importance. Today the rusty tracks do little more than bisect the Shore, paralleling Rt. 13 most of the way. The little stations that once dotted the route have either been demolished or converted to other uses. The town has at least tried to capitalize on its rail-centric past by starting a railway museum complete with old cars, including some cabooses and some beautiful Pullman cars. This July 4th as we sat on the porch just across the street from the museum and rails, my father and his younger brother recounted occasions when they would walk into town from their little hamlet back on the Bay to greet family members arriving by train.

1 comment:

One Wink at a Time said...

Brian, I'm so jealous of your colorful family history and your wonderful, wonderful relating. I'm so glad you choose to share this with us. I may have said this before, but reading your blog is like reading random chapters from a classic Southern novel. And just as priceless and treasured- by me, anyway. You ever think of writing a book? OMG, that would be so freakin' awesome!