Figs I’ll never forget “Sure, you can walk the grounds, but all of the buildings have been locked.” That permission came to us from the desk clerk at the welcome center of the Patrick Henry National Monument in Red Hill, VA. [Red Hill - Patrick Henry National Memorial Last home and burial place of the "voice of American liberty". Features tour of 7 historic buildings, Henry's grave site and grounds. www.redhill.org]
So we set out. Just behind the welcome center was a path that immediately opened to a spectacular site, buildings that included both original and rebuilt structures used by Patrick Henry and his family. Beyond that was the rest of his almost 3000 acre estate, as beautiful and as beautifully maintained as it ever had been.
Too the far left of the building sites near their forest border was the small family cemetery. One of the graves, Dorothea Henry’s, reminded me of Danville’s chapter of the D.A.R., the Dorothea Henry chapter.
I felt at home there.
That had to do with fruit, not just the three fig bushes that lined the lane to Patrick Henry’s small law office building, but the ripe figs themselves. I picked four of them, delicious mementoes.
But that wasn’t the reason we’d gone to Red Hill; first, we’d visited tiny but sprawling Red House, VA. There we’d followed a road to its end, just as we would do later when we visited Patrick Henry’s home. Although we were visiting people who weren’t famous, their extraordinary kindness marked them as special.
Their family owned all of the land at the end of the road, probably hundreds of acres if each family member’s parcel were counted. Across from Nanny and Eugene lived their sister-in-law; other side of the narrow road was a brother. Opposite his home was their daughter’s trailer. “She has a degree in music from Suwannee,” Nanny told us.
Invited by Nanny a week before to pick from her huge harvest of ripe grapes, we met her and Eugene just after 3:00 p.m. Their warm welcome was sweet as the purple grapes they helped us gather. As we chatted and laughed, it was hard not to sense the same feeling we would have when we visited Patrick Henry’s. There was an abundance of peace and beauty there, an undeniable connection and belonging we witnessed by being there.
Easily now, I can shut my eyes and travel to Nanny’s grapevines and Henry’s hallowed ground. Although Nanny’s family is black and Henry’s was white, that doesn’t matter; the homey feel of both is the same.
At least that’s the way it felt to me yesterday, on my birthday, a day made unique by a special surprise. It was wrapped as an attachment, sent on the Net by my younger daughter in Israel.
Despite being busy with having to move into her new apartment, she’d taken time to make a video to wish me a happy birthday. Admittedly, as I watched I became tearful; her joyfulness and love transfused her message. She was jubilant too because her rabbinical studies had just begun.
Her freedom to choose to do what she wanted seemed more important than ever. Indeed, I could easily imagine Patrick Henry as her freedom-loving Uncle. But I also pictured Nanny as a guardian angel with her welcoming smile. My daughter would have reveled in picking grapes with us, in the camaraderie there.
As for Patrick Henry’s figs, she wouldn’t have resisted those either. I was sure of that when I watched her video. It began with her lighting a candle in a ‘cake’ made just for me.
That cake scene perfected my birthday. She’d inserted my lone candle into a ripe Israeli fig; she’d lit it with a daughter’s love.
Birthdays don’t get much better than the one I’ve just had.
B. Koplen 9/2/12
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