Tag Archives: The South

The Beautiful Things

Photograph by Jose Padua
In Virginia this fat
southern kid
sits by me on
the bus and starts
talking to a man
wearing a baseball cap
who’s sitting across
the aisle from him.
“My daddy once
had this beautiful
antique gun,”
he said.
“It was the most
beautiful thing
I’d ever seen.
But one day he
got mad and busted me
over the head with it,
breaking it into pieces.
I forgave him
for busting me
on the head
but not for
breaking that gun.
It was the most
beautiful thing
in the world.”
The man with
the baseball cap nodded.
He seemed to

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Interview with the Mountain

Photograph by Jose Padua
When I first came to interview the mountain
it said the hour was late, that it was too tired,
that it doubted it had anything of significance
to say, anything worthy of putting in print. The
second time, it said it didn’t trust me, that I was
a foreigner who would never understand its ways,
who had his own agenda that would make the rivers,
the oceans, even the deer and wild cats seem more
important than they really were, and less vindictive,
and more fun. The third time we sat and stared
at each other. I had brought along my lunch and
I bit into my sandwich and sipped my iced tea
as the mountain looked at me in silence, refusing
to eat. The fourth time I brought a friend who drank
whiskey and played songs on his violin, who asked
the mountain what he thought about the moon
and the mountain just said that it didn’t think
about the moon and that it thought about the moon
as often as it thought about us. The fifth time I
brought a book which I read silently to myself
while the mountain slept until well past noon
when it said that it didn’t believe the seasons
were real, that changes in temperature, the drifting
snow, and the turning of the leaves were created
by men and women living in cities who had never
even seen a mountain. The sixth time I took my wife
and my daughter, and my daughter ran around
chasing butterflies while my wife and I breathed
in deeply, looking up at the blue of the sky imagining
the shapes of animals, and not once did we try
to speak to the mountain and not once did we
look at it. The seventh time I climbed slowly
to the top and back down again with my eyes closed,
waiting for the mountain to speak, finally, to say
something about its past. How it’s not as tall
as it once was, how none of us are growing,
how nothing in this world grows for very long,
and how the rivers betrayed him, and the oceans
shifted their weight and went to sleep without
thinking of rescuing him and without showing him
how to swim or build a boat. And how the animals
never taught him how to find cover or how to protect
himself, and why it serves no purpose for man
or moon or bird or flower for a mountain to speak
when everything around him is falling. Then
in the early morning as the shadows took quick
steps toward the city, I left and came back
with a knife and fork and I ate the mountain,
breaking him apart into sand and rocks, gnawing
on the pieces with my monstrous teeth, eating
until I was full, until the mountain was all gone
because I live in the country now, and no longer
have the voices of the city or the cries of sirens
echoing down dark streets, or words of lesser
wisdom to hold me back, and I love the slower
pace of life here, and the way flowers in their
season take all the time they need in blossoming.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Going Up the Country


Standing outside the church in Orange, Virginia, where the funeral for his first wife was just held, my godfather advised me that, “Life. You can never be sure about life. But death. You can be sure about death.” Even though I was only about twelve years old at the time—and even though he spoke them in the most solemn tones imaginable, pausing at all the right places for maximum dramatic effect—I knew that these words of his were far from the most profound I’d ever hear in my life. In fact, I knew that what he’d just said was as useless as a pile of horseshit to a city boy.

Which was what I was, a city boy. A city boy, who for the first time had gone out to where his friends would go whenever they said they were going “to the country” for the weekend. That “the country” had an actual name—Orange, Virginia—I didn’t know until that day. But what I did already know, or at any rate what I felt, was that my godfather, even though he was some sort of respected figure in our corner of the Philippine community in DC, was as far as I could tell something of a flake, at best. And at worst, maybe even a phony.

What did I know? I was twelve years old. But what I saw didn’t impress me. He was maybe sixty years old, a Filipino man in possession of a certain measure of elegance, a man whose attention to each detail of his movements seemed to clash with the rough demeanor of his white, American wife. She was loud, he was soft-spoken. She was fat, he was thin. She was from the country, he was from another country. All that was beside the point, because what I noticed above all and what bothered me was his apparent lack of affection for her.

She was a drunk. I’d hear stories from my parents about how she’d be gone at night for hours, then would come back beaten and bruised from wherever it was she went. It was after one of these episodes when she came home and passed out, and by the time my godfather finally checked on her she was cold and still. Hers was the first funeral I ever attended. Hers was the first dead body I ever saw. And going out to Orange, Virginia for the funeral with my Dad was the first time I ever went out into the country—or at least it the first time I remember going out like that, far from the big city, to the sort of place where, forty years later, I’m now living.


And the thing was, I kind of liked her. Her name was Tammie. She was a coarse, unrefined, double-wide sort of woman with a big raspy laugh who never failed to look you in the eyes, while my godfather always seemed to be looking somewhere else and wishing he were somewhere else and with someone else. I certainly liked Tammie more than I liked my godfather, who was never the sort of person I’d turn to for advice, guidance, and all those other tools for living a godfather was supposed to be able to provide. And even though Tammie was no beauty at that point, I could tell by her eyes, by her cheeks, and by those stray moments when she’d hold her chin up high as if everyone looked like shit next to her, that she was once stunning.

And I could tell because the daughter Tammie and my godfather had, the daughter who was the mother of the earliest friends I remember, had the most beautiful eyes. Small, shy, and quiet, she was framed more like her father than her mother, but one thing she got from Tammie were those eyes, eyes that even when they were looking off into the distance made you think she was actually looking at you. That daughter’s marriage also broke up, and I wondered if the fifties, when my friends and I were born, was just some hot and heavy time when everything was loose up until that moment when someone got pregnant, after which it was time to get down to the business of raising the child. A business some of them weren’t prepared for or were reluctant to get into. Of course, then, their choices were more limited, in a lot of ways. Or at any rate, a choice was a lot harder to come by.

Then, one night last summer, as Heather, Maggie, Julien and I were heading down to Main Street where Maggie’s voice and piano teacher would be performing outdoors at the Gazebo, Maggie noticed something on the side of the front porch steps. And what she saw were two big leopard slugs, and the leopard slugs were doing it. Seeing two creatures in the act isn’t all that unusual a thing, but leopard slugs are a different matter altogether. These slugs are all hermaphrodites, and when two slugs get together they lick each other for awhile, after which a long and slimy white penis emerges from each slug, then together they intertwine; after sperm is exchanged, each slug can go off and lay its eggs. That’s when things are going nicely. Sometimes, though, they have difficulty separating. That’s when one or sometimes both slugs will chew off the other’s penis.

As Heather, Maggie, and I were watching this take place of the side of our front steps, Maggie kept saying, “Oh my God!” She was grossed out and didn’t understand what the slugs were doing, but at the same time she couldn’t stop watching them.

When the slugs were done, we finally started moving down the sidewalk. Maggie kept asking, “What were they doing? What were they doing?”

I briefly considered saying, “Life. You can never be sure about life…,” except I’d adapt it to the situation at hand: “But making babies. You can be sure about making babies.” That, I realized almost immediately, would be just as lame as what I’d been told forty years earlier. Because after a life lived together, even if it didn’t turn out the way he’d wanted it to, there had to be something better to say. Something to say to me, his godchild. Something to pass on to the younger generation.

As it was, neither Heather nor I were quite ready to explain to Maggie what the slugs were doing. To say that sometimes, whether it’s people or animals, things get kind of weird and messy and unpleasant. “It’s kind of a grown up thing,” Heather finally explained. Then we continued walking down the street.

As we got closer, we wondered why we still couldn’t hear the music from the Gazebo, then wondered if the show had been cancelled, or brought indoors because of the possibility of thunderstorms. But we kept on walking.

This photograph shows Maggie, in silhouette, standing on the corner at the point where we started to hear the music.

-Jose Padua


HomeHome. For me that’s been a house, an apartment, maybe even a neighborhood, and, at certain points in my life, a bar. But it has never been a term I associate with any monolithic ideal of a country, especially not the United States, even though I’ve lived here all my life. I’m not one to go around waving the flag screaming “USA! USA!—I actually find that sort of behavior rather scary. This observation angers a lot of people and usually elicits a response like, “Well, then, if you don’t feel at home here, why don’t you go back to your own damn country?”

It’s similar to the reaction you’ll often get if you tell someone you don’t believe in God. I actually do believe in some sort of God, but not the one that requires that you bow down before him and praise him (and this God is, invariably, always a he). But when someone automatically assumes that I share his or her vision of God, I’ll more often than not say something shocking to get that person to change the subject or, better yet, leave me alone.

The difference is that although you can conceal what you believe or don’t believe, if someone thinks you look like you’re from another country, there’s nothing you can do to conceal this. I remember riding a Greyhound bus through the southwestern United States in the 80s. Every now and then state troopers would hop on  at rest stops, right before we thought we’d be moving on again. The troopers would go down the aisle of the bus, looking at the passengers. When they got to me, they’d have questions, such as, “Do you have your passport?” or “Do you have your papers?” One time, a trooper even asked me if I had my birth certificate.

“No, I don’t have my birth certificate,” I answered. “I’m a citizen. I have a driver’s license if you want to see it.”

After I offered my driver’s license, the trooper would then move down the aisle to see if there was anyone else who looked like an illegal alien.

Sometimes I’m able to laugh, as when the parents of the bride at a wedding I attended asked (when I introduced myself to them in English, the only language I speak) what language I was speaking (they’d had a few drinks). Then, there was another time at Chief Ike’s Mambo Room in Washington, DC, when a drunken woman demanded I tell her what country I’m from.

“I’m from here,” I told her.

She then started to speak more loudly, and more slowly, as if that would make me understand her question, “I. SAID. WHERE. ARE. YOU. FROM?”

That’s when I usually walk away from a conversation that’s obviously going nowhere.

I don’t get the question about my origin much, here in Front Royal. What I do get is that look, as one time when I went into the South Street Diner with Heather and Maggie and a middle aged woman suddenly lifted her head up when I entered and gawked. Then there was that time Heather and I took a break during the day and ate at L-Dee’s on Main Street and a man sitting across from us practically stared at me the entire time. Leaving the diner, we saw a car with a bumper sticker saying “If You Can Read This Thank A Teacher. If You Can Read This In English Thank A Soldier!”

I think the odds were at least even that that car belonged to the guy who stared at me.

This past week, though, when I picked Maggie up from her summer camp, one of her friends asked me, “Are you from China?” I wasn’t quite sure how she felt about my looking like I’m from somewhere else.

“Well,” I answered, “I was born here. But my parents are from the Philippines.”

“The Philippines?” she said. “Wow! That’s awesome!”

It’s not often that I get such an enthusiastic response regarding my heritage. And when I was her age I wasn’t enthusiastic about it either. I wanted to be an American, a real American, and it took me years to realize that I already was a real American, despite what some people may think. Because my America includes people who can trace their heritage to South America, Africa, and Asia, not just Europe. It also includes people who just stepped off a plane as recently as yesterday. And people who somehow walked, or swam here.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t still feel like a visitor here much of the time, like someone who was passing through but whose car broke down on Main Street.

Main Street—it’s not where I wanted to be stranded, but then I couldn’t afford to be stranded on Park Avenue in New York or even M Street in DC. Now, Main Street is where I go whenever I feel like stepping out of the house for a walk. No more leisurely strolls up Broadway toward Times Square for me, no promenading across the Duke Ellington Bridge over Rock Creek Park. It’s Main Street for me, where I sit at one of the iron tables outside the Daily Grind on nice days, sipping my coffee.

The last time I sat there I had a song going through my head. It didn’t seem like the right place for me to think about this song, but there I was, hearing Rahsaan Roland Kirk doing his version of “Goodbye Porkpie Hat”:

He put all of his soul
into a tenor saxophone
He had his way of talking,
’twas a language all his own

Life’s story – Love and Glory
If you listen
While he plays it for you
now listen
and listen
and dig it

Can’t you dig it?
Lester Young is playing
what he’s feeling
Dealing and dancing on home.

But was he really saying “home” at the end? I was never quite sure about that last line, whether he actually sang the word “home” or had just stopped the words and began to hum, like someone on a long, long walk who has to do something to pass the time until he gets wherever he’s going.

-Jose Padua

Driving with My Daughter

Driving3Music was the first line of defense for me in battling the strangeness I felt when we moved here. Our new house here was no problem (I actually felt at home in it much more quickly than at the house we had in a neighborhood called Hollin Hall in Alexandria, near Mt. Vernon). It was when I stepped out of the house that was the problem—this feeling I had that I was lost inside this dream that was so strange I didn’t know if I should laugh or run away in fear.

Before moving here, I’d lived only in big cities like Washington, DC and New York, where there’s a diverse population. Being an Asian-American, I tend to stand out here in Warren County. Disappearing into the crowd, such as it is here, is not an option for me.

One might consider it an exaggeration to say that whenever I leave our house here that I leave prepared to do battle. I know it doesn’t compare to when a soldier steps into the middle of some kill or be-killed situation. And, most of the time, things are fine. But I feel I always have to be ready for that moment when, with my status as a human being called into question, I have to be ready for battle.

I don’t drink the way I used to—and besides, I was never one to mix that with driving. But I needed something to keep me focused on the task at hand whenever I left the house: driving to the Martin’s for groceries, to the Lowe’s for house supplies, and most importantly, taking our daughter Maggie to and from school. I needed something to keep me strong, fearless, and alert, and the one thing I knew would work for sure was Parliament Funkadelic. P-Funk.

Whenever I took Maggie to or from school, to the doctor—or anywhere else I took her while Heather did the day job back in DC—I played P-Funk’s Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome:

On guard!
Defend yourself!
We shall overcome
Where did you get that funk from?

Soon, I added One Nation Under a Groove, Hardcore Jollies, and Maggot Brain to the P-Funk playlist. It seemed to work, and I felt, somehow, at home riding around the streets of Front Royal. And although Maggie may not have needed this music the way I did, she, at the very least, seemed to want it. “Always play P-Funk,” she advised me whenever we went for a drive. She was, at the time, just a little over four years old.

After a while, though, it was time to move on to other music, so I began playing Sun Ra during our drives through town. I played a wide range of his music, from his early—and more conventional—albums like Jazz in Silhouette to his wilder avant garde sessions like The Magic City. I was surprised that Maggie usually wanted me to play Sun Ra’s “weirder stuff.”

As we went along, the music kept changing. When I first played one of the discs from The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs, Maggie was hooked. This was also the music that first moved her to try to sing along, as on a drive to Shepherdstown, West Virginia, when she sang,

You can’t use a bulldozer
To study orchids, he said
We don’t know anything
You don’t know anything
I don’t know anything about love

Among the other music I’ve played for Maggie in the car since we moved here are The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Les Stances a Sophie, Miles Davis’s A Tribute to Jack Johnson, The Go-Betweens’ 16 Lovers Lane, plus miscellaneous songs by King Sunny Ade, Pizzicato Five, and Serge Gainsbourg.

Then, this past summer, her favorite songs were from a mix-CD I made for our trip to the beach, and when we got back to town, that was still all she wanted to hear for the next three weeks. So I played songs like LCD Soundsystem’s “North American Scum” and The Smiths’ “Sheila Take a Bow” over and over again as Maggie sang along:

Sheila take a
Sheila take a bow
Boot the grime of this world
In the crotch dear.

Of course, as one friend pointed out, she has no idea what she is singing about. But then, she always asks questions. And although I know she can’t fully understand the explanations Heather or I try to give her, she gets a start, an inkling, an idea—and perhaps even a certain well of strength from which she may draw when the need arises.

And that’s what I try to give her in the music I play while we’re driving. Maybe, somehow, it can help her deal with those unpleasant situations we’ll find ourselves in from time to time, like last week when, after picking her up from her summer arts camp, I took her to the new ice cream shop that had opened up downtown.

As soon as we walked in, I felt it—that tension in the air and the feeling that silence has suddenly swallowed up whatever conversation had been taking place in the room. When the young woman behind the counter looked at us it wasn’t a look that said she was just tired, mean, all business, or just had an attitude. I’d seen plenty of attitude, plenty of tired, cranky people on the other side of the counter when I lived in New York. This was a different look, a look I’d come to recognize and differentiate from simple attitude.

It’s a way of looking at someone without seeing him, without recognizing him. It’s a way of saying, ultimately, “you’re not one of us.” Sometimes it’s said politely, with perhaps a touch of genuine curiosity, as a couple of weekends ago when a man waiting in line at the McDonald’s on South Street asked my older brother Tony, who was here with the rest of my family for a visit from DC, “I don’t mean to be rude, but what country are you from?”

At the ice cream shop the young woman behind the counter and her co-worker, who was sitting at one of the tables, expressed no such curiosity. To them, it didn’t much matter where I was from. She simply asked, with a blank expression on her face and in a voice that was barely audible, for my order. When she gave us our ice cream and I said “thank you” she said nothing, and turned, as if she couldn’t wait to get away from me and my daughter.

Walking out the door I told Maggie we wouldn’t be going back to this ice cream shop again—it just wasn’t worth it. Besides, there were plenty of other places in town where the people were fine. I tried to say it calmly. But, knowing right away that I was angry about something, she started crying.

I held her hand and we walked back to the mini-van. Maggie stepped inside and buckled her seat belt. When I turned on the ignition, the music came on automatically, but softly. As we drove back to the house, I turned the volume up, hoping that what she remembers most from this day is the music, and not this place.

-Jose Padua

Ladies Who Go Hack in the Night

LadyHack3When I step out of my house at 4:15 a.m. three days a week to catch my commuter bus, I am only marginally awake. I’ve discovered it’s entirely possible to drive to the park- and-ride lot while in a dream state. Buildings and side streets glide by of their own accord under the traffic lights’ silky glow. Often, I prefer this time of day because it is so pure, like a beach emptied of tourists. At this hour, Front Royal could be almost any place.

You don’t see too many other human beings at four a.m., not until you reach the park-and-ride lot. I might see one other vehicle roll down my street now and then as I’m getting into my car. Rarely, there’ll be a teenager strolling down the sidewalk to or from the 24-hour McDonalds.

Despite or maybe because of this quiet, I have a compulsive habit of looking in my backseat as I get into the car. Even though I never watch horror flicks, I’m always happy to be safely on my way with the doors locked. About a year after I started my commute, we installed a motion-triggered flood light above the front porch—don’t know if it would scare anyone away but it makes me feel better.

Still, two days ago, I got the most interesting reminder about what undiluted fear feels like. I’d completed all my morning preparations—showered, dressed, brushed my teeth, fed the cat, made my daughter’s lunch. Finally, ready to go, I set the alarm, opened the front door, and stepped out within the allotted 75 seconds. Juggling my laptop bag and purse, I held the door shut with one hand and started to slip the key into the lock with the other.

A guttural shout came from behind me, over my left shoulder. It was completely incomprehensible—loud, rough, and quick. My heart flew to my throat and time turned slow motion as I swiveled toward the sound. I heard words come out of my mouth but I could swear they were slurred, as if I had swallowed a large dose of valium with breakfast. They must have formed something like, “What did you say?” but to my ears they were an aural blob, sheer terror.

The shout had come from someone standing below me on the sidewalk about twenty feet away, a middle-aged woman with short, dirty-blonde hair. My pulse pounding, I asked more clearly, “What?”

“You got a cigarette?” she asked as if we were sitting next to each other at some dive bar, sharing a laugh and a drink. Her voice was all sandpaper and phlegm wrapped up in a southern drawl.

“No, I don’t smoke,” I shouted back, more than a little annoyed and a bit self-righteous.

“Oh,” she said, and shuffled on her way.

I looked around carefully before I got into the car, every sense still on alert despite the obvious absence of danger. She had hardly been a threatening figure, but I couldn’t believe how easily my body locked down, ready to fight or run. It had been a long time since I’d felt that kind of fear. At least this time, it was a false alarm.

I’m still royally pissed at that woman for scaring the crap out of me but the whole incident was so Front Royal. What would my new town be without the middle-aged, early-morning cigarette bummers? If I were still a smoker, I probably would have given her one, maybe had one with her, maybe asked her why she was walking down the street at such an ungodly hour.

Now I’ll never know—unless she has a regular schedule and a regular route that’ll bring us back together at 4:15 a.m. This time, you’d better believe, I’ll be ready for her.

-Heather Davis

Heart of Glass

HeartOfGlassI sat on our front porch, waiting for Heather to come home, while Maggie sat inside watching a particular episode of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody for perhaps the 10th time. Maggie doesn’t let me make suggestions for things to watch on television anymore—not after she noticed the DVD of Werner Herzog’s Heart of Glass on the table and asked what it was.

“Well, you want to watch it?” I asked. “It’s about this town where the people have all gone mad. And also, the whole cast, except for one person, is hypnotized!”

Maggie was intrigued, so I put it on. She actually made it a third of the way through before falling asleep (I, on the other hand, had seen it five or six times, and not once had I fallen asleep while watching it). Now, if you ask Maggie what’s the worst movie she’s ever seen, she always says, “Heart of Glass.”

“It’s so boring,” she explains. “And everyone’s hypnotized,” she adds, as the detail that once intrigued her is now the most horrible thing about it.

So I stepped outside with my early evening cup of coffee, not being in the mood to watch the scene where Maddie Fitzpatrick (Ashley Tisdale) takes in the suddenly penniless London Tipton (Brenda Song). Sometimes I bring a magazine to read when I sit on the porch, but other times all I need to do to entertain myself here is to watch the people going by.

I was on the porch for about five minutes when a young woman driving a beat up old boat of a car held out her middle finger as she drove by our house. I wondered what it was that offended her. Was it the Obama sign that we never took down after the election? Was that what pissed her off? Perhaps I had gained the ability to piss someone off just by sitting on my front porch. Or, I wondered, had the town suddenly gone mad, like in Heart of Glass?

But walking into view from the left was one of those young shirtless guys with the bad tattoos. As the car moved ahead he turned around and looked back at the woman in the car, then raised his own middle finger to salute her in return.

“Fuck you,” he muttered in disgust. “Fuckin’ bitch.”

I was embarrassed, having assumed that that middle finger was meant for me when it was meant for someone else. I was disappointed, too. I tried to catch the shirtless guy’s eye so that I might share in his sense of disgust, but he kept moving on. I guess he had shit to do. And probably other women to piss off.

-Jose Padua
Photo: Josef Bierbichler in Werner Herzog’s Heart of Glass.

Jonesin’ for Blueberry Sno-Cones: The God’s Unvarnished Truth

Jonesin2You know how sometimes, if you aren’t trying, you can have a nearly perfect day? This past Saturday in Front Royal came pretty close to perfect, which surprises me even as I write this on a Monday morning at 6 am surrounded by high-rise office buildings in Rosslyn.

That morning, my daughter Maggie and I rose early, around 7:30 am, leaving Daddy to sleep in since he’s a notorious night owl. After Maggie scarfed down her egg, ham, and cheese sandwich left over from our visit to The Daily Grind two nights before and I finished a bowl of the obligatory shredded wheat cereal, we went for a power walk around town.

I call it a power walk, but with a 6 year-old in tow, it was more like a stroll. Every few feet Maggie saw something on the ground she wanted to look at. Eventually, we made our way down to Main Street and past the empty storefront being used to display local artwork. The sun shone brightly on the massive baskets of pink and purple petunias hanging from the light poles near the visitor’s center. The slightly humid air had warmed up quickly.

We marched past the secondhand store run by the women’s shelter, the bank/arts council, the coffee shop, the fabric store, the computer shop, the Catholic store, the Lucky Star Lounge, the furniture store, and the movie theatre, before Maggie whined that the snazzy black boots I told her not to wear were hurting her feet. I suggested that we cut our walk short and head over the new farmer’s market behind the gazebo—so much for Mommy’s kick-ass workout.

Front Royal had been lacking a farmer’s market for years, which was odd because there are lots of farms in and around town. Ironically, an old neighbor of ours from Alexandria now runs a farmer’s market in Strasburg. But Strasburg is twenty minutes away—too far for a quick trip to pick up veggies.

Lots of folks here were thrilled to hear that a local market would be starting up, selling produce and other goods on Thursday nights and Saturday mornings. Jose and I had wanted to check it out for weeks but were just too busy. Finally, last Thursday, we made it over.

Under one of about 12 small white tents, we chatted with the market’s manager and his wife who we’d met some months before when the wife ran up to me at the grocery store and introduced herself. She’d seen Jose and I read poems at The Daily Grind. Like us, they’d moved to Warren County from the northern VA suburbs.

That night at the market, Maggie played with one her classmates between the tents while we bought some Swiss chard, tomatoes, zucchini, and squash. I vowed to actually cook the stuff, not just feel virtuous about buying it, which is usually as far as I get in my quest to be an organic, locavore mommy.

As Maggie and I entered the farmer’s market again on Saturday morning, she headed straight for the sno-cone table. She had discovered on our earlier trip that the blueberry sno-cones, made with real fruit syrup, were strangely more tasty than the variety enhanced by blue dye #2.

Just as on Thursday night, a man and woman sitting off to the side played guitar and sang some folksy farmer’s market shopping music. About five minutes after Maggie started in on her sno-cone, a lady selling herbs and homemade scones scurried over with a paper towel to mop up the sticky mess decorating her face and shirt. I thanked her profusely.

The whole scene had that easy Saturday morning kind of feeling, as if no one there could possibly have a care in the world (except maybe for the frowning, bleary-eyed woman smoking a cigarette by the visitor’s center).

In the end, I bought three peach muffins from a woman who grinds her own flour and then window-shopped the offerings at the other tents—scented oils and bath salts, candles, soaps, honey, fruits and vegetables, meats, organic pizzas, and hand-embroidered towels and aprons. Those aprons were the only product that scared me a little since many of them depicted curly crosses and avenging angels.

The rest of our day flew by. After Maggie and I got home, I threw her in the tub for a quick bath, then we hung out at a birthday party in the wilderness near Skyline Drive, read some poems to teens at the library, ran to the Hair Cuttery to get Maggie’s hair chopped into a sassy bob/shag kind of thing (which she requested out of the blue), ate dinner at home (including the recently purchased Swiss chard), and finally headed off to a movie—I couldn’t wait to sit down and relax, though Jose feared he might fall asleep.

Despite the fact that we can walk to the theater, we drove down and parked half a block from Front Royal’s only movie house, the Royal Cinemas. Built in 1920, it shows three first-run movies at a time in one large and two small screening rooms. Sometimes we catch a film mid-week when almost no one else is there—it’s like having your own home theater.

I was eager to see this particular film since I had just finished reading the book (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince). Maggie was excited too since she had seen all of the previous Harry Potter movies. Halfway through though, exhausted from our long day, she asked to go home. I held her on my lap as the sad story reached its peak and wound down. I tried not to ball my eyes out at the ending—I’m a sucker for young adult fantasy. I was tired also and looking forward to a soft, if unmade, bed and a sound eight-hour sleep.

Main Street felt almost city-like as we stepped out onto the sidewalk in the bright lights of the marquee. We walked to our car past the Lucky Star Lounge where local bands play just about every night of the week. We used to take Maggie there with us for a late night snack once in a while but kids are no longer allowed in after 9 PM—this is annoying but we’ll just have to get a babysitter next time—it’s about the only night life Front Royal has to offer.

We clambered into the van and drove home around the block, Maggie falling asleep in her seat. The day had been busy but good. As we dragged Maggie into the house and up to bed, I wondered if she would dream of Harry Potter, of his dark blue eyes and bookish glasses. Maybe she’d spend the night sharing an organic blueberry sno-cone with him at a quiet little farmer’s market just down the block.

-Heather Davis

So Early in the Morning

SoEarlyNow and then I hear it coming in from the distance here. It’s not the usual horrible pop country music (the big act this past summer at the Warren County fairgrounds was Montgomery Gentry). It wasn’t even one of the great country singers (Merle Haggard, who played the fairgrounds right before we moved here). No, it’s a sound that reminds me of the streets of DC, a sound which, in fact, began there: Go-Go music. It got louder and louder as I sat outside the Daily Grind on Main Street and started bobbing my head up and down.

The first time, it was a Sunday morning, and inside the coffee shop was a crowd of people who’d just gotten out of church. It was the usual Front Royal Sunday: some clean, mostly nice and polite folks, neatly dressed. Here and there you’d see a teenage girl wearing a frontier dress and looking like she’d never spoken a single word in her life. Of course maybe that’s just me reading into it, but that was why I looked for a seat outside, and that’s when I heard it, as the rusty brown Pontiac GTO got closer and closer:

Can we drop the bomb on the south-east crew?
Drop the bomb, drop the bomb
Now south-east crew, now whatcha gonna do?
Drop the bomb, drop the bomb…

It was the sound of Trouble Funk, infiltrating a quiet Main Street morning. And the bomb they were singing about was not a weapon of mass destruction.

I see and hear the Pontiac GTO every now and then, and it’s always go-go blasting from it. Sometimes it’s Trouble Funk. Other times it’s Experience Unlimited or Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-Go. But whatever the song, I always feel a little bit less lost when I hear it coming, and it always makes my day.

-Jose Padua

Soft Focus Civil War

KunstlerPostcard2If you frequent restaurants and coffee shops in the Shenandoah Valley, you can’t avoid paintings by Mort Künstler, an artist who reminds me a lot of Thomas Kinkade, though his subject is the Civil War and not cozy little cottages.

Soon after we moved to Front Royal, Jose and I started seeing these artworks everywhere—on the walls of The Daily Grind and in gift shops, hotels, and antique stores.

Typically, they depict an historical scene from the Civil War era in a style I can only describe as romantic realist cheese—think Norman Rockwell but without the cheeky humor. They have a certain glow about them calculated to elicit nostalgia and patriotism at every viewing.

Though they are schmaltzy as all get out, people here love ‘em. What Confederate flag-waving southerner wouldn’t? How glorious were the soldiers, how noble the steeds, how dramatic the sky!

These painting give folks here something grand to grab onto, scenes that read like legend and fantasy despite their historical accuracy.

Clearly, I have a bit of a complex about these paintings. We received a postcard in the mail recently announcing a new work by Mort called The Autograph Seekers of Bel Air, which depicts General Lee visiting Front Royal on July 22, 1863. It was such big art news, I put it on our refrigerator.

It is a lovely pastel vision. All that is missing from the painting is a thatched cottage, a country lane, and a few golden highlights on the river. Maybe Mort and Thomas could collaborate on something, a new piece called “Candlelit Cottage Filled with Moaning Civil War Amputees.”

As a respected illustrator of books, magazines, and advertisements, Mr. Künstler’s work does seem to be a cut above Kinkade’s technically, but sometimes it’s hard to tell.

Actually, I wouldn’t mind having Mr. Künstler’s prints scattered around town, if they were his poster and books illustrations from the 1960’s and 70s instead of the Civil War fluff.

Check out this fantastic box art for this toy from the 1960s, the “Lost in Space All Plastic Assembly Kit” complete with “one-eyed monster, giant boulders, the Robinson Family and their interplanetary space vehicle.”

Or enjoy this illustration for the “Wonder Weave Loom.” It is “excitingly different… anyone can do it…”

Mort’s movie posters also rock:

And who could resist buying these paperback books with cover art by Mort:

14 Seconds to Hell

Kill Quick or Die

But my favorite has got to be this ad for a product called “Bacchus Aftershave.” It is “The Incredible Aftershave That Conquered the World.” If this were still available, I’d buy it for Jose in a heartbeat.

To be fair, Mr. Künstler seems like a nice guy and an upstanding citizen. He contributes generously to the Timber Ridge School in Winchester, which serves needy young men. He also doesn’t seem to be nearly as strange as Mr. Kinkade, whose weirder habits and business fraud you can read about on Wikipedia. Truly, he is one of the creepiest artists who has ever lived.

All in all, I think Mr. Künstler’s early illustrations just about make up for his later Civil War indulgences. I would be proud to own any one of the prints listed above—they are beautiful and surprising, full of an authentic irony.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to afford one.

-Heather Davis