Monday, February 8, 2016

Celebrating Our Family's 12th Anniversary In Virginia

Sao family, circa late summer 2004. 
On this date 12 years ago, Feb. 8, 2004, we arrived on the eastern outskirts of Nashville, Tenn., a family of 11 journeying across the U.S. via Interstate 40. Several days before we had bid our goodbyes to the West Coast and pointed our packed 12-passenger van east, leaving behind my beloved Oregon -- where I gladly spent my first 35 years -- to stake our claim in Gloucester, Va. We had first traveled south to Disneyland and after a long, glorious day in the happiest place on earth we were hitting the road.

I have a few distinct memories of our trip across the country. Beginning with Los Angeles traffic. We made it as far as Barstow, Calif., that first night. Not quite Williams, Ariz., my planned destination thanks to a -- surprise! -- clogged freeway heading out of LA. The next day, Feb. 6, 2004, dawned clear and cold. Evie would celebrate her 7th birthday in three states that day. On Feb. 7, 2004, MerriGrace would throw up in three states.

From Barstow we made it to Albuquerque, N.M. I remember swimming in an indoor/outdoor pool at our motel and Brenton becoming a human scab after an unfortunate incident on a fitness room treadmill. Next stop, Henryetta, Okla., where we stayed in a motel that I do believe had the worst "breakfast" I've ever had in my life. I also remember nearly freezing to death unpacking the van that night as an Arctic wind howled down off the Great Plains.

As we headed to Nashville 12 years ago today, we stopped for gas in a little outpost off the freeway in Arkansas. Somehow I avoided becoming a human ice cube filling up the van and ducked inside the convenience store for supplies and food stuffs. While waiting in line, a man struck up a conversation with me. I had no idea what he was saying and apologized before asking him what he said. We went back and forth about two or three times before I figured out that in backwoods country Arkansas, the word "wind" has three syllables. Maybe four. He was talking about the cold wind.

We would make it eventually, well technically the next day, to Gloucester, Va., where we hunkered down in two rooms at the Comfort Inn, right next door to the Winn-Dixie. RIP Gloucester Winn-Dixie, a death caused by the opening of the nearby Wal-Mart Supercenter. There were still people living in the Comfort Inn who were waiting for their houses to get patched up from getting bushwhacked by Hurricane Isabel, five months after she had barreled through the county. And every morning at the continental breakfast we were greeted by grandmotherly Miss Bernice.

The kids remember playing in the snow in the woods out back of the motel. I remember hearing tree frogs hollering from the woods one day and thinking we were under attack. We got turned down three or four times for rentals, always with the same story: Either the well or septic system, or both, would in no way, shape, or form handle the volumes a family of 11 would surely consume and produce. Never mind that even with a bunch more kids since then we would never have a water or septic system problem in all the years of living here.

We spent a fortnight plus one in the Comfort Inn before we found temporary housing until our house in Oregon sold. We were able to close on a place of our own in the woods a stone's throw from Burkes Mill Pond. We've moved around plenty since we've been here. From Mill Pond Road to a new home on Ark Road, where out back of the house and a football field away, down by a mountainous gum tree, a stream trickled right out of the side of a hill.

Then it was on to a big house in a new subdivision off of Belroi Road ,where one night a micro-burst -- that's weatherman talk for a mini-twister -- dropped a neighbor's tree in our yard. It narrowly missed our house but it pitched a limb from the tree right through our bedroom window, prompting an unexpected tumult that was like a shotgun blast for an alarm clock. This was at midnight and I've never seen Julie move so fast. To this day I'm positive I heard the sound of a train right before that limb tore through our window. Mind you, there's no trains in Gloucester.

From there we moved down the county to a Marshall Lane rancher in a peaceful neighborhood at the Point. It's where my kids walk a few blocks to the beach and fish minnows and little blue crabs out of a salty York River inlet not far from where the big rivah eases gently into Cheseapeake Bay.

We've had a grand time here in Gloucester. It's the only place where I've been asked more than once if I'm a Yankee. That makes me laugh. I usually answer that Oregon didn't become a state until 1859 and thanks to its relative newness, a general lack of a supply of able-bodied men and its great distance from the action in Virginia and elsewhere on the bloody Southern battlefields, the War of Northern Aggression wasn't really our scrap. Truth be told, however, I guess I am a Yankee seeing as how I count Ethan Allen of Vermont's Green Mountain Boys fame as an ancestor. But let's just keep that between us.

I usually greet people with a lively, "Howdy," something I trace back to my roots east of Oregon's splendid Cascade Mountains range. I guess people aren't used to my Oregon howdy because sometimes I have people respond, "Ah'm fah-ahn thanks, how're y'all doin'?" I've been asked about my accent, even though I've never known an Oregonian, not even those out east in John Day, Burns, or heck, metropolitan Fossil, to have one. I've been introduced to okra and collard greens, the glories of Chesapeake Bay, country ham biscuits and the best rivah sunsets in all of Virginia. Or anywhere for that matter.

I admit it. There's things I miss about Oregon. That meadow between the groves of towering ponderosa pines just east of Sisters alongside Highway 20 where the snow capped Three Sisters mountains seem to take up the whole sky. I can't ever help but stare at the awesome sight. Or the amazingly vibrant colors of the Painted Hills outside of Mitchell, where God got crazy with the paintbrush. Or the nights staring up in awe at the High Desert skies without a tree or a city light for a hundred miles to hide a single star that, as the prophet Isaiah tells us, like the millions of other stars in the Milky Way was hung in place and named by God.

My home  -- our home -- is here in Gloucester now. You know the place. Where one day in February the kids are playing soccer in the yard in shorts and t-shirts and two days later they're making Olaf out of the snow. Where the Coleman Bridge spans the York River at its narrowest point, a full three-quarters of a mile wide and where dolphins frolic in the summer. It's the same place Pocahontas called home and where she intervened, as the story goes, to ensure John Smith wasn't the first Englishman to get his head lopped off in the New World.

It's also where, in 1642, an Englishman named Augustine Warner settled by a branch of the Severn River and whose most famous descendant, a great- great-grandson, was a man by the name of George Washington. Yes, that George Washington. And, of course, a Confederate general and Southern icon named Bobby Lee traced his lineage back to ol' Augie Warner.

It's an amazing place, populated by a great many people with whom we've made enduring memories. I expect many more memories to come, even if it doesn't involve another Sabo baby. I can't imagine living anywhere else. Twelve years on now and Gloucester is the place we Sabos call home.

Augie Warner's old place, now a B&B known as The Inn at Warner Hall


  1. Great read! Thanks, Matt. Good to hear about the place you call home.

  2. @bolivar -- Thanks Jeremy! I hope all is well with you out West.