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Greeting, my fellow port swillers!
Ol’ Robbo finds himself watching a program on the Military History channel this evening about “odd” and “bizarre” weapons ideas over the years.
The overall tone of the show is pretty snarky, as in some cases is fairly justified. But one of the topics covered was the Japanese balloon bombs of WWII that were launched against the American west coast. The show laughs them off as being random and ineffective, but ignores an incident that I recall from somewhere in the Pacific Northwest where a parson and his family stumbled across one while on a picnic. If I remember correctly without looking it up, the thing went off and killed most of them.
Ha, jolly, ha.
On the other hand, the show feels compelled to issue content warnings before sections dealing with weapons systems involving pigeons and bats.
What a stupid, stupid time in which we live.
Yeah, think I’ll go read a book.
BTW, I’m reminded again of a story that Churchill became interested in a project to train seagulls to poop on German U-boat periscope lenses. Dunno if that was true, but if not, it should have been.
Update: Looked it up but can’t link here because I’m on my phone: the incident occurred May 5, 1945, in Oregon. Church outing. Five kids and the pastor’s pregnant wife were killed. Not a good story line for a flippant show about “weird” killing machines. Feh.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
The other evening Ol’ Robbo ran off the 1955 Howard Hawks moovie, “Land of the Pharaohs“. I had watched it once before about four or five years ago (indeed, I might have posted about it but am too lazy to check) and wanted to come back for a second look.
It’s an odd duck of a film. Hawks, of course, was a legendary director – working with such heavyweights as The Dook, Cary Grant, Bogart, Bacall, and Kate Hepburn, among others. But so far as I can see, he mostly did westerns, war pictures, thrillers, and screwball comedies: A cast-of-thousands ancient epic like this one seems to be a definite outlier for him. Also, I couldn’t help noticing that one of the writers for the film was William Faulkner. (Yes, that William Faulkner.)
In the picture, Pharaoh Khufu, fabulously wealthy and successful, becomes obsessed with constructing a pyramid tomb for himself that will be completely bandit-proof, allowing him to enjoy his riches in the “next life” undisturbed. To this end, he engages the services of a master-architect, a prisoner from one of his recent conquests. Meanwhile, Khufu meets and marries (as his second wife) a feisty princess (Nellifer by name) from a tributary kingdom. She gets greedy (well, she is anyway) and hatches a plot to kybosh him and set herself up as Queen in his place. I’ll let it go at that without any spoilers just in case any of you actually wants to watch the film yourselves.
For all that, it’s really not too bad a film, if you’re just looking for simple entertainment. I believe it was actually shot in Egypt, and some of the landscapes are quite striking. Also, the big crowd/army scenes work very well. The dialogue is nothing special, but the climax is pretty satisfying.
Khufu is played by Jack Hawkins, one of those solid Brit actors who seems to turn up in just about everything in the 50’s and 60’s. The last time I saw him, he was playing the demolition-wallah who slogged through the Burma jungle with William Holden on the way to blow up Alec Guinness’s “Bridge Over The River Kwai”.
The master architect is played by James Robertson Justice, who I know from no other film whatever. The man was a dead-ringer for Peter Ustinov, if Ustie had ever spent any time in the gym.
Then there’s Princess Nellifer. She’s played by a young Joan Collins. She is, quite bluntly, a nasty bitch. But she’s a nasty bitch in a skimpy desert-princess costume. And in one scene, she’s a nasty bitch in a skimpy desert-princess costume getting flogged. So there’s that. If you’re into that sort of thing. Just saying.
Anyhoo, high-quality escapist entertainment of a sort rarely seen in the present day and age.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
The other day, Ol’ Robbo mentioned that he was working his way through the Beeb’s recent production of “The Hollow Crown“, Shakespeare’s quartet of historickal plays including Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 & 2, and Henry V. At the time, having watched Richard II and Henry IV part 1, I said I thought I liked the series. My opinion remained more or less the same after watching Henry IV part 2. However, last evening I finally ran off Henry V and I’m afraid I must report that I’ve downgraded my overall impression. Or rayther, that I think the last installment of the quartet just didn’t come up to scratch.
Probably this is in part because I happen to know this play an awful lot better than the other three, but also, I think, it’s because the scope of this one is so much grander than the others and the production (and cast) simply didn’t have the means to match this change of scale.
First, I was amazed at some of the cuts made. Off the top of my head:
- Canterbury’s somewhat twisted discourse on Salic Law and why “as clear as is the summer’s sun” it did not disbar Henry’s claim to the French throne.
- The entire scene at Southhampton wherein the plot by Lord Scroop and friends against Henry is uncovered. This is a critical piece of continuity because rebellion against the lawful king is a theme that pervades the whole damn quartet.
- Of the Four Captains (Gower, McMorris, Jamy, and Fluellen), only the Welshman Fluellen makes the film, and most of his lines are slashed away.
- A lot of Ancient Pistol’s lines are cut, including much of his run-in with Harry and his determination to turn to a life of crime after learning of Mistress Quickly’s death.
- The vast majority of the “Would it were day!” scene in which the French nobles sit about fidgeting on the eve of battle and wishing the Dauphin would shut the hell up is missing.
- The entire biznay about the French killing “the poys and the luggage” also is gone. This really surprised me because the film contained a lot of shots of the kid who hung around with Falstaff and his friends and eventually followed Bardolph and company to France. If ever there was a Star Trek Redshirt in this film, I thought he’d be it.
Second, I’m sorry, but Tom Hiddleston was a disappointment. I thought he’d done very well as Prince Hal in the previous movies, but his King Harry left me cold. Yes, the tennis balls scene was not bad, but his big “Once more unto the breach” and “St. Crispin’s Day” speeches? Meh. There was nothing really commanding or regal or inspirational in either speech. And it didn’t help that all the soldiers around him at Harfleur in the former seemed….apathetic, while somebody got the idea that the latter should be made in conversational tone only to his inner circle of nobles.
I also thought Anton Lesser’s Exeter was pretty weak. This was King Harry’s heavy?
Third, and I suppose this was a matter of Beeb budget, but the fight at Agincourt was distinctly lame: the play speaks of 10,000 French casualties, but it never looks like there are more than about 100 extras on the set at any one time. The English longbowmen look as if they hadn’t got a few dozen arrows among them all. The Duke of York buys it by being stabbed in the back while he’s creeping around in the forest all by himself. [Note: I know that the play itself calls for a few discreet tableaux to illustrate the fighting. Fair enough. But if you’re going to do a “realistic” production, then you need to either go big or go home.]
Finally, I’m really not sure about John Hurt’s “Chorus”. Olivier and Branagh got around this innovation (the only one that I’m aware of in all of Shakespeare) by staging a “play within a play”, gradually pulling back from, respectively, an Elizabethan stage and a modern moovie production and gradually becoming immersed in the story. Here, it’s a simple voice-over to what is supposed to be “real” action. Frankly, I don’t think this works. Would it be heretical to suggest that maybe the Chorus should have been taken out altogether in this format?
On the good side, I thought the scenes with Pistol, Bardolph and Nym were very good, especially the one where they said goodbye to Mistress Quickly. I also liked all the scenes with Princess Katherine, including her “English lesson” with her maid and her broken-tongue courtship by Harry. I also liked Lambert Wilson’s King Charles, especially when he realized that his idiot son had been needlessly taunting Harry with his stupid tennis ball gift.
Now I’m going to have to go back and watch Kenneth Branagh’s movie version of the play. Yes, it omits things, too. Yes, much goes waaaaay over the top. Yes, Branagh was an enfant terrible. Indeed, I wish there had been a strong director on the project with the ability to say, “Ken? NO!” But I have to confess: the man knows how to play a King.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Well…..here we go. No matter what you may think of the Donald, I believe we can all agree that nothing quite like this has ever happened before in the history of American presidential politicks.
Personally (and much to the ire of my Eldest who has been on the Trump Train since Day One), I am still in wait-and-see mode because I simply have no idea what’s actually going to happen. On the other hand, I know to a micron the caliber of the bullet we dodged in refusing to crown She Who Must Not Be Named, so I am overall grateful.
This I do know: The man has set himself one hell of a task. The Deep Power (i.e., the bureaucracy, the mainstream media, and their fellow-travelers in academia and Hollywood) is going to do absolutely everything it can to destroy him, lest it finds itself destroyed. As I say, one hell of a task. On the other hand, who better suited to do it than a pragmatic Noo Yawker business tycoon with Rudy Giuliani-like bridge-and-tunnel sensibilities? And what better time than when technology has rendered the MSM obsolete as the gate-keepers of information?
Trump calls his task “draining the swamp”. I like to think of it more as cleaning the Augean Stables. The last couple days I’ve had an image in my head of the Donald, dressed in a lion’s skin and carrying a large club, furiously hammering on the banks of the Potomac and the Anacostia to make them flow through downtown DeeCee.
‘Course, I’ve also had the flu. So there’s that.
Anyhoo, we shall see what we see.
UPDATE: Caught a few minutes of the introductions and convocation (which I thought tastefully done) and the Donald’s speech. I hope you like your steak tartare, because that there was some raw, red, dripping nationalist-populism, that was. Trash-talking the Establishment to its face was kinda cool.
I didn’t see anything else, because just after the conclusion the Youngest Gel appeared and told me that the downstairs loo was overflowing. D’OH! Talk about your Augean mess! I hammered at it for about 45 minutes with a plunger without result. Then it started doing this curious loop where the bowl would empty out but a few seconds later the water pump in the basement would throw the sludge right back up. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. I figured this meant whatever was stuck in it was somewhere in the main drain out of the house, and for a while hoped that the flow back and forth across the mouth of the pipe might winkle free whatever was stuck in it.
No such luck.
Eventually, I was forced to call a plumber. He agreed after poking around that it was a main drain blockage. His pessimistic initial belief, however, was that we were dealing with either a collapsed pipe or a tree root, which left me feeling rayther faint. Fortunately, however, he employed his sooper-dooper industrial-strength snake and found and cleared the stoppage about thirty feet out into the yard.
As I say, the mess was Augean. I just got done cleaning it up a while ago.
And that, children, is how Ol’ Robbo spent the first afternoon of the Trump Administration.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy MLK Day. (Or, as a smart-assed friend of mine used to insist on calling it: SlainCivilRightsLeaderTheReverendDr.MartinLutherKingJunior Day.)
Thankee for your kind wishes viz Ol’ Robbo’s bout with the flu. While I’m still feeling rayther weak and am coughing a bit, I am confident that I’m on the mend. On the other hand, it seems just about everyone else in the family has now picked it up to one degree or another. The knowledge that at least some of them got flu shots gives ol’ Robbo a certain amount of subversive pleasure.
So a few post-plague odds and ends for you:
♦ Ol’ Robbo finally took down the Christmas decorations today, including the tree. As always and despite my vigorous plying of broom and vacuum, I expect to keep finding fir needles about the front room and hall well into July. Eh.
I always chuck the tree onto the brush pile out in the woods past the back gate. In case you’re interested, I have observed that it takes two to three years for these trees to finally crumble into their primordial components: Next year, this one will be a skeleton. The year after, it will be a crumpled skeleton. The year after that, dust. (Thinking of the brush pile and the seventeen years I’ve been contributing to it, I just now remembered a book I read as a child. It had something to do with a tornado hitting a Kansas farm and scooping out and dumping some incredibly fertile soil in such a way that all kinds of strange things began growing on the heap of dirt that the twister left behind.)
♦ Speaking of years, this past week saw the seventeenth and fifteenth birthdays of the two younger Gels. Tempus bloody fugit, indeed. They celebrated said B-days with back-to-back sleepover parties Friday and Saturday nights. You may judge for yourselves what ol’ Robbo thought of having Port Swiller Manor loaded to the gunn’ls with teenaged girls for 48 hours straight. (No, it isn’t anywhere near the thrill you might think.)
♦ Speaking of the Gels, Eldest heads back to school tomorrow. Aside from French, she finished with a solid A-/B+ GPA her first semester, of which I am quite proud. (Don’t tell her I said so, but she did a hell of a lot better her first semester in college than did ol’ Robbo. Also, from what she let fall in conversation, I think she learned some valuable lessons in what college-level studying actually entails.) As of now, the plan is that she’s going to major in history and minor in theatre, and also pick up an Arts Management certificate. And speaking of theatrics, the Gel has been cast as the Wicked Witch in the school’s spring production of Shrek The Musical. She says herself that this is one of the most idiotic and useless musickals ever produced, but that she is nonetheless looking forward to having a good time participating. I know exactly what she means.
♦ Also speaking of theatrics, Ol’ Robbo is now half way through watching the 2012-ish Beeb production of The Hollow Crown (comprising Shakespeare’s Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2, and Henry V.) I think, I think that I like the series. The acting is uniformly great and, at least for the most part, the production plays Will’s history straight down the middle. I guess my main criticisms are that it seems some dialogue has been cut in favor of prolonged visuals (yes, I get that these are movies instead of plays on film), and also that the who thing is saturated with that sort of vaguely Celtish World Musick which I really dislike.
One thing that actually made me laugh: In Richard II, Bolingbroke is well played by Rory Kinnear. I’ve never seen him before, but his old dad, Roy Kinnear, is well-known to ol’ Robbo as a minor comedic actor with bit parts in films such as The Three Musketeers and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. Ol’ Robbo loves these Thespian family links. Anyhoo, imagine my surprise when I popped in H-IVp1 to discover that the role of Bolingbroke had been taken over by none other than Jeremy Irons! The man, although talented, whistled his lines over a set of obviously false teeth. Ol’ Robbo enjoyed that yugely.
♦ Finally, speaking of the Bard, Ol’ Robbo has decided that it is high time he reorganized the Port Swiller library. (I’ve never done an actual count, but I reckon we have somewhere in the neighborhood of 1200 volumes, all told.) It’s been a mess for some years but I have been content with that because I at least knew where everything was, more or less. Recently, however, I discovered that Mrs. R was taking things in her own hands. I do not wish to disparage Mrs. R’s learning in any way, but her approach to organization is based on neatness rayther than content. She can’t abide books stacked up on tables or in corners or on top of other books: Those she can’t jam in somewhere on the shelves anyhoo, she simply squirrels away elsewhere in the house. Indeed, I didn’t even realize the gravity of the situation until I discovered a book I had been looking for – along with multiple other missing volumes – packed into an old bookcase in the Eldest Gel’s bedroom closet.
I mean, I say!
UPDATE: To satisfy my own curiosity and to prove to you lot that I’m not completely insane, I did a bit of digging to try and find that children’s book I referred to above: It’s McBroom’s Zoo by Sid Fleischman. (I didn’t realize until I did this research that this was one of a whole series of McBroom books, all of which seem to center on Tall Tales.)
Interestingly, another of my very favorite books as a kid was Fleischman’s By The Great Horn Spoon!, the story of a small boy who runs away from well-to-do Boston to the California Gold Rush, and who’s aunt’s butler goes along to keep an eye on him. I probably read that book a hundred times in grade school.
I knew that Disney had made a moovie version of the book called “The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin“, which I longed to see for what seemed like ages. Eventually, they ran it one Sunday evening on tee vee. I recall being very, very excited. However, despite the very not bad presence of Suzanne Pleshette in it, the movie made such a pig’s breakfast of the novel that I was seriously traumatized. And that is the origin of my life-long hatred of moovie treatments of favorite books.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Ol’ Robbo mentioned the grinding dullness of the drive down I-95 south of DeeCee in the post below. This is due in large part to the fact that there are few natural landmarks or other geographical phenomena to break it up: The landscape simply turns from endless gentle hills to endless low country swamp to endless sandbar. The trees simply turn from endless slash pine to endless palmetto and orange groves.
One of the very few exceptions to this monotony is Lake Marion, which one crosses about midway through South Carolina. (Historickally-minded friends of the decanter will know that it is named after Francis Marion, the Revolutionary War hero known as the “Swamp Fox” for his guerrilla operations in those parts. They will also know that Marion was the basis for about half of Mel Gibson’s character in the ridiculously inaccurate movie “The Patriot”, the other half being filched from the life of Daniel Morgan.)
Anyhoo, as we crossed over said lake, a thought wandered into ol’ Robbo’s braim: With respect to just about* every other kind of body of water, in American English we always put the proper name first: The Atlantic Ocean; San Francisco Bay; Pearl Harbor; the Mississippi River; Walden Pond; Cedar Creek; Bob’s Run, etc.. However, with lakes we do just the opposite: Lake Michigan; Lake Marion; Lake Wazzapamani; Lake O’ The Woods, etc.**
Why is this?
I suppose it probably has something to do with early French exploration in North America, with their convention of naming such bodies of water Lac Such-and-Such. But if this is the case, why didn’t this juxtaposition also carry over to rivers, creaks, and the like?
(No, ol’ Robbo wasn’t going road happy. I really find this sort of thing quite fascinating. Apparently nobody else in the family does, however: When I floated the question in the car it was met with silence.)
* I’ll give you “bayou” (as in Bayou Lafourche). “Gulf” (as in Gulf of Mexico or Gulf of Maine) also seems to be an exception, but it’s curious that the name always seems to include that “of”. And don’t we say “Leyte Gulf”? Okay, maybe “bight” (as in “Bight of Benin”), too, but then again there’s a Bigelow Bight in Maine.
** I specify American English because the Brits seem to name their lakes the other way ’round.
UPDATE: Yes, I should have put in a general caveat about exceptions to the rule. I knew that even as I hit the “post” button. I also knew that some smart guy would come in and call me out if I didn’t. Centuwion! Thwow this man to the gwound! (The welease Wodger…)
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
On my way home last week, I stopped into a shop in the Denver airport to pick up a bottle of water. I didn’t have any cash left and I couldn’t bring myself to put just two bucks on my credit card, so I also snapped up a paperback copy of Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger. I had dimly recalled reading some good reviews of a book they did a few years back about George Washington’s spy ring, so I thought well, why not?
Well, I suppose that the sub-heading on the cover (“The Forgotten War That Changed American History”) should have given me some clue. “Forgotten” war? The Aroostook County War is a “forgotten” war. The Battle of Picacho Pass is a “forgotten” skirmish. Any reasonably-educated American ought to at least have heard of the Barbary Wars, if not remembering their details.
(Of course, my definition of “reasonably-educated” may vary somewhat from other folks’ these days.)
At any rate, it turns out to be a very superficial account. Not a bad way to waste a rainy afternoon if you actually don’t know anything about the period, but I can’t say that I got anything out of it at all. (I was encouraged by the book’s suggestion that Capt. William Bainbridge probably could and should have stayed with the U.S.S. Philadelphia after she grounded in Tripoli Harbor instead of immediately abandoning her to the enemy.) I also thought that its conclusion that the experience picked up by the young American Navy in its few brushes with the Pirate Fleets stood them in good stead for taking on the Royal Navy in the War of 1812 was probably an overstatement. And I was disappointed that the book only hinted at, rayther than exploring deeper, the obvious historic parallels between that period and the dealings we have with modern potentates in exactly the same region (motivated by exactly the same worldview).
Eh. Maybe I’ll give it to one of the kids.
On the other hand, flipping through the bibliography, I came across two books I also own: Ian Toll’s Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy and Richard Zacks’ The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805. Go read those, instead.
Speaking of books, every now and again regular Friend of the Decanter Old Dominion Tory sends ol’ Robbo a parcel of books on various topics of military history. At the moment, I am about a quarter way through one of ODT’s most recent offerings, Redcoat: The British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket by Richard Holmes.
I hadn’t heard of Holmes before. However, when I mentioned him on a FaceBuke page dedicated to the writings of George MacDonald Fraser, I received an overwhelming burst of enthusiastic praise from other GMF sharks.
I can see why. Holmes is all over his subject (i.e., the British Army of the Georgian and Victorian Eras): Organization, weapons and uniform, tactics, support staff, individual personalities – in short, everything that shaped Tommy Atkins – you name it and it’s there. He covers these matters through a combination of numerous citations to source letters (and records) and a kind of rambling series of linked anecdotes. I’d love to go to dinner with this guy and then spend the evening over a bottle of good single malt.
Eldest Gel arrived home this morning from college for winter break toting a draft of a 20 page paper* she needs to hand in by the end of the week for her history class.
The subject? Richard III in fact and legend.
Her conclusion? I’m sorry to have to say this in front of our Maximum Leader, but the Gel came to the conclusion that Richard probably was about as rotten as history made him out to be, and it wasn’t all just pro-Tudor propaganda pushed by Shakespeare and St. Thomas More. She seems especially keyed up about the deaths of the Young Princes.
“Ask yourself,” she said. “Who else had the motive to kill them? Who else had the means? What other logical possibility is there?”
I asked her if she’d checked out the Richard III Society and their efforts to rehabilitate the man.
“Are you kidding me?” she responded, “Go over there are read their arguments! They’re all conjecture! When you have facts and sources, come back and talk to me! In the meantime, shut up!”
I haven’t actually read the paper yet (she’s asked me to proof the next-to-last draft), and frankly, I don’t really even know enough myself to offer an opinion on her conclusions, but I will say that I’ve never known her to put this much effort into research and organization.
(And regardless of your opinion of this controversy, you will note, I hope, that the Gel is expending her energies on it rayther than on femynist underwater basket-weaving. I call that a win.)
* The assignment only called for 10 to 12 pages. The Gel’s opus blossomed because she found herself so engrossed in the subject.
UPDATE: Heh. Read the draft. Her rhetorical style needs some work (she tends to get the bit between her teeth and become rayther….overheated) and I found some silly grammar mistakes, but her organization is pretty solid, and I actually learned a thing or two about the Yorks and Lancasters that I hadn’t known before. Oh, and Maxy, you actually get a passing mention (as “a friend of my father’s”) as an example of someone keenly interested on the pro-Richard side.
Speaking of Shakespeare and posting Larry’s picture above also reminds me that I watched the 1980 Beeb production of “Hamlet” the other day, with Derek Jacobi, Patrick Stewart (with hair!), Claire Bloom, and Lalla “Romana” Ward as Ophelia. That was the Golden Age of Beeb TeeVee: Simple sets, cheesy effects, throw-away musick, but rock-solid RSC acting. I highly recommend it.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Ol’ Robbo has seen a great many tee-vee commercials recently for the 23 and Me DNA genetic testing outfit. You know, the people who, if you send them some of your spit, can peg your historickal tribal roots. I’ve also seen a running ad for Ancestry.Com in which people are invited to plug their names (and, presumedly, other personal info) into a data port sit up in some random public place, to be regaled by revelations of the existence and achievements of their immediate ancestors.
Ol’ Robbo doesn’t know about all this. On the one hand, the history geek within me applauds such research. On the other, the innertoobs Luddite in me warns that, as with things like GPS and EZ-Pass technology, if you know this data, somebody else does, too. Big Brother, anyone?
And that, frankly, makes me jumpy.
Speaking of ancestral research (here, the old-fashioned kind), I mentioned in my post-Thanksgiving post below the fact that my indefatigable elder cousin had established Robbo Family gunnegshuns to what is now western Virginia during colonial times. Whelp, the woman actually did a road trip detour on her way home from the turkey feast and sent me the following on-the-ground report [interpolations in brackets are mine]:
I found several family sites in Rockbridge Co., VA, on 11/25/16.
1) The Kerr’s Creek Massacres are commemorated by a State Highway Historical Marker (title: Kerr’s Creek) about five miles west of the Washington & Lee Law School on Route 60, where there is an entrance to I-64. [Ol Robbo went to Dubyanell for law school and first met Mrs. R in an apartment complex on Route 60 just west of town.]
Kerr’s Creek was the southern border of the 1748 Borden grants of John and James Gilmore. Rt. 60 runs parallel to Kerr’s Creek, on the north side of the creek. I must have been traveling across 18th century Gilmore property. It is pretty creek bottom land.
Our direct ancestors, John and Agnes Gilmore, Sr., were killed there in the First Kerr’s Creek Massacre in 1759. Their son Thomas was killed in the Second Kerr’s Creek Massacre in 1763, with the family kidnapped. [According to another of my cousin’s emails, Thomas’s wife and son were eventually repatriated by the French, who had bought them from the Shawnees. The two daughters of the family were never heard of again. In 1818, surviving members of the family [led, I recall, by Thomas’s brother James] joined a migration to Ohio, in large part over the question of slavery. Another branch of my family ran a station on the Underground Railroad in southwestern Ohio and, as I’ve mentioned before, my great-great-grandfather was an officer in the 10th Ohio Light Artillery Battery during the Civil War who saw action in the Atlanta Campaign.]
2) The site of the 1746 New Monmouth Presbyterian Church, where the Gilmores attended, is marked at Whistle Creek on Rt. 60. The newer building of New Monmouth, still operating, is three miles further west. [As I have mentioned before, the Old Gentleman’s family were just about pure-bred Scots Presbyterians. Ol’ Robbo’s great-grandfather was a minister, in fact. I chuckle at the idea that they are all turning in their graves over the fact that Ol’ Robbo has gone back to the Old Religion.]
3) High Bridge Presbyterian Church, where our direct ancestors Thomas and Agnes (Leech) Lackey are buried, is still operating on High Bridge Road (county route 693, at an overpass of I-81) off Rt. 11, just south of Natural Bridge, VA. [This is another family branch. Without the chart in front of me, I can’t recall where they fit in, but I think it’s the next generation after the Gilmores mentioned above.]
4) The ruins of our direct ancestor James Gilmore’s 18th century mill can be seen by following Gilmore’s Mill Road off Rt. 130, at Natural Bridge Station. Gilmore’s Mill Road (Rt. 708) descends to and parallels the west bank of the James River. The ruins are where Cedar Creek runs into the James at the intersection of county routes 708 and 608.
5) James Gilmore’s c. 1780 brick two- story house View Mont, now Sydney Vale, is across the James from the Mill but is on private property and inaccessible.
I’ll give her credit: It’s all cool stuff, all the more so because my cousin does these things the old-fashioned way – through pouring over archives and getting out into the field.
On the other hand, her level of energy curiously exhausts me, especially when she hunts me down at family gatherings (armed with maps, genealogy tables and local historickal pamphlets) and proceeds to drill me in her most recent finds. I mean, Ol’ Robbo is a history geek, but not that much of one. (The Gels, by the bye, have learned to flee my cousin’s very presence for fear of getting quizzed on family history.)
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
I hope you all had a joyful and stuff-a-licious Thanksgiving holiday! Certainly the Family Robbo did: As per usual, we went down to visit my brother’s family in North Carolina. (He and his wife have a son and two daughters, all of whom are roughly of age with Robbo’s three gels. The Boy, for example, is a sophomore at Virginia Tech, while Brother’s gels are in high school.) Much merriment was had by all. The cousins get on very well among themselves, Bro and I found much reason to stand guard over the outdoor grill while the turkey was cooking (constant monitoring of the thermometer is crucial, you understand, and adult beverages only aid in concentration), the wimmynfolk confab’d to their hearts’ desires up in the kitchen, and all in all, everything was hunky-dory.
Robbo’s older cousin was there as well. As regular friends of the decanter may recall, said cousin has a passion for genealogy. This time, she trapped ol’ Robbo in an extended monologue on our ancestors of seven or eight generations back – Scots-Irish Presbyterian stock with names such as Gilmore and Paxton – who had settled the upper Shenandoah Valley in the 1730’s. Curiously, given that I went to law school at Dubyanell, several of my ancestors of those generations were killed, kidnapped and/or enslaved in Indian raids in 1759 and 1763 during the French and Indian War not more than a couple miles from where I lived and studied. Small world, ain’t it?
On the one hand, the inner history geek in me loves this sort of thing. On the other? Well, is Thanksgiving Dinner really the time to spread out reproductions of 1734 land-grant maps and superimpose current Rand-McNally counterparts in order to assess streambed shifts in the Maury River and Kerr’s Creek for purposes of locating precise boundary lines?
And speaking of my cousin, it has become her custom to challenge us to bring Virginia wines to each of our regular meet-ups (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter), there to compare and contrast the many labels available (all of which are complete dreck, if you ask me). This year, the Devil whispered into ol’ Robbo’s ear that Trump Wine might be appropriate, both since it is bottled at Monticello and also since said Cousin is a proud Lefty.
I showed my brother said bottle ahead of time and asked his advice. His opinion? Nyet!
On reflection, I concluded he was right and hid the bottle until our cousin left. (We drank it later. Truth be told, it wasn’t awful, but I wouldn’t buy it again.)
The only other things to say about the holiday are travel-related:
Downbound, Ol’ Robbo found himself in the lee of the smoke of several forest fires blowing across Nelson and Amherst Counties. It’s corny to say, but it really did feel like twilight at noon as we made our way through, thus seriously messing about with Ol’ Robbo’s internal clock. Coming home, everything seemed to have cleared up to a great extent, thank goodness.
Upbound, just south of Altavista, Virginia on Highway 29, Ol’ Robbo suddenly spotted a dog on the median: It was a young bloodhound (or some sort of hound, anyway) lying curled up in the grass and looking around in a confused way. There was no place to stop just there, the formulation of what I had seen took a couple minutes to congeal in my braims, and what the hell could we have done with another dog anyway? Anyhoo, after a couple minutes, I told Mrs. R what I had seen. Being the far more practical and hands-on of us, she immediately called teh local animal control dispatcher and related to them what I had spotted.
I dunno if there was any follow-up.
One thing Mrs. R and I agree on: People who dump dogs (or other animals) at the side of the road ought to be shot.
UPDATE: Ol’ Robbo completely forgot to relate an aspect of this trip that is sure to add many, many demerits to his Man Card. You see, barring unforeseen complications, it is no more than a 5 1/2 to 5 3/4 hours’ journey from Port Swiller Manor to my brother’s house. Not exactly a short hop, but hardly an all day excursion either.
Nonetheless, Ol’ Robbo allowed himself to be cajoled into stopping on this trip no fewer than three times – in each direction! The most infuriating stop was the last one: 45 minutes out from home, the Youngest – who had been sleeping most of the way – woke up and announced that she needed a pit stop. And like the sap that I am, rayther than telling her to cross her legs and suck it up, I shamefully pulled over at the next convenience store/gas station.
What can I say? Mea culpa.
Man Rules, of course, clearly dictate that stops on long drives are determined solely by fuel needs. Everything else – water, snacks, meals, potty breaks – are supposed to key on that determination, and that determination alone. You know you’re not stopping again for another three or four hours? Plan accordingly!
Deviate from this plan and you’ll be stopping every freakin’ 20 minutes for one reason or another.
The Family Robbo may need to take a very considerably longer ride some time in the next few months, and I have already made clear to Mrs. R (and directed that she inform our offspring) that I will not display such weakness again.