Tag Archives: history

Minding our Ps and Qs, 21st century style

Williamsburg VA by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

I couldn’t help but sense the irony and wonder in it all. My wife and I were visiting my older brother and his wife near Williamsburg, Virginia.

We all were enjoying a pleasant spring evening on the back porch of their lovely home. My wife was using her iPhone. My sister-in-law toyed with her iPad. My brother and I each were surfing around on our MacBook Pro laptops.

The evening was dark and still, except for the occasional distant rumble of thunder. The only light on the porch was the glow from the screens of our electronic gizmos.

My brother and sister-in-law own a lovely home just minutes away from Colonial Williamsburg. Founded in 1654, Williamsburg played a significant role in the development of our country to say the least.
Williamsburg home by Bruce Stambaugh
We had spent the heart of the day walking the streets of the historic town. If you have never been there, it’s a bucket list kind of place, beautifully restored and maintained with lots to do for children and adults alike.

Williamsburg actor by Bruce StambaughEven though I had visited Williamsburg before, I again thrilled at just the thought of strolling the same streets that a young Thomas Jefferson once did. With so many guides and actors dressed in period attire, it was easy to imagine being back in time.

Plush carriages pulled along by noble teams of horses plied the once muddy streets, now paved for the comfort of the tourists and the convenience of the staff. The night before we had enjoyed a delicious meal in Shields Tavern, where we were careful to mind our Ps and Qs.

That old saying, still heard today, could very well have had Williamsburg roots. In those days, a tavern’s bartender simply kept a chalkboard ledger of what customers consumed. If they drank a pint, a P was lettered under their name. If a quart, then a Q was marked. At evening’s end, the bill was tabulated and the customers properly minded their Ps and Qs by paying their bill. Today it simply means to take care of your own business.
Williamsburg carriage by Bruce Stambaugh
As the four of us sat quietly on the darkened porch, we could have been minding our own Ps and Qs by paying our bills online. With the rumbling thunderstorms growing closer, it seemed a bit surreal using our 21st century technology to check in with the world while sitting in the shadow of a bygone era. The town crier was definitely no longer needed to announce the time.

I thought about other familiar sayings we utter without knowing their origin. We derisively chatter about big wigs without contemplating the phrase’s original meaning. For the record, “big wigs” came from the 17th century society custom of wealthy people wearing expensive wigs made of human hair. The taller the wig, the more aristocratic you were.
Williamsburg hats by Bruce Stambaugh
You could say we went the whole nine yards at Williamsburg. That reference was attributed to a bolt of fabric, which equaled nine yards. Clearly I enjoy linking the past with the present.

As the line of storms hit our area, it rained cats and dogs, but not long. Even well before colonial times, superstitious persons believed cats symbolized the rain and dogs the wind; thus, the saying.

Back on the porch, we powered down for the night, thankful for both the generous hospitality and the opportunity to reconnect with the origins of our democracy. I wondered if somewhere, someplace Thomas Jefferson and Steve Jobs were both smiling.Williamsburg wisteria by Bruce Stambaugh

12 Comments

Filed under column, family, photography, travel, writing

Traveling the Constitution Route, then and now

Montpelier by Bruce Stambaugh

Montpelier, home of James and Dolly Madison.

By Bruce Stambaugh

White, pink and yellow floral displays, both wild and domesticated, brightened the cold, steely overcast morning, invigorating our drive along Virginia’s historic Constitution Route.

Pastels predominated in the form of flashy forsythia bushes and clusters of buttery daffodils, showy pink magnolia petals, peach, cherry and redbud blossoms. Serviceberry bushes and flowering ornamentals showed their whites against winter’s dormant and dull remnants.

Familial signs at the gates of long lanes announced the names of many old money mansions of the sprawling plantations that now operate as horse and cattle farms all along the serpentine trail, officially known as Virginia Route 20. Mint Meadow, Gaston Hall, Hershey Hill, and Somerset were only a few of the rolling farms’ monikers.

Blooms at UVA by Bruce Stambaugh

Ornamental trees were in full bloom in Virginia.

Miles of fences, some white as the tree blossoms that kept them company, others stained soot black, still others meshed wire, lined the curvy route between Montpelier, James Madison’s home, and Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s architectural wonder.

Most of the meandering highway on the 40-minute drive closely followed the very route that these two founding fathers and United States presidents had traveled by horseback or carriage more than two centuries earlier.

At one of the lazy s-curves, with a greening meadow on the east side and a dense deciduous woodlot on the other, a Bald Eagle flew across in front of us. Its talons clutched a trailing tangle of leafy vines, likely the softer lining for its bulky stick nest.

Though we were traveling at a much faster pace in a much faster world, I couldn’t help but sense the history that had happened along this path and at the dignified homes we passed. Only now farmhands groomed the horses and fed the cattle instead of slaves.

Madison statue by Bruce Stambaugh

A lifesize statue of James and Dolly Madison accentuates the beautiful backyard at their historic homestead, Montpelier in Virginia.

At Montpelier, a spreading magnolia in full-bloom served as the backdrop for a life-sized bronze statue of James and Dolly Madison. Though slight in stature, both were giants in establishing the democratic and social courses for our fledgling republic.

The ingenious Jefferson, author of our Declaration of Independence, and the meticulous Madison, the father of the Constitution, regularly rode the Constitution Route to each other’s homes to both socialize and pontificate.

To walk in their footsteps and see first hand their magnificent homes, slave quarters included, and to learn more about their magnificent minds and accomplishments was beyond inspirational. It was humbling and moving.

Exploring there was a refreshing retreat from the current turbulent and often selfish political times in which we find ourselves. Silently I wondered what these two great men would say about today’s state of affairs. At each location, the informative visitor centers helped answer that pondering.

Montpelier slave quarters by Bruce Stambaugh

Excavating the living and working areas of Madison's slaves at Montpelier is underway.

Jefferson and Madison, both learned visionaries who lived at opposite ends of the Constitution Route, were united in determining the direction the Constitution should take, that all people are created equal and endowed with specific freedoms.

Virginians will quickly point out that both men played prominent rolls in developing the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. Their joint influence is revealed in the law: “The religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man.” That concept was the first point Madison made in the Bill of Rights.

The two homesteads were fascinating to tour. The dedicated commitment of Jefferson and Madison to form, frame and cement certain rights, including the choice of religion sans government endorsement or coercion, made the Constitution the jewel in the crown neither president ever wanted to wear.

Monticello by Bruce Stambaugh

Thomas Jefferson's masterpiece, Monticello.

8 Comments

Filed under column, history, photography