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.
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.
Even 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.
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.
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.