Monday, September 11, 2017

At Least It Took

Don't lure me to a cemetery with wine and then try to get me to say god. Not happening.

This afternoon was the official unveiling and dedication of the new Daniel Norton grave monument at Shockoe Hill Cemetery. Those not up on their Virginia wine might not recognize the name of the man who discovered Virginia's native grape, but let me assure you, he's a pretty big deal.

As today's speaker acknowledged, other than Chief Justice John Marshall, Dr. Norton is the most important person buried in that cemetery and that's saying something.

None of that was news to me since years ago I'd read Todd Kliman's "The Wild Vine" and learned the story of the doctor-turned-viticulturist and his life-long devotion to the grape that has since carried his name: the Norton.

For that matter, for years now I've made a regular pilgrimage to Shockoe Hill Cemetery for the sole purpose of maintaining the five stones I placed on Norton's original grave marker.

I'd even trekked to Chrysalis Vineyard because it has more acres planted with Norton than any place in the world and an array of wines made with the Norton grape. I know a lot of people find the grape's taste too foxy, but I like what our speaker described as "an American kind of wildness taste" that Norton has.

That's just a long-winded way of saying that I was happy to walk over to the cemetery to witness any and all festivities dedicated to Dr. N.

Walking toward the gravestone, I noticed two things simultaneously: two rifles casually propped against a nearby tree and a swooping trail of large white mushrooms, no doubt the result of those rainy days last week.

Things got started when a four-piece color guard from the General Society of the War of 1812 marched out from behind a tree in lockstep, all carrying flags. That's when they wanted us all to say the pledge of allegiance and while I'm willing to do that, I have never accepted Dwight Eisenhower's decision to insert the words "under god" into the pledge.

Which made me the sole person at the cemetery today with her hand over her heart who also went seamlessly from "one nation" directly to "indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Sorry, but I fail to see how a country founded on the principles of separation of church and state should require its citizens to acknowledge some crazy Christian's notion of a higher being. Nope.

Shockoe Hill had brought in the big gun to sing the praises of the Norton grape (and the 30-some varieties that grow in Virginia today): Jenni McCloud, owner of Chrysalis.

She talked about how all the Norton grapes in Virginia died out during Prohibition and how Horton Vineyards had been the first to plant it again. How Norton had been trained as a surgeon but followed his passion to become a farmer and viticulturist instead. She even humble bragged that her Norton Locksley Reserve had been rated #2 in the world by an important European wine magazine.

The marker, complete with a bas relief image of the good doctor, was unveiled to oohs and ahs. But the real treat was watching the color guard's rifle salute afterward, marred only when one of the two riflemen found his gun jamming and unable to fire.

To lighten the moment, the head of the color guard observed, "Can you imagine everyone coming at you in battle and you have trouble loading your gun?" Rhetorical question.

Naturally, "Taps" followed, taking me back to summer camp, except then it had been played on a bugle and not a cell phone. But don't get me started.

Tonight's fun was Laura Lee's one year anniversary party for friends and neighbors and held in their about-to-open back garden, which was in full blooming splendor tonight.

As far back as late May, I'd celebrated my birthday and that of a fellow Gemini in Laura Lee's garden, but none of the plantings were nearly as mature then, the strings of lights hadn't been added nor the comfortable furniture brought in. All the pieces were in place tonight to wow.

People had broken up into small groups, so simply moving between groups meant a change in conversations. A woman eating only a bite of spanikopita said that spanikopita was the only food she knew how to make. Another lamented her decision to wear high-heeled pumps. A man blanched at the mention of a $42 steak.

A favorite couple was there and they were just back from eating at Oriole in Chicago, although they'd run out of time to do the Frank Lloyd Wright house and studio. That led to a conversation about Richmond's restaurant scene back in the days when Millie's, Mama Zu and Helen's were as good as it got.

Those who didn't live here then found it tough to fathom that Helen's had ever been a big deal, but I know that it was the first place I was ever served gold leaf on top of a bisque, something that was most definitely not happening anywhere else in Richmond back then.

There was speculation about what's going into the former Kinfolk spot (and who signs a ten-year lease on a restaurant anyhow?), opinion swapping about the swank Brenner Pass, an in-depth analysis of the Roosevelt's burger versus Laura Lee's and a fair amount of trash talk about the Richmond Times Dispatch.

Wine and whiskey punch were laid out for guests to help themselves while appetizers of Mexican street corn, spanikopita, sausages and egg rolls were scooped up to keep pace with the booze.

Being surrounded by so many of Laura Lee's neighbors, I was bound to hear the restaurant's praises sung all night long. Everyone was so grateful that they now have this wonderful place to eat, drink and hang out right in their neighborhood.

I get it. People like to be able to walk to their neighborhood joint and stumble home when necessary.

And while it's not that for me - it's a tad too far to J-Ward - it has turned out to be a terrific place not only to meet up with friends but to meet new people. Repeatedly, in some cases.

You know what they say, as many times as it takes. The rest is easy.

1 comment:

  1. Hey!....we don't have to talk about God do we? How 'bout the No Name Bar in the it still there...still open after Irma??? we need it more than ever...