It’s Tuesday, July 4th, 2017.
Jan and Bruce and I are hiking some trails in Albemarle County’s Mint Valley Springs Park. It’s just a few minutes from their new home in Old Trail Village – temporary dwelling, while they have their retirement dream home built part way up a hill in the woods in a more exclusive community in the country surrounding Charlottesville, Virginia.
Me at Mint Valley Springs Park
Old Trail Village is a “development” – townhouses and single-family homes of varying sizes and configurations, some apartments, limited retail – the kind of growth you see all over America on the edges of even small- and medium-sized cities. We’re still pushing on that frontier: wooded hills cleared or farmland giving way to a mixed-use variation on a theme of middle-class community living – the new suburbs. Shopping centers, professional parks and big-box retail cannot be far behind.
This morning Jan and I walked to the village pool for the first summer session of water aerobics offered by the fitness center. “Ready for choreography?” a trim young man named Chris shouted from the pool deck to the mostly grey-haired, somewhat portly school of retirees thrashing about in the water. “A little shimmy never hurt anyone,” he chided, as Aretha belted out “Respect” over portable speakers.
On Saturday, we joined friends Jack and Candace for live music night at the Batesville Market – a small, country general store that’s transformed itself into something of a gourmet market and occasional entertainment venue. Pork tacos were the special that evening for those who were eating, though a number went for the Kale Caesar Salad with grilled chicken. Every so often, the young woman behind the counter would look over to where we were sitting, wave the bottle of a local Sangiovese she’d recommended to me and raise her eyebrows to say “Another?” If I nodded, she’d refill me and add it to my tab, held by my Starwood AmEx at the cash “register” – an iPad she’d flip over toward me to sign with my finger when I settled up.
There’s a small dance floor at the Batesville Market. Das Homage, a local Beatles tribute band, was playing. The “young actives” – as the surgeon identified 60-something-year-old me when I was a “candidate” for knee replacement – were tearing up the floorboards to “A Hard Day’s Night.” Everybody seemed to know bow-legged Peter, who looked a little like an aging, new-age version of Riff Raff from the Rocky Horror Picture Show and who was dancing ecstatically in tune with a higher power he kept reaching toward with his eyes as well as his hands.
Later, back in Old Trail Village, we hauled our canvas folding chairs into the street at the end of the block to catch the fireworks we could see above the tree line over in Crozet Park. There’s no traffic to speak of in the Village yet, but we waved at the occasional turning vehicle to make sure they spotted us. After the finale, we applauded, though the only people who heard our appreciation would have been the neighbors walking their dog and someone who’d come out onto their second-story deck to see what could be seen.
When we were visiting Jack and Candace on Sunday at their home, the conversation on the back porch turned to genealogy – where “our people” came from. Candace has some French, though she can trace her ancestors back to the English settlement at Jamestown. Jack comes from the untitled “second-son” side of British nobility. Bruce can claim lineage from quintessentially American writer Stephen Crane. Although our father always told us we were “Scotch plaid” – Scottish and English on his side and French and Irish on our mother’s – Jan’s research suggests Hogle might be an Anglicization of the Dutch name, Van Hogelboom, and we might be descended from someone of that name who settled in New Amsterdam. Which would mean that in moving to New York City forty-one years ago, I was simply returning “home.”
The trails at Mint Valley Springs Park snake around a series of small lakes. A beach with a bathhouse has been constructed around the lower lake and there are picnic areas surrounding the beach. As we skirt the beach to get to the trails, I notice that most of the families here are Hispanic – large groups of extended family and friends, Dad-types barbecuing on blackened grills, lots of children and teenagers, someone picking a guitar, singing songs from the homeland in a language I’ve studied for years, speak reasonably well, and still struggle to understand when I hear it spoken, forget about song lyrics.
These families have driven recent-model cars to get here and left them in the parking lot. We were given free lifetime passes, being seniors and county residents (we didn’t mention I was out-of-state), but they either paid for a season’s family pass or three bucks a head for the day at the entrance gate. Roofers, house-painters, kitchen help, laborers, we say to ourselves, getting a regular paycheck, paying their taxes, enjoying their day off.
We pass a couple of people fishing off the trail at the edge of the lake. Hola, que tal? I say when they look up as we pass. Muchos pescados? How’s the fishing? No hay nada, one guy says – there’s nothing – and we all laugh.
We’ve brought our bathing suits to change into at the bathhouse, so we can cool down after our hike. Soaking in the green lake, I look around me. There are one or two white families and a handful of African-Americans, but mostly I’m surrounded by young, light brown bodies with ink-black hair. The boys are pushing each other or doing cannonballs off the floating dock they’ve swum out to. A gaggle of teenage girls is next to me, chatting in English among themselves.
And I think to myself, this is America now. Yes, I’ll have another Sangiovese. I’m ready for choreography. I’ll take a hamburguesa con queso, por favor, y dame otra Coke Zero. Where was your family from originally?
The beach at Mint Valley Springs Park, Albemarle County, Virginia, July 4th 2017