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Fondest memory: Summerfest 2007 was, by and large, the most fun of the lot up to that time. The previous year, gipper84 went with me, but we had to leave in the middle of it to be in Covington. That next year, my brother Hunter, my sister-in-law Jen, my niece Lexi, and their two dogs Anubis and Osiris accompanied Lee and me to Grandma's house. It was one of the hotter festivals, but I learned my lesson from the last hot one in 2002: this time I used my sun block. The 11 a.m. parade was longer than most of them, but there were fewer marching bands than in the past, not even the Halifax County High School band was there. There was still no shortage of fire engines. Like usual, they came from as far south as Creedmoor, North Carolina and this was the first time I can remember Clarksville entering a fire engine. Lexi enjoyed the parade until one of the older fire engines turned on the siren which was too loud for her. The stew from the fire house was about the same as always. Dorothy and Mildred ended up not coming, so there was plenty of food for the lot of us. Between lunch and the evening dance in the streets, Lee and I went to Oxford, North Carolina for his architectural tour and I took that opportunity to replenish my supply of Cheerwine. As always, the fire station sold chicken or pork barbecue plates for supper. Because I was not keen on the side dishes, my supper consisted of a Polish sausage and fries sold from a trolley next to the town hall. Lee didn't get much supper because when he momentarily set his plate down, a passing dog ate a goodly portion of it. He later had supper in Clarksville. Summerfest 2006 was the first one in which I marched in the parade. This one was the first in which I summoned the courage to dance in the streets. The tune that inspired the courage was "Rocky Top Tennessee" and "Rollin' in my Sweet Baby's Arms." In spite of the dog eating his supper, Lee enjoyed his first full Summerfest.
This white wooden building has been home to general stores and auction houses off and on throughout my daddy's and my life. As recently as 2004, they had a fairly new retro general store in beautiful downtown Virgilina. They tell me it opened late in 2003. Sadly, by 2005, it was once again the vacant building it had been most of my life.
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This isn't really a fond memory, but the only place to put it. Sadly, Virgilina has seen better days. In the early 1900s, it used to be a copper and gold mining town. At one point, there were as many as three hotels, several restaurants and the streets were overrun with youth and vitality. This was during my grandma Atkins' childhood.
1. When I came along, one hotel was still in business with its restaurant run by Irene ("Aunt Rene") and her son Johnny Bob. That was the best fried chicken I have had to this day.
2. As I may have noted before, the passenger and rail lines stopped rolling through here when I was about 10 years old. The railroad company took up the tracks and all that is below the overpass is a thick growth of brush and weeds.
3. Downtown Virgilina used to be full of business, now most of those buildings are closed. The saddest thing is the row of buildings (pictured) is one of the few things that survived the great fire of 1951 are almost entirely abandoned.
4. My grand uncle Peyton used to run a grocery store called Peyton's Place in the now vacant lot through to the late 1970s.
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Summerfest is the only time of year Virgilina gets to shine. To raise money for the Virgilina Volunteer Fire Department, they have a big town reunion. The tradition started on 18 June 1983 and from 1984 on, it was held on the Saturday before Memorial Day (the last Monday in May). I explain all 5 photos below, please click and enlarge.
One of the few changes is in the fire trucks. The featured photo from the first Summerfest is of a 1968 Ford Fire Engine. Thanks to the success of this and several such festivals thereafter, the Virgilina Volunteer Fire Association switched this functional white truck out in favour of a more modern, bright red International.
Budget cuts at the fire house? Well, no, not really. This festival is of, for, and by the fire department, so it figures that fire engines of all shapes and sizes would factor prominently in the parade. This little bitty fire engine would come in handy for putting out doll house fires.
Odd Floats: In the first few Summerfests, the (South Boston) World of Sports Family Recreation Centre entered this car that would be perfect for the fabled old woman who lived in a shoe or the communications vehicle for Maxwell Smart: Agent 86 (for those familiar with that programme, he always used a shoe phone).
The Summerfest has been around so long that my younger brother was only 8 years old when it began. Also, the quality of the floats has improved somewhat over the years.
Fondest memory: Daddy went down to Virgilina too in order to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first outgoing class of Virgilina Elementary School. You may have seen my tip (in the original 40) on Virgilina Elementary School and remember that the building was 104 years old and wonder how the first outgoing class was 50 years ago. Through to 1953, that school covered grades 1-12 and called itself a high school. For the 1953-54 school year (when Halifax County High school opened and served the whole county), Virgilina became an elementary school and thus the class of 1954 was the first outgoing class under that name. Daddy organised with other interested members of said class to enter the pictured float into the parade as a political statement against the unjust closing of Virgilina Elementary School in 2003. Later that evening, they all met and had the reunion at Ernie's Restaurant in South Boston.
Fondest memory: I almost didn't go to Summerfest 2004 because my heart suddenly wasn't in it at the last minute. Besides that, as some of y'all know, I wasn't feeling real good Summerfest Eve (Friday, 28 May 2004). However, I'm glad I went down. On the way down, I stopped at a diner in South Hill and there I met a Pearl Harbour survivor. I met many World War 2 veterans in my 30-some years at that time, but never before a Pearl Harbour survivor. He was en route from Florida to Washington, DC for the World War 2 Memorial. I'm also glad I went because once I arrived and went uptown to the fire house to see how preparations were going, I met two friends. I saw Mark Holcomb, a young volunteer fireman as I was on the way to the fire house. When I got there, I met one of Virgilina's newest residents, Daniel Andre from Zimbabwe. Who says foreigners (besides the 5 or 6 I've brought there) can't find Virgilina on a map? That's Daniel next to me in the photo. Although he looks something like me, he's an African-American in the truest sense. On top of that, I met one of my distant cousins (Chris) and got the address of the another (David) whom I hadn't seen in about 20 years.
What a difference a day makes. If you enlarge the double photo, the top frame shows the streets of Virgilina bustling with activity on the day of the Summerfest. The festivities come to an end spot on at 9 pm on that Saturday night. After they announce the winners of the quilt raffle and the cash raffle, the band plays one or two more songs as the crowds disperse. Almost as if someone throws a switch at 9 pm, the food vendors close, the rides at the fun-fair stop, and many of the crafts vendors have folded their tents at sundown.
The bottom frame of the double photo was taken the day after the Summerfest and the streets of Virgilina look like this 364 on 365 days of the year. However, like they day after most major celebrations, there is a bit of letdown. So, the quiet sidewalks the day after each Summerfest are lonelier than most days and, to me, are reminiscent of the 1971 Johnny Cash song Sunday Morning Coming Down.
Virgilina is a small town (pop. 152) on the Virginia-North Carolina border (hence its name). My granddaddy Atkins lived here all his life, Grandma still lives here, and Daddy grew up here. I did a lot of growing up here too. Even after my parents moved to Mechanicsville, the family would make frequent visits back here.
Visit with the friendly natives. Many of whom are elderly and can tell all kinds of stories about this little town in its heyday as a copper mining town.
Fondest memory: My favourite times of year to visit were the summer, Thanksgiving (in the woods behind the house in search of running cedar as a Christmas decoration), and Christmas. I can remember one Halloween when 31 October was on Sunday. It is a rural religious community, so they decided to do trick-or-treating on the Saturday night instead.
Virgilina may not seem like a place for the world traveler, but I have personally shown it to 2 friends from France, 2 from Spain, 1 from Germany, and 1 from California who had never seen a town that small. Pictured on the North Carolina line: Luc Marcellin (Lyon, France), 1 August 1992.
It was fun taking my foreign friends around Virgilina, but that was nothing compared to showing it to my best friend Lee gipper84. My grandma Atkins was good enough to put Lee and me up the night of 16 July 2005. That saved us from having to either miss the fireworks display at the Clarksville Lakefest or having to drive home late into the night. She had a fine Southern supper of fried chicken, new potatoes, slow cooked green beans, fresh tomatoes, and cornbread with pecan pie for dessert. (Sadly, this was Lee's first go of pecan pie. I wondered if he was really Southern. Fortunately, he liked it.) Between supper and the fireworks display, I gave Lee the grand tour to the various churches in town, uptown, and the cemetery. When we got back from the fireworks display, Lee ate the rest of the cornbread together with more sweet tea. For breakfast, we had pancakes, bacon, and coffee. A couple months later, we both returned. We had pork chops that time. We went over to visit Daniel Andre who lives cattywampus from Grandma.
There is always plenty to eat at the Summerfest (see and enlarge all 3 photos) without having to suffer the (too) sweet Brunswick stew the fire department makes. I often have lunch and supper at the pictured trailer, each time ordering a plain hamburger with grilled onions and peppers (normally put on the Polish sausages). Besides hamburgers, this trailer offered hot dogs, corn dogs (frankfurters surrounded by a cornbread coating), Polish sausages with grilled onions and peppers, as well as fries (plain or with cheese and/or chili). Besides this trailer, there was one that sold snow cones, candy apples, cotton candy, and popcorn. Another sold funnel cakes covered with either chocolate sauce or confectioner's sugar.
The second photo shows where ladies in town made enough cakes and pies to open a bakery. There were a lot more than this earlier in the day as I took the photo when the Summerfest only had 2 hours or so left. Folks from all over brought their cakes and pies to be served with the Brunswick stew at lunch. I like their spiced nut cake (I'll have to track down the recipe next time I'm down there). However, they could be bought separately for $1. They were exceptionally good this year.
For those from the Left Bank, a snow cone consists of flavoured syrup served over shaved ice. From 1983-2003, the snow cone lady who has been on hand at about all the Summerfests (including that cold one in 1996). I felt so sorry for her that day that I bought snow cones anyhow. Different from that chilly day 6 years ago (58°, 14°C- not enough people buying snow cones to start a fight- they should have let her sell hot chocolate or hot apple cider instead), in 2002 it was 93° (34°C- a record high for that date). She was flush with business and she was in danger of running out of one flavour of snow cone syrup. I always get the blackberry flavour, but they have cherry, lime, pineapple, grape, and blue raspberry.
Fondest memory: Some folks might be uncomfortable that I decided to snap a photo of a Virginia National Guard truck and write a tip about the military presence at the Summerfest. Because these festivities take place at Memorial Day weekend (which honours our fallen soldiers from the Revolutionary War through to all theatres in the current War on Terror), it would be ridiculous not to invite them and it would be just as ridiculous if I did not put the tip. For many years, Memorial Day meant barbecues and shopping centre discounts. After 11 September 2001, this holiday has taken a whole new meaning.
Fondest memory: Early on morning of the Summerfest, the display a wide range of classical cars. See and enlarge all 3 photos. The list includes, but is not limited to Chevy SS, 1957 Chevy, Ford Falcon, Model A Ford, Pontiac GTO, etc. and a 1950 pickup truck in front of Chandler's Garage before they queue up for the parade. I don't know why I came to notice it, but starting in 2002, there were more colours of classic cars than usual, including one Ford Falcon about the colour of Pepto-Bismol. Of all the plethora of classic cars I have seen in the Summerfest parades over the years, I like this green 1960s vintage Jeepster, entered year on year by the South Boston Acca Temple of the Shrine. I like its bright green colour, its unusual shape, and the bell on the front.
Fondest memory: Although my chances of winning are slim, I entered the fire department (but not the quilt) raffle. One person won both the first-place prize of $250 and the second-place prize of $100 in the fire department raffle drawing, while another took home $50. I don't know for sure, but having attended the majority of these celebrations, I don't believe one person has one more than one raffle drawing in the same year. Somebody else won the quilt raffle.
The weather was nice and warm with nary a cloud in the sky. I will never forget the 1996 Summerfest when it was overcast with a maximum temperature of 58° (14°C). Temperatures for this day were forecast to make or exceed 86° (30°C). I went uptown to see the set-up committee feverishly making final preparations. After buying a raffle ticket with a grand prize of a whopping $350, I went behind the fire house and took snaps of the folks barbecuing the chicken and stirring the Brunswick stew for lunch and supper.
I got a prime spot from which to watch the parade. One could see all manner of vehicles, floats, and marchers queuing up for the parade. Of course y'all know, it wouldn't be a Virgilina Summerfest parade without at least one Confederate flag. To folks who object, I challenge that lot to show me where there is a "Right Never to be Offended". That guy in the second photo was running late and he was rushing down Seventh Street to make the queue before the opening siren.
Fondest memory: The parade commenced spot on at 11.00 as it has done since the first one back in 1983. As always, it started on Seventh Street and took a hard right on Florence Avenue through to Virgilina Elementary School just north of town.
This was the first Summerfest since I joined VT the previous August, so I made a point of taking a picture of everything I could before, during, and after the parade. That was a good excuse to stay away from my distant cousins Dorothy and Mildred (on whom I'm not keen) when they came up from Roxboro. I had the mediocre fire house Brunswick stew for lunch. It was a hot day and I forgot my sunblock. As the day wore on, I became a redneck in the literal sense. Usually, Dorothy and Mildred go back by 3pm. I had supper down at the house and stayed uptown until the 9pm closing.
On my way back to Grandma's, I saw Owen Murray (nextdoor) on his front porch together with his brother-in-law. In small towns, particularly in the South, the front porch is something of a public gathering place. Neighbours walk by, talk to their neighbours as they shell butterbeans or watch the world go by. It is a throwback to a largely bygone era in today's fast-paced world. I'm blessed to have spent a large chunk of my childhood on front porches like this one, at my Grandma's house nextdoor, and at my Grandma Terry's house in South Boston, Virginia, just 18 miles (±30 km.) northwest of Virgilina.
Fondest memory: Because the Summerfest takes place in late May, the weather is usually warm and sunny. Before this one, we always worried that a scattered afternoon thunderstorm could break up the fun. We never figured on a cold and damp (59 degree, 15 Celsius with intermittent drizzle) Summerfest like this one. The photo accurately depicts the cloud cover on 25 May 1996, but it cannot do justice to the cold and damp very well. The only evidence of it is, on enlargement, where you see diehard festgoers in long pants and long sleeve shirts. Next to the organisers of this extravaganza, I felt most sorry for the snow cone lady (I have more about her in a later tip). Since she probably never figured on such a cold day in late May either, she never thought to have apple cider or hot chocolate machines. Fortunately, most of these celebrations have been blessed with sunny weather. Sometimes, like in 2002, the Summerfest has been as hot as 1996 was chilly.
Fondest memory: The Town of Virgilina and the Virgilina Volunteer Fire Department put on their Memorial Day best Saturday for the 22d Annual Summerfest celebration. Summerfest raised approximately $13,000 for the Virgilina Volunteer Fire Department. They sold all of our chicken and pork plates, and almost all of the Brunswick stew. You couldn't have asked for a better day. The only major thing that went wrong was an overloaded power line that delayed the start of the parade for about 20 minutes- the only time the parade has not gone off spot on at the appointed hour. The parade was one of the longest and largest ever. Donnie Boyd, Assistant Fire marshall for Granville County, North Carolina served as Grand Marshall for the parade. Florence Avenue Baptist Church won first-place in the float competition, while Union United Church of Christ had the second-place float. The Best Appearing car was a Dodge Prowler owned by Donnie Ellington, while the Halifax County High School Blue Comets Marching Band was first in the band competition. Having the Summerfest at Memorial day weekend pays tribute to all the soldiers, past and present, who gave us the freedom to have these events.