My mom bleeds red, white and blue. She always has.
She was born and raised in historic Richmond, Virginia, and her family tree has First Families of Virginia (FFV) names carved in its branches.
Mom’s aunts (her mom’s sisters), who lived in Charlottesville, were not only FFV, but members of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and as such, early volunteers in helping to restore Monticello … yep, Thomas Jefferson’s little 5000 acre estate. This would have been in the 1920s.
As a kid, mom spent many a summer day running free on the grounds, picnicking under the shade of Jefferson’s “pet trees”, including his famous mulberry’s, and climbing up and down the steep and very narrow flight of stairs that led to the dome room. There she would play with the other children, while their relatives helped breathe new life in the old plantation.
My sister, Nel, and I were both born in Richmond and history was as much a part of our growing up as catching lightning bugs or playing hide-and-seek. Mom was our teacher, guide and head cheerleader for the good old USA!
We didn’t learn history from history books as much as we absorbed it. We five sensed it. We could see, smell, taste, hear and touch it at every turn and it was organic and wonderful.
When we moved from Virginia to South Carolina and then Florida, mom made sure Nel and I didn’t lose our connection with the state we were born in, our heritage or our history.
Dad would pack up our bikes in the back of our Chevy nine-seater station wagon and head for Williamsburg where we spent many a summer vacation. And, those vacations would last a month or more and yet it never seemed like nearly enough.
Nel and I felt like we were colonist and residents of the town. We wore our tricorn hats, bought rock candy at the Apothecary Shop with our own money, drank apple cider from salt glazed mugs at Chowning’s Tavern, took turns locking each other in the pillory and stocks and rode our bikes, unrestricted, all over the town, from the College of William and Mary, to the Governors Palace, to the Capitol and everywhere in between.
Nel and I would ride our bikes to the Williamsburg Visitors Center and watch the free orientation film, “The Story of a Patriot,” two or three times a day almost every day of our stay. One of my favorite scenes in the movie took place at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Richmond where the famous orator, Patrick Henry, gave his famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech.
That was the line every school kid was familiar with, but there was a fragment of a sentence in Patrick Henry’s speech that I found even more meaningful and useful (once I found out what it meant).
When the fiery, Mr. Henry challenged his fellow countrymen, who were still resistant battle the British and fight for their independence, he minced no words. The sentence fragment was, “Are we so meek and pusillanimous … ? ”
I honestly never tried to learn or remember the rest of the sentence … I had all I needed.
When I asked, Dad told me pusillanimous meant lacking courage and resolution. I translated and condensed that into my own language which was “Chicken”!
So, anytime my sister wouldn’t do what I wanted her to do, I would repeat the question, “Are you so meek and pusillanimous?” with such passion and conviction that it was guaranteed to make Nel run to mom and dad, with tears in her eyes, to tell them I used those bad words again. I just smiled and repeated to myself, “Chicken”!
When I was called on the carpet for this, which was often, I would have to remind mom and dad, that it was exactly what Patrick Henry said and that Nel was just way too sensitive. I was just trying to practice a little history I had learned from a great Virginian!
As you might imagine, my logic didn’t hold water with mom and dad … but, it was worth it. That sentence fragment, that I turned into a stand alone sentence, started a revolution with my sister and me each and every time I used it, just like it had done for Patrick Henry.
Jamestown and Yorktown were just down the road from Williamsburg, and when you put them together, what more did you need to get a grip on American history. They don’t call it the Historic Triangle for nothing! Who needed Virginia Beach, theme parks or anywhere else on this planet for that matter. We were history in the making and, thanks to mom and dad, we made it over and over and over!
After Nel and I were able to understand the birth of our nation, our family ventured out to see what that baby had grown to be. With dad or mom behind the wheel, that same nine-seater station wagon took our family to every state in the US except for Alaska and Hawaii (for obvious reasons) before my sister and I graduated from high school.
And our family journey didn’t stop there. Mom’s big audacious goal was for us to not only see the USA in our Chevrolet, but to see what was out there beyond our shoreline, and before we had graduated from college. And … she made it happen. No matter what country, city or town we visited, she made sure we were not only learning and broadening our perspective, but honoring our country by not being what she called “Ugly Americans.”
” When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” was our family mantra. Added to this were other Mom-isms. “Never be disrespectful. Never put yourself on a pedestal. Appreciate and honor diversity. Don’t ask for a McDonald’s. Stand tall, be proud, and always represent your country well.”
I’ll tell you how embarrassingly literal that last commandment was as interpreted by mom.
There is a old photograph, that I hope will stay hidden forever, that was taken not far from Cairo, Egypt. It is of the four of us on the backs of camels in front of the Sphinx. Mom and Nel are wearing dress skirts and blouses. Dad and I are wearing blue blazers, button down collar long sleeved shirts, gray slacks and (expletive deleted here) club ties.
This was the desert, for heaven’s sake! People out here were wearing robes. Even our camels looked at us and snickered.
We were Americans alright, and whenever I look at that creepy photo now, I would say we definitely fit the picture of what I would call, not just Ugly Americans, but Damn Ugly Americans. But, to mom, this was a once in a lifetime special occasion, and we were honoring that special occasion by dressing … you’ve got it … special.
Looking back on it now, I wish we had all worn faded blue jeans, and red t-shirts with white letters proclaiming “Made in America”. I believe mom would have approved. After all, she looks really good in red, white and blue.
When mom sings God Bless America, she still shows the colors even though some of the words escape her. But, since she’s never been at a loss for words, she just throws in a few of her own and keeps on going without ever missing a beat.
She has been a dyed in the wool American for 92 years. That’s almost 40% of our nation’s entire 236 years of independence which was gained 236 years ago in 1776 … in where else but Virginia!
Mom bleeds red, white and blue … always has … and always will.
In my eyes, she is a genuine, one-of-a-kind, national treasure.
Yes your mother bleeds red, white and blue. My love for our country is because of your mother. My children and others know my love for my country because I show it all the time. Thank you Helen. My first trip to Washington was with your Mom, Dad, and Nel. It was late at night and we were on our way to Richmond so we were not able to go in to any of the building. What they did was go to the Lincoln Memorial, Jeffersion and etc. at each I would run up the stairs and look and then on to the next. I will never forget how beautiful it all was and it took my breath away, always a lesson to go with it. Oh would I love to go on one of those trips today. Helen not only taught me to the love the red, white and blue, but also the orange and blue. There are not words to describe my love for all she has done for me!
That phrase, “are we so meek and pusillanimous” was also the favorite of many lines that my brothers would recite to each other as kids then laugh out loud. We grew up in Newport News and anytime we had guests for a weekend, my mom would take us all to Williamsburg and, of course, view The Story of a Patriot. “Are we so meek and pusillanimous” is probably the best line in the movie but there are others that stick with us even 40 years later.
“Robert Frye. Grab a musket and get in rank.”
“It was an amazing feat of digital strength.”
“What have in common with these madmen from Boston?”
….and, of course, “They’re stealing the powder!”
Man, I remember everyone of those lines. The one that kicked them all off was, “Mr. Robert, Mr. Robert, your father is coming.” Thanks for commenting. Brought back even more memories of those wonderful summers we spent in Williamsburg.