memories, nostalgia

Repost: My brush with the rich and famous in rural Gloucester, Virginia…

I’ve been a little bit homesick, lately. It’s been years since I was last “home”. So, as I think about what fresh content I want to write today, here’s a repost from 2018. The featured photo is of me, running in my first race in April 1982. I won first place for my age and sex– which, at that time, was nine. It was a four mile race. My, how times have changed. Now, I feel great when I manage to walk a mile.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I grew up in Gloucester, Virginia in the 1980s.  We moved there in June 1980, the day after I turned eight.  I remember very clearly that in those days, Gloucester was very rural.  I seem to remember just a few stoplights in the entire county and maybe a McDonald’s and a Pizza Hut. 

Decades later, I see that it’s a lot more cosmopolitan than it was in my day.  Areas that used to be nothing but trees are now home to big box stores and chain restaurants.  Both the Pizza Hut and the McDonald’s that were there in 1980 have been torn down and moved.  And there are now many stoplights in Gloucester and there have been for probably thirty years or more.

I didn’t appreciate Gloucester when I was young.  In fact, I hated living there for most of my youth.  When we first moved there, I was mercilessly bullied by a group of my classmates– the smart, “preppie” kids whose families had lived in Gloucester forever.  Many of those kids rode the same bus I did and made my life a living hell.  I didn’t get along with most of the kids who lived on my dirt road, either.  They were a different group of kids.  They weren’t necessarily smart.  What most of them were was very “redneck”.  We didn’t mesh.  They probably thought I was too highfalutin’ and snobby.  There’s no telling.   

The one thing that saved me from succumbing to despair was my love for horses.  I wasn’t especially horsey when we lived in Fairfax, Virginia, which was where we spent the first two years after my dad retired from the Air Force our of Mildenhall Air Force Base in England.  My sister had taken riding lessons in England, but I wasn’t necessarily into horses myself…  but then we moved to rural, country Gloucester, where many people owned horses.  My neighbor, mother to one of the hoodlums who used to harass me, used to let me ride her horse every once in awhile.  I will never forget the intoxicating aroma of the horses and the thrill of sitting on one for the first time.  I fell deeply in love.

Within a couple of years after we moved to Gloucester, I started taking formal riding lessons.  I continued riding throughout high school, finally giving it up in 1990, the year I graduated.  Although Gloucester was, and probably still is, a rather provincial place, there were actually some interesting people living there.  In fact, there’s a lot of old money in Gloucester and many historic plantations are located there.  You could spend all day driving around the county looking at them if you wanted to.

Little me on Rusty, the pony who got me through high school still innocent.  I think I was about twelve in this photo.  The year was 1984.

In the 80s, the Sadovic family from France owned a big fancy plantation called Eagle Point.  I don’t know what their business was, but they were very French and apparently very wealthy.  Their son, Greg, was about my age.  He showed horses.  I believe he and the rest of his family now live in Palm Beach, Florida and he now shows horses professionally.  In the 80s, he was involved in 4H, like I was, and he sometimes rode in the small shows, like I did.  But his family owned beautiful horses and were very serious about the sport. 

For several years in the 1980s, the Sadovics employed an expert French horseman named Francois Lemaire de Ruffieu.  Francois was a bit of a “rock star” in the horse world.  He first trained and graduated from the Cadre Noir, one of the oldest and most prestigious riding academies in Europe.  During his six years in the cavalry at Saumur and Fontainebleau, he studied and showed extensively in dressage, stadium jumping, three-day eventing and steeplechase.  He was awarded the title of Master Instructor of the American Riding Instructor Certification program in 1996.  Given that he was born in 1944, Francois has been in the horse business for many years.  But I knew him during his prime.  In fact, I distinctly remember falling off my horse, Rusty, right in front of him back in the 80s.

In those days, Francois was in his 40s and he lived in Gloucester.  He’d give riding clinics at Eagle Point.  I know I attended at least one or two of them.  In those days, Eagle Point had a number of events that we’d attend– horse shows, competitive trail rides, and fox hunts.  It wasn’t located far from where I took lessons.  My riding coach took lessons from Francois and passed on some of his techniques to us when she taught us.  I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but it was actually really cool that she was able to do that, especially in a place like Gloucester.

In 1988, right after Rusty and I won first place in a huge Hunter Pleasure Pony class in Richmond, Virginia.

In 1984, Francois published his first book, Handbook of Riding Essentials.  It made quite a splash locally, but I believe it also sold well internationally.  I see that Francois is still in business, too, giving riding clinics in places like Vermont.  I see on an old Facebook page that someone who worked with Francois in the 80s mentions having known him in Virginia.  He evidently also worked at Beau Shane, which was a beautiful farm in next door Mathews County (which I think is now defunct).  I knew it because the woman who used to run our 4H horse judging group was a horse trainer there and we used to visit Beau Shane to study conformation.  They had beautiful Swedish Warmbloods.  Mathews County is even more rural than Gloucester, but there were some really high caliber horses there.

This topic comes up because last night, I was noticing all the boat pictures and videos posted by some of my Gloucester friends and I felt a little bit homesick.  Gloucester is also home to several rivers and many people who live there own boats.  I joked that maybe it was time to move back to Gloucester.  My old riding coach mentioned that mosquitos are a thing there and maybe I’d forgotten that.  I was being a bit facetious.  I can’t see myself moving to Gloucester again.  It wouldn’t be the same as it was when I was growing up.  But another friend, a guy who lived there in the 70s, started talking about the plantations and mentioned Warner Hall…  He said it’s for sale.

Warner Hall is located right next to Eagle Point and, in the 80s, one could board their horses there.  It is now a five star B&B, but in the 80s, we rode our horses through the property while participating in events put on by Eagle Point.  I didn’t know it back in the 80s, but George Washington’s grandparents lived there.  Actually, Gloucester is a very historic place.  It’s also where Pocahontas was born.  And Dr. Walter Reed, a U.S. Army physician who led the team that postulated and confirmed the theory that yellow fever is transmitted by a particular mosquito species, rather than by direct contact, was also born in Gloucester, Virginia.  Gloucester was also used in a couple of films, notably Zelly & Me starring Isabella Rosselini, and Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise.  And John Lennon once owned a plantation in neighboring Mathews County called Poplar Grove.

When I was about eleven, I also used to occasionally visit Lisburne, another plantation that was restored by the Peebles family.  Their daughter, Laurie, showed horses on the A rated circuit and a church friend, also wealthy, hooked me up with her.  I remember I used to visit this marvelous home in Ordinary and play with Laurie’s horses.  This was before my mom got me into lessons with the woman who taught me all through high school. 

I think about all the places I could have grown up… places not as interesting or historic as Gloucester County is.  When I was a child, I thought it was a boring place.  Now I realize that Gloucester is pretty fascinating.  I still don’t know that I want to move back there, but it was a cool place to grow up.  There’s an interesting mix of old money, old redneck, and military transients in that county.  I still have a lot of friends there, although my family has moved on.  If it weren’t for horses, I don’t know that I would have had so many opportunities to see some of these wonderful old homes. 

Of course, I also got to see a few of them thanks to being a Presbyterian.  I think in Gloucester, a lot of Presbyterians were somewhat well-heeled and connected to old money.  But I see now, even the church I grew up in has changed.  I remember when that sanctuary was built, back in 1980, 100 years after the church was founded.  And now, it’s no longer First Presbyterian Church.  Now it’s Grace Covenant Church, affiliated with the new ECO branch of Presbyterianism because apparently, the minister didn’t want to have to marry gay couples, and disagreed with some of the other changing views of the PCUSA branch.

Anyway… I just heard the chimes go off, signifying that it’s time to move the laundry to the dryer.  I guess I’ve rambled on long enough this morning.

Here’s a link to Francois’ book…  I see it’s significantly more expensive these days!  But it is very well-regarded… Maybe I should buy a copy for old time’s sake.

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