Living (and Dying) in Middleburg

Monday, July 6th, 2015
Sharon Cemetery in Middleburg, Va.

Sharon Cemetery in Middleburg, Va.


BEING DEAD IS NO EXCUSE by Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays

Some years back, Charlotte Hays and Gayden Metcalf published a book entitled BEING DEAD IS NO EXCUSE. It is a delightful read, a very tongue in cheek discussion of Southern funeral customs.

When it comes to funeral customs Middleburgers take theirs seriously. As soon as the word goes out that Brother has passed away the phone calls begin with the questions “Where is the service and reception?” and “Who is making  the deviled eggs and crustless pimento cheese sandwiches?”

As Charlotte and Gayden (who are from the Mississippi Delta and know a great deal about Southern funeral customs) point out, most proper Southern brides receive a crystal deviled egg plate as a wedding gift so they will be prepared to attend their first funeral reception as a new Mrs. The plates (you know the ones with the hollow oval spaces to hold the eggs surrounding a center well) could be inherited from grandmother. Grandmother neglected to tell me what the heck goes in that center hole and I am still clueless.

In Middleburg, funereal receptions sometimes grow so large that a tent behind the church is needed to accommodate the crowd. There seems to be an endless supply of mourners composed of family, dear friends, casual friends or just people who once met the deceased in the check out line at the Safeway. When well-known horseman Paul Fout died in 2005 his body was placed in a pine coffin draped with his racing colors, which made the trip from Glenwood Park to Middleburg’s Sharon Cemetery on a carriage pulled by four horses driven by William Staples. His widow, Eve, expressed concern that the coffin be well secured on the carriage so that Paul did not experience an involuntary dismount on his final ride through town. All went well and the procession was quite moving.

Funereal fare varies, sometimes because of different religions involved. Charlotte Hays quotes Lucy Mattie Trigg, who says, “You can always tell when a Methodist dies — there are lots of casseroles”. Methodists are known to have the best food, but no alcohol. If it is good libations you seek you need to wait for an Episcopalian to die.

Many fine citizens of Middleburg (both native and not) were raised to consider the social event side of the funeral process as a way to pay respect to the deceased and family. This is especially true of my parents’ generation. My father-in-law died in Richmond a few months ago. By the time we went through the required ritual of visitation, funeral, reception and graveside service it was a 3-day process. Some Hollywood marriages do not last that long.

For some, all this formal ritual is just not their cup of tea. My friend, Linda Sandridge, has asked that she simply be cremated and her ashes spread beneath the sales rack in the dress department at Lord and Taylor. I am thinking we can slip in right before closing time wearing raincoats with large pockets and no one will notice. The good news about cremation is that there is no rush to schedule anything as the remains have no “sell by” date.

Having recently spent several months dealing with the deaths of close friends and relatives I have noticed that sometimes we become so mired in our own preferred rituals surrounding death and funerals that we become critical of those who prefer a different approach. When Brother’s widow decides to remember him privately in the presence of only those closest to her without all the usual pomp and circumstance it may be just the way she chooses to grieve. It does not need to mean that she decided that he does not deserve a high volume send off because she  is angry with him for  neglecting to mow the lawn before he died. Some families do not feel comfortable with a big reception, surrounded by lots of people in tears, or want to expend the funds to feed a multitude. It all comes down to personal preference.

Someone very close to me, when asked why he did not want a traditional funeral after he dies answered simply “Because funerals are much too sad and I do not want a bunch of people standing around being sad.” Amen, Brother.      

Bells Ring Out For Civil War in Middleburg

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015



Lee did not surrender. Grant just stole his sword and Lee was too much of a gentleman to ask him to give it back.” (from the Complete How to Speak Southern by Steve Mitchell)


On Thursday, April 9th at 3:00 PM the bell at Appomattox Court House will ring in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. At 3:15 PM bells in churches and court houses  will toll across the Commonwealth of Virginia and other parts of our land to recognize the importance of that event. In Middelburg the steeple bells in the historic Middleburg United Methodist and Emmanuel Episcopal Churches as well as the Unison Methodist Church in the village of Unison will ring for 4 minutes, one minute for each year of the Civil War. A war during which these churches served as hospitals for wounded from both sides.


Please note that I carefully do not describe this event as a commemoration of Lee’s surrender. To do so might result in my husband who DOES speak really good Southern (noticeable every time he introduces me as his wiiife) suggesting that I find another place to live. We are clear that we are not celebrating a surrender but the end of a bloody and lethal war.


The Battle of Middleburg, one of the first of the Gettysburg Campaign, left an enduring mark in the hearts and minds of area residents who experienced it. JEB Stuart tried to hold Mt. Defiance while the Union army invaded Middleburg and the surrounding area as part of an effort to ascertain Lee’s location . Sort of like a 19th century version of Where’s Waldo? One would think that a mass of soldiers the size of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia would not be so difficult for the Yankees to locate but then they had not had much success locating John Mosby either.


My good friends who reside North of the Mason Dixon Line are always asking me why the South still seems to be fighting the Civil War. Well, it’s complicated.  A lot of animosity still festered during reconstruction. Parts of the South were left so devastated there was little left to reconstruct. While some Federal officials such as Lincoln and even his successor, Andrew Johnson, favored a post war gentle approach with the former rebels many others were determined to mete out as harsh a punishment as possible. It did not help that during the Civil War many ancestral homes in the South were burned to the ground or destroyed. Irreplaceable family heirlooms had vanished. Simple documents such as deeds, marriage and birth certificates had been recorded in courthouses which no longer existed.  There were many soldiers who were not from wealthy families or the landed gentry who returned home to find they no longer had one.  In many Southern families the expectation may have been to lose fathers, sons, and brothers in battle but not 200-300 years of family history. Southerners are proud people and proud of their heritage.  Naïve though it may appear to some today that is the reason some of the bitterness still exists and  still shapes the Southern point of view. Which to answer the question posed at the beginning of this paragraph is the only side I am presenting here.  I am very aware there is a converse ( with some merit) point of view so don’t be calling me and hollering about it at  3:00 AM. OK?



The Sound of Music in Middleburg

Monday, March 16th, 2015



Your chamber or mine?


The Vitali String Quartet

The Vitali String Quartet

Middleburgers and visitors will once again have the opportunity to embrace their love of the arts with the inaugural concert of the Middleburg Concert Series on Sunday, March 22nd at 4:00 PM at Middleburg United Methodist Church located at 15 West Washington Street across the street from the Safeway. The spring concert will be a journey through chamber music and feature performances by the Vitali String Quartet, organists Larry Correll and Karen Chase and pianist, Anna Nizhegorodtseva. It promises to be a great way to spend a relaxing Sunday in the ‘Burg.


This concert will be the first of four with others to follow in the summer, fall, and winter. The musical programs will be varied and easily accessible to the community and guests. Light refreshments will be served following the Sunday performance. Admission is by free will offering. For more information contact Artist in Residence ,Dr. Alan Saucedo, (540) 303-7127,

Steeplechase Races in Middleburg

Monday, March 9th, 2015

 I’ll Have Mine With a Chaser

Neck and Neck at Middleburg Hunt Point to Point

Neck and Neck at Middleburg Hunt Point to Point

Those of us who are lusting for the arrival of spring (yesterday, please) are looking forward to the impending steeplechase and point-to-point races in Middleburg and the surrounding area. One of the most popular is the Middelburg Hunt Point-to-Point, which takes place this year on Sunday, April 26th at the wonderful and picturesque Glenwood Park. Because the event occurs later during the spring race schedule Mother Nature has more time to get herself in gear and often delivers lovely spring weather.

Legend has it that steeplechase racing began in the early 18th century with a couple of stout ale infused Irish horsemen challenging each other to a race across the countryside from one church steeple to another. For anyone who has ever had a wild ride fox hunting with the Irish that explanation sounds very plausible. Whatever their origin these gatherings are a wonderful rite of spring here in Middleburg. The various fox hunt clubs host point-to-to point races almost every weekend. They are the place to see ladies in large hats and sample sumptuous food and libations at beautifully appointed tailgate parties. Spring is also the season for the famous Virginia Gold Cup race, which is held on the first Saturday in May attracting race fans from all over the world. It also attracts some scantily clad nubile young bodies that may or may not realize there are horses in the area.

Ladies Sporting their Chapeaux at Glenwood (one missed the memo)

Ladies Sporting their Chapeaux at Glenwood (one missed the memo)


Utopia Tailgate Party. Courtesy of Middleburg Photo

Utopia Tailgate Party. Courtesy of Middleburg Photo

Steeplechase horses or “chasers” for short hand are amazing equine athletes to watch as they soar like Pegasus over the jumps (OK, sometimes they miss). In the past it was a requirement that a steeplechase horse needed to have been “fairly hunted” before entering the point- to-point races but today, although some of the chasers are fox hunted during the season, most tend to be just racehorses.       Tickets for the Middelburg Hunt Point-to-Point can be purchased in advance at $5 per car and $10 per person. On race day that amount  increases to $10 per car and $15 per person. Tailgate spots range from $75-$200 depending upon location. For more information call (540) 454-2991.

Anne Sittman and the Greenwells sport classic race attire at the Middleburg Hunt Point to Point. Photo by Middleburg Photo.

Anne Sittman and the Greenwells sport classic race attire at the Middleburg Hunt Point to Point. Photo by Middleburg Photo.


Horses and Carriages in Middleburg, Virginia

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

Not Your Grandfather’s Hansom Cab

Jack Ferguson drives a one horse cart a looong time ago.

Jack Ferguson drives a one horse cart a looong time ago.

In those pre-motor car episodes of Downton Abbey were you as spellbound as I to see the characters travel in horse drawn carriages? I was transported to a place where I imagined I just might be Elizabeth R (although I have always suspected that there is a good chance that some of my Irish ancestors might have been serfs).

There is something so magical about riding in a horse drawn vehicle, especially in the Middleburg area where the sport of coaching is still a vital part of our country landscape.The vehicle might be pulled by a single, a pair, a four, or a unicorn (three horses with one in front and two behind).Those aboard embrace the delightful experience of travelling back in time. Whether one is riding on a carriage or watching it roll by on one of the Middleburg area’s rustic roads their presence in our community is one of the many things which makes life here so special.

William Staples Drives A Pair

William Staples Drives A Pair

Some vehicles are actual antiques, others are reproductions and include coaches, roof seat brakes, landaus and so many more. I have not noticed too many of Cinderella’s pumpkin coaches in these parts although the amount of champagne consumed on some local coaching drives can cause various participants to swear that they have actually seen several horse drawn pumpkins with the Ugly Stepmother on the box (the place where the driver sits).They might also swear that they have seen 101 Dalmatians but that could stem from bubbly induced multiple vision upon viewing the actual one or two Dalmatians that are a requisite component of some drives.

Hats for ladies and gentlemen who ride on a carriage are de rigeur which are sometimes paired with really large sunglasses (although never allowed in actual competition). They can be quite useful as a means of disguise for those aboard trying to hide the fact that they may have counted the most pumpkins. A driver on a carriage is called a whip and watching him/her turn around a large vehicle pulled by a four in hand is a very impressive sight. The key seems to be to convince all four steeds to go in the correct direction at the correct time.

Woman Driver! Queenie Kemmerer Handily Drives a Coach and Four

Woman Driver! Queenie Kemmerer Handily Drives a Coach and Four

Several years ago Doug Kemmerer helped to arrange a coaching event to benefit the National Sporting Library and Museum. There were whips from all over the United States driving some 30 plus coaches and four to the magnificent Langollen estate for a picnic on the lawn. I happened to be a passenger seated on the top of the lead coach and turned around to see a long line of magnificently turned out coaches and horses trotting along behind us, in seemingly perfect harmony, gleaming in the bright sunlight of a perfect Middleburg Day. I turned to my husband and said, “We are so blessed to be able to live here.”

Foxhunting and Christmas in Middleburg

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015
Ex-Master Of Foxhounds, Jack Ferguson in Hunt Parade

Ex-Master Of Foxhounds, Jack Ferguson in Hunt Parade

How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?

On the first Saturday in December you may have seen a few foxhounds dashing into some of our local shops. Early canine Christmas shopping perhaps? Actually the hounds belong to the pack of the Middleburg Hunt parading through town to begin the annual Christmas in Middleburg celebration.

In our foxhunting community the mantra of the season is “hunt early and hunt often”. The holiday season brings not only wonderful hunting but also a myriad of hunt oriented social events such as hunt balls and hunt breakfasts. Some hunt breakfasts are nighttime formal affairs, which appear to those not involved with foxhunting to be a contradiction in terms. How can you have a breakfast at night? In foxhunting tradition breakfast was served whenever the field returned from hunting and sometimes that is not until dark.

Formal hunt ball attire,evening scarlet  for men and dark gown for ladies

Formal hunt ball attire,evening scarlet for men and dark gown for ladies

This year the Middleburg Hunt rode through town in a pelting rain. Not to be discouraged by the damp, the members rode off to foxhunt and returned home soggy but happy. Those who did not immediately take to the warmth of their beds found their way to a hot shower and changed to attend an evening hunt ball or breakfast.

Holiday hunt breakfasts such as the ones at Huntland or Utopia are very dressy with women in long gowns and gentlemen in black tie or evening scarlet (foxhunters version of white tie and tails). During the Christmas season many of the noontime breakfasts are also sumptuous and very festive.

Christmas tree in Rose Marie Bogley's entry hall.

Christmas tree in Rose Marie Bogley’s entry hall.

One of the more glamorous breakfasts is hosted by Rose Marie Bogley at her historic estate in Upperville following a joint meet of the Piedmont and Potomac foxhounds, an event guaranteed to put even Ebenezer Scrooge into the Christmas spirit. The décor is Christmas on steroids, truly magical.

Upon arriving guests are greeted by an enormous and beautifully decorated Christmas tree in the entry hall that seems to rival the one in Rockefeller Center. Every room in the house is elegantly decorated with a completely decorated Christmas tree in every room including the bedrooms. The fires crackling in the fireplaces offer a warm welcome to the members of the field who are returning from a day of chasing Mr. Fox.

As we melt down into the calm of the New Year and can once again find a parking space in town we reflect on how blessed we are to live in such a beautiful part of the world with such spectacular Christmas traditions.

My Sixth Cousin Once Removed From Texas Says My Property is Worth A Million Dollars

Friday, November 7th, 2014
There are many ways to value this property

There are many ways to value this property

Of much discussion in front of the post office these days is Oak Spring, the Mellon farm that is now on the market following the death of the 103 year old Rachel “Bunny” Mellon on St. Patrick’s Day. The list price is $70 million, which has initiated lots of chatter as to whether or not it is “worth” that price. Because a competitor lists it I would not presume to offer an opinion of value on this blog site although I am more than happy to become the buyer’s agent for anyone looking for property in that price range.

All the Mellon property chatter highlights the entire quandary of determining market value in real estate. As realtors we give our sellers an opinion of market value, usually based upon recent comparable sales. This is not to be confused with an appraisal which is value established by a certified appraiser. Neither is it to be confused with the assessed value established by the local governing body for the purpose of determining real estate taxes. Don’t even get me started on Zillow! No matter which approach is used everyone has a strong opinion about the result. This is one area of real estate in which almost everyone seems to be an expert, which causes lots of heated discussions.

Invariably Jack and I will list a property after much discussion about the price with the sellers and two weeks later they call to tell us that they want to RAISE the price because their “sixth cousin one removed has just visited from Texas and told them that their property” is worth at least several hundred thousand more than the listing price”. Besides, their neighbor’s house (which is only 10,000 square feet larger than theirs) sold for more. Having lived in Texas for 16 years I can tell you that I knew lots of very intelligent people there so I harbor no prejudice against Texans. However, to use a Texas expression, people from Texas offering opinion of value for real estate in Middleburg could very well be “all hat and no cattle.”

Pricing is the hot button throughout the sales process. If the seller accepts his first offer the buyer is convinced that he should have offered less. If the appraisal comes in above the list price the seller wonders why the property was not priced higher (and sometimes asks if he can go back and ask for an amount ABOVE that specified in the ratified contract).

It is important to keep in mind that an opinion of value in real estate is not an exact science and certainly subject to many variables. One never knows when that one buyer in a million who ACTUALLY wants a kidney shaped pool painted in bright fuschia may just turn up and be happy to pay the full asking price, maybe more. However, more often than not no one but the seller will see that feature as something that will enhance the property value. Well, maybe in Texas if the pool is large enough . According to the strict definition of market price once the buyer agrees to pay that full price and the seller accepts it, fushcia pool and all, that is the market value for the property. Even in Texas.

Middleburg Wedding Belles

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

mumc1_pl1y[1]   On a brilliant and lovely Saturday strolling along the streets of the historic village of Middleburg, Virginia, one is often treated to the melodic sound of the antique bell in the steeple of the 19th century Middleburg United Methodist Church. Exiting the church at that very moment might be one of our own belles in a striking white gown and veil accompanied by her new husband. Now that Middleburg has become a destination spot for country weddings, many of those belles can just as easily be “from away” as we say here.

The Middleburg United Methodist Church was built between 1857-1858 and the old bell bears the 1857 date stamp. There is a stained glass window inside the church dedicated to Catherine Broun Fred, whose mother, Catherine Hopkins Broun, kept a diary during the Civil War. Mrs. Broun laments the horror of seeing both Union and Confederate wounded lying in what was then their new Methodist Church pressed into service as a hospital. One of Mrs. Broun’s diary entries also mentions her dinner guest, Col. John Singelton Mosby, who had skirted the Yankee lines to sneak over for a home cooked meal.  

Weddings are always a time of celebration in our village just as they are anywhere else. Wedding day jitters can sometimes affect others besides the bride and groom. My second husband, Jack, and I were married here in this area about 8 years ago. We would have been married in Middleburg Methodist but since we married while mounted on horseback the church custodian vetoed the cleanup job, necessitating an outdoor venue.

The pastor who married us was my lifelong friend who had also performed the ceremony when I married my first husband, Ralph. I nearly fell off my horse when I heard the pastor turn to Jack and ask “Do you, Ralph…?” Jack was a bit concerned later about whether or not I had married him or if I had just been remarried to Ralph!  

No matter who the bride or groom might be, Middleburg weddings are always a very special event.

Middleburg, Shakespeare and Hamlets

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

The Philomont General Store sells many emergency wine.

The Philomont General Store sells many emergency provisions…like wine.

Where to be or not to be –which hamlet is for you?

In Middleburg we not only have a Shakespeare festival, we have our very own hamlets. The hamlets that comprise the ring of surrounding neighborhoods and villages where many “Middleburgers” live. There may be a Rosencrantz or Guildenstern lurking about but around here they are probably race horses.

As a realtor I explain to clients moving here from out of the area that the village of Middleburg itself is the hub of the wheel of country life we enjoy in our bucolic environs. Many who are vital participants in Middleburg life actually live outside the Town limits.Lots of us live in hamlets like Aldie, Unison, Upperville, Delaplane, Philomont, Airmont, Bluemont, and even the southern parts of Round Hill and Purcellville. Of course “we will always have Paris”, except that ours is located up near the Ashby Gap.

Key to these smaller communities are the little country stores. At the General Store in Philomont one finds a variety of emergency provisions such as bread, milk, wine, cheese, white wine, sandwiches, red wine —-did I mention that they sell wine? I had a real emergency this afternoon when I realized that we had no milk for breakfast tomorrow. I pulled out my wallet to pay for my milk in the Airmont Store. I realized that I had exactly $1.00 in cash. No credit cards here, so I sheepishly put the milk back and went home to begin an exhaustive search for extra dough. Sudden salvation. I spied that husband tin of loose change that lives on his dresser. All husbands have them. They receive the coins when he empties his pants pockets at night. So, I scooped up the tin, ran back to the store and counted out $5.18 in nickels, dimes,pennies and quarters. The shopkeeper just smiled at me patiently the entire time. Patience exists in greater supply here than in the big city.

Senior Living in Middleburg

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

The best part about living in a small town is that even when you don’t know what you are doing everyone else does.

Have you ever wondered why it is customary for people here in the United States to retire at age 65? I have concluded that it is not because we are no longer mentally acute but because it is impossible to sandwich in a full time job amongst all the doctor’s appointments! At this point in my life the greatest sense of excitement comes from anticipation of learning what body part will be hurting that day.

Middleburg VA Post Office

The Middleburg Post Office, the place to go for all the scuttlebutt.

Middleburg, with its serenity and slower paced lifestyle, is ideal for senior citizens who want to step (careful, now) off the fast track. Awakening every day with lovely vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains and miles of horse pastures is a sure fired way to chill.

That is not to say that there are not lots of community activities. Horses are key here, so we have fox hunting, polo, carriage driving, and the oldest horse show in the U.S. For those not of the horsey set, there are many other events such as Shakespeare in the Burg, the Middleburg Film Festival,watching the Middleburg Hunt ride through the streets as part of the annual Christmas parade, free summer concerts, and many other events too numerous to mention.

If you need to know anything about activities or gossip about anyone in Town you just go pick up your mail at the Post Office, where local gossip flows like Goose Creek. I have a guest towel that reads “the best part about living in a small town is that even when you don’t know what you are doing everyone else does”.

On the other hand we locals are pretty protective of our celebs like Bobby Duvall and Willard Scott and say very little about them to outside snoopers “from away”. I guess if you want to be private we are happy to help. Not only is this a welcoming village for the young but an ideal place live out one’s golden years.