Middleburg VA

Living (and Dying) in Middleburg

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.      

Middleburg VA

Foxhunting and Christmas in Middleburg

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.

Middleburg VA

Middleburg, Shakespeare and Hamlets

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.