Until life returns to some semblance of normal, from time to time we will send out the Corona Chronicles. This publication will provide commentary, brief stories, poetry, book and movie suggestions, and ways to make our time at home meaningful and fulfilling. If you have ideas to submit, please contact Nancy Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sitting at my desk I occasionally look up to see the beauty of the July garden. Peonies dominate the green backdrop of trees and nature looks elegantly decked out in summer splendor. But I am not thinking of my garden or the many chores waiting, rather I am remembering countless past summers spent in my home state of Virginia, the Old Dominion. For years I would spend summers in Richmond with my grandparents. Richmond in the 1950’s was a sleepy, Southern capital dominated by tobacco companies, state bank headquarters, and government. Gracious, tree-lined avenues lined with crepe Myrtle trees and grand oaks dominated the residential west end, home to the descendants of FFV’s (First Families of Virginia). Magnificent Monument Avenue stretched five miles from the downtown of the city to Henrico County. Five statues graced this avenue, dedicated during the Jim Crow era honoring the heroes of the Confederacy (Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Jeb Stuart, Stonewall Jackson, and Matthew Fontaine Maury). A sixth statue, erected in 1996, is dedicated to native son, tennis great, Arthur Ashe. The Battle Abbey, the White House of the Confederacy, and the Valentine museum all paid homage to the mythical Lost Cause of the Confederate defeat. These monuments and museums loom large in my memory as part of my summer vacations.
One hot summer afternoon I discovered a book entitled Gone With The Wind and so at age twelve I spent days reading about Scarlett and the Lost Cause. Lying on the glider on my grandmother’s side porch I reveled in the adventures of Miss O’Hara with visions of the Old South filling my head. Of course, the gallant Rhett Butler was my choice for Scarlett and the ambiguous ending left me in tears. I paid little attention to Mammy, Big Sam, or Prissy. They were window dressing in Scarlett’s story. Today just thinking about those characters and the way they were treated leaves me ashamed of my younger self.
I called my grandmother Bebe. She was a wonderful cook and when I returned home my parents were horrified at the extra pounds I had gained over the summer of eating her wonderful cooking. Meals featuring fried chicken, hot rolls, potato salad, sliced tomatoes, crab cakes, deviled crab, fried oysters, homemade cakes, cobblers, deep dish pies and homemade ice cream accompanied by the ubiquitous iced tea (contrary to popular opinion “sweet tea” was not a tradition in my youth), were prepared and served with love.
At some point in the summer my grandfather, aka Pippy, would drive me and Bebe to her family home on the banks of the James River near the Blue Ridge Parkway Bridge that crossed the river. The white house built in the 1880s sat on a hill above the train tracks that ran alongside the mighty James River. It was here in 1863 that Stonewall Jackson’s body was transferred from the Richmond train onto a barge that navigated the canal, then onto a horse drawn carriage that transported his body to Lexington, Virginia for burial. I can remember hot summer nights sitting on the porch watching night mists rising from the river and imagining the great man’s coffin on that train.
The story of Confederate gold hidden in Bedford County was popular and for fun we would dig in my great-grandmother’s garden looking for those millions. In a tiny village in Virginia called Big Island, I learned of my great-great-grandfather who perished in the “War of the Northern Aggression” as well as the story of another six times great-grandfather named David Rice. A Presbyterian minister, he attended Princeton, serving as minister to troops during the Revolutionary War and later became one of the founders of Hampden Sydney College. But he left Virginia for the wilderness of Kentucky because of his strong abolitionist beliefs.
My father was an Army officer and for the first 14 years of my life we lived in Germany, France, Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas returning to Alexandria, Virginia as I entered high school. I realized immediately the differences between me and most of the local students our high school served. I couldn’t understand why the school was all white, not a single black face. “They” had their own schools, stores, neighborhoods, and churches and never the “twain would meet.” On army bases schools were integrated not only with Black students but in some cases middle easterners, Vietnamese, Japanese, etc. I cannot recall a single instance in my youth where racial differences were an issue. No one voiced racial slurs or insults in schools on military bases but there was a caste system present between officers and enlisted men and their families.
In 1960 when I was a junior in high school in Virginia, the school was integrated when two black students were admitted. The State National Guard was present to ensure there were no problems. This was at the height of “massive resistance” in Virginia and several school districts in Virginia closed rather than admit Black students.
As a freshman at the University of Richmond’s Westhampton College I was one of more than 700 all white girls save for one Chinese student. I loved college and the small cadre of boys and girls with whom I shared literary dreams, love of art, films, and the stage. We were naive in believing we could make a difference as we heard our president proclaim ”Ask not what America can do for you but what you can do for your country!” But in 1963 we watched our vision for the future shatter with JFK’s assassination, then the war in Viet Nam, the heightened and open injustices in parts of the South and the bombing of the young girls in Birmingham. We mourned his death, the violence of that year, and the cruelty of men. We questioned long-held concepts and the systems we had accepted in the past. We sang the folk songs of Seeger, Baez, and many others and took to wearing black. When an all-Black South African choir toured Virginia to sing at colleges they were not allowed to use our restroom facilities. Portable toilets were provided. This was something we found abhorrent and we feebly protested but we weren’t brave like our successors in the later sixties. We did not speak up but read James Baldwin, Larraine Hansbury, and mourned the assasination of Malcolm X a few months prior to our graduation.
A wedding, a birth, and suddenly I was a young mother coping with massive changes in my life. Back in Alexandria, hometown of Robert E. Lee, life was uncomplicated, our tiny townhouse was close to my husband’s office. The night H. Rap Brown was brought from Cambridge, Maryland to Virginia angry voices lined the Main Street near our house. Tensions were suddenly high between groups in the City. Blacks called for the removal of the confederate statue “Appomattox” that stood in the intersection of two major streets but the City fathers let it stand. Following the assasination of Dr. King I watched the violence on television and felt sympathy for the protesters and assured myself that if I were black my rage would be equally intense.
My children attended Maury School named for the Confederate’s naval hero, Matthew Fontaine Maury. We traveled around town on Beauregard, Pickett, Lee Streets, and Jefferson Davis Highway. Our schools were integrated but schools in “good” neighborhoods had few Black children. As a young mother I worked for liberal political candidates who spoke of righting old wrongs, I chaired PTA activities designed to unite all parents in the schools, and finally I took a job with an organization whose mission was to increase the capacity of people to care for one another. Suddenly the problems of poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, teen pregnancy became a part of my everyday life. I saw the insidious, systemic injustices that had produced and caused so many of the problems faced by so many. I realized how naive the marches of my youth were, how simplistic the folk songs we sang, and finally how reading Black authors was a poor substitute for experiencing the issues of injustice that were built into the Constitution of the country.
For the past half century I have seen injustices grow. I have watched the banality of evil in action. I have cried, prayed, voted, and hoped that the day would come in my lifetime when the statues would be viewed realistically, when the battle flag of the confederacy disappeared, and when my south would be more than just a place to be scorned as backward and racist. Perhaps now that time is drawing near. America is listening and demanding change and justice. Public buildings and places are being renamed. Statues and monuments from the Jim Crow era are being removed. Has the day come when we will heed the words of the 18th century Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote that “all men are created equal?” Then perhaps my pride of place, my love for Southern literature, my memories of hot summer evenings and the people I have loved in the South will finally be free of the heavy guilt that I have carried for so many years.
Nancy relocated to Belfast from Virginia five years ago after a career as a nonprofit fundraiser and agency director coupled with political activism. A member of St. Margaret’s Church, the Belfast Garden Club, and the board of Waterfall Arts, Nancy is particularly happy to be part of Senior College Belfast.
The gardenia bush by the back step
Is resplendent with blossoms of snow
The scent of jungle sweetness
Bringing memories of long gowns, dances
And flowers pinned in the hair.
The magnolia tree shades the neighbor’s yard.
Its branches form a hoop skirt.
Its tip towers over the roof line.
Giant cream buds, the size of a baby’s head,
Sit enthroned in nests of shiny greenness, perfect leaves of polished wax,
I send my son at night to pluck a magnolia flower from a high branch.
I float the stolen treasure in a cut glass bowl.
The smell heady, cloying.
I keep vigil as the bloom unfolds.
It lasts two days in full glory,
Turns brown, soft and falls,
Becoming the texture of fine leather.
I watch this timeless evolution.
Exotic for a lady who loves lilacs in Maine.
Kristin Frangoulis writes and paints in Belfast. She lives with her husband, George and several cats. She also hosts WBFY radio show, “Poetry By The Bay,” and co-hosts the TV show, “Good Morning Belfast” with her husband.
Wicked Good Maine
When the lupines bloom in early June, Mother Nature’s artistic genius creates an unforgettable masterpiece of vivid colors and vibrant greens. The spectacular artistry is on display in meadows, along the sides of roadways and seaside coastlines. Personally, I find it difficult to keep my eyes on the road while passing a patch of such dazzling beauty. The palette of colors for the pointed spikey flower stalks can be anywhere from white to a very deep purple. While some lupines of the same color prefer to grow together in one location, it is also common to see meadows of lupines with mixed whites, pinks, blues and purples all intermixed.
I first fell in love with lupines when I worked as a river guide in California in my mid-20s. There were thousands of lupine growing on the banks of the Stanislaus River, down which I frequently rafted. One day I mused aloud to my passengers my curiosity about what determined whether the flowers would be white or blue. One of my passengers happened to be a geologist who explained that experts in his field paid close attention to the color of lupines because blue (or dark) colored lupines grow in soil that is undisturbed and stable, whereas white lupines tend to grow in soil that has been recently disturbed (think landslides, erosion, forest fires). The prevailing conventional wisdom, therefore, argued against building a new home on or near abundantly growing white lupine.
The plant’s name is derived from the Latin word for wolf. The Romans believed that lupines devoured the soil’s nutrients with the same voracious appetites of hungry wolves. Nothing could be further from the truth. This plant actually adds nitrogen, which is a component of most plant fertilizers, to the soil making it more fertile and productive. The nectar of its flower is also an important food source for honeybees, hummingbirds and butterflies. It has also been called Old Maids Bonnets for the shape of the individual flower petals.
There are over 200 species of this perennial plant of the pea family. The wild lupine species was originally native to Maine but according to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry this species is now likely extinct in the state. The large leave lupine commonly seen in Maine was initially native to the west coast and Europe grows between 3-4 feet tall. The plant flowers in early summer but does not tolerate the increasing heat of summer. Each flower gives way to a hairy seed pod that contains 6 – 10 seeds. When the seeds are ripe the pod explodes open scattering the seeds away from the mother plant.
The seeds are not edible in raw form as they contain the extremely bitter toxins D-Lupaine and Sparteine. However there are companies who process the lupine seeds to remove the toxins. After a 24 hour soak in water, the seeds are boiled for 45 minutes, then soaked for at least 7 days in water that is refreshed a minimum of twice a day until the bitterness is gone. The seeds are then kept until used in salted water. The processed seeds, known as lupini beans are readily available in grocery stores in a salt water brine or roasted and salted as a crunchy snack. However, anyone with an allergy to peanuts should steer clear of lupini beans as well.
Probably no one has done more to promote this summertime bloomer than Barbara Cooney, who in 1982 wrote and illustrated an award winning children’s book, Miss Rumphius. When I first read it I remember being charmed by the colorful illustrations and quirky story about a fictional woman named Alice Rumphius, who set out to beautify the country side where she lived. The story starts “Miss Rumphius, the Lupine Lady lives in a small house overlooking the sea. In between and around her house grew blue and purple and rose colored flowers.”
It turns out that there actually was a real woman who was known as the Lupine Lady who lived in Christmas Cove. Her name was Hilda Hamlin, or Hilda Lupina as she was known to a few close friends for her ability to cultivate such lovely lupines. On one of her trips back to her native England she collected some lupine seeds to sow in her cottage garden back in Maine. They thrived and Hilda harvested their seeds, then began to scatter them along the local roadsides. She was even observed throwing them from the windows of her car when going for a drive.
In a 1971 Yankee Magazine article by W. Storrs Lee, he explains that Hamlin kept her far reaching gardening a secret from everyone except one “old schoolmarm” who stopped a woman in Hamlin’s town and inquired about the origin of the colorful plants. The woman responded, “At the end of the road lives a queer old bird who has so many hundreds of lupines on her land that she has acquired the habit of cultivating the seed when it opens.” The school marm said she’d like to shake the hand of that woman. “Shake,” said Hamlin, “I am Hilda Lupina.”
In folklore, Lupine flowers are associated with creativity, imagination, admiration and overall happiness. The blooming stalks are commonly used in floral arrangements for celebratory occasions or in gift bouquets.
At the end of the story Miss Rumphius tells her niece “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.” What sage advice that we all should heed. If every human being took a cue from the summertime splendor lupines that remind us every year what beauty is possible and found a simple way to make the world more beautiful, how truly lovely that would be.
Brenda Smith fulfilled a life-long dream when she moved to Belfast in 2019. An accounting graduate of Bentley University, she worked as a CPA and Vice President of Finance for several non-profit organizations. She earned her MS from Suffolk University in Philanthropy and Media. and has produced, directed and edited many award winning videos. She is most proud of the coveted “Telly” award on her desk. Now retired, she is busy with several writing projects: an early memoir recounting some of her hair-raising global adventures, a later memoir about living with the extremely rare Stiff Person’s syndrome, and writing short essays about things in life that make her smile. She is a board member and treasurer of Belfast Senior College.