Grab bag: Errors and Jimbo

Back in Newport News

On Sunday I had to make my way back down to Virginia for a family emergency. While the cause was not pleasant, it was nice to be back in the town of my birth, for the first time in about ten years.

In the summer of 2000 my parents sold our family home and relocated to the family farm near Asheville, North Carolina. And that, I thought, was that, as far as visiting home. While I had friends in town, somehow I just couldn’t manage to make the trip from Boston, then later Seattle. So much of the town had changed since I grew up; it didn’t feel like I had a reason to come back.

But on Sunday, as I drove down from Dulles, around Richmond and into the hospital at Williamsburg, I started being aware of uncanny memories in my muscles. I knew where that on-ramp to 295 was; I knew how long I had before getting off on 64. After visiting in the hospital, I knew how to make my way down 199 into the center of Colonial Williamsburg and to drive around Merchant’s Square. I remembered the twists and turns to get back out of town on Rt. 60 (okay, my sister had to help a little with that one), and all the bits and pieces of the drive back into Newport News from there. And I remembered how to turn just there, off Denbigh Boulevard and up Old Courthouse Way, and take the back roads into the old neighborhood. As I turned onto Nicewood Drive it was a weird feeling, as though my parents would be there in the old house waiting with dinner made.

Muscle memory gave way to emotional memory, and I was riding my bike to the comic store, getting on the bus to go to school, washing the family cars in the driveway. Even the sight of someone else’s stuff through the big picture windows in the living room of the house didn’t break the spell.

But it was overlaid with different perspectives. I was conscious, really conscious, of a fact that had never seemed important when I was growing up: how close I was to the wetlands. Newport News is on a peninsula between the James and York Rivers, and at the edges is all estuary and wetlands. And somehow, growing up, my mental axes were aligned to the roads that led out of town; I never understood how close I was to those wet edges. Turns out, it’s darned close.

I drove to the family friends who were putting up my parents and sister, and when we got the call that other family friends were ready for me to come, drove down to Beechmont and after catching up went to bed.

And in the morning, I opened the curtains in the guest bedroom and saw the picture above. And the trees and red leaves and reeds and the creek and all, and I suddenly missed the place I was born.

UVa’s second Jewish professor and the “Virginia Yell Song”

Today’s Virginia Glee Club history update is about one of the classic University of Virginia football songs, and the man who wrote it–the University’s second Jewish professor.

Linwood Lehman wasn’t a Glee Club member–he was an undergraduate during a period where the Glee Club was mostly dormant, graduating in 1915 (the club had just revived that year after several less fruitful seasons). But he was a triple Hoo, taking a bachelors, masters, and doctorate at the University, and then going on to teach Latin there until his untimely death in 1953.

What is perhaps more surprising is that when he became a professor in 1920, he was only the University’s second Jewish professor. It turns out that Virginia, despite Jefferson’s Statute of Religious Freedom, was not particularly welcoming for Jews. The University’s first Jewish professor, J.J. Sylvester, was hired in 1841 but lasted less than a full term; the faculty failed to discipline a rowdy student who challenged him, and he was subsequently attacked by the student’s supporters. At the time of his hiring, the Richmond-based Presbyterian newspaper The Watchman of the South protested, claiming he had been hired over 40 other qualified candidates and stating “We have often said that as infidelity became ashamed of its own colors, it would seek to form alliances with Papism, Unitarianism, Judaism, and other errors subversive of Christianity.”

By the time Lehman came along, things had gotten a bit better. He stayed as a professor for 33 years, and had a significant impact, teaching Glee Club member and future Music Department head Ernest Mead among others. Mead remembered him as “somewhat offbeat with chic tastes, great humor and fine sensibilities.”

Lehman’s humor is present in the “Virginia Yell Song,” written when he was an undergraduate. The only UVa football song with a parenthetical interjection, it sounds in places like a conversation between slightly jaded onlookers who will only cheer a winning team:

Down the field our team is dashing–fight, Virginia, fight!
Carolina’ll get a smashing right
We are out for blood today so yell, boys, yell!
(–Will we get it? –I should say so!) Yell like hell!

But the overall song, with its “Let’s give a yell, boys, and we’ll yell Wa-hoo-wah/and raise our voices loud and roar,” has proved a worthy addition to the UVa football song repertoire. It was recorded on the Glee Club’s first album in 1951, and has made an appearance on the most recent one as well.

Grab bag: pretty good for government work

Grab bag: Unsolicited personal data access

  • Interesting hack. I don’t know how imminent iOS 4.2 is, but this might be useful.
    (tags: ios airprint)
  • “…the obvious (in hindsight) answer: They looked in my iPhone’s address book. I never said they could. What else did they do with my contacts? Send a copy to their server for safe-keeping? Foolish me, but I thought that was my iPhone and my contact list. I paid huge money for the iPhone, so it’s not like it could be anyone’s “business model” to use that data. But now, as far as I know, some unknown startup in California has all my data.”
    (tags: mobile iphone)

North Carolina oral history…from my uncle

My uncle got a pretty good distinction yesterday–he has his own page in the Special Collections Library website for UNC-Asheville. The page hosts oral history information from him about the family, and western North Carolina generally, along with photos.

The first piece to go up is an interview with Uncle Forrest that my sister conducted back in 2006, which has now been transcribed and illustrated. It’s a pretty great read, covering the Chunn house legend and local family history, including the first story that I ever learned about the family, about how my great-great-grandfather was almost shot for deserting from the Confederacy:

And then there was Obadiah, the great-grandfather. He lived over on the Blowhole Road and the Civil War had come along and he had already married Polly O’Dell and they didn’t have any slaves. Their hearts were not in the War. And the Confederates had already come along and took all their stock – left ‘em one old mare that didn’t have any teeth. And they had to grind the corn to make a crop with. He had a big family of children. Obadiah would desert in the spring of every year and come home to put in a crop.

…And Polly would set at the end of the field and act like she was knitting or crocheting, and she would watch while Obadiah plowed the corn and cut the wheat and all. She would wave whatever she was crocheting or sewing on if she saw the Confederates coming to capture him. He’d run for the brush. There was caves in the brush, one big cave still…the reason the road was named Blowhole Road, they called it the Blowhole Cave. I’ve been there many a time. Put milk in it in the summertime, the cool air comes out and we’d be down there fishing.

But anyway, he would run for the caves, and get away! But the third time, they knew his tricks, and so they surrounded the field. He took off for the bluff, and there was a Confederate soldier, he had his rifle laying up on the rail fence. He spotted him along and were fixing to kill him. So Obadiah, great-grandpa Obadiah, he threw up his hands and surrendered. They was a whole bunch of western North Carolina boys…the Redmons, and the Paynes, and the Jarretts, and whoever else…the Buckners…and they had all deserted and they had all been captured and they were all in the penitentiary waiting to be shot off their caskets in Raleigh.

And Gov. Zebulon B. Vance was the Governor of North Carolina at that time. He was from Western NC. He went down to see the Western NC boys who were in the penitentiary for desertion. And he said, “What can I do for you boys?”

And they said, “Give us a 90-day stay, and let us live for 90 more days.”

And the Redmon boys, and maybe some more of them, said, “Aahhh, they’re gonna kill us anyway, just go ahead and shoot us.”

And they set the Redmon boys up on their caskets and shot ’em off their caskets for desertion.

Well, before the 90 days was up, the Civil War looks as it’s going…drawing to a close in the south, and the Confederacy, they see that they are defeated. They put out instructions not to kill anybody else. So, lo and behold, Obadiah is released some little time after that, and in about 12, 13 months, Zebulon B. Vance Jarrett is born. Our grandfather.

I took a picture at the entrance to Blowhole Road a few summers ago, and we drove down it once, but without a guide it’s not really possible to find the old cave any more. A shame.

At any rate, not only is Uncle Forrest’s oral history now accessible online, but the Asheville Citizen-Times has done a nice feature on him too.

Grab bag: GOP tax plans, and other signs of the Antichrist

Grab bag: From Rugby Road to … Minecraft 8-bit CPUs

RIP, Henryk Mikołaj Górecki

One of the great composers of the late 20th century passed away today. Like many others, I discovered Górecki’s music through his Symphony No. 3, and turned quite a few other people on to him the same way. I will always remember an afternoon in late spring 1994, a few weeks before I graduated from the University of Virginia, sitting in the middle of the Lawn across from the open door of my room, listening to Dawn Upshaw’s voice at maximum volume with Craig Fennell and Diane Workman and deciding that this Polish composer had a lot to say.

I went on to sing a few of his works, particularly as part of a concert of 20th century choral music with the Cathedral Choral Society, but also during a program with the Cascadian Chorale. As a singer, it was fascinating how so few notes, so few suspensions, could carry so much emotional content and be so impossibly challenging to sing.

As I write this, Górecki’s “Amen” just came up on my iPhone, as if to say: as with all composers, what’s important is still with us.

Other obituaries: The Rambler.