Rolling on the River, Guns and Ammo and a Haunted House

Oct 08

Rolling on the River, Guns and Ammo and a Haunted House

After our lazy morning on the porch and a late breakfast, we loaded two canoes and two kayaks on the truck. We headed out down the dusty, winding gravel road upstream for a little outing on the river. We parked at a State Park – $2 – and drove down to the lot by the river. There was a building near the river called the Shot Tower. This is an old Civil War building where the cannon balls were made and then cooled by the waters of the New River. It is still standing tall with what looks like a big fireplace opening at the bottom. We divided in to our boats – Quinn and Jack in the kayaks, John and Erin in one canoe and Lindsay, Mary Mac and me in the other, larger canoe.

Rollin’ on the River – 01 Proud Mary

It was a perfectly beautiful fall day. The sun was warm and the water was cool. Some of the leaves had already fallen and were their own little boats floating down the river. Tiny minnows zipped about below the surface easily visible through the crystal clear water. We paddled out to the center of the river to get some practice. I was in the back “steering”. Lindsay was in the middle because her shoulder was hurting and Mary Mac was in the front. Canoeing or any kind of paddle boating with more than one person requires teamwork. We weren’t doing very well to start with zig zagging from side to side without maintaining a steady course down river. We ended up stuck on some shallow rock within a couple of minutes and Lindsay quickly volunteered to move to the front of the boat. We were off and through our first tiny little rapid. Mostly the river meandered. The water level was low this time of year. Jack zigged and zagged back in forth in front and behind us.

We made our way gently down the river enjoying ourselves, laughing at how badly we were coordinating our paddling. Water birds took flight around us and an occasional fish rose to the food on the surface. Water bugs made their V’s along the surface in the still areas of the slow water. Sheets of rock rose up in a diagonal across the river forcing us to paddle a course to keep from getting caught on them.

As we were drifting gently along near the end of our trip, a Bald Eagle took flight to our right just ahead and flew an easy path along the edge of the river for a few minutes before landing in another tree. What a magnificent bird and what a joy to see one in flight. Its a rare sight these days though the Bald Eagle is making a comeback from its near demise in the 1960’s from the effects of DDT. According to this site on Virginia Bald Eagle Preservation they have recovered dramatically from their low in the 1970’s of just 30 breeding pairs to 730 breeding pairs in 2011. What a sight!

Not long after spotting the eagle we saw our cabin ahead on the left bank of the river and we paddled our way to shore. We waded in the water and enjoyed the last minutes on the river. The light dancing on the water and the reflections of ourselves and the trees painted perfect watercolors I would love to hang on the walls of my house. I love time on the water, especially in the fall. There is such a different feel to the river in the fall when the air is crisp. Not like summer when the air on the river can strangle you with its thickness. Today was perfect – family, good friends, perfect weather and mother nature in her finest attire – showing off.

We headed back up to the house for a late lunch- meals in the South are often “late” because the day unfolds so slowly. It is now 3 and we munch down chicken salad sandwiches and potato chips while sitting on the back porch. Lindsay and Mary Mac turn in for the classic Southern catnap while Erin and I catch up on the back porch talking about life, meaning, balance and all that serious stuff. The boys head down to the field below the house for some shooting. First they start with a stationary target, the rounds going off in steady rhythm. Then they get out the skeet machine and start going for the moving targets. Erin goes in the cabin and I stretch out on the ottoman and close my eyes. The sun surrounds and warms me with her fall kiss while the crisp gentle breeze lifts just enough heat away to keep me perfectly comfortable. I listen to the shots now less rhythmic, mix with the other sounds of the season – the rustling leaves as the breeze blows them, the crickets starting their song for the coming night, low voices off in the field, and best of all the sound of the river as it drifts by hugging the rocks and banks along her way. What a life.

The afternoon winds away and takes on the chill of the moisture in the air. We light a small fire to warm us. I take in the smell of the smoldering wood filling the room with the essence of fall. It’s just about time to think about our trip to Spookytown USA which is just down the road about 10 minutes or so. It is located in Major Graham’s’s Mansion, a pre-civil war mansion that is on the register of the Paranormal and a truly haunted house. There are purportedly three ghosts in the house – a bride, the little girl Clara and one other. I am not generally a fan of the haunted house spectacle. Why would you want to put yourself in situation where people are jumping out of dark spaces trying to scare you? But I decide to go for it. Quinn bows out by running off and falling asleep. I think he was scared but so were most of the rest of us. I wonder if they have haunted houses for Halloween anywhere else in the world? I’m not really sure it’s much of a holiday anywhere else. They do have Day of the Dead in Mexico though.

This house is really out in the middle of nowhere so we are wondering if there will be anybody there. By the time we arrive close to 8 the parking lot is already filling up. We make our way to the gate and pay our entrance fee – $10/each. Now let’s compare – $60 for the haunted house or $2 to park and launch for a lovely day on the river. The value chain is out of whack here. Anyway, we make our way around the corner and into the queue which has about 350 people in it winding along under a tent through a rope course that makes us feel like cattle. We are surrounded by the accents of my Southern youth. My kids haven’t heard people talk Southern much so they are taking it all in with chuckles under their breath. People are talking about things like drag racing and moonshine. One kid telling another “Don’t pee your pants.” You have to say it with the proper accent though. And two kids arguing and one keeps saying, “Nu unh” This is one of those words I NEVER hear anywhere but this region of the country. Is it even a word? It really is a caricature of what most people think of Southern Folks. Reminds me of home. People light cigarettes off and on as we make our way through the line for 30 minutes or so. This would never happen in Colorado. I am pretty sure its illegal to smoke in this sort of a setting, but we are in tobacco country and nobody seems to notice or mind, except us.

Finally we make our way to the front entrance of the house and are welcomed at the door by a man dressed in a cape and mask that looks something like a mix of a giant Yoda with the strange character from the Goonies. He spots Mary Mac’s apprehension right away. “You look a little unsure of yourself. Are you sure you are going to be okay? Stay at the front if you are scared. They target the people in the middle. Don’t touch my people and they won’t touch you.” Total lie – they DO touch you.

It has been a long time since I have been to a haunted house, maybe 25 years or more. I had forgotten how disorienting they can be. We stepped in to the front door, Mary Mac and I hand in hand in the front. The room was smokey and a strobe light was flashing making it hard to see where we were supposed to go. We made our way to the right and in to a room that was set up like a funeral home with a casket at the front. Mac was holding my hand so tight I thought my fingers might break. Fortunately we didn’t see this but their was some creepy villain walking along Mac’s side right next to her face. Jack reported this frightening event after our exit. We made our way past the casket but couldn’t really tell which way to go. I tried not too look closely. There were streamers hanging from a doorway and I pushed our way through those to a small hallway. I think someone screamed and Mary Mac jumped and started to quiver. We turned and made our way in to what seemed to be a kitchen. There was a person lying on the large table. They called out for help – they were being chopped into pieces. Once again I did not look closely but scurried on with Mac getting more and more stressed. I wasn’t really loving it either. Just past the kitchen their was a stairway. We made our way up the stairs and their was someone at the top ready to scare us. I looked at her and said, “How do we take her out of here?” Meaning Mary Mac. By this time she was close to the breaking point and frankly I was ready to go anyway. The girl was nice and showed us to a door and some stairs out of the house. What really cracked me up though was that Lindsay, Jack and John all exited too! Erin was the only brave soul to stay. We waited for her outside the door at the bottom. As we exited so did another father and his teenage daughter who was shaking and crying. We really are a nutty culture – paying $10/person to get scared out of our pants and make our children cry.

After Erin rejoined us she said they didn’t even mess with her the rest of the way through the house probably because she was all by herself. We started following the path down the trail to the rest of the attraction. There was an old bus at the bottom of the path. As we made our way in that direction a “patron” was exiting the bus screaming expletives at the people behind her and telling them to “get the hell away from her.” We decided to detour back to the main entrance for some hot chocolate. By this time we were all laughing about the whole experience – even Mary Mac. She wanted to get back to the cabin so she could look up the real haunting information on the computer. We stopped a booth of a local author with books about the history of the area. Erin bought a book on the History of the Graham Mansion and I bought “Dixie Lee Jackson’s Guide to Cookin’ and Kissin'”. How can you not buy a book with a name like that? It contains such gems as “The bigger the hair, the closer to God” and “There’s rarely a meal that pig didn’t have to die for. It includes recipes, and I use that term loosely, for things like cornbread, grits and sweet tea – all staples of a good Southern diet.

We stopped a Dairy Queen – a 10 mile dirt road detour – on the way home. Americana evening completed. Priceless.

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