The drive was flanked by a split rail fence set carefully about the tree trunks. The curator opened the gate with a passcode, and we drove through into a pristine understory below the pines. The entry to Mount Pleasant Plantation.
Yesterday, Dad and I took a road trip down to Surry County, Virginia where we were given a wonderful tour of the childhood home of the man who built the plantation about which I am writing and which Dad manages. This house looks nothing like where I live – it’s right on the James River, where the water is so flat it could almost be a lake. The fields are manicured by the teeth of heritage breed goats and sheep, and across the road from the plantation house itself, horses – rescued from the carriage industry in New York City – graze. Here, the deer mow our fields, and we have bears – ones we care not to try to rescue, thank you very much.
But even in the midst of the differences, there was the same thing – a history rich and deep and complex and painful and gorgeous. Slaves lived here, too. The buildings were constructed by their hands. Their homes – unlike the mansion at the center of the property – are long gone, lost to decay and new construction, parking areas and a tinge of apathy.
We had an amazing tour – a true privilege for us – and I admired the needlework collection of the owner. I marveled at the heart-pine floors – brand new from the remodel taking the home back to the year 1803 but almost identical to the two-hundred year old planks I walk across in the barn when I pick up the mail. Dad gasped audibly at the amazing technology running the house – geothermal heat and fire suppression systems, such advances to the boiler and fire extinguishers here. I was so thrilled to see the time and attention the owners had given to the history of this place, down to preserving the cistern in the basement rather than just demolishing it. We both left feeling filled up and blessed.
Yet, still, on the ride home, my mind went back to the people whose presence was absent there in that place. The people who shaped the bricks and tended the animals. The people who laid the pea-gravel drive and walkways, who bent to the hoe in the fields where there now stand pines. Still, in this place where history is honored and treasured, where people who deeply care for the stories of our land live, still here the people I most care about were elided.
Part of why I’m writing this book is to remind all of us of this fact: the invisibility of a story does not mean it’s not there, and the invisibility of a people is not an indicator of their importance but instead of our apathy.
There are ten days left in my Kickstarter campaign to support the research for my book, You Will Not Be Forgotten. I am so grateful to everyone who has donated – thank you. I still have over $5,500 to raise, so if you can spread the word or spare a dollar, I would be immensely thankful.