Stone came into our lives when my husband gave a seminar on wood finishing.
He invited my husband, Jeff, to come down to Virginia and give the same seminar at a harpsichord makers’ studio.
Jeff took the train down and returned with glowing descriptions in a collage of images.
I was intruiged.
Later we were both invited back for a visit and we decided to combine it with a trip to Monticello, to see the house and gardens of Jefferson.
I barely knew Stone but he was an artisan, like us, and a bit older.
He lived in a house in the woods that was small and charming and tucked away, my husband said.
We would be staying at “Mom’s” house, down the road.
Driving to Virginia from New York City is a highway trip and a crowded one at that.
The urban sprawl between cities and towns is of plague proportions.
Condo complexes mushroom out along every possible open space.
I had thought we were going to the countryside but I did not see any.
Then we turned off into a historic district and entered The Plains.
Here were the rolling hills and bucolic landscapes I had pictured.
Here also were estates and landmarks that told me I was in the land of the giants.
“Mom’s” house was a big, sprawling old house that was large enough for us to be in the back wing with three private rooms while Mom entertained a group of friends in the other section.
We met once to say hello where the ladies sat in a long glassed-in sunroom room playing cards.
Stone had the visit planned out, dinner that night, meet for breakfast and then we would go to a Steeplechase event followed by a “Tent Supper”.
Stone showed around the house, showed us the unused tickets for Woodstock that he and his brother had not needed at the concert that summer.
“We are some of the only people who did have tickets,” he laughed.
His Dad, an ex-CIA man, was dead, a suicide, years ago, from depression.
Stone’s wife was a horse person and spent a lot of her time at the Orange County Hunt club, taking care of, among many other things, the 150 beagles, separated by age and sex.
She took us around, showed us the bitches with their pups, a wriggling mass of jolly dogs.
She was eligible to join the hunt because of the acreage of “Mom’s” estate.
Although the numbers have now changed to include parcels of 5 to 50 acres, then it was 200.
The hunt was mostly about the ceremony and the riding style.
The fox was chased but not killed, she explained, somewhat defensively.
“Probably keeps the fox in shape, all that running,” joked my husband.
We were sympathetic, for Yankees, we were not there to judge.
We had already won the war.
The Steeplechase was a very big deal.
The light drizzle that morning meant that the crowd wore long waxed canvas raincoats.
Cars were lined up with their trunks open, displaying iced buckets full of wine, piles of sandwiches, and small grills for cooking meats.
It looked like a Renaissance still life with baskets of fruit and wedges of cheese gleaming.
The race was also like watching a painting come to life.
As unaesthetic as highway 95 was, this was landed gentry, by definition.
The practice itself is archaic and the manners and codes are an elaborate dance across a long pasture.
The traditional scarlet blazers stood out against the green field as horses and riders merged to form a new species, full of fearful strength and speed.
People held opera glasses and binoculars to watch the graceful flow of the horses flying over the hurdles.
I had been wondering what a “tent supper” was.
Stone had been invited and felt obligated to attend.
People called Stone for various reasons, because of his family.
But he was his own man, a man from the Woodstock generation who had tuned in, turned on and stayed where he had grown up to make his life and his peace with life.
“Know Thyself,” is one of the ancient pieces of wisdom available to all.
He did that.
He knew himself.
We were hungry, and game.
We went to a large canvas tent that held more than 100 people comfortably.
There were long tables full of food, baked beans, meats, breads and cookies.
We ate and Stone mingled with a few neighbors, and then someone intimated that there would be a speech, and we sat quietly and curious.
It was a stump speech from a man who was running for office.
He spoke of the two halves of the state of Virginia, the coal country poverty and the wealth associated with Washington DC.
He spoke of Unity and Community.
He spoke with all of the soaring rhetoric that any politician can muster when surrounded by donors, which I suddenly realized, we were considered.
When he finished his speech, a small blond boy, in a blue blazer with brass buttons, came up and presented him with a check and more glowing words were spoken in the large damp tent.
A shaft of sun came through the flaps and illuminated the scene, like a painting, picking out highlights, the brass buttons, and the white-blond hair.
I had witnessed something.
A century and many decades ago there had been, what the South still calls, “The war of Yankee aggression.”
Our friend, Stone, was short for Stonewall.
Stonewall Jackson, the general of the civil war.
Now I stood, a Maine Yankee in the court of Virginia.
I came in peace and left with memories of a far off land and the customs of the people there.
Separate, but equal.