Friday 21 June 2013

American Conflicts - 13

It was late afternoon, the sun was low and our stomachs spotted an American diner beckoning to us in the township of Front Royal, Virginia. We were puzzled by the town’s name and asked the waitress during dinner how it came to be so called. She replied: “I graduated high school six years ago and I have forgot all that stuff, but I know there's a lot of history in these parts.”
We later discovered that during the Civil War, troops used to parade in front of a large ‘Royal Oak’ tree with the command: "Front! Royal!"
On another occasion, we called into the Amish township of Intercourse, Pennsylvania, but thought it best not to ask the waitress how that town got its name.  
It was autumn 2012; what better time to drive along the colourful back-roads of North Eastern USA! The countryside was ablaze with brilliant colours of birch and maple trees. Restaurants and diners were decked out with quirky and ghoulish Halloween themes, each serving delicious pumpkin or hot cinnamon apple pies.
At the small historic town of Winchester, Virginia, with its beautifully maintained white clapboard stores, and snow-white church, we stopped to stretch our legs. And like a couple of kids, we scuffed our way along the cobbled Main Street through large damp drifts of colourful autumn leaves.
 We found a ‘Ma and Pa’ diner serving ‘Bavarian cream donuts’ and steaming mugs of coffee; it was just what we needed before heading off in our search for the famous autumn colours of New England.
The once elegant city of Troy, New York, sits upon the banks of the Hudson River. It’s renowned for two things, which I shall tell you about, thus saving you the time of having to drive there.
First of all, it has scores of unmarked one-way streets and numerous large signs pointing to a 'Visitors Centre' that doesn’t exist. It was only on our third trip around the same block that we stopped and were informed that a sturdy trestle table with leaflets was usually set up on days when visitors were expected - unless it was raining. The day we arrived, it was raining and I doubt we were expected.
Second of all, during the American Revolution, a butcher by the name of Sam Wilson built up a nice business as a government supplier of meat to the American Army. He stamped the letters ‘U.S.’ on all his barrels of meat to indicate United States, before the states were even united. People thought it meant ‘Uncle Sam'. The term stuck and passed into common usage to mean the government. Not a lot of people know that, but then again I expect you are glad we saved you the journey.
We also stopped briefly at the hamlet of Bennington to view an enormous obelisk, which commemorates the day in August 1777 when the revolutionaries fought off the British who were trying to steal their cache of food. The locals, on hearing our British accents, took great joy joshing with us about the day they ‘kicked our butts’. I think the irony of their remark was lost on them, considering they were third and fourth generation Italian, German and Swedish immigrants. Anyway, I rebutted by pointed out that hanging onto their lunch box was hardly justification to build a 306-foot granite obelisk, and that any further insolence from them would be reported to the Queen when we returned from our inspection of the colonies. We thought it best to leave before an international incident occurred.
On our return journey to Virginia we called into Berkeley Springs where we had been told an 'Apple Butter Festival' was in progress. This tiny spa town lay in a damp hollow in the back hills of West Virginia and had once been owned by Lord Fairfax. Its two streets overflowed with craft stalls, folk music and people warming themselves around open fires upon which cauldrons of Apple Butter simmered.
I am not sure whether it was the cold or the coffee that prompted my desperate need for a toilet. Mercifully, I spotted a row of portaloos leading off the main street and with relief pulled open one of the doors. I had one foot inside when I realised I was face to face with a grossly over-weight, half-naked woman, whose body was truly wedged within the walls of the thunder-box.  Fortunately for me, her modesty was well covered by the multitudinous folds of a cascading ‘Michelin’ stomach.
Boy! Was I surprised to see her! But not half as surprised as she was to see me! We were both speechless. The whole street seemed to be watching.  Should I wait until the ‘fat lady sings’? Or leave before she found her voice and let rip with a rant at me?

I decided to forgo the formalities of an introduction and raised my cap as I closed the door.  Did I do the right thing? I wonder what ‘Miss Manners’ would have advised? What would you have done? Answers on a postcard please.
Click here to read about another confrontation - this time with the Gander Family. 

1 comment:

  1. Well now, just where to begin with this one. I'm truly pleased that your gentlemanly streak emerged (doffing the cap as one should)in meeting the lady although I thought you'd have made a comment appropriate to the occasion. This is where one's imagination can run riot. I had the same experience on a train from Brokenhurst to London, the door being unlatched. The lady's shriek and body language seemed to indicate otherwise. I was so surprised I even forgo to apologise or even blush with embarrassment.
    Roy, at the risk of repeating myself I must write that your yarns are quite motivational in nature in that they provide an insight into places not found elsewhere. I imagine the unmarked streets of Troy together with places that don't exist can be likened to Venice. I was not the only one to carefully follow directions and signs in that city only to find myself in a cul-de-sac. No doubt you acquitted yourself well in representing the crown in the colony of Bennington. The dammed cheek of the people! You know from previous times here that that Australians are always far more respectful of those from the "mother country".
    I've not heard of apple butter before and don't really know if it's a butter to spread (as in peanut butter) or a form of toffee. We'll talk further on that.
    Keep up the great work, particularly the humorous anecdotes.


Your comments are welcome, they will help decide the type and style of writing.