The Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival is held in Winchester, Virginia each year in late spring. This year’s festival, a multiday affair, took place from April 27 through May 6. You have missed the festivities for this year. Sorry I didn’t remind you sooner.
If memory serves me, when I was a child the festival was a three-day celebration beginning on Thursday evening and ending on Saturday night with a fireworks display.
The Thursday night event was some ceremonial speechifying by politicians and other self-important white folks. That constituted the opening of the three-night carnival, which offered rides, games, and ample opportunities for making a fool of yourself.
Friday was the Grand Parade with floats, marching bands, politicians in convertibles, Miss This or Miss That also in convertibles, fire engines, Shriners, and a Grand Marshall.
Most years my mom and I were invited to attend the parade with a local family, who went every year.
During some of those trips to the Grand Parade, we stopped at an old plantation between Front Royal and Winchester. There was an ancient white woman living there with an almost-as-old African-American woman who took care of her. The white woman was stooped and hump-backed and used a cane, while her caretaker was relatively tall, straight-backed, and walked as if she had someplace to be.
While they were obviously employer and employee and called each other Miss Olivia and Mrs. Branson, their mutual affection was obvious. The two had probably grown up from children in each other’s company.
The first time we visited the plantation, my mother and our benefactor sat and visited the two old ladies on the large front porch while us kids played nearby.
The second time there, the next spring or the following one, the morning was unusually cool for spring so we were invited into the parlor for hot chocolate and warm cookies. The two adults with us were nervous that one of us kids would do something tragic and not mendable involving chocolate, knick-knacks, antique furniture, or all three. We didn’t but easily could have done.
After our refreshments, Miss Olivia insisted on showing us the damage done by the “yankeh troops during the wauh.” The five of us obediently followed her and Mrs. Branson outdoors, where Miss Olivia pointed to the slanted bulkhead doorway into the cellar.
One of the two doors was only a framework of old wood surrounding more hole than whole. The other door was still intact but was held together with rusting screws and completely detached from its hinges. Small animals could easily get through either of two large openings.
Miss Olivia told us that the “yankeh soljah-boys broke down the cellah doah” when they came through in 1864. Subsequently, “the hawgs got into the cellah and et up all the root vegetables.” I was no more than nine or ten years old but even at that age wondered why they didn’t just fix the doors.
Mrs. Branson dutifully nodded through Miss Olivia’s show and tell of what the evil Union soldiers had wrought on the family.
Our parade-bound group trooped back through the house, dutifully thanked Miss Olivia for her hospitality (although Mrs. Branson had done all the work), loaded into our benefactor’s Plymouth station wagon and set off to the Grand Parade.
Almost a century after the American Civil War, it was better to complain about the damage caused than to repair the cellar doors.