Recently, Max and I went to Williamsburg, Virginia on vacation. This was our fifth trip together and my seventh trip. Some people might suggest that this is a bit extreme. Yes, Williamsburg is a lovely place but seven times? With all the other wonderful places there are to visit in the world?
These questions have merit. I have some special connections with Williamsburg, though, that seem to compel and propel me there rather frequently.
First, my parents honeymooned in Williamsburg. They took a road trip from New York City through the Shenandoah Mountains. They visited Jamestown and Williamsburg. I attribute my fascination with Williamsburg at least in part to my pre-conception nostalgia. There was actually a world before me… an intimate, personal world that would evolve to include me. Williamsburg was part of that life. There is almost an element of heredity embedded in Williamsburg for me. Both nature AND nurture connect me to Williamsburg. My father bought my mother a hand-blown green glass vase on their honeymoon. They watched the artisans create that vase at the glassworks in Jamestown. There was no part of my childhood that did not include memories of that vase. Ultimately, the vase broke. I replaced it for my mother on one of my trips to the Historic Triangle as an adult. When my mother died, the replacement vase passed to me. On this most recent trip, I purchased a matching creamer to keep the vase company. I also remember my mother talking about the delicious gingerbread cakes they made and sold in the colonial Williamsburg Revolutionary City. Anyone will tell you that, throughout my life, gingerbread has been my jam. I never met a gingerbread that I didn’t like.
I made my first visit to Williamsburg with my parents and brother when I was almost twelve. Our family drove across the country from California to New York to attend the wedding of one of my cousins. On the return trip, we turned the journey into a sightseeing tour. We made several stops at historic and natural points of interest. It was quite the summer of discovery. I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time. I proudly claimed the city of the American people, Washington DC. And we went to Williamsburg.
When I was a young adult, I had this fantasy that I would go away to college. Nearly all the books I read as a pre-teen and teenager involved fresh-faced young women heading off to college in a post-war modern Utopia. These sweet young co-eds lived in dorms or sorority houses. They led madcap, fun lives and developed lifelong relationships. They wore sweaters and plaid skirts when the nip of fall was in the air. They walked through the snow caroling during pre-holiday revels. They attended a flurry of parties and formal dances throughout the spring. They looked forward to a happy summer by the sea as the term ended. Most of them ended up graduating with a MRS degree. I was never sure exactly where these mythical campuses were, but they were always historic and glistening with the patina of tradition.
On that first trip I took to Williamsburg, I think I figured out where that mythical campus was- I am sure it was the College of William and Mary.
My world was not within the pages of a 1950s teenage novel. My parents were middle class- not affluent enough to pay for me to go away to school and too affluent to qualify for any means-based scholarship money. Plus, I was raised in an absurdly practical family. Why would anyone pay a bunch of money for a private college and for a second household at said college when there was a perfectly good commuter college down the road? I spent two years at a local junior college and went on to attend a State University about 10 miles from home. My entire college education probably cost less than $1000, including books.
I absolutely understood and bought into this position, but the dream never dissipated. As I progressed through life, I always regretted not going away to school. I am sure the true experience would not have matched my fantasy, but I think I would have grown in significantly different directions had I attended the College of William and Mary away from home and family. I would have learned to live on my own. I would have learned to communicate and forge relationships in a grown-up world. I would have learned to face my fears of new people and new experiences. I would have learned what it was like to live somewhere very different from the environment in which I was raised. I think I would have grown into more of a risk-taker. I think it is even fair to say that I might have avoided the tragedy of my marriage.
During the early days of the pandemic, I had time to examine my thoughts, feelings, and regrets about missing out on a William and Mary education. I went trawling around on the internet, just to see what it would cost to spend some time in those hallowed halls. I even fantasized about someday renting a place in Williamsburg for a couple of months and enrolling for a semester. When I realized what that would cost, I realized why it was a fantasy. However, my research did reveal an alternative. The College of William and Mary has something called an Osher Institute. This program is intended to offer short-term, non-college credit courses for enrichment. The main target for the program is senior citizens, but it is open to people of all ages. Pre-pandemic, these were on-campus classes. Because of the pandemic, however, the Osher Institute offered virtual classes through Zoom. The cost for the classes was absurdly low. I participated in several terms, taking one or two classes per term. It was great. I was enriched. Besides the interesting and diverse knowledge that I gained from the classes, I met my life coach. He was teaching one of the classes in which I enrolled. All in all, it was a very positive experience. The next time Max and I went to Williamsburg after I took the classes, he bought me a teddy bear from the college bookstore. The teddy bear, who I named WilMa, is wearing a W&M cap and gown. I may be stretching the truth a little bit with the suggestion that I actually graduated from the college. However, I really did feel a little bit like I’d accomplished a dream.
There is a specific factor that motivated our last three trips to Williamsburg. Max and I visited the Bruton Parish Church on each trip. On one trip, before I converted to the Episcopal Church, I thought it would be nice to attend a service at Bruton Parish. The idea of praising God in the same church that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and other luminaries worshipped was very appealing. However, I got shy about entering the church for a service- since I didn’t have an Episcopalian card. I missed the opportunity on that trip.
I resolved to remedy that omission on our next trip. I had recently become an Episcopalian, so I was no longer afraid of being run out of church on a rail. However, we were also scheduled to go to Busch Gardens on that next trip. Unfortunately, when I set up our itinerary, it never entered my head that theme parks in some parts of the country are not open all week. Living in California and Florida, I thought amusement parks were open 365 days a year. Wrong. In climates that are less temperate, the thrills and chills are rationed by the weather. When we went to Williamsburg in the early spring, I found that the park was only open on weekends. Since I had already paid for the tickets, we went to Busch Gardens instead of the worship service.
Fast forward to a couple of years later… after watching me angst over missing the worship service and throw myself into my virtual College of William and Mary classes, Max thought we needed to go back to rectify my problem. We started planning another trip, believing that surely the pandemic would be over by April of 2021.
It was not. We did make the trip and had a good time, but Bruton Parish was not holding in person services.
This year, we were on a mission. Our whole trip was built around the service at Bruton Parish. Even up to Sunday morning, I was sure something was going to happen to thwart us in our endeavor. When I parked in the lot a block away from the church, I was about 80% convinced that we were going to find the church locked when we got there. Fortunately, as advertised, the church was open, and we worshipped together with the other parishioners. My butt might have been sitting in the same place George Washington sat. Score!
It was very nice. The space, of course, was ornate and lovely. The choir sang beautifully. I enjoyed the sermon. We went to communion and found that the process at Bruton Parish was different from our parish. As the pandemic ebbed, our parish began offering communion with wine as well as the bread, but we were only permitted to receive the wine by intinction- in other words, by receiving the wafer and then dipping it carefully into a chalice when the priest or deacon came to you. The thought was that this was more sanitary than sipping from a communal cup. Just for general principles, we never received the wafer on our tongues, as we sometimes did when I was a Catholic. The idea of a priest puttimg his fingers into the mouths of a whole bunch of people was fairly repugnant in my church. At Bruton parish, the priest only provided for receiving the wafer on the tongue and then sipping from the communal chalice. That seemed like quite an odd practice for a church in a state that carried on full COVID-cautious measures long after Florida was back operating at full speed.
All in all, I am very glad I spent that Sunday morning worshipping with my fellow Episcopalians in such a historic, tradition-laden environment. I enjoyed it very much. However, I did leave with a very happy thought running through my mind. I like my parish even better. Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia might have been part of my fantasy, but St. James Episcopal in Leesburg, Florida is my home. If I had to choose one church and one community in which to worship every week, I do not even have to think about it. It would be St. James.
I am glad that I got my opportunity to fill in this gap in my life. I am happy I have been able to reimagine that college experience I wish I had had. I am definitely at peace about so many trips to Williamsburg. As bucket lists go, mine is not very exciting. I have no intention or even any inkling of desire to do something like skydive or climb Mount Everest. That does not mean that my bucket list is not worth filling. And Williamsburg has been able to add a few drops to that bucket.
What’s on your bucket list? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a satisfying day!