A Bend in the River


I’m writing this on my iPhone on the train from D.C. To Raleigh. It’s gonna take me all 5 hours to pick the letters that tell the story of yesterday.

David and I arrived at Dulles Airport from BTV at 11:30 am. Cousin Nancy Dunlap Bercaw, inspired by a recent dream, then drove us to Central Virginia in the hopes that we could show up at the old Bercaw farm and swim in the Rivanna River.

We meandered through Rixey territory (my mom’s side of the family) and had a somewhat lousy lunch in Warrenton. A small box of Tic Tacs helped mitigate bad breath and residual hunger. David glommed on to cousin Nan’s iPad and an app called Magic Piano. He played music the entire 4 hours while the two Nancys talked about being Bercaw.

At one point, I realized that David was actually scoring our conversation. He was picking and playing tunes to match the rise and fall of our voices and emotions. And this was that very moment:

“Nan, what’s gonna happen when we get there?”

“Should we play out the scenarios?”

“Yea, like how we’re gonna ask if we can swim.”

I stop speaking and start singing without thinking. David is playing “Ode to Joy.”

Nan and I looked at each other. We knew what he was doing even if he wasn’t consciously aware of it.

Onwards. Southbound on Route 15.

“Nan, I asked my cousin. “Which of us is gonna do the asking?”

“You,” she said. “You are more charming.”20140803-123645-45405561.jpg

“You are more intimidating,” I responded.

We still weren’t sure which approach to take, nor did we know what to do if they said no to us.

David was playing the theme song to “Ghostbusters.”

Finally, we were on Hells Bend Road nearing the farm.

“I’m excited to see what happens,” I told Nan as she sped like a banshee on the old back roads as all Bercaws were taught to do.

And then there it was, the Bercaw farm stretched out before us like the Promised Land.

David was tapping out the song “Happy” on the iPad.

We pulled right up to the house, and some people emerged from the little guest house, which is under reconstruction.

“Hello,” they said.

“Are you the Ricketts?”

“Yes,” they smiled.

“We’re the Bercaws,” I said, beaming. “I’m Nancy Bercaw and this is my cousin Nancy Bercaw.”

“Wow,” said Mr. Ricketts, going a bit pale at the ominous sight of two very tall ladies both with same first name and an infamous last name.

“You’ve heard of us?” I asked.

“Oh, yes. We certainly have.” I thought he looked scared. And none of them made a move to come any closer. I wonder if they feared we might have retuned for a hostile takeover. Or to burn the place down. I needed to put them to ease, ASAP. I wonder what stories they had heard about our kin.

“We’d just like to swim in the river. We spent our childhood in that water.”photo 3

“That would be fine,” said Mrs. Ricketts. “Also, the Lovings brought over two file boxes of your grandmothers papers. Would you like them?”

Guess the Lovings knew someone named Bercaw would show up here one day. The Lovings were dear friends of the family and also Grandmother’s trusty accountants for 50 years.

“Sure, we’ll get them after we swim.”

And with that, we drove down the hill, stripped and changed in broad daylight, as Bercaws do. David, too.

Then we clapped frantically. Not for ourselves, but to scare off the cottonmouth water moccasins.

We avoided the poison ivy on the river bank, and threw ourselves in the Rivanna in order of birth. Nancy Dunlap then Nancy Stearns then David Beauregard.

We splashed and laughed and went down to snake rock. The water in that swimming hole is unlike any water anywhere. It tastes like my history. And my son took right to it too. The minute he jumped in, he looked over at me and said, “I’m happy” and I imagined he looked just like my father did as a boy playing in that very spot.

We swam for an hour. As we were getting ready to head out, two kayakers came through.photo 2

“Where are you coming from?” I asked.

The conversation led us to discover that these were the grand kids of the Lovings. They were pleased to see the Bercaw grand daughters and great grandson.

Weird that we were right there when they came through. They were just visiting, too, like us. And in our case because cousin Nan had a dream that led us back.

On our way out, we paused at the house. The two file boxes, both saying “Nancy Bercaw” were on the gravel driveway and the Ricketts were no where to be seen.

Two boxes for two alive granddaughters Nancy. The contents of which pertained to the deceased Nancy.

A half hour later, we the living checked into a hotel in Charlottesville and ordered room-service chicken wings. Nan and I opened one book and took out one file.20140803-123748-45468460.jpg

The contents?

The answer to a mystery. But only Nancy and I need to know the outcome to questions only we had.

It doesn’t matter anymore anyway. The farm is long gone to us, but the waters there will always be our ode to joy.


The Nancy Bercaws

One Comment Add yours

  1. Allan says:

    As I have often been referred to as “Mr. Bercaw” in certain domestic situations like ordering a cable upgrade with Comcast being in your name or a change if address when a utility is in your name…I chose to learn the meaning of “Bercaw” and discovered when broken down “ber” means charming and “caw” means intimidating.
    I am thrilled that you got to swim in the river and hope that I can join you one day soon.
    In the meantime continue this journey with me and we will try to see the world together.

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