When I knew that I was going to study my own state and my own people and to record in a notebook what I heard and observed. This intention, when announced to my older sister, provoked advice which I have tried to remember.
“If you are going to write about Virginia,” Mary said when she came down from New York where she had lived long enough to see what was familiar in a clearer light, “try to tell both sides. Life here is not just a tale of fine old families who live in fine old houses enclosed by fine old box hedges; but neither is it just a tale of starving textile workers and mistreated Negroes. Why not write about various kinds of people we see here? If you did that truthfully, it might be fair for an outsider to say, ‘This is a real picture of life in one Southern state.’ Reading about Richmond aristocracy, for example does not give a stranger much idea of the life most people in the South know. A good part of what passes popularly as life in Virginia is as truly Southern as Miss Mary Pickford in ‘Coquette’ and, even when it is truly Southern, usually it speaks only for one class of society.”
I have written what is purely a personal account of various adventures I have experienced and of some memorable people, both native and foreign, whom I met on Old Dominion soil.
It has been good to know a governor, a few politicians, some ladies and gentlemen; it has been enlightening to know in the flesh Bishop James Cannon, a Baptist Superintendent of Schools, and some eminent Virginia Lions who would have delighted Mr. Mencken in his happiest days. It has been a privilege, for which one so young as I should be grateful, to know a wise woman like Miss Ellen Glasgow and a famous beauty like Princess Troubetzkoy of Castle Hill and a moderately amusing philosopher like Mr. Cabell.; but it has been a privilege as well to go to Union meetings with Francis J. Gorman a Roxy Dodson, to work in the mills with Essie and Beulah (who fold diapers), and Jewel an Althonia (who hemmed the sheets for your bed). To know one part of a society is not enough. If I tell you about the time Lady Astor came back to her homeplace for a r
?ted fifty visitors from Hopewell who said they came to attend a Booster meeting of the local Union. And I must not forget Mr. Goldman of Crooktown, Mr. Jay Wellington of Hollywood, or Mr. Laurence Stallings of Yanceyville.
If I speak of our University there must be more than the spirit of Jefferson on spacious lawn , since, across the street from the Rotunda, there are rows of boarding-houses and not far away there are the degenerates of Shifflett’s Hollow. If I speak of Lexington ad its Virginia Military Institute, the most beloved of all our state’s anomalies, what goes on inside the gray walls of barracks is more interesting than the dress parade which tourists come so reverently to see. And, when we journey to Virginia Beach, shall we praise nothing save the beautiful shore, shall we be confined to gentle old ladies sniffing salt air and pretend that we never saw a Virginian on his annual spree?
What I wrote in my notebook was sometimes amusing, sometimes sad. From a varied record comes this account of a few seasons in Virginia.