Saying I’m from Tidewater, Virginia is not a singular spot on the map. It basically says an area affected by the tides. So more specifically I live in the Hampton Roads. That narrows it down to a few cities and outlying counties, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Isle of Wight, Newport News, Hampton, Poquoson, York County, and James City County. Any of these places sound familiar?
People tend to know this area because it’s the epicenter for military activity. With all forms of our military represented at the local bases, it’s darn hard for anyone to try to remember and count how many bases there are in the area. But probably the most notable ones would be Langley Air Force Base, N.O.B, and Oceana Naval Base. Jet noise is common. Where I am, I hardly ever hear them. I’m more apt to hear a helicopter from one of the bases such as Fort Eustis or maybe N.O.B. But there are places in Virginia Beach where the jet noise will definitely catch someone’s attention. Personally, I love to watch them fly, especially in formation. And sometimes they are so low in the sky you feel as though you can reach up and touch them. We say it’s the sound of freedom.
It’s a fairly conservative area probably because of the high number of military personal stationed here, and the military people who retired and stayed. Even politics are conservative. Often the Democrats and the Republicans find themselves meeting in the middle on most issues. It’s the people in power who represent the groups that tends to polarize and can heat a discussion. But two of our local congressional reps, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, I’ve known seemly forever and you couldn’t find nicer men.
Pickup trucks are a normal means of transportation. And plates on the back of many of those trucks say FARM USE. Common bumper stickers are A Girl and Her Truck is a Beautiful Thing, G.R.I.T.S Girl Raised In The South, a local hunt club, I’d Rather Be Fishing, or one of a dozen more that say that in spite of all the modern technology, we’re still content with the simple things in life.
The area is also rich in history. Newport News got its name because it’s where Christopher Newport caught the first bit of news concerning the New World before he sailed to Jamestown with fresh supplies. Yes, Jamestown, known for its stories of Pocahontas is just up the James River. A little hop, skip, and jump from Jamestown is Williamsburg, a Colonial capital. The James River is also the site of the famous Monitor and Merrimack battle of ironclads. The whole area is steeped in the American Revolution, and of course, the Civil War with places such as Yorktown that served in both wars.
But push all that aside and let’s look at the area today. The most obvious thing to visitors is water! There’s the York River, the James River, the Elizabeth River, and the Nansemond River, the Pagan River, etc. There’s also the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. Put it all together and it’s virtually impossible to get around without crossing water. The number of creeks…they are everywhere. I believe there are 33 named bridges in the Hampton Roads area. In fact if giving directions, we never even think about counting the minor bridges over the little stuff. So it’s the High-Rise bridge that takes people from the western and northern areas to the eastern and more southern areas. Calling it the High-Rise bridge is not its proper name. But say High-Rise around here and we all know which one it is. I hope you are not afraid of heights! And to make matters worse, most of these bridges lift to allow ships to pass underneath. That means you are driving on metal grates. Oh is that a weird sensation because tires sometimes feel as though the car is about to slide across the bridge. No, just hold the steering wheel steady. I’ve been told it has to do with the tread on some tires. I think of it as driving on ice. Don’t do anything fast or stupid. What’s at the top of the High-Rise? You guessed it, that metal grate.
The other thing that is unique to this area is the number of tunnels. Please do not panic in the tunnel! They feel narrower than they are. It’s honestly amazing how many people will do almost anything to avoid traveling through the tunnels around here. Now there are tolls on them, along with several bridges, which makes them expensive. Except for the High-Rise bridge, somehow it escaped the tolls. Come rush hour, traffic is unreal on the High-Rise because everyone is trying to avoid the heavy tolls on the tunnels. You can’t travel between the Peninsula and the Southside without going across a bridge that contains a tunnel, except for the James River Bridge, which spans from Newport News to Isle of Wight.
We also have the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel system. That takes us from this area to the Eastern Shore and points north. It’s about 22 miles long and contains two tunnels no matter which direction you are going.
There is another way to get from one side to the Peninsula other and that is the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry. No one seemly ever calls it that. They don’t know a thing about Scotland. It’s the “Jamestown” ferry between Surry and Jamestown/Williamsburg area. I love going on the ferry. Just drive the car onto the ferry and relax for a little while. If you want to feed the seagulls, they will ask you to do it from the back end (the stern) of the ferry.
To really confuse you, there are places such as Reeds Ferry. It’s bridge. Once upon a time, there was a ferry – I have no clue when. And I guess if the tide was out, you had to wait. It’s pretty shallow. There’s Kings Bridge and it doesn’t exist. It did until it was damaged in a storm and they closed it. Eventually demolished it. It was a shortcut. Now everyone must drive around. But it wasn’t highly traveled, and therefore, it keeps hitting the bottom of the list for funds to build a new one.
Hurricanes are our biggest threat. We haven’t had a really bad one since my hubby moved me here many years ago. But from what I’ve read on local history. Willoughby Spit was created by two major hurricanes. I’m sure one day a hurricane will remove it. Unfortunately, it’s a high dollar area these days and has been built up in the last 20 years.
There are lots of beaches and Virginia Beach is quite a tourist destination. Drive to the far end of Virginia Beach and, tucked against the Atlantic Ocean, there’s plenty of sand. Plus there are lots of smaller beaches such as Buckroe and Huntington. And if mountains are preferred, we are about 3 hours from the mountains in Virginia. Seafood is abundant and most of it is local. Nearly all the restaurants have several seafood dishes even if they don’t specialize in seafood.
Phenomenal historical museums abound. There’s also the Chrysler Art Museum with fabulous displays. A children’s museum, nature museums, an aquarium, zoo, lots of fun attractions such as Busch Gardens, and of course, Colonial Williamsburg, which everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime.
We have a baseball team, the Tides, who have their own stadium over in Norfolk. And we have the Norfolk Admirals, a hockey team that plays at the Scope in downtown Norfolk. The golf courses here that have been on the PGA and LPGA tours, have hosted championship games, and plenty that have no claim to fame other than the locals enjoy their beauty. There are several well-known universities in the area such as William and Mary, Hampton University, and ODU. And there are quite a few smaller colleges and universities.
Our climate is considered moderate. Moderate what? My hubby moved me here and I was pregnant with our first child. It was summer. I went outside one day thinking I’d get a little exercise by walking around the neighborhood. I did an about-face. Omigosh! This Yankee needed gills to breath in this air! I was told I’d get used to it. It was because I was pregnant and at sea level. I promise, I’ve never gotten used to it. We can have 100% humidity and it’s not raining! If it rains, it will knock some of the water out of the air. Between our temps and the humidity, the rain forest looks like a cool, dry place to visit.
It didn’t take me long to realize that winters here can be darn cold! People from northern states who are used to super cold weather swear it feels colder here. This cold goes to your bones – apparently it’s the high humidity. Snow is rare, maybe once every winter we get an inch or three. If the snow comes, it will vanish usually the next day. No point in shoveling the driveway or the walkway. But one thing it does do here is rain during the winter. It rains, and rains, and rains until the yards can no longer hold another drop. Bundle the children in snowsuits with boots, and let them play in the fresh air. Then bring them in and immediately put everything they are wearing into the washing machine to remove the mud. If the sun shines in the winter, we wonder what that brilliant ball in the sky really is. I think we go ten days or more sometimes without seeing a sunny sky. I’ve often stood by the window and hoped whatever natural light existed would lift my mood.
There are cultural differences between the North and the South. Food is one of them. I’ve learned to cook with cornmeal. I know what fatback is. I refuse to drink Sweet Tea. (No, it’s not the same as Yankee tea that has been lightly sweetened.) But my first contact with BBQ was interesting.
There was a small convenience store in Poquoson with gasoline not too far from our first house. They also sold sandwiches. To call it a convenience store is a stretch; it was more of country store where the locals gathered for coffee.
I needed gas so I stopped in. It was back in the days where you got out of your car and walked inside to pay. I had counted out some change and figured it would buy about a half tank of gas and I needed milk. I gathered my baby daughter into my arms and took her inside. I opened the cooler and grabbed some milk, but when I took it to the counter, I was stuck waiting in line. I read the sign over the little sandwich area. It said BBQ. I asked barbecued what? They laughed and said it was BBQ.
I knew I was a Yankee and often people didn’t understand me, so I tried again. I tried to explain that a barbecue is where food is cooked outside usually over charcoal. And we call the items cooked as grilled hamburger or whatever it was. No. They laughed and said BBQ is BBQ. That’s what it is.
Then the guy behind the counter offered to make me a sandwich of BBQ. I only had a little bit of money, enough to pay for the gas I had pumped and the milk I was buying. I turned the offer down. Apparently, they wanted to have a little fun with me, so they offered to make a sandwich under the condition that I ate the whole thing or I’d have to pay for it. I’ve eaten a lot of strange things in my life, what’s one more?
It was deal, except I had the baby in my arms. BBQ is not a one-handed sandwich. One of guys took her from me, and they kept passing her around as though she were a darling little pink piglet. She probably only weighed about 7 pounds and none of them could believe she was that tiny. The man handed me the sandwich. I had no idea what Texas Pete was, but he had sprinkled plenty on the sandwich and loaded coleslaw on top of it. I ate the whole thing!
When I was done, they asked if I liked it. No! It was hot! I had no idea what that sandwich tasted like because it was too hot to taste. They laughed and gave me back my daughter. I paid for my stuff and left. Every time I walked in there, they would offer me another BBQ sandwich. I think it was years before I ever ate another. Now I love them…without Texas Pete sprinkled on them!
I had to listen carefully to the locals with their southern accents. One of my husband’s friends had a young wife who would call me occasionally, and I’d hear her say the kids were rassling. She had to stop them. I had no idea what they were doing, but apparently it was bad if she had to stop them. Then one day, one of the kids got nekhid, and she had to chase that one down. Well, rassling is wrestling and nekhid is naked. And so I learned.
The other odd word is roots. I have no idea how to spell what they say. I promise it’s not roots, but put some ice cubes in your mouth and try saying roots. Do it slowly and drawl it.
When a Yankee friend moved into rental house and two days later nothing worked. She called the landlord who sent a plumber, but threatened her that if it was her fault, she was paying for it. It didn’t take the plumber long to figure out what was wrong. Tree’s roots had gotten into the sewage line and stopped it up. He tried to explain to my friend, who looked at him with a blank stare. Eventually she caught on and said, “Oh, you mean roots.”
“Yes, ma’am, that’s what I said.”
She called me on the phone and we had a good laugh. I warned her about rassling and nekhid.
Each area here has its own vibe and its own claim to fame. There are those who can trace their ancestors to the original settlers and are living on land grant properties that date back to England. And many who are stationed here for only a year or two as they fulfill their military duty. There are those who live in North Carolina but work here in Tidewater. The shipyards employ a large chunk of our population, as do so many other companies that are contracted to the government. It’s a melting pot of people from all over the world.
There are still places that time seems to leave alone, and where the folks in the grocery store know who you are. People will smile and hold the door for you. Please and thank you are common words usually followed with a sir or ma’am.
I live in one of those little enclaves, in a house that was built before the Civil War. Hand hewn beams hold up the floor and the corner posts of the house are about 30 x 30 inches, hand-cut, solid wood. That’s not unusual. There are plenty of historic districts scattered throughout Tidewater and homes dating to Colonial times are common.
This is my home now. I wasn’t born here. I wasn’t raised here, but I’m here. My daughters are here and so are my grandchildren. I can’t imagine being anyplace else. I get all four seasons, but I don’t have to shovel the snow.
My latest historical book, A Rancher’s Request starts out in Tidewater in the little town of Franklin.