Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column


by Rev. John Howard Farmer

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The Long Way Home

 Last week I was pressed to consider canceling my VA appointment in Richmond. You might remember, we were saddled with a days-long windstorm of destructive consequence.

Over our morning coffee, Hazel and I bantered about travel safety, what with several bridges between here and south Richmond. My appointment was at the Richmond Veterans Hospital, 1201 Broad Rock Boulevard, Richmond.

McGuire was part of my youthful stomping grounds, as my first home was at Lawson Street and Broad Rock Road. When dad returned (1945) from World War II and remarried, he and my stepmom bought a home out past McGuire’s, just off Broad Rock Road (also route 10).

The Veteran’s Hospital is named for Hunter Holmes McGuire, M.D. (1835-1900). McGuire, a doctor’s child who became a physician, teacher and orator started several hospitals which later became part of the Medical College of Virginia (now VCU) in Richmond.

McGuire Hospital was originally a series of one-story, ramped buildings, home to numerous chaps in beds, gurneys and wheelchairs, all wounded and returned from World War II and Korea.

So often I am reminded of how many circles of previous footprints merge contemporaneously at Irvington Baptist Church (IBC).

Along the McGuire’s Broad Rock Road perimeter sits the Sitter Barfoot Veterans Care Center, the current residence of our former deacon G. William McClintock. Other IBC/McGuire’s footprints remain from our deacon Dr. Jim Hamilton’s med school residency days.

Did you know that Mississippi native Col. Barfoot once lived in Irvington prior to retiring to a suburb of Richmond, where he battled his Henrico homeowner’s association for his right to display our U.S. Flag at his home.

Barfoot (1919-2012) was a U.S. Army vet with battlefield promotions from enlisted to officer and was a recipient of a two-cluster Purple Heart, Bronze and Silver Stars and the U.S. military’s highest decoration—the Medal of Honor—for his actions in World War II. Proud, yet humble he proclaimed, “I always say, ‘They held my hand.’ That is, God, my mother and my wife. And anything I accomplished, it was based on Christian love.”

U.S. World War II Army veteran pastor (1947-1956) Bill Wright left Irvington for a Chesterfield position, he also became a chaplain at McGuire’s and was my dad’s elder sister’s, Gertrude F. Cartier boss.

Well, coffee gone and a tight grip upon the steering wheel I prayerfully crept across the shaking Norris Bridge for Richmond. By the time I exited I-95 South onto Maury Street Hazel called with the chilling news that there had been a truck accident on our bridge. It was closed.

I made my appointment in time and of course some of my meds were changed from my previous week’s clinic. Otherwise it was a good visit.

I pressed on to other hospital visits with friends Carolyn Graham, Bonnie B. Abbott and Chris Stamm.

Back in the car, I checked with dispatcher Hazel, who informed me that the bridge was still closed and forecast to remain so until the following day. Nothing to do but point my path upriver and head for Tappahannock. Route 360 is the path my parents and I traveled to and from our Corrotoman River cottage from the time I was nine until I left home for the USMC. My navigation position early on was standing atop the drive shaft hump of dad’s 1949 Plymouth 2-door coupe, continually asking dad, “Are we there yet?

Soon, the hill pointing me down to Tappahannock issued caution as traffic was clogged at the light. Eventually I got in line and crawled along with the throng.

Realizing that it would take forever to mount the Downing Bridge, I snuck off to weave and dodge through neighborhoods unawares, to arrive at the right-hand turn approaching the bridge only to be stopped by a state trooper asking if I knew how to re-route to Route 301, the Port Royal Bridge and secure Route 3 down through Montross.

Thomas Nelms Downing (1919-2001) for whom that bridge was dedicated, was a local lawyer, politician and Democratic Congressman, for nine terms. He was a contemporary of Sen. Robert O. Norris (granddad of our IBC deacon R. Dixon Foster), for whom our White Stone-Gray’s Point bridge was named. Norris and Downing served Virginia along with Irvingtonian Robert Hill Fleet, father of IBC deacons Bob and Alex Fleet and their families.

So again, I detoured the third time north along the Rappahannock on the long way home. My dispatcher interrupted my journey to tell me that we had a grandparent dinner date, at a Kilmarnock restaurant, as soon as they could find one open. Realizing that I was over an hour from home, I bid them good eating and announced that I would take nourishment along the way, “dine without granddad,” I instructed.

My next call was that the family had tabled locally and figured that food would be a long time in coming, did I want them to wait?

Having assured Hazel was ok, I reinforced my earlier instruction to “dine without me.”

Entering the metropolis of Warsaw, I pulled to a Chinese table anxious to sample the delicious and generous fare.

Tummy rewarded and back on the road, indeed I was eager to conclude my long way home.

Did I mention that like many others we had no electricity? No heat? No matter, we’re still on our honeymoon and would not mind snuggling the night away.

Home finally, I awaited Miss Hazel. In time, she arrived with smiles and tears, stating that she worried so about me and the journey detoured.



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