by Lawrence Emerson
It always seemed to take a half-hour to reach the table when going to a restaurant with B.H. Hubbard.
Huggin’, hand-shakin’, back-slappin’ and witty banter took place all across the room. B.H. knew everybody . . . or would introduce himself to the few strangers he encountered. And, with a few sentences, he would learn intimate details about them.
Our lives changed in February 2006 after selling our business in Warrenton and looking to hide out for a while in the Northern Neck. Ellen and I bought a house in downtown Weems, seemingly the perfect place to disappear for a few years.
But, that old house happens to stand next to Terry and B.H.’s home. The first dinner invitation came before we had a stick of furniture off the rented box truck.
Over the last dozen years, we have developed friendships that run broad and deep. A childless, middle-aged couple, we suddenly got caught up in the vortex of all things Hubbard—weddings, Christenings, funerals, big parties, small parties, excursions and household chores.
I always had wanted to attend the Shad Planking, an old Virginia tradition of a boney fish dinner, copious amounts of beer and political jokesters that takes place in a remote grove of scrub pine south of Wakefield. B.H. not only bought tickets for a crew each April, he cajoled his buddy Johnny Fleet into piloting his huge RV with Charlie Revere as co-pilot.
Oh, the stories I heard and the people I met because of B.H.
The bow-tied lawyer with that mischievous smile had connections to everything in these parts—the hospital, the Tides Inn, Northern Neck Insurance, foundations, families and countless businesses.
I cannot count the fascinating people with whom we have dined around Terry and B.H.’s table—an advertising superstar, business magnates, ministers, a college president, our hosts’ extended families and other folks who know this place as I know my native Shenandoah Valley.
So much for dropping out.
Terry and B.H. got to know our families and friends, who became theirs.
At first, however, I wondered about the barrister of slight stature who had more weapons than a small militia. Early in our friendship, the Hubbards invited us to climb aboard their old wooden boat, The Algonquin, for a trip up Carter Creek to an Independence Day party.
Long after the fireworks, we chugged back toward Weems, but The Algonquin ran aground just 10 feet from the pier. B.H. and his brother Lloyd B. exchanged profanities that would embarrass a Marine drill sergeant. It took two tries with two smaller boats to pull us off and to get people home.
But, I stayed aboard The Algonquin for the trip back to the boathouse a few miles away. The brothers stomped wordlessly to their vehicles after tying her up. We got home around 2 a.m.
The next morning, B.H. and Lloyd B. showed up at our house for Bloody Marys and, all smiles, spoke to one another as if nothing had happened. Some things matter. Others don’t.
B.H. loved coming to the Virginia Gold Cup Races each May up in Fauquier. He worked the crowd at our tailgate spot and all around, stopping perfect strangers for a conversation, a handshake and, in the case of ladies, a kiss on the cheek.
Soon after meeting a young, unmarried couple, B.H. always asked: “Are you in luuuuv?”
He danced, sang out loud and loved unconditionally. Each Saturday morning, the postmaster in Weems would raise the flag as B.H. and anybody he could recruit would sing “God Bless America” or “America the Beautiful.”
B.H. cherished his three children, their spouses and four grandchildren (with another on the way). He shared his infectious joie de vivre with them.
He loved to debate, to push rhetorical buttons and to test one’s verbal and intellectual mettle. He loved to talk old movies and obscure music. One never knew what CD he might have spinning in the sunroom—blues, Hawaiian, bluegrass, gospel, Gregorian chants . . . . And, on the TV atop his bar, the “Big Joe Polka Show” remained a favorite.
His sleep and work habits defied normal. B.H. often went to bed around 8 or 9 p.m. He’d get up at 2 a.m., work on some of the files, meticulously stacked on the dining room table, go back to bed after a few hours, get up for the morning dog walk, shower and head to work, phone glued to his ear as he piloted the silver Volvo up Weems Road toward Irvington.
By 5:30 p.m., one of our phones would ring with an invitation to come next door for cocktails, which usually led to dinner.
He counseled and supported us in various business and personal matters. He routinely did the same for others—many of whom couldn’t afford his services, for which he wouldn’t think of charging them.
In recent years, he re-embraced Christianity and did some “church shopping” but also explored spirituality beyond his religion.
When the cancer came, B.H. remained upbeat and outwardly at peace—even after awful doses of chemo ravaged his body but not his spirit. The last time we visited with him not long ago, B.H. insisted on getting up from his recliner in the sunroom to make drinks for Ellen and me.
But, we knew . . . .
Early Sunday morning, as I drove out of Weems toward the boatyard, Lloyd B. flew past me and into the village.
In the eastern sky, a tunnel of sunlight pieced an ominous sky of heavy, gray clouds.
Just up the road, a bald eagle flew low, from left to right in front of my truck and into the forest at 7:35 a.m.
Again, I knew.
We got word a bit later that B.H. had departed this Earth at 8 a.m., with music playing and his family surrounding him.
Rest well, Pal. You showed us how to live.
Lawrence K. “Lou” Emerson is editor of www.FauquierNow.com in Warrenton. His wife, Ellen Fox Emerson, is publisher and handles advertising sales and marketing.