by Henry Lane Hull
Bonds among individuals exist in many forms. One of them revolves around family houses. For the past 52 years our family has lived in what previously had been one of the family homes of the Delano and Dameron families, which in part has forged an enduring connection with the present-day descendants of those families.
Jeremiah Dawson built our farmhouse for Pelham Delano, an emigre from Richmond County, in 1905. Pelham’s daughter, Emily, married James Gilliam Conley, and settled into the Conley family home on the other side of metropolitan Remo. There they raised their family of 10 children, the youngest son of which was J.P.
Following his father’s example, J.P. became a farmer, a man who found his niche in growing things, be they crops, fruits or vegetables. He had a natural affinity for the land, and spent most of his life working to make it as productive as possible, a role now being carried on by his son, Steve.
Driving along our local roads, one readily can identify fields being farmed by the Conleys. They are uniformly neat, well cared-for, presenting broad vistas of green carpets across the land. At their family home, where J.P. and his wife, Hazel, have spent the entirety of their 70-year marriage, the family garden that they have tended with Steve always looks as if it were grown specifically to be photographed for use in a garden catalog.
When not farming, J.P. and Steve have spent much of their time carpentering. Many years ago they built an addition to our house into which we moved the kitchen. As farming season was looming, we engaged a cabinetmaker to build the kitchen cabinets, which he constructed in his shop in Heathsville. When they were ready for installation, he called to set up an appointment. On the day of delivery he called to say he was leaving, but had to stop to get shims.
I told him not to bother with the shims because the walls were absolutely plumb. He replied that he always had to use shims to assure the cabinets would be level. When he arrived, he quickly began the installation. During the process the package of shims sat unopened on the kitchen floor. When he finished, he said it was the only job he ever had done without using shims.
Modesty restrained me from saying, “I told you so”; instead, I told him that the addition had been built by the Conleys, and their work was known to all to be precise, in short, to be perfect. He agreed and left with his check and his unopened package of shims to use on another job.
In their farming and in their carpentry, J.P. and Steve were true partners. In many respects they were genuine sages, offering pithy comments replete with wisdom and lore. J.P. was one of the most committed Christians I ever have known. He was a deacon and, with Hazel, sang in the choir at Wicomico Baptist Church. He always, and I mean always, had time for others, regardless of how busy he was.
Each morning he read the newspaper, especially the funnies, and then began in earnest to tackle the crossword puzzle; the latter effort was an important part of his day. He enjoyed the challenge, and never lost his edge in solving the daily puzzle. Earlier in life he enjoyed playing baseball, and continued to be a follower of the teams all his life.
Last Sunday, The Lord’s Day, J.P., one of the true workers in the biblical vineyard, died suddenly in the home where he happily had spent almost a century. Some years ago J.P. and Steve had built a room on the back of our smokehouse, and later a new door on the front. The old door we had recycled for the addition finally fell apart, and Monday the Elder B.E. undertook building a new one. I told him that throughout the task I continually thought of J.P. and Steve, to which he replied, “It’s their house as much as ours.”
J.P. has had a profound, indelible effect on everyone he encountered. In that regard many of us are better people for having known him.
James Pelham Conley, October 23, 1922 – March 29, 2020. R.I.P.