Monday was our first full day at the KOA near Charlottesville, which afforded us the opportunity to get up early, take our morning walk with Tiger, and then get in our first workout of the trip. Tammy & I did a 7-minute ab routine, and then we did some weight training with the dumbbells we stashed away in the outside storage compartment. It felt great to get a good burn in, and there is something about working out in nature that is incredibly appealing. We ended with some stretching, which is the best and worst part for me. I always feel so much better after stretching, but it’s quite embarrassing how inflexible I am.
We made some eggs, Canadian bacon and an English muffin, then I cleaned up for work. One of the greatest parts of living in the age of technology is that I can work from anywhere without missing a beat. The RV comes equipped with a WiFi Hotspot that blasts a strong signal throughout the RV and is connected to the 5G cell towers through Verizon. There are very few places in which I haven’t been able to work. As most of my sales team can attest to, I can often be found on a Zoom call in the back of the RV while my wife drives us down the highway, and some of my backdrops have just been incredible, like this one from last year at the Grand Canyon. And speaking of last year, I went 6 weeks with only my laptop screen, and that was rough. So this year, I wised up and brought one of my additional monitors in order to have a better setup.
The girls spent the day on the playground, at the pool and exploring through the park, and Tammy went to a local store to pick up some groceries and other needed items. After work, we took Tiger and headed out to go see James Madison’s Montpelier, which was his homestead back in the late 1700s & early 1800s. Madison was a meticulous man, steady in his approach to life, which included a long political career, including two terms as our fourth president. He was foundational in writing the Virginia state constitution, and was asked to be a key member during the writing of the new U.S. Constitution, most famously penning the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution.
As we entered the property, there was a really cool sign in the same font as the Declaration of Independence that read “We the People”, and as you pass it, you can see a horse racing track to the right, which was an odd thing to see. As we started up the long drive and worked around a bend, the beautiful 2-story home sitting on the top of the hill came into view. We discussed what it must have been like to enter the property in a horse-drawn carriage and follow the road up to the house. It really was something out of a movie.
We went to the visitor’s center where they had a statue of James & Dolley Madison reading on a park bench, so Naomi took that moment to jump into character as a favorite granddaughter of Madison’s to listen to him read her a book. She never passes up the chance to act, sing or dance.
Inside the visitor’s center, they had a few compelling movies on Madison’s life, including the fact that he could speak seven languages fluently, owned many slaves during his life and died in deep debt, a common tale among the founding fathers, as it turns out. We watched a movie depicting Madison’s involvement in the slave trade, which ran deep in Virginia during this time period. One particular family was sold in separate transactions to different slave owners, which gave it the feeling of selling a litter of puppies, not human beings. It was truly inconceivable and difficult to comprehend, until I remember that this was done by people, who often lie, cheat, steal, and worse to protect their own interests and go with the way of the culture. I imagine many people in the South may have struggled with the idea of owning another human being. That is, until they saw the economic impact and found it difficult to compete with farmers who used slave labor to grow and manage their crops. Peer pressure and public opinion can be incredibly powerful tools of persuasion in society.
As we left the visitor’s center, we toured the property, including the gravesite of slaves, which was literally just a patch of weedy grass, as well as the gravesite of Madison and his family, which had significantly more decor and large headstones & monuments. Even in death, slaves were second-hand citizens and sub-human. We continued our walk to the large home we passed on the way in, and the first buildings we passed were the slave quarters. What stood out to me beyond the small size of the living quarters, which was no bigger than a 12’x12′ bedroom, was the fact that the doors were locked from the outside, and the building had no windows. Can you imagine? At the end of the day, taking your family into a room with no windows to sleep until the next morning when your master unlocked the door for you to come out and work for free again, and this was your life. Unfathomable. We treat our pets infinitely better than this, and it was so sad to see.
One of the incredible features of the property was a large, horseshoe-shaped garden where fresh flowers would have been grown for the many rooms in the Madison home. We walked through the garden to smell the flowers that still grow in the garden, and then we walked around the house to reach the front portico to take in the view. We imagined sitting on that portico as a rider would come up the drive on horseback to deliver a letter requesting Madison’s presence at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia with the task of drafting a new Constitution for the new nation. We stood there in that portico, walked down the steps and down the walk to capture a few moments together on our way out for the night. Even though the honest truth about America is stained with the enslavement of human beings, I am so glad it has been preserved for us to see it, feel it and envision what it was like to live in that era, both as a Founding Father, but also as a forgotten slave. It truly was an era of great progress and the most abhorrent evils this world has ever seen.
When we returned to our campsite, we did was all good campers do, and we started a fire to make S’mores, a family favorite. I love making golden brown marshmallows for the girls, but now that they are older, they prefer to do it themselves. Tammy still lets me make one for her so I can keep up my skills, and we all comment on whose marshmallow was the best. If it catches on fire, it’s disqualified from the competition, so knowing where to go in the fire is paramount. Hannah is quite meticulous about hers and has produced some winners, and Naomi is getting really good at it as well. The best part is seeing marshmallow and chocolate all over there faces because, no matter how old you are and how long you’ve been eating S’mores, those things are impossible to eat without getting it all over your mouth. We often laugh at each other’s faces after taking one down, and I will cherish these memories forever of watching them enjoy the campfire, eat S’mores & laugh together.