A narrow, 70-mile long peninsula runs along the east coast of Virginia. Called the Eastern Shore, this farming community is where I grew up, where my parents still make their home, where my grandparents and great-grandparents on both sides of the family lived out their lives. It is home.
It is a place of quiet beauty, isolated by water – the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Chesapeake Bay on the other. I was the kid who listened to the older folks talk. That’s basically what I still like to do. One difference is that now, with their permission, I record the stories as I listen.
When I started recording these stories eight summers ago, I thought it would be simple. I did not expect to feel so deeply connected to the stories, to feel so connected to my ancestors and to this place. Nor did I expect the interviews to propel me to ask questions about American attitudes toward progress.
Through the collection of oral histories and photographs, I have learned about the production and preparation of locally grown food and the farm-based culture that surrounded this life. Between May 2009 and August 2010 – the first phase of the project – I collected interviews with 32 men and women who have lived or worked on farms in Accomack and Northampton Counties, particularly before 1960. I worked through the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society, with a generous grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the PNC Foundation.
For the past year, again through the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society, and with a generous grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, I am collecting additional interviews to complete this project.
The entries in this blog are excerpts from interviews. The photographs are family photographs shared with the project. All rights to this material are reserved in anticipation of a gallery exhibition and publication. A digital database will eventually be available through the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society and the Eastern Shore Public Library.
I am deeply appreciative for the support and encouragement of these organizations and for the people of the Eastern Shore who freely share their stories and intimate knowledge of this coastal landscape.
I welcome your comments and I hope you enjoy these excerpts as much as I enjoy recording them.