Oh Shenandoah!

My wife and I have just returned from one of the most beautiful weddings I have ever attended. The bride looked so lovely and the groom was all smiles, all the time. As the Country Western song goes, “love was in the air.” Truly it was a marriage arranged by heaven. However, I will keep the couple’s identity anonymous.

The nuptial Mass at Saint John the Baptist Church in Front Royal, Virginia, was solemn high with deacon and subdeacon. The choir was from nearby Christendom College. The choir sang all of the Propers in Gregorian, as well as the Kyrie, the Gloria, Preface, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. The hymns were heavenly with an angelic soprano rendering of Schubert’s Ave Maria and, my favorite Communion hymn, Panis Angelicus. Thank you, Saint Thomas Aquinas. Thank you, Franz Schubert, for I’ve read that it was your tender devotion to the Blessed Mother that moved you originally, at the age of twenty-eight, to put an excerpt of the poem “Our Lady of the Lake” to piano and voice, music that later was fitted to the Latin Ave Maria as we have it today.

We had never been to this part of our country. And my advice to readers is “do not go there.” Unless, that is, you have a few days to kill with nothing to do but leisurely tour. Even in the hot weather, to drive in and out of the Shenandoah Valley in two days, as we did, is to deprive oneself of an amenity that will haunt you without mercy and beckon you to return. I believe we have an obligation to savor such natural beauty as the Shenandoah Valley provides, feel the River pass over our feet, and just take it all in through a few choice picnic spots and a campsite by the River. For that you will need to get a tour guide manual before venturing on the adventure. Bring a fishing rod and tent because you do not want to see this awesome valley and river just from your car window. While there, you can rent a canoe or kayak and ride the easy rolling rapids, if you are healthy and limber. I am neither. And the older I get the more the sun and the hot wind roasts my Irish skin.

No, it isn’t really fair. When we were young and out and about, fancy free, my four brothers and sisters all got tan in the summer — not me, nor my father, God rest his soul. Dad was allergic to the hot sun, as I seem to be now. Back then, however, in my youth, I didn’t care. I was guaranteed a third degree at some point whenever I was anywhere near the water, and I received a new coat of freckles to top it all off. In fact, when I took off my shirt in the sun my shoulders would change from pale white and freckled to one big continuous freckle, after the peeling process was over. Then there was my nose. My Roman nose is a big target for the sun and to protect it I’d need a sombrero.  The seasonal blister planted over scar tissue that owed its existence to someone’s gridiron cleats, was a sight to behold. Ah, yes, I remember well the shivers and pain from all those burns. I found out too late in life about Aloe Vera which, if you keep applying it, is very effective, not just for cooling a burn, but for healing it.

Will I go back to the Shenandoah Valley? If I did, it would not be in the summer, but in the spring or autumn. Two days on the road, however, with only a week’s vacation left this year, tells me I’m only dreaming for this autumn. Perhaps I am, perhaps not. But the Shenandoah is obsessing my mind and tormenting my imagination. I can see it; I can hear the river; I can smell it.

Oh, Shenandoah’s my native valley.

Aa-way, you rolling river!

Shenandoah is my native valley.

Ah-way, we’re bound to go, ‘cross th’ wide Missouri!