Author Archive

Rebuilding the Past

Apr. 6th 2017


Death Records from 1853

April 6, 2017

Yesterday, I spent most of the day in Richmond. I had a meeting with the director of the American Civil War Museum. Last year, the week before our Civil War Weekend, we took President Lincoln (Ron Carley), General Grant (Curt Fields) and General Lee (Thomas Jessee) to see the museum and the Confederate White House. We had met the director during that time and he asked that we contact them when we did our next event in 2017.
I spoke to him yesterday about possibly having President Lincoln come and do an appearance before our June 3rd and 4th Civil War Weekend this year. He suggested that we make an appearance at the 1861 Tredegar Gun Foundry in Richmond. This location has more people and more open space for the appearance. Now I need to contact the Education Director for the museum and President Lincoln to see if we can mesh up schedules.

My meeting went earlier and a little faster than I had planned, so I had some time on my hands before returning to Belle Grove. I decided to hit up the Library of Virginia’s records to see what more information I could pull around our enslaved community.

Back in 2012, just before we got into Belle Grove, I had done tons of research on the people and the location. One of my stops was at the Library of Virginia. I found so much there. And I spent hours there! One thing I found at that time was Death Records for King George County. I wanted to go back and get a better copy of these records and see what more I could find.

I pulled the death records and hoped there were more than what I found last time. The information was from 1853 to 1870. But sadly, only the years 1853, 1854, 1855, 1857 and 1859 were available. The rest of the years were either missing or had no information.

After arriving home last night, I complied this information and created some display pieces to place in the museum. As I typed the information in, I found myself sadden by what I saw. Most of the deaths were children under the age of 2. The oldest death on record was Charles Washington at the year of 55. He died of an ulcer to his hand. I also found the names of the parents. How touched I was to see some of these parent’s names appearing again and again. What loss they endured.

But the hardest thing to see was the entries of slaves with just a first name. Then the cause of death to be listed as “unknown”. In some cases, the date of the death wasn’t known either. Then the ones who they didn’t know the parents or in case just to know the mother’s first name.

I think this is why this part of history has become so important to me. These people were born here, lived here and died here. Nothing was recorded for most of them. There is no grave marker that say “I was here.” No newspaper announcement. No fanfare. And the only way I know about them is the meager information that was listed.

In looking at the lists, I am sorry, but I think there had to be more that weren’t reported. There had to be. You can see diseases coming to the plantation and taking so many around the same time. Who else didn’t make the list? Who else is now lost to time.

One of the things I really want to do is to find the slave cemetery. There are no markers here. And to date, I haven’t found anyone that can point me to where it was. But yet, I have a feeling I know. Don’t ask me how, I just do. I really want to find someone with access to a ground penetrating radar so we can check and see. We don’t have a lot of extra funds available. All the foundation money is going to save the outbuildings. But if we can determine where it is, we can fence it off and have it consecrated. We may not know who is there, but at least we can say they were here.

My next step is to take these names and start doing some research on them. Maybe there is some connections somewhere. Who knows where it will lead me. What surprises I have in story. But it is a journey that needs to be taken, a journey that must be taken.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Slavery | Comments Off on Rebuilding the Past

A New Chapter Begins

Apr. 4th 2017

April 3, 2017

It has been a long time since I have written in a post for my blog. We have been working hard at Belle Grove Plantation with the bed and breakfast and special events. But though we have been busy with day to day business, we never stray far from the historic side of this plantation.
In the beginning, I spent hours digging through the internet, library and historic archives and gathering as much information as I could about the property and its past owners. To this day, we still search to find more links, more information, more stories to recreate this grand old lady’s history.

Over the past six months, I have started going in a new direction with the history. To me, it is very important to tell all the stories, not just a small section of it. What would our history look like if we only talked about the Conway family and the birth of President James Madison? We would never talk about the Turner Family and their lives during the Civil War. Or the Hipkins-Bernard Family and their short time with us.
Six months ago, I started seeing more historic locations starting the conversation about their connections to slavery. This subject is one that I have wanted to tell for a while, but lacked the information and well, I just didn’t know how to tell it. So just as we did when we first looked at opening the bed and breakfast, we started visiting these locations to learn from their experiences. I started looking at tours all over the United States. I would pull any reviews from their tours to see how the public viewed them.

After all this research, I started on my new journey. I started looking at the history of slavery, when it came to America, reading slave narratives and pretty much anything I could get my hands on. Early on, I decided it was time to tell our story. But sadly, unlike most of the owners of Belle Grove, the enslave community’s history at Belle Grove was very limited. Most historic records of this segment were reduced to just numbers on an inventory sheet or referred to as male negro in census records or just a first name in wills. Thankfully as I was researching the owners, I did have opportunities to pull slave records and hold them for future research. So at least I am not starting from scratch.

While researching, I kept in mind that I wanted to add a new tour to our tour program that spoke about our enslaved community. We have been reworking our temporary museum to houses this tour and started working on a script for the tour. It will be ready to go in the next few weeks. My goal is to have it done by May 1st for a grand opening of the tour.

Getting ready has really taught me so much about slavery. Things that surprised me. Things I wish I didn’t know. But most important, realizing that this story needs and must be told.

So, I am starting a new chapter in our blog. This journey isn’t going to be an easy one, but I hope you will join us.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Slavery | Comments Off on A New Chapter Begins

Milestones

Jan. 22nd 2016

January 22, 2016

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It is hard to believe that we are already 21 days into the New Year! Things here at the plantation have been going at a break neck pace since last spring. It is wonderful to see the plantation growing and becoming a destination that many are now seeking out. It makes those days at the beginning so much sweeter.

But because of the pace, my blog has fallen to the way side. I have to say I really do miss writing it. I had thought about making a resolution to write more, but knowing how hard it has become to eke out time to just sit down and write, I have decided not to put that pressure on me to do it. So I will write when I can and hope that you will enjoy sharing the journey as we move into the future.

One thing that has changed this year is that we have now taken on Tammy Anderson as more than just an Event Director for our weddings. She now not only books our weddings, but has taken on the role to book our private events as well. She has also taken on assisting me with computer work. Yes, we have become that busy! We are so happy that we found her a year and half ago. She has been a true blessing and I really enjoy not only working with her, but her friendship. I do have to say one thing though…. She is a slave driver! She does keep me on task and doesn’t like me head wonder too far off. I need that at times.

With milestones coming in for the business, I am coming up on a milestone for myself. My birthday is coming up on January 31st. I normally don’t worry too much about it, but this one is a big one for me. Yes, I am turning 50. Wow, just saying it doesn’t even make it seem real. But I am not worried about it too much, though over the last few days I have started noticing people talking about it. When I went to the movies on Monday, one of the preview commercials was talking about a lady who had just turned 50 and how she need to start worrying more about her health. Then tonight as I was listen to the Family Feud, one of the questions was “What birthday is one of the hardest to have?”. The number one answer was “50”. Yeah… I’m not too worry about it…. I think.

With this milestone, Brett and I decided it was time to take a vacation. It has been three years since we last went on vacation, a year before we opened Belle Grove. So I think it is time to stop and take a real breath. January is the best month for us to do this since we tend to slow down during this time. Though I have to say that this January has been a lot busier than past. So starting on Monday, January 25th to Sunday, January 31st, we are off to relax and enjoy seeing each other. My phone will be off, for the most part and my email will be on hold. Tammy has stepped in to be our “Inn Sitter” to keep the wheels moving while we are gone. Because when we get back, we will be hitting the ground running with February and Valentine’s Day.

So where are we going for our vacation, you ask?

Well you know me, I can’t just tell you! So we will be playing a week long game of “Where in the world is Michelle AND BRETT?” This one is going to be a lot of fun! We will be posting photos and hints and videos on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
I know, I am supposed to be on vacation. But this is more fun than work!

So stay tune! It is going to be a crazy week!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on Milestones

Christmas begins at Belle Grove

Dec. 6th 2015

December 6, 2015
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Wow, what a week! Just coming off Thanksgiving, followed by a week of decorating Belle Grove Plantation’s mansion and grounds and ending with our Annual Holiday Tea, I have to say, I haven’t been this tired in a long time! But as tired as I am, I look around the mansion and grounds at the Christmas decorations and think to myself … this was worth it.

Christmas decorating at Belle Grove Plantation is no easy task. Last year, Clare DeSantis, Tammy Anderson and I tackled it alone. So this year, I reached out for more help. And boy did we hit the jackpot with those who came to volunteer!

First to join Tammy and I this year was Jean Rodino. We have known Jean for about a year through her floral work at Belle Grove Plantation’s weddings. Her business, The Floral Paltette, has done many weddings and showcases over the last year with us. Knowing her work, I was more than excited to have her come on as head designer for the Christmas decorations.

We were then joined by the other “Ladies of Belle Grove”, Kathleen Mangold (a mother of the bride from this year’s weddings), Paula Wilson and Cindy Frith (loyal followers of Belle Grove) and Lynn Mitchell (Mrs. Peacock from our “Get a Clue” Murder Mystery). Each of these ladies gave us 110% of their time and efforts and helped us pull off the most beautiful mansion decorations I have ever seen!

Thank you Ladies from the bottom of our hearts!

The week didn’t start out as planned. Mother Nature decided to rain on our parade. Monday was the day Tammy and I were going to start cutting and collecting our greenery. So instead, we decided to wait until Tuesday. So I took advantage of the free day and hit the stores for need items to complete our decorating. We had decided to add a second tree so I needed things to fill it. I hit the new Port Royal Trading Post first and found some beautiful ornaments and four fresh cut pine and boxwood wreaths. Then I headed to Unique Antiques Mall for even more ornaments. I found in both locations these beautiful enamel ornaments and got them at such a great price that I am ashamed to say I “stole” them. The best part of this shopping trip is that these two locations and Belle Grove are teaming up this December! If you shop at either location in the month of December, save your receipt! Bring that receipt when you come to tour Belle Grove’s December Christmas tour and Candlelight tours and we will donate $2 for each ticket in your part to go to Cops4Kids in either Caroline or King George County!

So Tuesday rolls around and Mother Nature is still not helping. But we can’t really afford to wait. We had our Annual Holiday Tea on Saturday and the decorations needed to be done before. So the “Ladies of Belle Grove” arrived and we formulated our plan. By afternoon, the weather broke (just a little) and we headed over to Oaken Brow Plantation to collect the greenery.

Oaken Brow Plantation is just three plantations down river from us and is owned by the sweetest couple you could ever meet. Mr. and Mrs. Bowen have been friends with us since we arrived. Mrs. Bowen is a fellow South Carolinian and keeps me on my toes with my true Southern manners. They have allowed us to come and cut greenery for two years now and we can’t begin to say how much we appreciate it.

So off Tammy and I went, rain, cold and mist, we were going to get the job done. After showing her around, we split up and gather different kinds of greenery. Tammy got the holly, both solid green and green and white holly. Best part is that they are full of red berries! I got the boxwoods, hanging pine and magnolia leaves. The boxwoods at Oaken Brow have to be at least 100 years old! They are huge and full. And some of the inside has open up to create little hide aways. Every thing was moving along well, even though our shoes was starting to get water logged. I moved to the final cutting, the magnolia leaves. When it was time to move, I realized that I was stuck. Not in my car, but Brett’s truck! No matter how I tried, the back wheels just kept spinning. So I went to let Tammy know that I wasn’t going any where. We started looking around for anything to stick under the wheels to give them some traction. The only thing we could find was hay. So we jammed it up under and tried again. Still no where. So I called a friend that works on our car and truck to see if he could help us. Lucky for me, he said he could. So while Tammy and I waited, we cut more greenery.
My friend arrived and got me out. Whew ….

So the next three days, the “Ladies of Belle Grove” poured their heart and souls into getting the mansion completed. Fresh cut greenery lining the staircase and railing outside. Two beautifully decorated Christmas trees, so full I don’t see how they are supporting the weight. So many floral arrangements with fresh cut greenery, I can’t even count them. Each room is perfect. Each room is unique. Each room shows the love and care the “Ladies of Belle Grove” took with making our Christmas decorations more than I could have every hoped for!

We finished up at 5pm on Friday, just in time to welcome our overnight guests.
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To get the season off right, we had our Annual Holiday Tea on Saturday. Ladies from near and far arrived at 1pm to not only enjoy a wonderful Christmas Afternoon Tea, but were the first to view the love and work that went into making our Christmas decorations so special.
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Our menu this year was centered on Christmas. Our scones were Gingerbread and Chocolate Toffee with Pecans. Our three tea sandwiches were Turkey and Cranberry Puffs, Mouse King Cheese Balls and Crab Salad in phyllo cups. Our desserts were Glazed Fruit in a Chocolate Tartelette, Red Velvet Mini Cup Cakes with Cream Cheese Frosting and Sugar Plum Cheese Cake. The choice of teas were Classic Earl Grey or Hot Apple Cider.

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The tea was a smashing success and the table couldn’t have been prettier. The ladies were merry and enjoy lively conversations followed by a tour of the mansion and decorations.

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So Christmas is off to a great start!

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Today we are doing December Christmas Tours from 1pm to 4pm. We will be doing them all the month of December from Thursday to Sunday. Our Candlelight Christmas Tour will be December 17th to December 20th from 7pm to 9pm. Cost for the December Christmas Tours is $15 per adult and Children 10 and under are free. We are sorry, but no discounts the month of December. Please check our website for dates we will be closed due to private events in December. No reservations are required. No advance tickets. Just come and enjoy the tour.

We invite you to join us as we celebrate one of the best seasons at Belle Grove Plantation.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on Christmas begins at Belle Grove

Changing Fashion for Changing Times

Nov. 11th 2015

November 11, 2015

With our Downton Abbey Casino Night coming up on Saturday, I decided to get into the mood with a visit to the Virginia Historical Society’s “Dressing Downton Abbey” exhibit. This exhibit will be at the VHS from October 2015 to January 2016. It is not only an exhibit, but open events to come and experience Downton Abbey style.

Here is a video of the wonderful costumes. While they are beautiful, the photos don’t do them justice. You really must see them in person.

Belle Grove Plantation’s Downton Abbey Casino Night will be on Saturday, November 14th from 7pm to 11pm. Tickets are still on sale for $55. This will be the first event for our new James Madison Belle Grove Foundation! Come join us for a night of great Food and Drinks from Clearwater Grill, Live Jazz Music from Abbe Buck and gambling all night with Always Fun Casino! We will be raffling off some really great items as well! Dress your best in “Downton Abbey” or “1920s” style or come in your finest.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on Changing Fashion for Changing Times

Little Girl In Need

Oct. 28th 2015
Maddison Swing
“You don’t know what strong is until being strong is the only choice you have”

Since being at Belle Grove, I have come to know many of the people that live and work around us. One of those people that we have come to know is Angela, a supervisor at Hornes in Port Royal. Angela is a wonderful person with such great attention to detail. And best of all, she can make one mean hamburger!

In getting to know Angela, I found out several months ago that she has a daughter named Maddison. Of course I took a liking to her immediately. I have had the chance to meet her once and in doing so, fell in love with her sweet disposition and angelic face.

Maddison Bubbles

But sadly, this sweet child is in the fight of her life. Maddison has Lymphoblastic Leukemia. In meeting her, you would never know the struggle she has been through. She is upbeat and loves to chat with anyone.

Maddison Hospital

Two weekends ago, Brett and I were visiting Hornes for a quick dinner. While there, we heard that Maddison had had a seizure that evening. Just a few days later, I met up with Angela again. The news wasn’t good. Maddison had made it through the seizure, but is showing signs of possibly having had a stroke. Her right side is not working as it should. At least conversation, they were taking her in for a MRI.

While talking to Angela, she informed me that they were having a fund raiser for Maddison’s medical bills. See, Angela still works full time and takes care of Maddison in between. In talking with her, she is dumbfounded at what our government requires for help. She pointed out to me that if she quits her job and moves into government housing in Richmond, the government will take care of 100% of Maddison’s bills. But if she continues to work and lives on her own, in a safe place, they will only fund 65%. That leaves a huge 35% bill to cover.

Angela has started a Go Fund Me Campaign for Maddison. I am asking, if you feel so incline, please visit and donate something. Even $5 will help. I am also asking that you please share the campaign. Only through word of mouth can we help them reach their goal of $10k.

There is also a fund raiser at Lou’s Soul Food on November 14th. The flyer is included. Please help them get the word out by printing copies of the flyer and sharing it. If you have anything you would like to donate for the raffle, they are looking for items to raffle off.

Maddison Flyer
Any help would be most appreciated. Let’s help this sweet angel in this fight!
Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Little Girl In Need

It’s Finally Happened!

Oct. 27th 2015

October 27, 2015

JMBGF Logo

The mission of the James Madison Belle Grove Foundation is to assist in the restoration, preservation, maintenance and improvement of the estate of Belle Grove Plantation, birthplace of James Madison to the highest standards and to educate the general public about the historic events that have shaped Belle Grove Plantation, so that its history will continue to inspire future generations.

There are many goals that the foundation is looking to complete. As a non-profit, we will be able to request grants and donations that will help us bring Belle Grove Plantation back to the grandest plantation in the area.

Please be on the watch for more information on the James Madison Belle Grove Foundation in the weeks to come. We will be launching our website soon and will have many opportunities for you to be a part of making history here at the plantation!

With the announcement of the James Madison Belle Grove Foundation, we would like to turn our Downton Abbey Casino Night into a celebration of this accomplishment!

Purchase your tickets for our Downton Abbey Casino Night on Saturday, November 14th at 7pm for just $55 and use it as a donation to the James Madison Belle Grove Foundation!

Help us celebrate and start our fund raising for the foundation!

To purchase tickets online, please visit our online store at:

http://mkt.com/belle-grove-plantation-bed-and-breakfast/downton-abbey-casino-night

Don’t wait, this will sale out fast!!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on It’s Finally Happened!

Finding the Right Clothes

Oct. 12th 2015

October 11, 2015

We do a lot of great public events here at the plantation. Some of them give us and the general public a chance to dress in a different time period. That has to be one of the best parts of being here at Belle Grove Plantation. With Belle Grove’s history spanning from 1670 to the present, no American time period is truly missed.

Four of the upcoming events will be our Downton Abbey Casino Night on November 14, 2015, our Madison Birthday VIP Dinner and Social, our Titanic Tea on Saturday, April 16, 2016 and our Civil War Weekend on Saturday, May 14, 2016 and Sunday, May 15, 2016. All of these events gives us the opportunity to “live” in that time period.

For our Downton Abbey Casino Night, we will be dressing in “Downton Abbey” or “1910-1920’s” style. For our Madison Birthday, we invite you to dress 18th century with President and Mrs. Madison. For our Titanic Tea, we will be having our “Titanic Ladies of First Class” attending in their Victorian Dress. We invite those attending with these ladies to wear their best “Tea Hats”. And finally, our Civil War Weekend will give you the chance to be that Southern Belle or Gentile Gentleman with our Civil War Wedding and “Gone with the Wind” Ball.

But as people start planning their dress for these events, we get calls from many asking where to find clothing for these time periods. So we thought it would be a good idea to pass along some of our favorite places that we have found clothing. There many more that we are sure that we don’t know about as well. So if you would like to share where you get your pieces, please feel free to email is. We will place it on a special list on our website to help others find what they need.

Our first place is Bygones on Cary Street in Richmond, Virginia. It is here that I found my 1910’s dress and tea hat for our Titanic Tea. This great vintage clothing store carries beautiful and elegant pieces from the early 1900s. Whether you want to be a flapper for our event or be the lady of the manor, you are sure to find what you need.

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My Titanic Tea Outfit from Bygones

http://bygones-vintage-clothing.myshopify.com/

Bygones – 2916 W. Cary St., Richmond, VA 23221 – 804-353-1919

Our second place is Arleen Herriman Antiques and Others Diversions in Petersburg, Virginia. This isn’t a place than normally carries vintage or reproduction clothing, but at the moment I do know she has several pieces that could be used for our Civil War event. I was just down there on Wednesday last week and found a wonderful, reproduction black dress set. It included two hats, six veils, a hand bag, faux sleeves and ear rings. What was so amazing is that it fit! I am not a small or average size so finding pieces can be a little challenging. The dresses she has right now are about an 18 – 20 size. She also has some Confederate Artillery Uniforms. I won’t wait long to get there. These piece are sure to take off.

Here are some of the pieces. For more information, please contact Arleen Herriman’s Store.

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This is my new dress!

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Arleen Herriman – 246 North Sycamore Street, Petersburg, Virginia 23803 – 804-722-0905

You may remember my “Day” dress from our last Civil War Weekend this year. I purchase this dress at Abraham’s Lady in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It is a beautiful silk dress that I bought right off the rack. But before you go, you will want to call and check to see if she is open. She doesn’t keep normal hours, but will meet you there if you call ahead.

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Tracey Barrows and I at Belle Grove Plantation – Photography by Morgan Hockensmith Portraits

www.abrahamslady.com

Abraham’s Lady – 25 Steinwehr Ave, Gettysburg, PA 17325 – 239-738-5328

During our Civil War Weekend, we will be conducting three events: Civil War Bootcamp with reenactors from every walk of life during the Civil War. We have many already scheduled, but we are looking for a few more people. We need reenactors to play the following parts:

• Abolitionist – We would really like to find Frederick Douglass
• Freed Slaves
• Slaves
• Citizen Planter and Family
• Union units – Infantry, Calvary or Artillery
• Colored Units
• Any Known General or Citizen

Our second event will be a Civil War style wedding. This will be a Vow Renewal for Brett and me, Civil War style. We will be celebrating our 30th Wedding Anniversary in 2016 and I would like to mark the occasion with renewing our vows. I am in search of someone who makes Civil War Reproduction Dresses. I have a dress in mind for this event, but it will need to be created from scratch. If you are a seamstress up for a challenge, please get in touch with me as soon as possible.

Our last event will follow right behind our wedding. This will be our “Gone with the Wind” ball. Ladies in evening dresses, gentlemen “Rhett Butler” and soldiers from both sides. Get your outfits ready soon because we are going to have a “Gone with the Wind” character contest too! Bring our best Scarlett, Miss Melanie, Ashley or Rhett to win a two night stay at Belle Grove!

We welcome anyone who would like to refer or step up to help our guests find the clothing they need. Please email us at information@bellegroveplantation.com. We will be compiling a list for the website.

Don’t forget to get your tickets soon! Our Downton Abbey Casino Night is currently on sale at a discount with an additional $50 playing money! Check our website for more details on this and all our events!

www.BelleGrovePlantation.com

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on Finding the Right Clothes

Through the Lens of Richard Harrison

Oct. 6th 2015

October 6, 2015

Last September, we had our Fall Showcase here at Belle Grove. It was a wonderful gathering with lots of people coming to view Belle Grove’s mansion, grounds and to meet some of the vendors that have been at Belle Grove for other events. As I was walking around meeting the people that had come for the Showcase, to my surprise, I had a visitor that I had not expected to see!

Standing in our Ladies Parlor, camera in hand stood a tall gentleman, who at first I didn’t recognize. I have to say, I see so many people sometimes, the faces will allude me when I see them again. But after a moment for searching my brain, I realized it was Richard Harrison, photographer and loyal supporter of Belle Grove Plantation since almost the very beginning of our journey.

You may have remembered some of his work here when he stayed with us last year. We use his photographs often for advertising, marketing and magazine spreads on Belle Grove. While he was in the area and decided to pop over to see us, he honored us with some more of his outstanding work! We wanted to share some of them with you.

To see the rest of Belle Grove’s photos: https://richardharrison.smugmug.com/Places-Along-The-Way/Belle-Grove-Plantation-2015-09/i-JNjzbx6

If you wish to see some of his other work, please visit his website at http://richardharrison.smugmug.com.

Enjoy!

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | 2 Comments »

My Own Piece of History

Sep. 23rd 2015

September 22, 2015

Belle Grove Field

With all our overnight guests tucked in for the evening, tonight I decided to treat myself to something that I haven’t had in about 2 years … dinner and a movie.

The movie I selected was “90 Minutes in Heaven”. I haven’t really been following the movies in the theatres since I have gotten to Belle Grove. I haven’t even seen the last season of “Big Bang Theory”. Sheldon would not be pleased. But time is a precious thing here, it seems to be in low amounts at times.

The last movie I went to see was just after I got to Belle Grove and ironically it had a similar theme … “Heaven is Real”.
After seeing “Heaven is Real”, I spent the next hour driving back from Stafford, Virginia to Belle Grove, crying like a baby. It was a touching movie in many ways. I had just lost my mother about a year before, so I was still grieving over her loss. And it reminded me of something I had gone through.

With “90 Minutes in Heaven”, I was expecting the same affect. But to my surprise, I didn’t cry.

In “90 Minutes in Heaven”, the main person, Don Piper was going through a totally different struggle. He had died and going to heaven, but when he returned, he was angry God had sent him back. The movie was more about his struggle to come to terms for the anger than the visit itself. Well, I won’t tell you anymore in case you haven’t see the movie.
For me, I can understand the anger, but I don’t identify with it. I felt more connected to the first movie than this one. Because I have gone to heaven … twice.

Okay, I know what you are saying. How can this be? Are you crazy? Where did you eat tonight, I think you might have food poisoning.

But I can tell you, I am not crazy. I ate at Red Lobster tonight and while the last time I ate there in 1992 in New London, Connecticut I did get food poisoning from bad shrimp, I didn’t get it tonight.

How can this be?

The year 1989 would big year for me. On January 1st, I lost my grandmother, Nannie to an abdominal aneurysm. She was one of the most important people in my life. I looked to her for stability, for guidance and for unending love. I was six months pregnant when she passed and she was the first death of someone very close to me that I experienced.
On February 1st, just one month later, Brett and I would face an uncertain future for me and our first child. I had developed Pre-eclampsia in January and had been placed in the hospital the last week of January. The goal was to get my blood pressure under control and to buy time for our daughter to grow more.

That was the plan, but not what happened.

After only a week, my blood pressure shot up. It was growing more and more dangerous for me and for our daughter. So the decision was made on February 1st, the day after my birthday to deliver her by emergency Cesarean, both to save my life and hers.
It was one of the most traumatic times of my life. The stress my body was under was overwhelming. I was at Wright-Patterson Air Force Hospital and they had to transfer me to a hospital, Miami Valley in Dayton, Ohio. They were better equipped to handle her premature birth. Three IVs, a catheter and a Swan-Ganz heart catheter later, the anesthesiologist wanted to do an epidural for the Cesarean. At this point, I was done. I wasn’t going to have any more pokes that night. So I started screaming and crying. The head OBGYN came in and told the anesthesiologist that we didn’t have time for the epidural (thank you God) and we were rushed into surgery.
Brett was a Navy Corpsman at the time, so they allowed him in the room while the surgery was going on. He got to see our daughter born and rushed away. He said she was so tiny that he could harder see her. She was one pound, three and ¼ ounces and eleven inches long.
I was under general anesthesia so I wasn’t aware of anything. Or so I thought.
When I woke for surgery, my very first thought wasn’t how I felt or how my daughter was. I remember that I had had one of the most wonderful dreams I have ever had. The only problem was … I didn’t remember it. I couldn’t recall anything. Not one thing. But I know it was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.

Just a month and half later, I had another dream.

Now let me tell you this. My dreams are very vivid and detailed. Brett is always amazed at how much I remember. I have had this all my life. This dream was no exception.

In this dream, I was back at Nannie’s house in Columbia, South Carolina. I was in the kitchen cooking a meal for my Grandfather and Father, who were seated at the table. The kitchen was a very important place in Nannie’s home. It is where she taught me two of the three main points she taught me in life … cooking and entertaining. The other is history. Now you see why I love history so much.
While I was preparing and serving the meal, the phone rang. When I picked it up, Nannie was on the other end.

She said, “Michelle, I need to talk to you.”

“Wait, you can’t be calling me. You died.”

“Michelle, I need to talk to you.”

“If you can call me, why can’t you come here?”

With that, my Grandfather and Father disappeared and standing before me was Nannie. I know I must have looked shocked.

She said to me, “Michelle, I need to talk to you about dying.”

“Weren’t you scared?”

“At first it was dark, but Michelle, where you are going to go is so wonderful.”

And with that, she took me to heaven. It was for only 30 seconds, but how can I tell you what I saw!
What I saw was like driving down a country road on a sunny day. Before me as a field of wildflowers and grass and in the distance was a tree line. Above the sky was blue with rolling clouds. But the thing was these were all ten time what they are on earth! The smell is more intense, the colors more vivid and the feeling … I can’t describe the feeling. It was just wonderful and amazing all wrapped up in glory.
When she brought me back, she told me that I needed to remember this because I was going to need to tell Granddaddy. I asked when I was to tell him. She told me not to worry, that I would know.

Just before we were schedule to bring our daughter home and after I knew she was going to be okay, I needed to take a break. I longed to go back to South Carolina to see my Grandfather. I was still grieving over Nannie and I needed to go home.
While I was there, Granddaddy kept asking me to pick out things I wanted. Other family members had already come over and started making piles of what they wanted. I didn’t want to do that. To me, Granddaddy was still alive and this was his home. And I really didn’t want anything other than to see him. But he pushed me to look.

I went up into the attic and had a look around. Nannie was a bit of a hoarder. She was a child during the Great Depression in rural South Carolina and she never throw anything away. I think there were two or three broken toilet seats up there. But while I was up there, Granddaddy started talking to me.

“Michelle, I need to tell you something and I know you are going to think that I am crazy. When I am in the den, sitting on the daybed (they used a back bedroom as the den and instead of having couches, they had two daybeds. They generally slept in here instead of their bedroom. I grew up sleeping on the floor in there on a blanket pallet Nannie would make us.) smoking a cigarette, I will hear the back door open and close. Michelle, I swear I am not drinking. But I will see your Nannie appear in the hall doorway.”

“What does she want?”

“I think she is calling me.”

“How does she look?”

“Young and beautiful”

That is when I knew I was to tell him what she had told me and shown me.

My Grandfather lived seventeen months after Nannie. I was the last to speak to him. My father had gone to Washington DC for a wedding and had asked me to call Granddaddy to check on him on Thursday. My uncle was to be there later that day. Granddaddy had had the flu and had been pretty sick. When I spoke to him, I had reminded him to be sure and drive some Gator-Aid to stay hydrated.

My uncle didn’t arrive on Thursday. He came in on Saturday instead.

Shortly after I spoke to Granddaddy, he must have had an accident and was going to take a shower to clean up. Before he got into the shower, he must have started to vomit and tried to hold it in to keep from getting it all over. In doing so, he aspirated some of it.

My uncle found him, naked and slumped over the daybed in the den in a prayer like position. He had the phone in his hand.

My only solace was that I had helped him prepare for this moment. I know Nannie came for him and took him away quickly.
I have since realized that the wonderful dream I had had during our daughter’s birth wasn’t a dream, but a trip to heaven as well. While I didn’t die, I know the stress I was under. I think God pulled me away and like to see heaven.

So while in “90 Minutes in Heaven”, Don Piper was angry about coming back, I can’t say I share that view.
Since my Grandfather’s death, I have been able to share this experience with many people. Some who have lost a loved one and some who would later face death themselves.

I think one of the reasons I feel so connected to Belle Grove is the fact that it reminds me of heaven. There are days during the spring and summer, I have found myself wondering out into the fields of corn, wheat and soybean. I just sit there and stare at the wind blowing the soybean, making it look like waves coming in on the ocean shore. And at the blue sky with white clouds floating lazily by.

I see heaven everywhere. I see it in the sunset. I see it in the river as it floats by. I see it when a bird appears and sings out to me. I see it in a dragonfly or butterfly that will seem to magically appear to greet me.

And every time I see these things, I smile and say quietly, “Thank you God for this little reminder.”

Is Heaven Real, you better believe it is! But it’s not something that we have to wait for when we die. It is here all around us. We just fail to stop and see it.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on My Own Piece of History