The Roanoke Times occasionally runs short vignettes from readers under the heading “Cornershot.” I had a couple of these published that I’m saving here. Condensation is something you learn from doing a lot of longer writing.

Tranquil Moments Along the Blue Ridge Parkway
Dec. 21, 2019

By some stroke of luck, one of our sons has bought a farm on the Blue Ridge Parkway across from an overlook that faces the North Carolina Piedmont. We have been visiting every week this fall, staying in a little house temporarily without water or bathroom, like in the old days.

The Blue Ridge Parkway’s purpose is not transportation but to reveal the “charm and interest of the native American countryside,” wrote Stanley Abbott, the parkway’s resident architect who got it started in the 1930s. Its native-stonework bridges and hemlock and rhododendron passageways make it the loveliest highway east of the Mississippi.

One morning, the tranquil light that fills the house while we have coffee suddenly went dark, then came back. We thought the power had blinked. After a minute, it happened again. Then we realized — a lonely car on the parkway had blocked the rising sun for an instant. Then another.

There was something miraculous about that alignment. The sun comes rolling in from the Outer Banks to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and winks at us in our little parkway house. Outside, I see the shadows of the parkway’s infrequent cars floating across the opposite ridge of cow pastures, the natural boundary of Virginia’s ancient valleys. For a moment, we’re smack on the American hinge.

The Tattoo Taboo
May 20, 2017

Whatever happened to the tattoo taboo?

Remember when only men who had spent hard time in prison or in the lower ranks of the military had tattoos? It was a class thing.

Now it’s an identity thing. Identity is a deep mystery, down there with the secrets of self and soul. Recently have we come to realize its force. Gender identity can’t be hidden away anymore. Our political identity has become more important than rational argument, and persuasion almost impossible against the power of identity.

I have ancestors who took genteel pride in a family crest from Scotland, with a lion rampant bearing a dagger and the Cumming motto: Courage.

They wouldn’t have besmirched the family honor with a tattoo (although an uncle overly enthusiastic about FDR’s National Recovery Administration had the blue eagle and “NRA — We do our part” tattooed on a forearm, just before the NRA was abolished as unconstitutional).

But I wonder what Major Cumming would’ve thought of our second son coming home as a Marine with a tattoo on his chest — of the Cumming heraldic crest. His older brother followed suit.

Even the flagrantly rich are tattooed now. Why else would L’Orléal Paris offer something called Infallible Total Cover, Nude Beige 303?

About Doug Cumming

Writer, W&L journalism professor emeritus
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