The Tiny Vampire Community, and Creepy Winery in the Woods

It was ten years ago at least. Maybe close to fifteen. I was vacationing with my wife then and we decided to do something Virginia-beautiful. Something that would take us on a scenic drive, along winding mountainside roads that might offer up a spontaneous stop-n-bite meal someplace that serves tasty southern roadkill sandwiches or critter fries.

Or a winery?

Yeah. A winery. We were given an incredible place to stay through a family connection-a place with ceiling-high windows, a “cabin” that was much more than just that, surrounded by nature. A bottle or three of wine would certainly allow one to be left unopened as a thank-you gift. Right?

So off we went in search of, with some loose awareness of where a winery might be found and one of those old Garmin GPS things to guide us along the way. Are they still around? It’s one of those devices that need to be actively updated (or at least it did back then) otherwise new roads, roads that no longer existed, current construction blocking roads you expected to be there… all of that waited as potential confounding variables in your point A to point B plan.

This on top of the fact that I am pretty hopeless when it comes to navigation, with or without GPS.

After some time we came to realize that the roads Mr. Garmin was pointing us towards, and the winery that supposedly awaited, were not where we were being told they were.

I say Mr. Garmin because I’m pretty certain Mrs. Garmin would have known what the hell she was talking about. Mr. Garmin clearly did not. So we were left to our own devices to drive on beautiful Virginia roads on a beautiful, sunny, Virginia day, looking for things to see and wine to drink. Isn’t there a John Denver song about some of that stuff? Not so much the bottles of wine-maybe that’s Rocky Mountain High I’m thinking, not Virginia Mountain Drunk.

Okay, I’m rambling. Let’s get to it.

Some winding roads and a gradual climb, and all of the sudden the trees parted. The sky opened, and out of nowhere, we were plunked in the middle of what looked like a suburban pod community. A few perfectly neat little homes, with perfectly paved driveways in front of perfect little attached garages. Perfectly mowed lawns with nothing out on them except a few perfectly pruned trees and shrubs. No toys, no lawn furniture, no trash bins by the roadside for pickup… No cars in the driveway. And we hadn’t seen another vehicle on the road for quite some time.

It almost looked like a developer’s life-sized model of a planned community. No Real estate signs, though, to indicate that these were model homes for viewing. It seemed these were homes that belonged to actual people, but there were just no signs of people.

Driving just a little bit past these homes brought us to the tippy top of this hill. The homes were gone and there were only a couple of things to see here.

On the left:

A cemetery of sorts. Or, a graveyard? I’m not sure which name should be given to a blank, sterile gathering of bodies and grave markers into columns and rows on a rectangular piece of earth. This was no “final resting place” that would be sold to folks who actually worry about the view their corpse will have from initial occupancy until a future developer buys the property and evicts the residents.

No trees. No meandering paths or drives to take. Little variation in headstones. A four-foot high chain link fence surrounded it with a gate at the entrance, a dirt road that went straight in at the gate and then split in perpendicular branches, for efficient delivery, maintenance, and no-frills visitation, I assumed. From the entrance to the back row, it was about the width of an Olympic size swimming pool.

On the right:

A small stone building that looked like one of those figurines you buy in an artsy gift shop when you’re on vacation. You know the ones I mean. Sometimes the pieces are cute cottages, sometimes lighthouses. There’s that little boy and girl that are holding hands or touching noses all “in love” and stuff. Well, this building was a cobblestone type, maybe leaning a bit towards fieldstone or a collection of stone shapes that varied a little in size. The colors were reds, and purple-ish, the type of stone you see a lot of down south.

It looked like it could be a cute home even, but here’s the thing: the windows facing the road were too small, dark, and high off the ground to be really functional as windows that would let any light inside. I think they were stained glass, but I don’t remember for sure, and if they were?

They were still small, up off the ground a bit, and dark.

On the ends of this building were small, round stained glass windows way up high where the roof came to a pointed peak. The land it was on sank away steeply from the front to the back so that a small, basement-level entrance door could be put in on either side. I can remember thinking “No way that’s a house. But man, it’s kind of a fancy little mausoleum. I guess if you aren’t spending for landscaping around the graves, givem a nice waiting room, right?”

Then I saw the sign.

Church of the Brethren.

I’m not going to spend too much time on this because religious faith is precious to those who have it. Let’s just say I had never heard of this particular religion, category, sect, or classification… And let’s be honest, “brethren” has a spooky-movie sound to it.

So imagine this eerily abandoned Virginia community, because I had pretty much written the story that way in my mind right then when it happened, and this mausoleum so-called-church that blocks out all the sunlight, which sits right across the road from collected and dutifully arranged graves and bodies…

Okay, let’s just get off that.

We kept driving while I thought “Can vampires sleep their day away in an actual church?”

Eventually, we came to a “T”. The road ended.

Yet Mr. Garmin was saying there was a road in front of us.

There was not.

It was a coin-toss decision. A shared “I don’t know, which way do you think, right or left?”

The decision was for a left turn, and off we went, believing there was a winery somewhere nearby and figuring we’d see vineyards, buildings…a sign of some sort? You know, some blatantly obvious clue telling us a winery was somewhere close by.

There was none of that, and in fact, the road began to climb again and entered into a thickly wooded area. No way there were any vineyards around here and I expected to see posted signs or markers identifying state land, but you know there I was thinking like a Yankee.

Then suddenly through the trees on the left, I could see a clearing set back a little, maybe around fifty feet in, and as we got closer we could see it was a dirt parking lot around a pretty nondescript white building. The building looked something like a small town’s village barn, the sort of place where a plow, dump truck, and other small equipment might be stored.

There was no great big garage door. Nothing around it that gave it that town lot feel. No big bucket loader, piles of gravel, stone, or sand. No sign identifying it as the town of something-or-other property. There was none of that. The appearance of this building was like the “church” in that it was sort of an odd building in this secluded location and one with a purpose that was difficult to determine.

Still, as weird and secluded as it seemed, as we neared the entrance to this lot we saw that there were about eight cars parked around the building. Not abandoned junkers, or cars waiting for repairs, but decent cars that appear to have been driven and parked there for something that was going on. Then we saw a sign. It was a winery, and the sign said there was a tasting that day!

It sure didn’t seem to be the winery that Mr. Garmin was pretending to try and help us find, but after the strange church and cemetery across the road, it was a welcome and kinda quirky pitstop. There may have been that warped storytelling voice in my head that whispered this is where the vampires keep the bodies hung for “milking”, but I ignored that voice.

It says lots of silly stuff.

So in we went, and I was quietly hoping it wasn’t me that would get “tasted” that day.

The entrance was a simple, windowless door, and inside was an unfinished barn-like interior. Overhead there were exposed beams and around there were support posts and small areas that looked like this building might have served its purpose for a small farm. You know, a smaller boxed-in space where a calf could be kept on a bed of straw, another to keep wheelbarrows and some rakes, shovels, and whatnots out of the way, a larger one where bales of hay might have been kept. No fresh folks hung by their ankle for any vampires to drain at their leisure.

The vampires’ leisure, I mean.

There were about a dozen people meandering about that looked to be customers, and a few that looked to be owner-employee types. A couple makeshift serving bar/sales counters were set up, one near the entrance and another across this space on the opposite side. There were plates with some typical “pairing” snacks and some tasting, actual wine tasting, was happening. So it looked like a legit wine-making operation. Small, but legit.

As my wife and I mingled and spoke to a couple of the folks that appeared to be attached to this winery, we discovered that they only open up for tastings like this two days out of the year, and we just happened to come across it on one of those days! An incredible coincidence, right? Moving around we met a few people, took a few sips, and nibbled a cracker or two to “cleanse the palette” or whatever the wine folks do.

While we’re doing this, I notice a thin, white-haired old dude relaxing in a simple wooden chair in an area off to the side, watching.

Just watching.

A couple of the younger employees stayed close, and they spoke a little to the little old man in the little wooden chair and he to them. While I know the resemblence was not a close one, the paintbrush that is my memory has created a charater that looked like William Hickey. He had played some wonderfully creepy roles in his time but I most remember him as Don Prizzi in Prizzi’s Honor and Uncle Lewis in National Lampoon’s Christmas.

During a conversation with a woman working at this winery, when we shared our “where we’re from stories”, my wife shared that she was originally from Sodus Point, N.Y. Pleasantly surprised, the woman said:

“Why (so-and-so) right over there is from Sodus! She’s been with us for several years!”

Near 500 miles away. Little old Sodus, NY. On the shores of lake Ontario. And here in this open only twice-a-year winery that we found accidentally.

Now how could we not talk to this person.

So, we did. It didn’t take long for my wife to get through the when did you graduate, and who do you know stuff, but most interesting was the where did you live question. My wife grew up in a white house that sat in front of a couple hundred acres of Girl Scout Camp called Camp Beechwood. Her father worked as caretaker of the camp and the house for he and his family to live in was part of the compensation, and of course it was right there close to the job.

Turns out that this woman had grown up in that same house before ending up at this winery.

Her father was the caretaker of Camp Beechwood before my wife’s father had become the caretaker.

It was at this moment my mind replayed that scene from The Shining where Delbert Grady is helping to dab a stain off of Mr. Torrence’s (played by Jack Nicholson) jacket. Torrence confront’s Grady about having been the caretaker previously, having “chopped your wife and daughter up into little bits, and then you blew your brains out,” but Torrence is a little drunk on ghost booze and just starting to realize that the secluded hotel he is in holds a lot of deep dark secrets and restless spirits.

Torrence tells Grady that he WAS the caretaker after Grady claims to not know anything about what Torrence is saying, insistently, in an I know this is true tone.

Grady responds: “I am sorry to differ with you sir. But YOU are the caretaker. You have always been the caretaker.”

It is just then that the little old man in the little wooden chair stands and announces that it’s time to go to the basement for a tasting.


Storytime: How our Stories Echo

Chloe was home from college on break. This past Thanksgiving, maybe. She and I were watching the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and near the end, at the point where Hector Barbosa gets shot, and is first dismissive of Captain Jack Sparrow, almost condescending-believing his undead status provided him protection at that moment from such foolishness as being shot.

“Ten years you carry that pistol and now you waste yer shot,” he says.

Here, an echo.

If you’ve watched the movie you know that Barbosa himself gave Jack that pistol with that one shot believing that the madness and suffering of having been left stranded on a deserted island would lead Jack to use that pistol and that one shot. On himself. To end his own suffering. Instead, Jack uses the pistol and his one shot to shoot Barbosa.

A moment he’s waited ten years for.

Of course, Barbosa is mocking and taunting at first, it’s part of his charm. But then he realizes Will Turner has dropped the last cursed coins and a bit of blood onto the stack gathered, finally breaking the curse that came with every one of those coins. Barbosa stands frozen in place. A remarkable moment of blaring silence following the hectic and fast-paced fight scene involving multiple participants in a cave holding untold amounts of pirate treasure, including the cursed gold that the Black Pearl and its crew had sailed the world to retrieve.

Having torn his coat open to first see the blooming flower of blood soaking through his shirt, and then lifting his chin to stare off at some nothing in particular beautiful thing, the pirate has an expression owning his face. There was a split second of surprise, maybe. He’s been bested. But his expression changed into something else.

And then he says “I feel…”

It is at this moment that Chloe hits PAUSE, freezing that face to the screen.

Another echo.

“Dad, I remember sitting on your lap watching this with you when I was like four or five years old, and you stopped it right here and asked me ‘What do you think he’s feeling right there?’” Chloe said.

“What was your answer?” I asked.


We had a brief conversation at that moment, about that moment in the movie. About that expression, what it meant, the amazing delivery of actor Geoffry Rush… Even more important: we talked about the connection between the there-it-was-again frozen moment on the screen and it happened-back-then earlier moment. How when you pay attention, you hear more echoes.

Engaging with these moments when they arise, with intent, is a powerful technique for growing a mind. One of my favorite things to think about, talk about, and write about is taking advantage of the earliest opportunities to do this with young learners because it’s vital for building that brainpower. Especially as a parent in the earliest years up to five years old, but then as an educator- in that 5 to 10-year-old zone, those elementary school years.

What I really love is using it to plant those echoes, to drop a thought, a question…to set up the moments still to come.

There must be a sense within that young mind when it dares to reach out and then makes some independent discovery.

An “Aha!” turns into an “I did it!”, an intrinsic reward and a sense of accomplishment that leads to self-motivation, an “I can do it!”. I had stopped to explore this Barbosa thing with the four-year-old Chloe in my lap, she had seen the connection to an earlier story moment, and here I was exploring it again with an all-grown-up Chloe who had paused it herself, just as I once had.

That earlier moment in Barbosa’s story, and in our story, had echoed.

As my little stinker grew into a thinker she began to see this type of connection on her own, without having it pointed out to her. She has become a brilliant writer and storyteller. We can now discuss moments like the Barbosa one in the context of technique and purpose- how similar intent applies and is evident in other movies and in other stories. Making those connections had become a collaborative exercise.

With all three of my daughters, I was able to engage them at home in all sorts of interactive play during storytime, bathtime, and diaper changes… So many things became events with characters and roles to be played. So many nights Dad got scolded for not just reading a story and instead getting the children all riled up at bedtime.

While the more formal learning environment of school doesn’t offer all of those opportunities, connecting ourselves as human beings to each other and engaging in narratives together, through our observed, lived, explored, and shared stories, is vital in providing a true education.

Once young learners become adept at engaging with stories and making all those connections with the others around them, of seeing how stories and characters evolve and how their own stories develop, they also become more prepared to generalize the skills employed to their own lives. They are better able to understand how actions and plans can be means to some ends: in-the-moment decisions, day-to-day decisions, and maybe even long-term plans.

Practicing with learners how to slow down to explore that dynamic in fiction, with fictional characters in fictional situations, and then connecting similar themes in plotlines in real-life stories around us, spotting how actions come with consequences or rewards…

It might even show that motivation and unwavering commitment can pay off!

Just as it had with end-of-movie Barbosa.

The earlier movie event in Barbosa’s character trajectory was after the crew of the Black Pearl had raided Port Royal, called there by the power of the last gold coin. The character of Elizabeth Swann, a prisoner of the pirates for having given the name Turner instead of Swann, stabs Barbosa. Much like in the later scene, he is dismissive and even menacing. It’s about to be revealed to “Miss Turner” that these are no ordinary pirates.

Barbosa says:

“Look! The moonlight shows us for what we really are. We are not among the livin’ and so we cannot die, but neither are we dead. For too long I’ve been parched of thirst and unable to quench it. Too long I’ve been starvin’ to death and haven’t died. I feel nothing. Not the wind on my face nor the spray of the sea. Nor the warmth of a woman’s flesh.”

There is real desperation in the man’s eyes as he tells her this. He isn’t relishing the murderous spree and pillaging. He is desperate to truly live again. To feel.

That moment when reflected back upon makes the final “I feel…” There was an echo for Barbosa there. He lamented the “too long” he had gone without feeling a thing, and now he was almost euphoric, realizing that he could finally feel. There was an echo for Chloe and I as well. The powerful moment in the movie had woven itself together with a powerful moment of ours that echoed from the past where we had shared it all then in a way that helped us to share it again nearly twenty years later.

So how can educators use this idea of echoes and connections to benefit their students in school?

I’ll start getting to that next. And just as an FYI, that angel all grow’d up just texted me a picture of Chef Gordon Ramsey’s ass.

That’s a story that’ll echo later on. You should take note because I loooove to play the long game with shit like that.

It Starts With Stories


I tend to bring in a lot through a feelings filter. And I don’t just attach my own personal feelings, sensing my way through some situations when it might be better for me to just take a deep breath and “slow my roll” (as people way cooler than me might say).

My thing is I sense the feelings of others and sometimes think into that a little too much. Sad songs, sad movies…Ohmigod when kids in a movie suffer or struggle in some horrible situation despite their wide-open hearts and hope for a better future?

Shit, I’m crying for sure. Please don’t look at me. Or maybe I’ll just go to the kitchen quick to “grab another beer” or “get a snack quick” (a.k.a. do whatever that excuse I made up was but also quickly wipe the tears away on my shirt before I return).

So many moments like this while watching different movies, and for different reasons. It isn’t always about the kids. Loving Vincent is probably the best most recent example. It shook me. It was one of those movies I walked away from really happy that I saw it but really sure I wouldn’t be ready to watch it again any time soon. It so engaged my love of story, my sympathetic take on what I already knew of van Gogh’s life as well as my passion for art and music… That movie brought paintings to life, made them move and speak and tell that story. And it was heavy. Wow.

I want to see it again. But I think it needs to be with others, on a nice day, with a brief drink and snack plate intermission somewhere. Try to give it a trip to France sort of feel to keep it light. And then do something really fun with those people afterward.

The kids thing, though? That one is tough. The movie My Girl hit me pretty hard and I won’t ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. But even worse, Radio Flyer. I just went to snatch and drop that link there and only saw the briefest of a promotional summary,

When the younger brother is subjected to physical abuse at the hands of their brutal stepfather, Mike decides to convert their toy trolley…”

…and I’m already feeling it. I loved that movie for how much it made me hate it, and I have gone back to the ROKU a few times over the past few years to see if it’s streaming free on one of the channels. Over a decade and it still hadn’t. Is it that popular? I’m going to check again in a bit just to see, but I’m not sure if I’m ready to watch it again.

Like these movies, the stories I’ve been told or the ones I have lived became powerful life memories, lessons, and reference points through the emotions attached to them. From the ones where I made a righteous Tom Sawyer fool of myself trying to get the attention of my Becky Thatcher (her name is Carla), to the stories I was just witness or audience to… The ones told to me by my family members, stories have entertained me, taught me, altered my perspective, my outlook… These stories affected how I parent and how I teach.

My belief is that for people, emotions attach themselves to our lives events and that makes those events become “stories”, making them more indelible and retrievable for information that can be used later on. It’s why oral histories and oral traditions are so important. It’s how we share who we are and become aware of who others are. It’s how we convey lessons, successes, failures, culture, and so much more. It’s how families and communities connect and spread that feeling of belonging, of commitment, of shared purpose.

What follows is going to be a bit of all of that, along with the suggestion that we try to push for public education to be a tool for true engagement of learners with their world and the others who are in it through more engagement with stories. Real-life stories, made-up stories, stories from the page, or stories on stage… The current trend to measure, label, and dehumanize the goals, purpose, and process of education has had negative impacts- especially in this age of screen addiction and perpetual distraction and misinformation. I’m saying we need to slow down, come together, and share more stories. And I’m saying there are great reasons to do it, and great ways to do it.

Just went to check. Radio Flyer is still in the pay extra to get it category.

So click here, and it’s on to storytime.