Charlie and I live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. I used to say our closest neighbors were cows, but then the farmer down the hill moved his cows to another pasture. So these days I say our closest neighbors are Peter and Dorathy Driver, who are buried side-by-side in a lovely patch of woods just across the dirt road from our house.
A lot of springs, Charlie heads over to the Driver’s graves carrying a rake and clippers and his weed-eater. We country neighbors look out for each other, and my husband sees no reason to leave the Drivers out of the loop just because they’ve been dead a hundred and sixty-some years. It usually takes him a couple of days to get the Driver’s graves looking right. But a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. And getting the Driver’s graves looking right is one thing Charlie Woodroof’s got to do.
Peter Driver was born November 10, 1766, in Pennsylvania. He came to the Valley at some point after his marriage to Dorathy Raleigh and made his living as a farmer and blacksmith. According to tax records, Peter Driver bought land around the spot where our house sits in 1797.
The Driver family belonged to the Dunkard (Brethren) church. Local history has it that Peter Driver was slow to give up his German ways and spoke English only when forced to. In other words, Herr Driver resisted change, wanted to carry on today the same way he’d carried on yesterday. Which, to me, sounds like a lot of 21st century people I know.
What is it about change that makes it is so difficult for us to embrace?
All I could find out about Dorathy Driver was her maiden name (Raleigh) and her dates of birth (April 15, 1771) and death (October 7, 1844). As is true with most Eighteenth Century women, the only other thing history cares to remember about Dorathy’s 70 years, five months and 22 days is that she was Peter Driver’s wife.
There is, however, one rather splashy bit of modern-day Driver lore.
Remember Phyllis Diller, the fright-haired, honking-laughed comedienne? Well, according to the people we bought our house from, she show up one day in a stretch limo and announced she was looking for the Driver’s graves.
Phyllis Diller, it turns out, was born Phyllis Ada Driver, and is a direct descendant of Peter and Dorothy.
Now you know what I know about our closest neighbors.
But, when I say Peter and Dorothy are our closest neighbors, do I mean that I believe in ghosts or spirits or some such alternative plane of existence?
But neither do I not believe in them either. Indeed, I can sum up my personal position on the post-death experience in two words: Got me.
And you know what, as I’m a bit of an adventuress, I like not knowing. I sometimes suspect all of humanity’s elaborate attempts to explain that which we really know nothing about goes straight back to our resistance to change. I mean, think about it. The only thing we really know about death is that it brings about a really gargantuan change in our lives over which we have absolutely no control.
Back to the Drivers, whatever their current state, it’s a rare morning that I don’t wave at their graves as I head out to work and wish them a pleasant day.
Although I do find it hard to imagine that their day would not be pleasant, considering where they chose to live, die, and (possibly) hang out for eternity.