Last weekend, I flew to Washington, D.C., but I didn’t see the White House or the Capitol or the Lincoln Memorial. I’ve seen those places before. I spent the weekend in the blissful cocoon of Aldie, Va., where my daughter Sara and her family moved two months ago. Their placid cul-de-sac has just six houses surrounded by walking trails and bike trails and tall hardwoods that blazed with fiery reds and oranges this time of year.
I woke up early Saturday as the blush of dawn was staining the eastern horizon, and I saw a curious doe wandering through the backyard. I watched until her skinny legs suddenly flew high in the air. She bounded into the woods and disappeared.
Sara lives on Aldie’s eastern edges, where new homes are sprouting like weeds. The town has grown 569 percent since 2000. It has just 11,000 people right now, but it’s one of the fastest-growing suburbs in metropolitan Washington, D.C. It has the second-fastest growing zip code in Virginia.
Monday morning, Sara and I took a two-lane road to find the original Aldie, the sleepy village that began when an old mill was built in 1765. The Little River meanders between the Bull Run Mountains on one side and the Catoctin Mountains on the other. That mill still stands.
Aldie’s history is all in the past. The Little River Turnpike was built in 1809. Its post office went up in 1811. By 1820, its 248 residents made it the fourth largest town in Loudon County, but 132 of those were slaves. President James Monroe built his estate, Oak Hill, near Aldie in 1822, but it’s privately owned and not open to the public.
The town’s population began to sputter and decline after 1830. The Battle of Aldie, part of the Civil War’s Gettysburg Campaign, was fought here.
Aldie — the old, picturesque Aldie — sat basking in the brisk November sun. A handful of aging weathered stone houses still stand, proud and silent. A few sell crafts and antiques. One shop had red, yellow, black and blue Adirondack chairs sitting outside like flowers in the sun. The quaint white Episcopal church, with black shutters and a red door, hid under trees.
Sara and I then drove north to the village of Luckett, where old white colonials — now antique shops and gift shops — hug the street. Those houses were crammed with candles, quilts, plates, wall hangings, tables and lamps and Christmas tree ornaments.
I couldn’t buy much — my tiny suitcase had limited capacity — but, oh, the treasures I admired. Outside, more goodies tempted shoppers, and open-air sheds offered garden pots and old tools. A campfire crackled in the yard of one shop, and the aroma of woodsmoke in the Virginia countryside warmed us on this chilly autumn day.
As I browsed those dusty wares, I compared Aldie, Va., founded in 1765, to Nebraska, which still wobbled on colt’s legs a century later. I thought of people I’ve met in Nebraska whose grandparents built crude sod houses when they arrived 150 years ago from places like Aldie. I thought of the railroad and the old turnpikes that started in this part of the country and took people west. We Americans always have been on the move.
We were in the shadows of history all weekend. We took historic streets to my grandson’s soccer games in Fredericksburg, Va., near Civil War battlefields.
But bustling Washington swirls nearby. Heavy traffic races along like blood in the veins. We sped along multi-lane freeways that curved into more multi-lane freeways. We went to a sprawling outlet mall in Leesburg and the grandest grocery store I’ve ever set foot in.
Monday night, I flew back to Kearney and returned to peace and quiet. I had an effortless six-minute drive home from the Kearney Regional Airport. The city had gone to bed. All was dark and still. The flat land stretched far to the horizon. This was beautiful, too. Each part of this great country has its own heartbeat and a charm all its own.