Yesterday we had a little getaway and drove to Montpelier to conquer the home of the illustrious James Madison. I adored it. We learned a bit (Dolley Madison was previously a Quaker widow), took a tour, and strolled around the garden in the 70-degree weather. Our quiet walk in the crisp air relaxed me and did me some good after this hectic holiday season. It’s beautiful there. Definitely a great idea if you’re in the mood for a historical site but not in the mood to endure crowds like those at Monticello and Mount Vernon. They’re not quite finished with this exhaustive restoration they’re doing, so right now there is no furniture in the house and they’re waiting for a couple of years so that the plaster can completely dry. I’ll go back after the wallpaper is up and the furniture is in, and I”m sure it’ll look completely different.
I liked the story of Mr. Madison’s death, as told by his slave, Paul Jennings (who later wrote a book about the President):
I was always with Mr. Madison till he died, and shaved him every other day for sixteen years. For six months before his death, he was unable to walk, and spent most of his time reclined on a couch; but his mind was bright, and with his numerous visitors he talked with as much animation and strength of voice as I ever heard him in his best days. I was present when he died. That morning Sukey brought him his breakfast, as usual. He could not swallow. His niece, Mrs. Willis, said, “What is the matter, Uncle Jeames?” “Nothing more than a change of mind, my dear.” His head instantly dropped, and he ceased breathing as quietly as the snuff of a candle goes out. He was about eighty-four years old, and was followed to the grave by an immense procession of white and colored people. The pall-bearers were Governor Barbour, Philip P. Barbour, Charles P. Howard, and Reuben Conway; the two last were neighboring farmers.
Beautiful, simple, and yet mysterious. What did he mean by “a change of mind?”
The rolling hills that make up the drive between 64 and Montpelier are worth the trip alone. Every time I’m out that way, I end up gasping every time we crest another hill, because there’s another lovely creek or house or something waiting to surprise me on the other side. The best things in life are maybe not free, but cost only whatever it costs to get gas to take you an hour or so west.