Montpelier Races! They are the only races held at the property of a historic home, in this case, the house of James Madison. He was, among other things, the 4th President of the United States and the father of the Constitution. The property is gorgeous. The autumn drive along secondary back roads in Virginia is breathtaking. The leaves still on trees were vibrantly colored. A clear blue sky with scudding puffs of cloud here and there accompanied me along the way. Orange County abounds with a beauty that explodes around travelers during late October or early November. Arriving a bit late keeps the visitor out of the traffic earlier. My approach to the races remained meditative and serene. By the time I reached the property, my heart was full of gratitude. It was such a pleasure on a perfect day to visit a lovely place and see handsome horses and elegant people.

Racegoers go out of their way to dress in appropriate “country-sport” clothes. There was a time when I actually bought clothes to wear to the races. But over the years, my closet has become a treasure trove of things that will keep me warm and still look elegant enough to go on to the afterparty if there is one. It was cold this morning. I took photos (in my nightie) of the heavy frost. When letting the dogs outside this morning, I stepped out onto my terrace. As the sun glittered over frosted fields, my phone’s camera captured the scene.

So a black turtle neck, black tights, heavy but cool-looking, high, dark brown boots anchored my outfit. A dramatic cape knitted with touches of turquoise yarn among the beige and cream colors finished the “look.” And a chunky turquoise necklace and turquoise earrings in the shape of owls decorated the outfit. To top it off, I wore a beautifully woven straw hat with a thatch of Pheasant feathers. That hat is probably 40 years old and has a patina that you simply cannot find in a new hat. I used to leave the hat in the back of my car in case I needed it at the last minute for going driving in a carriage. As a result, it got sunburned daily for years. Everyone always comments on that hat because it is not only good-looking but extremely unusual.

I was somewhat late driving in, and as a result, I had a fortunate “find”. There was a space near the beginning of the VIP lot where my car fit neatly into a spot where someone else had left. Instead of walking for ages, my car was right near the entrance. I was able to enter through the vendors tents. There seemed to be a hundred small, white individual tents topped with red and blue penants. Here sellers showed off their wares to racegoers. It was an easy way in for me. A lucky start to the day!

My pleasure was doubled (or tripled) because quite a few of the racegoers were members of my family. At first, I had no idea where they were, though. I wandered along the line of cars and “tail-gates” and enjoyed “people watching”. There seemed to be so many people there whom I had never seen before.
I noticed one tail gate picnic which had a British flag hung from the back of the car and a life size cardboard cut-out of Queen Elizabeth, complete with crown presiding over the buffet. The various spreads of cheeses, fruits, nuts and cold meats, biscuits, fried chicken, deviled eggs, and brownies, or chocolate chip cookies were mouth watering. Every conceivable alcoholic drink was in evidence along with all the normal soft drinks and beer. No one was going to leave the races hungry.

Finally, my family found me as I ambled along, looking for familiar faces. There they were, nearly all of them in one place, my family and a lot of friends. Three of my children, along with their spouses, greeted me with affection. Several of my grandchildren were there, and a nephew and one son-in-law’s parents. Besides them were a large group of their friends and their children, and food and drink. Such a feeling of safety and friendship enveloped me; it was uplifting. I was thrilled to be there with all of them on this gorgeous day. They fed me and offered a bloody Mary, and I took photos. It was all very jolly, funny, friendly, and warm.

The whole day continued marvelously. Races can be dangerous, and there is always a risk. Today all was well. No accidents, no horses injured, and only one rider fell off his horse. The races went off like clockwork and were beautiful to watch when the horses were in sight. It is not a great track for viewing the races. There were some video screens set up in the owners and VIP tents. I was able to see two “wins” for horses belonging to friends.

Time flew, and before I knew it, it was time to depart. I had the option to go to another party. Showing my age, I declined to go on. My whole body was fatigued after standing or walking about for 4 hours in those boots, hat, and cape. Though the temperature was nearly perfect for my multi-layered clothing, it tired me out. By the time I arrived at my car, my feet were weary. But I was happy. I was contented and satisfied. What more could anyone ask? Even the long line of vehicles leaving the property was calming and reassuring. A whole crowd of people all enjoyed the day just as I did. There was no reason to hurry, and it was interesting to see people giving way to others and politely waiting their turn as the police and their helpers got us straightened out into queues to exit the property. The route I followed to go home was definitely “the long way,” but it was safe and uneventful and gave me a splendid view of the evening sky as the sun was setting. “Red sky at night, sailors delight” is such a show for those driving west at sunset—a perfect ending to a perfect day. I headed home to my dogs, dinner, and a warm fire in my fireplace.

Copyright©. 2021 Bonnie B. Matheson

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