Welcome to this week’s Grateful Heart Monday! My gratitude for today is for Peter Ramey, Steve McKee, Sterling Washington, Louie Ratchford, and Lee Lampos, each being old friends who reconnected with me on a recent trip to Northern Virginia, a place I used to live for well over a decade.
Just over a week ago now, I finally got the chance to visit one of my former areas of living, that being Northern Virginia, a place I called home until mid-2007. The last time I had a visit there and reconnected with old friends was in 2010. Considering all the loneliness the pandemic brought on, I decided it was time to take a trip back to a place that holds plenty of fond memories to this day. Sadly, I soon learned that not everyone I once spent time regularly with in Northern Virginia wanted to reconnect, mostly due to ongoing fears surrounding COVID. It was heartbreaking, especially with one individual from my former 12 Step life there, but, I’ve chosen to focus on those who I did see and all the time I got to spend with them.
First was Peter who made this all possible by allowing me to stay in his home in Front Royal. Peter is the kindest of individuals, who would gladly give the shirt off his back to help another. We truly had some wonderful conversations throughout my stay, and I always felt welcomed in his home. Not only did he accommodate me graciously there, but also, he drove us everywhere throughout my stay. We really covered some serious miles given Front Royal is about an hour’s distance from Washington, D.C. where I met several of my old friends. From meals he took me out to, to being a great listener, and having a contagious laugh, Peter is a genuine friend and a keeper.
On my first full day with him, after a tour of Front Royal and a leisurely drive along part of Skyline Drive, a national park in the mountain range nearby, I had the pleasure of seeing my old neighbor and friend Steve, someone who used to live directly across the street from my home many years ago, who now lives in Front Royal himself. I very much enjoyed my coffee with him reminiscing about the 30th Hawaiian birthday party that he and his partner threw for me almost two decades ago, the Sunday evenings we spent watching a series called “Queer As Folk” on Showtime, and the bowling we did weekly on a team together. Later that night Peter treated me to pizza from a local joint called Melting Pot that was awesome while we watched a movie.
The next day, I got to see Sterling, who was so thoughtful because he got up early in the morning and acquired two tickets for Peter and I for the National Museum of African American History, a museum I have wanted to go to since it opened in 2016. After enjoying several hours there and also a drive afterwards around D.C., we met up with Sterling for a wonderful Ethiopian meal at Tsehay. Sterling was the first to turn me onto this amazing cuisine eons ago and it was awesome to try a new Ethiopian restaurant with him. It was just mind boggling that Sterling and I met and began our friendship in a gay men’s support group at a former therapy office back in the late 90’s! Our evening ended with Sterling taking us to a placed called “A Baked Joint”, which had some scrumptious desserts and iced cold brew.
The next morning, my friend Louie came out to Front Royal and treated us to breakfast at “The Apple House”, where we reminisced on our old card nights, jokes we used to tell each other regularly, and plenty of warm times spent together. As I finished my homemade apple donut from that meal, I reflected on how Louie is one of the funniest guys I’ve ever known and always seems to find a way to make me laugh, even when I’m down and is also an incredible master gardener who I learn something new from each time we talk. After he departed, we headed to Falls Church where we drove around my old neighborhood. I talked to the new owner of my former home, which had changed so dramatically! The entire backyard was now a massive vegetable and herb garden for the owner’s Vietnamese restaurant! On a sad note, I grieved the loss of two trees I had once planted there that they had removed, one being a Japanese maple and the other a Crape Myrtle. I was grateful though for all the years they blossomed there. Nevertheless, Peter and I met up with Lee afterwards for a coffee in a completely new plaza in Dunn Loring that didn’t exist when I lived there, after which we had dinner in one of my favorite diners, The Silver Diner, a chain that opened in the DC area when I first moved there. The evening ended with Peter and I playing a fun game of miniature golf at The Magic Putting Place.
On my last full day, Peter took me to Winchester, VA where we walked the downtown Old Winchester mall, checked out some local shops, had a wonderful meal outside at the Water Street Kitchen, and drove around the town seeing things that were well over 200 years old! Later that evening, I had the pleasure of finally meeting in person his best friend Sammy Campbell, a delightful man who made me burst out laughing quite a few times over dinner at the 50/50 Taphouse and coffee afterwards.
On a final note, I wanted to also express my gratitude for seeing my favorite barista from Toledo, Mickey, during this trip, who I learned had just changed their name to Astral. They moved recently and now work at the Starbucks in Clifton, VA and it was such a delight to have some time catching up at their new place of employment.
For as much as my pain levels and health issues plagued me greatly during this trip, I’ve found that expressing gratitude like this is crucial to looking at it all in a positive light. So, thank you Peter, Steve, Sterling, Louie, Lee, and Astral, for reconnecting with me on my trip. You all mean the world to me and I’m very much grateful for each of you.
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson