The Several Stories of Carrington House, conclusion...

August 31, 2011

- By Annabel Hughes

Page 1 - Beginning

Page 2 - The Butlers create an addition

Story continued from page 1...

The Butlers sold Carrington House to Barbara Sloat, who then sold it John and Gilda Montel in 1992.

The Montels lived there for nine years, and Gilda said it was one of the happiest times of her life.

Carrington from Clayton HallThis photograph, taken from the lawn of Clayton Hall across Snickersville Turnpike, captures the sloping terrain so characteristic of Bluemont.

3 views, B&WCarrington House in winter...

Carrington House in the snow
...and in snow.

And then it was my turn to live in Carrington House.

The following excerpt from the prologue to my book testifies to my profound connection with the beautiful Carrington House:

“I stroked the curved lid of my mother’s Davenport desk. Ever since I was a child I’d claimed the desk as mine. Now it was—having just arrived from the port of Baltimore, delivered by a costly moving company used by foreign embassies in Washington, D.C. that my mother had insisted on hiring. She’d demanded an assurance that her beloved antiques she’d been abruptly forced to ship out of Zimbabwe arrived at my new home in Virginia safely.

"My inheritance, she’d announced over the telephone. Early.'Better you get these things now, or they’ll just be used for firewood.'

"The desk hadn’t arrived in the condition in which I’d seen it the previous March, when I’d gone home to scatter the ashes of my stepfather Bill—the final time I’d traveled back to Galloway, our family farm in Mvurwi in northern Zimbabwe, before being banned by Robert Mugabe’s government in September 2002. The walnut was scarred and stained pale in places—caused not by the long sea journey or the vehicular transfers either side but, Mum had warned, by overexposure to the bright, raw winter elements after being left outside on the lawn too long while waiting for the arrival of removal trucks from the capital, Harare.

Zimbabwe Map
Map of Zimbabwe.

"Six months before, in mid-August of 2003, I’d received a telephone call from my mother to say she’d been forced to pack up 30 years of her life after Paul, my younger brother, had been threatened at gunpoint by a retired major in the Zimbabwean army to vacate the farm in twenty-four hours.

"In a strangled voice, she’d told me how the major and his goons had terrorized the workers and looted Paul’s house—the Big House, as we called it, which my parents had designed and built in the 1970s—that she’d recently vacated following Bill’s untimely death to make way for Paul and his new bride, Katherine.

"The timing of this shocking news was unreal. Just days before, I in turn had called my mother to say I’d put a bid on an 1827 stone house in Bluemont, Virginia, a historic village at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I’d made a decision to buy my first home—to commit to grafting my African scion onto American rootstock—just before the land that had grown me was seized from my farming family’s guardianship forever.

"Carrington House, as it was called, was bigger than I needed as a single woman. I had no idea how my scanty furnishings with which I’d filled a two-bedroom apartment in downtown Washington, D.C. could possibly do it justice. But the mystical connection I felt to the place made me sure that in time I’d find a way. I knew it was where I belonged.

"Nothing broke on the journey over from Africa. Not the lead glass panels in the Victorian display cabinet, not a single china cup, not a crystal glass. Mum and her workers, along with the packers, had carefully wrapped each fragile piece in sheets torn from Zimbabwean newspapers—pages plastered with government propaganda blaming the country’s political and economic crises on sanctions imposed by Britain and the United States.

ZDT Fundraiser - 2003
May 2003. Annabel Hughes at a Zimbabwe Democracy Trust fundraiser in Washington, D.C., introducing Archbishop Pius Ncube, an award-winning Zimbabwean human rights campaigner (left), to billionaire philanthropist George Soros (right).

"On white farmers backing the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. On organizations like the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust, which, as its Executive Director, had brought me to America’s capital in the first place—to help steer through those targeted sanctions about which the Mugabe regime was so bitterly complaining.

"Nearly every item Mum had sent me was marked with a small sticky label on which she’d written a capital ‘A’. I ached at the thought of her emptying her house and, outside in the garden, forming three separate piles of precious things, according to their sticky labels: ‘A’ for Annabel, ‘P’ for Paul, and ‘W’ for William, my elder brother. It wasn’t a job she’d ever planned to do. Yet years before—long before the farm invasions started in 2000—my mother, ever practical, had decided to allocate her valuables to make it easier for my siblings and me, “just in case anything happened.” …

Mum: Feels likek coming home
"It feels just like coming home...."
The antique Davenport desk sent to Carrington House after Annabel’s family lost their farm at gunpoint in Zimbabwe in August, 2003.

…Though Mum was sad to send away her cherished possessions, she was relieved they were coming here—to a house worthy of their elegance where they would be safe. For me, I grappled with the guilt and the pleasure of being surrounded by furniture and paintings and books I’d become so intimate with while growing up on an African farm thousands of miles away. It felt like I’d time-traveled the finest bits of Galloway into Carrington House, gratifying me at the expense of my mother. Yet, it was miraculous how every piece fitted so flawlessly. Like they belonged here. Like I did.

"When my mother later followed her furniture over to America on a visit in June 2004, the first words she voiced after she walked through the front door of Carrington House and saw all her things were: 'It feels just like coming home, Annabel.'”

...Page 1 - the beginning.... ...Page 2, the Butlers create an addition...

―This story is one of a series of “house histories” of Bluemont historic homes from Friends of Bluemont.