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Virginia is for lovers, but I love New York

My hair required the full 30-block walk to air-dry into a limp shag. I had fresh bug bites trailing up my arms and I was wearing flats. It was Halloween morning and my first day on the job in my office at 44th St. and Madison Ave.

Hurricane Sandy had made landfall in New York three days earlier and mere hours after I hopped off my bus with a single suitcase from Virginia. My apartment wasn’t ready yet, so I had to stay in a Greenwich Village hotel. By hotel, I mean hostel, as my room was the size of a galley kitchen and I had to share a bathroom at the end of the hall with the other guests.

As the storm rolled in Sunday night, I sat alone watching Mayor Bloomberg on TV as he warned of impending mayhem. And then he repeated himself in Spanish. I was impressed.

Occasionally, I would measure the storm’s severity against the state of a single tree planted on the rooftop of a nearby a high-rise building. As the sky darkened around the potted sapling, it would continue to bow back and forth with growing effort. This is the last image I saw before everything went black.

The transformer supplying power to lower Manhattan caught fire, shutting down the electric grid south of 34th Street and left half the city without power for two weeks. Later, aerial images of the city reflected a brightly lit and barely touched Upper Manhattan, while its lower half was barely visible. It kind of looked like a black and white finger-shaped cookie.

There would be no charging my phone, no hot showers, no hair drying, no warm food, no TV. I was effectively camping in the greatest city in the world and paying hundreds of dollars for the pleasure. I had 40 blocks to trounce in order to plug my phone into the outlet behind the cash register at a deli. I cried.

On Survival

“If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. “

Goodness, New York will beat you down until you’re humbled beyond even what you think you deserve.

Virginia is for loversA born and bred Virginian and a native Loudouner, I’ve been told my entire life that I belong in New York. I’m no longer clear on what this says about me. My first job was as a newspaper journalist for the publisher of this magazine. When I left after five years, I left my mark as a glowingly successful magazine editor with a critical eye and a talent admired by young girls near and far.

New York saw me coming and laughed in my face to the tune of Sandy’s strong winds. I’m not the shit, this much I now know to be true.

Sandy launched a long and relentless initiation into the ebbs and flows of this city. The good news is I’m less offended now. I no longer notice when a simple request isn’t cushioned between a “please” and “thank you.” There’s no time for filler words when we’re all existing in varying degrees of survival mode. Just get it done.

I never knew the meaning of a deadline before New York. My new title is “digital content director,” which essentially means I’m still a writer even after having sold my journalism soul to the marketing devil. Such as it is, I now produce more content in one week than I could have ever churned in one month in Virginia.

My ambition hasn’t changed; but my expectations of myself and others has reached such a high level because I now exist in a culture of healthy competition and collaboration. Not only do I want to sharpen myself against my coworkers, but I don’t want to let them down. It’s a daily game of better, faster, stronger. Sometimes I win, oftentimes I lose.

On Manners

“Southerners are nice on the outside, but hard on the inside. New Yorkers are hard on the outside, but they’re soft on the inside. “

A Mid-Westener shared this with me. Here in New York, we from the South, Midwest and, well, basically, anyone who was born outside the borders of the tri-state area — we are different.

The fact of the matter is, New Yorkers don’t have time for pleasantries and some people don’t appreciate that. Smiles are sparse on the streets as a means of self-preservation. The rule is: Do not engage.

They’re not rude; they’re just not opening themselves up to the crazies. I no longer feel guilty for not asking “How are you, today?” to the my coffee guy. On the other hand, Southern hospitality really gives me an edge. When I need something from a coworker, I still lead with “How was your weekend?” or “What’d you get into last night?”

It still gives me pleasure to see them lean back, their body physically shift into a more comfortable position to engage in a chitchat session– like I’m winning at making people softer one day at a time. A manager made a point to commend me for planning a happy hour for a coworker’s birthday. Is that all it takes to move up the ranks here? Am I working late for no reason when I could just bring in some snickerdoodles instead?

A man once stopped me in the office lobby.

“I’ve never seen anyone smile to themselves before,” he said.

I still smile. People still stare without engaging. The implication being I’m likely batshit crazy.


There’s a saying that you’re always in search of three things in the city, “A better job, a better apartment and a better boyfriend.”

Gone are the days when a person will spend his or her whole career advancing through one company. It may be generational, but a New York employee is considered to be loyal if they stay with a single company for longer than six months.

I love nyI only know a handful of people who are happy in their current role. Sure, this is a symptom of “the grass is greener” syndrome, but in New York there’s also the knowledge that there are thousands upon thousands of other jobs out there waiting on the other side. There’s always the next step. There’s always a new opportunity. I’m not sure what this says about the state of our happiness or contentment, but I know the feeling is mutual because companies here don’t reward loyalty. If you’re underperforming, you’re gone. It’s as simple as that.

The struggle to be a woman working and living in New York is real, as the kids say. The truth is the insecurities I felt about my career and talent remain the same – it’s just that now the self-doubt reflected back in a larger mirror. I still don’t know if I’m making the right career choice. I still don’t know if I’m any good. I still don’t really want people who know me to read my stuff.

There will always be better writers. People work way harder than me and they’re much more creative and have better grammar skills. They write without curse words.

I ask myself the almost-daily question as to why the hell I’m here. I don’t really know, other than that New York is all the while accepting of my shortcomings. Knowing that there will always be someone better than me means that I have nothing to lose.

It also means I really have no other choice than to put my fingers to the keyboard everyday. New York allows the room for me to believe that any storm can be faced if I show the ability to bow back and forth and not break.

With the Name “Hammer,” He Was Born To Be a Deputy

One could say Bill was born to be a Sheriff’s deputy. With a name like Shellhammer, how could he not have been predestined to live a life laying down the law?

Purcellville resident William “Bill” P. Shellhammer died in his home December 16, aged 80. He was a retired Loudoun County Sheriff’s deputy, a former Vienna Police Department deputy and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served during the Korean War.

Shellhammer on duty.
Shellhammer on duty.

These days, if a Sheriff’s Deputy knows you by name it indicates that you are a delinquent or a malefactor who is up to no good. In Shellhammer’s heyday, however, it was a mark of his sharpness of mind.

Shellhammer knew every kid by name in 1960s Vienna. If you misbehaved or were up to no good, you had better prepare yourself for a stern talking to. Bill took on the proxy role as a parent in uniform; he meant business if he called you by your surname instead of your first name. ‘What would your mother think?’ He would ask, sending quivers down spines.

You couldn’t bank on his forgetfulness, either. He was known to throw the book at recurring offenders. One Purcellville resident remembers Shellhammer dismissing his pleas for a warning for the offense of squealing wheels as a teen in Vienna. No such luck — Shellhammer remembered he had warned the teen six months prior. This time he would receive a ticket.

He was tough but fair. Loudoun residents would joke that if he had found his own mother to be out of line he would write her out a ticket. This may be true, but often what is tough on the outside is soft on the inside. He treated everyone equally and had a good heart. He would often stay past his shift on special occasions so young kids could have their picture taken with him and his squad car.

“Getting out of the car and meeting shop owners and citizens in the community was a large and important part of what Shellhammer did,” said former Loudoun County Sheriff Steve Simpson.

Simpson consequently grew up in Vienna, and one of his first encounters with Shellhammer further cemented Simpson’s goal to become a police officer when aged 10 or 11 he attended a firearms safety program at which Shellhammer was an instructor and member of the Vienna Police Pistol Team, who were national champions.

“The final day of the program he and several members of the team demonstrated some of their shooting abilities. He put an ax in the middle hung from a T frame with pigeons on either side.  His hand gun shot the ax blade which would split the bullet in half and would break the clay pigeon on each side. I even still have one of the bullets from that day,” said Sheriff Simpson.

During his time as an officer, just about every western Loudoun resident was handed a ticket from him. Even the Vienna residents who couldn’t escape the “Hammer’s” tickets as teens would find that years later they would be pounded again — this time most likely while he was patrolling along Route 9.

Shellhammer was born August 31, 1934 in Apollo, Penn., to the late William Park Shellhammer Sr. and Genevieve Burkette. Bill joined the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating high school, serving five years during and in the Korean War. He then went on to work for the U.S. Secret Service as security detail for former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the Mellon family after joining the Vienna Police Department in Vienna, Va. He retired from the Loudoun County Sheriff Department.

Bill is preceded in death by his daughter, Deborah Clark. He is survived by his son, Kurt Shellhammer (Debbie) of Stafford; grandchildren, Jeffrey, Gregory, Lindsey, Kevin and Nathan; and great-grandson, Bruce. The memorial service was held December 20 at Loudoun Funeral Chapel. Memorial donations may be made to the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, 803 Sycolin Road SE Leesburg, VA 20175 or to Loudoun County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, http://www.lcdsa.net/index.php.

Ancestors: Not Always People of the Past

A verbatim email I received, which shows the virality of the Internet at its best.

Dear Hannah,

Yesterday, I was searching for Kidwell (Zedekiah 1806-1880) descendants and found your nice Mar 2013 article of your grandmother Geraldine Potts.

Grandma and I laughing at the dinner table the year before she died.
Grandma and I laughing at the dinner table the year before she died.

Then I find her Feb 2014 obituary.  I believe Zedekiah Kidwell was a son of Thomas Kidwell and had a sibling of Frances Kidwell Waters (1817-1864).   

Thomas Kidwell married Feb 18 1801 in Loudoun Co VA to Elizabeth Freast. In the 1940s, two relatives who were researching first generation Johannes Furst/Fierce determined that Elizabeth was a granddaughter of Johannes Furst and daughter Christian Fierce.  At that time in late 1700s and early 1800s, there were various spellings of the last name. 

Christian’s children left Loudoun and moved westward and the male children took the spelling of Fierce.  The research in 1940 identified other children of Christian, one of which was my ancestor Conrad Fierce (abt 1777-1840).

I think Thomas died before 1820 and I have found his wife Elizabeth moved west with her daughter Frances Kidwell Waters. (Zedekiah was a witness to the 1839 marriage of Frances to Elmore Waters.  Also, when Zedekiah married again in 1878, a Loudoun County researcher shows his parents as Thomas and Elizabeth)

Your ancestors from Zedekiah to you are as follows:

Zedekiah Kidwell and Mary Ropp

  Samuel Kidwell and Henrietta Shaffer

     Linda Kidwell and Walter Potts

        Geraldine Potts and Robert James

           Linda James and Marty Hager

I have never been in contact with anyone living In Loudoun County about ancestry.   I didn’t notice until yesterday about who wrote the article.  Since 2000, I have added about 20,000 names to a first generation Johannes Furst/Fierce family tree maintained by another descendant who had about 1,000 names.  Of that number, about 1,000 names are from Frances Kidwell and Elmore Waters. 

I link articles of living or recently living Fierce descendants to other Fierce descendants.  I will be linking your interesting article in emails to others.

Since you have a gmail address at the end of the article, then I wanted to give you a heads up in case a Fierce descendant contacted you.  Also, I found your 2011 interview online (youtube) with Harmon Killebrew.  This past year, I have now seen baseball at all of the 30 Major League Cities.

Purcellville to host first food and wine festival

How does a small town graduate itself into a destination? By hosting a wine and food festival.

“We wanted this to be something Purcellville can be known for,” said Jeff Sheehan, the finance manager at Purcellville’s Magnolia’s at the Mill restaurant. “Purcellville is a little off the beaten path and we wanted to make sure people know we’re here.”

By hosting its first Wine and Food Festival July 21, the town will showcase seven local wineries, four Purcellville restaurants and a host of local musicians. The outdoor event is the brainchild of Purcellville Mayor Bob Lazaro and will shut down the historic downtown area on 21st Street from 4-9 p.m. Admission is free and the event is rain or shine.

Lazaro said the festival is an extension of the popular winter event, the Loudoun Grown Expo, which this year saw 2,000 attendees. He said he hopes the festival will showcase the thriving downtown that is home to multiple small businesses. Sheehan, who helped organize the event, echoed Lazaro’s sentiment saying that the festival will be a great way for the town to publicize its eclectic mix of shops.

The participating wineries include 8 Chains North Winery & Vineyard, Fabbioli Cellars, Bogati Bodega & Vineyard, North Gate Vineyard, Otium Cellars, Twin Oaks Tavern Winery and Sunset Hills Vineyard. Magnolia’s at the Mill, Anthony’s, Lothar’s Sausages and Boodacades BBQ restaurant will vend the event. Local musicians will include Acoustic Burgoo, The Polka Dots, Andros, Andrew McKnight, Mark Cullinane and Michael & Paige. For more information, visit Purcellvillewineandfood.com.