Farewell to Alpine County master storyteller
October 14, 2015
"Ah, Hullo! Sorry I am a bit late." Virginia greeted us as rain and wind whirled inside the door. Dervish like, she was rushing to be on time for the reading program. It was the early 1980s, and Virginia York was coordinating a storytelling program at the Alpine County Library. She had just hiked 3 miles in the weather from her mountain home.
This was the first time I met her, and as it is when you encounter a truly radiant soul, the occasion was memorable. She carried a skirt and an iron and said she was going to her office to press the garment. I assured her she needn't bother: the children and parents assembled did not mind. She was indignant.
"Really, one cannot have a proper story-time in an unpressed skirt."
I found she was correct. Laying the foundation of a tale, and weaving together the elements of sound and word, Virginia is a master storyteller. She has given us many enchanted experiences over the years, setting the stage by creating a magical environment. Included in that is being appropriately attired.
Even in passing conversation, Virginia, born and educated in England, quotes significant selections of poetry, limericks, and rhymes by heart to illustrate her point. It is a charming trait.
She worked as librarian in Markleeville from 1977-1979, but continued her story-times whenever she lived here right up to the Storytime in the Park event this summer.
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She met John York when she was 18 years old. They were both university students in Granada, Spain. She traveled to America, first working in New York before taking a Greyhound bus crosscountry to reunite with him. Virginia and John were married in 1970, and they settled easily into Alpine's rugged lifestyle. They designed their legendary mountain home together among the wilderness peaks, and had the materials flown in by helicopter. It was there that their oldest child Ben was raised.
Virginia was seven and a half months pregnant with her second baby when her beloved husband John died at Grover Hot Springs in June 1989. He was an English teacher, a mountain man and her true soul mate. He had spent the day in Carson City doing tests, but his intuitive knowledge that something was wrong did not save him.
Their son, Ben, was just five and a half years old at the time. He picked up his father's spirit and has run with it: also becoming an educator. John and Virginia's daughter, Daisy, born just six weeks after his passing, has grown to be a beautiful young woman endowed with her father's insight and dedication.
There were many special birthday parties in Pleasant Valley by the creek or digging for buried treasure among the trees. The best times were simply being together, laughing, hiking and telling stories. She has created some jolly memories for us all. Once the whole pot of spaghetti splashed to the floor, with slippery noodles flying everywhere and ten hungry children looking on. On another occasion Virginia brought the family pet rat, making many of us keep a long distance away. It was always an adventure to hike to their mountain home. There was such a great probability of getting lost, and having to sleep in the woods until daybreak.
Following the path John and she had envisioned together, Virginia secured a job teaching cooking and gardening at the Krishnamurti School in Ojai, Calif. and left her Alpine home. A huge farewell fete was held at Judy Farnsworth's house, and we watched our dear friend march bravely forward, eventually taking the children to a secondary school in England. Once the children were grown, she returned to Markleeville, driving to care for Pauline Pennington in Cupertino, and working at Diamond Valley School in Woodfords.
In a lovely note, one colleague wrote that Virginia's heart "shines with love and encouragement for the children." That has always been the case: gathering the little ones around her with amazing tales to tell, and much joy to share.
When she was a columnist for the Alpine section of The Record-Courier, we came to appreciate her writing skills and worldview.
There is no one who can replace her talents. She has made a unique contribution reporting the Alpine experience. Over the years she has written many other stories to entertain us, including my favorite "Robert and the Gingerbread Boy", in which a very hungry ginger cookie ends up eating the boy who made him.
She is living proof that you can go home again, recreating yourself in a beloved place many times over. She is also proof that you can have more than one true home and do justice to them both. Along with her children Ben and Daisy, Virginia York has claimed both England and Markleeville as their real homes.
She has gone between the two with the ease and comfort of a seasoned traveler.
Along with all the other roles Virginia has filled in her life, she is also a loving daughter. Although she is going home to England to take care of her mother, she will return to Alpine again someday in the future. We are thankful to her for being the passionate, authentic person she is, and for making Alpine a better place. Her kind heart and ready smile will be missed while she is gone. All of us in Markleeville send her good thoughts, and look forward to her return.