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Home is Where the Heart Is


There's a common phrase "home is where the heart is." My main passion in life is travel but every person needs a place to return. A place they truly consider "home," where they feel welcome and at peace. For me this place is my hometown - Manassas, Virginia.

I lived in Manassas most of my life, having moved to Arlington, Virginia only three years ago to be closer to my job in DC. I still spend almost every weekend here. Many readers have written me to request a story on my hometown, so today I'll tell you about Manassas and introduce you to the people who know and love me best in life - my family. It's a big post and I hope you don't get bored.

1. Before I talk about the town I'll tell you about my parents and the house in which I grew up. The house sits on a hill, on the corner of a street in a typical American neighborhood. It was built in the 1950's and my parents purchased the house from one of my mom's sisters for $38,000 USD. They now own it, although in America we never really own anything because we're taxed to death. The house is paid for, but "personal property" taxes must still be paid to the city every year.


2. The house is quite small by American standards. Here's the living room, a popular gathering place in American homes.


3. The kitchen is very small and there's no separate dining room. This has been my mom's complaint her whole life - that she doesn't have space for anything. :) But we shared many cozy family dinners and conversations at this tiny table growing up. My father made it a priority to have family dinners where we sat at the table and had nightly chats. I think today this art form is mostly lost, with everyone in the family sitting on their iPads or mobile devices. Sometimes I see it in restaurants, the entire family sitting at the table on their phones instead of speaking to each other. I think it's a real sickness in today's society - the reluctance to disconnect for a bit. I'm also guilty of it at times.


4. A few years ago my parents built this porch on the side of the house. It's now the main gathering place and we have a lot of summer barbecues here. Hamburgers, hot dogs, beer. The typical American cook out.


5. Here's my mom and my sister's son - Aidan. You've seen him before and he's the center of attention in the family. A great kid! Extremely brilliant, curious, thoughtful and loving. My mom is a remarkable woman. When we were kids, she worked the night shift at work (10 p.m. to 6 a.m.) so at least one parent could be with my sister and me at all times. She works as a hematologist, at the same company for almost forty years. Sacrificed a lot in her life for her children. She had me when she was only 20 years old.


6. My mom comes from a very large family - a total of ten kids!! Of all the things she's collected over the years this family tree photo holder is probably her most prized possession. It contains photos of all of her brothers and sisters, as well as her parents. She has only one sister living in California. The rest of her siblings live in Manassas or in neighboring cities. Very unusual that everyone has stayed in the same place their entire life. However, it's really great and we have amazing gatherings and celebrations all the time. The biggest ones are at Christmas and Thanksgiving.


7. Here's my dad's most prized possession - a massive garage that was built ten years ago for about $10,000 USD. It sits in the backyard and we always tease him that it's bigger than the house.


8. My sister made this sign for him a long time ago and presented it as a Christmas gift. It's very old but still hanging. My dad - he's the most thoughtful, patient and kind man I've ever known.


9. Inside the garage sits massive power tools! I don't even know what half of them are honestly. Anytime someone needs a tool or something fixed, they call my dad. As a child, neighborhood kids would always bring their broken bikes to him for repair and he happily got them moving again.


10. Typical dude stuff.


11. In the house my dad isn't so tidy, but in his man cave everything is perfectly aligned. He has rows and rows of bolts all labeled with the sizes but I forgot to photograph them.


12. Again, perfectly aligned wrenches. He spends hours and hours in the garage and we have no clue what he does. :)


13. Here he is - my dad. He's now teaching Aidan about tools, fixing things, machinery. Sometimes Aidan will say to him "papa, let's go to the garage and fix something." It's very cute. My dad has worked in the printing industry his whole life as a book binder running machinery. First, at private companies and now with the U.S. government. For a while he printed U.S. passports, but now he prints books and daily notes published by Congress. Neither of my parents went to college. In fact, my dad didn't even graduate high school but later obtained his G.E.D. (the equivalent of a high school diploma). He's one of the smartest people I know.


14. The garage is two levels and the upstairs is used mostly for storage. I went up there a few weeks ago and discovered rows of green beans, peas, baked beans and water. I think he's hording food so we will be prepared for the zombie apocalypse. Perhaps he's watched too many episodes of "Doomsday Preppers." Has this American show made its way to Russia yet?


15. My dad takes great pride in his flower bed and every summer my mom and him have a contest to see who can grow the prettiest flowers. My sister and I judge. Although the house is small, the yard is very big. It's rare in newer American communities. The houses will be much larger but there will be no yard space.


16. My mom collects angels and wind chimes. They are hanging from many trees in the yard.


17. Yes, it's true! I think we're all products of our environment and I'm incredibly grateful to have such a beautiful and loving family. They really made me the person I am today.


18. Neighbor's house. The population of Manassas is now around 40,000. The latest census data shows that 25% of the residents are Hispanic but I think the actual number must be much larger because there are a lot of illegals living in the area. A Mexican family lives in this home.


19. Another neighbor. This is Tasha's house, my sister's best friend from childhood. Her parents and the house in which she grew up is right beside her. Tashas's sister lives a few doors down. The entire family living in three separate houses on the same street.


20. Now I'll tell you about the town. Manassas is a very historical place. Abraham Lincoln held strategic Civil War meetings in a house in Manassas that is still standing. It's probably best known for being the place of one of the first major land battles of the Civil War - the Battle of Bull Run. The Bull Run Battlefield is very cool. Here it is, but I'll write a separate post about it at some point.


21. Manassas also has a steep railroad history. There's a train depot that sits in the center of the town. It was originally built in 1914 and later restored. The depot is still active with Amtrak trains and the local Virginia Railway Express (VRE) running daily. The depot also houses the Manassas Visitor's Center pictured in the cover photo. You see, even small towns in America have tourist centers and people there willing to help and provide information. In Russia, tourist or welcome centers are almost nonexistent. It's a real pity.


22. Like most small towns in America, the center contains a lot of shops and cafes. This one is an old school barber shop catering to African Americans.


23. Here's the owner, "King C. Robinson." He saw me taking a photo of the shop from across the street and waved me in. A very nice guy. He's owned the shop for 15 years. "All your haircut needs is royalty," this is the barber shop's slogan. Inside the shop hangs a sign with "Rules." They include no smoking, no haircuts on credit and no profanity.


24. The greatest treasure in the town is this bookstore which sits right on the corner of Main Street. I love it! It opened in my late teenage years.


25. I can get buried in these aisles for hours. I still love the smell of old books, with their weathered pages. I purchased an e-reader a few months ago and have used it only once. I know the younger generation does everything on electronic devices but it's not the same to me. I want to hold a book in my hand and physically turn the page.


26. The store is full of books about military history, the Civil War and even entire books written about the history of Manassas and neighboring regions. It's a real piece of Americana. The owner purchases a lot of the old books from estate sales.


27. Just when I think there's no hope for the younger generation I find these two hiding in one of the aisles. Adorable couple. I asked if they own an e-reader. NO! They still like real books. The guy drives from a town about 45 minutes away just to visit this store.


28. In addition to books, the store contains a lot of antique and rare items. This is an old adding machine, I would guess from the early 1900's. Dalton was the first company producing ten key adding machines. The patent for the machine is dated 11 April 1904. The inventor, James L. Dalton, is incredibly interesting. You can read about him online.


29. Here's an old school check writer, again from the early 1900's. I have a crazy uncle who is an American "picker." It's a term for people who collect rare items and he's being doing it his whole life. His entire house is full of gems, some of them very valuable. Maybe he has one of these machines in his collection. Uncle Dean - an extremely entertaining character. Someday I'll write a story about him.


30. Hooray! Our local football team. This store sells Redskins souvenirs. Soon the season will start again and I'll be a very happy girl. Lifelong fan of the team.


31. There are a lot of artistic shops in the town, including this one which sells expensive pottery. They also offer classes for local residents.


32. This is the local ice-cream joint. On this day it was cold and rainy but on a normal summer evening the place is really packed and the line sometimes circles around the block. I've eaten way too much ice-cream here. I almost always order the same thing - a peanut butter sundae. Delicious!


33. This is a popular New Orleans style restaurant called "Okras" where a lot of outdoor events are held in the summer. The restaurant is housed in an old bank building built in the 1920's. I don't like seafood or the huge chunks of meat they serve so I've never eaten here. But I know they serve alligator and ostrich - eeek!!


34. In my post Bridge of Kisses, I wrote that it's very rare to see brides running around American streets. But there's a pavilion in the town where weddings are sometimes held. I couldn't find the bride but here are the bridesmaids.


35. And the crazy red shoes, which none of them were wearing while sitting. Men have no concept of how uncomfortable shoes like this are!! :))  I remember in Russia seeing some women wearing high-heeled boots and even stilettos. A real talent to walk around in ice and snow in these shoes! :))


36. Here are some more houses in the downtown area of Manassas. Almost all of the houses have American flags hanging.


37. I've already told you about my dislike for squirrels and they also run around my hometown. However, the squirrels in Manassas are not as aggressive or fat as those in DC because there are no tourists feeding them.


38. Yes, there are abandoned houses in Manassas but not many. There's a very touching story associated with this house, which was built in the early 1900's. Town officials condemned the home and ordered its destruction. The owner was a very old woman who couldn't maintain the home. So a mystery donor stepped in and donated a lot of money for the restoration. The wealthy benefactor wanted the old woman to live her final years in the house she called home most of her life. Unfortunately, the old woman recently passed away and there's been an ongoing legal battle. Town officials want to demolish the house but the donor and others wish to move forward with the restorations and restore the home for historical purposes. But it's a great example of American kindness, generosity and community spirit.


39. Although Manassas is a small town, there are a lot of tattoo shops. Apparently my hometown residents like to get inked on a regular basis. I have two tattoos but I got them at other locations during college.


40. There's so much more I could write about Manassas and if readers are interested I'll continue to write stories about my hometown. Now I live in Arlington, Virginia about five minutes outside of Washington, DC. The apartment complex is very nice and I have a beautiful view of the city from my window and balcony. Here's a night shot taken from my balcony by macos during his winter visit. It's really stunning.


We all have busy lives, and it sometimes seems we run in circles trying to keep up with the twists and turns. But I hope each of you has a similar place. A place where you feel truly loved, welcomed and at peace.


( 66 comments — Leave a comment )
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May. 19th, 2013 09:55 pm (UTC)
This is my favorite post. So nicely written. Such sweet pictures. I love Virginia. And your sweet wonderful beautiful family! Love and kisses to everyone!

May. 20th, 2013 02:14 pm (UTC)
Re: manassas
Thanks, Amanda. I'll tell them you said hello. See you soon.
May. 19th, 2013 10:03 pm (UTC)
Спасибо, очень интересно. Словно побывал у вас в гостях.

Thank you. It's very interesting. It's seems to me like I was in your own town.
May. 19th, 2013 11:08 pm (UTC)
+1 )
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 20th, 2013 02:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 20th, 2013 12:05 am (UTC)
Love the post, Shannon! What a beautiful tribute to your wonderful family and hometown! Love ya!
May. 20th, 2013 02:08 am (UTC)
Nice post!
Makes me feel nostalgic for my hometown!
May. 20th, 2013 03:23 am (UTC)
Thanks for the post! Very sentimental!
May. 20th, 2013 02:15 pm (UTC)
You're welcome! Thanks for reading.
May. 20th, 2013 04:55 am (UTC)
I can't see this post. So beautiful and looks like a cuts of movie about small American city. Especially after Russian reality - very bright and hard to view by eyes. I'll read it when I'll be in France in few days.
May. 20th, 2013 02:32 pm (UTC)
It's not a movie. It's my life and you'll recognize the people and the house in the post when you read it. I hope you will enjoy the story. When you return, we'll take a walk in the town area, have a barbecue at my parents and go to the local ice-cream joint. My parents ask about you often and will be happy to see you again. Just like me.
(no subject) - 7greendog - May. 20th, 2013 09:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 21st, 2013 12:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 20th, 2013 07:27 am (UTC)
Nice home, nice family!
My mother is from a big family too, and all the holidays we celebrate a huge crowd. And you know what? It is cool!
Thanks for the story.
May. 20th, 2013 02:16 pm (UTC)
It's the best! When the holidays come around I'll write about our big gatherings. Family - the most important thing to me.
May. 20th, 2013 07:44 am (UTC)
Adorable post!A post I've always wanted to read:) I really like the rug on the floor in the kitchen, the furniture in the living room, the porch and, of course, dad's garage :) Thanks a lot! So, is it mostly untypical to live in the same place for the entire life?
May. 20th, 2013 02:21 pm (UTC)
Hi Anna! I think it's rare that nine kids from one family have remained in the same area their whole life. Americans are very mobile, moving from State to State as a result of marriage, family obligations, military service, or just a new adventure. I'll be sure to tell my mom you like her rug and furniture. And dad's garage. :)
(Deleted comment)
May. 20th, 2013 02:24 pm (UTC)
Aidan, the little guy, plays soccer in leagues and actually is quite skilled at the game. His dad is a major soccer fan and follows all the international leagues. He knows the name of every team, including the Russian ones. And Aidan also knows a lot of international players. They have season tickets to DC United games, our local team in U.S. Major League Soccer. But me, I'm a football fan and don't really like soccer.
May. 20th, 2013 08:34 am (UTC)
Thanks a lot for the post! It was very interesting to read it.
May. 20th, 2013 02:24 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you liked it.
May. 20th, 2013 09:54 am (UTC)
what a nice and beautiful town your family lives! it seems to be so warm and homy. i really envy you))
May. 20th, 2013 02:25 pm (UTC)
There are nicer and worse parts of Manassas, but this is the main area of the little town. It's cozy and charming.
May. 20th, 2013 10:17 am (UTC)
Shannon, privet! Thank you, very interesting! And the girls are very pretty)

Edited at 2013-05-20 12:22 pm (UTC)
May. 20th, 2013 02:28 pm (UTC)
Hi! One reader recently told me American women are "scary" and "horrible" and we're the reason a lot of American men are gay. :)) These girls were very friendly and sweet. And we know that both beautiful and scary women exist in Russia and America, and every other country in the world.
May. 20th, 2013 01:26 pm (UTC)
Hi! Great as usually. Thank you. Good luck in Canada.
May. 20th, 2013 02:28 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm looking forward to visiting a new city and getting another passport stamp. :)
May. 20th, 2013 02:12 pm (UTC)
Shannon, you write beautifully and made me cry. I miss your family. Amazing people all of them. You're a lucky girl.
May. 20th, 2013 02:29 pm (UTC)
Thanks, but I don't know who wrote this? :( Family and friends from America please leave your name at the end of the comment so I know who you are.

Edited at 2013-05-20 02:51 pm (UTC)
May. 20th, 2013 05:07 pm (UTC)
First of all thank you very much for your very interesting story. It is so warm and full of love. I cannot find English words to describe how I like it. So alive view as I was there.
And pic for some of your words

May. 20th, 2013 05:23 pm (UTC)
You are very welcome. And thanks for this photo. :) I think this scene is common at many dining tables around the globe.
(no subject) - llueve - May. 20th, 2013 05:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
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