When I heard of the recent passing of Melvin Poe, my mind immediately flashed back to my senior year of high school when I got to meet the legendary man. Of course, I did not know Mr. Poe well at all. If you knew him well, I hope my 18 year-old self managed to put together a semi-respectable piece reflecting just how high and wide his story has spread.
And if you did not know him well, you can follow along with a teenaged fox hunting fanatic’s adventures in Virginia. I do not feel nearly qualified enough to write anything about Melvin Poe that could come close to encompassing his life, story, and general aura, but if the following depicts what it was like for a complete stranger to meet him just once, I can only imagine what he must’ve been for those who knew him personally. Heaven has gained a great one.
When early April of my senior year in high school rolled around, all of my classmates began talking about where they were going for our weeklong spring break. Some were headed to Hilton Head or Destin with the family; others couldn’t wait to escape their parents’ careful watch and head to Panama City Beach. A few planned on some simple R&R at home, while others were headed to various locations, ranging from Cancun to France. Me? My dad and I were headed to Warrenton, Virginia to meet up with some long-lost cousins.
When my dad met with his cousin Elaine a few months before, they had not seen each other since they were less than five years old. After talking for a few minutes, they discovered their daughters had one big thing in common; we’re both crazy about fox hunting! Needless to say, my cousin Mackenzie and I did not run out of topics to talk about. Within the first twenty minutes of meeting, we were galloping her horses around the endless trails surrounding her house.
My dad and I were staying at the Marriot Ranch B&B in Hume, about fifteen minutes from downtown Warrenton. Now I’ve heard the stories, I’ve read the books, and I knew well before we got there that Hume, Virginia was the hometown of the famed Melvin Poe. But what were the chances that I would actually see him, or even his farm if I were lucky? (It should be noted that at this point in time, I had never been to Virginia, and had no idea exactly how tiny the town of Hume really is.)
That’s what I thought, until I started frantically yelling, “OZARK FARM! OZARK FARM!” and jumping up and down in the car seat on our way to the Marriot. I’m the only fox hunter in my family, so when my dad slammed on the brakes out of surprise (or maybe it was more out of panic from all my yelling) and desperately looked at me with a puzzled face, I quickly explained who Melvin Poe was, and that his farm was literally ten minutes down the street from the Marriot. I quickly snapped a picture of the farm sign and we went about our way.
For the next two days, every time we passed his farm, I would look out the window, secretly hoping that maybe, just maybe, I would see him standing outside. But that wouldn’t happen. No way, I wasn’t going to get my hopes up. Saturday rolled around, and my dad and I were headed to the Old Dominion Hounds’ Point to Point with our cousins. After we got our tailgate set up, Mackenzie and I headed down to the paddock to pick our favorite horses for the next race.
As we got closer to the paddock, there was a group of five or six men standing in a circle; I immediately recognized Melvin Poe’s signature hunt baseball cap. Mackenzie noticed where I was looking, quickly turned to look at me and said, “That’s Melvin Poe!” We were so excited, so we decided to quietly wait outside the group of men to try to get a chance to say hello. One of the men in the group turned around and looked at us, so we said good morning, but he quickly ignored us and turned back to Mr. Poe, who was standing in the middle of the group. After a few minutes, Mr. Poe caught a glimpse of us. The men saw him looking outside their group, and turned to see what had caught his attention. Mr. Poe took a step towards us, said, “Hello!” and blew off the group of men to talk to us! We introduced ourselves and talked hunting and racing for fifteen minutes or so. When more and more people started interrupting to say hello to him, we figured it was time to leave, so Mackenzie and I politely excused ourselves and went to the paddock fence. I mean it’s Melvin Poe; he probably has better things to do and people to talk to than two overly excitable teens.
We walked away giggling and jumping up and down, hardly able to believe he had taken that much time to talk to us. However, after about one minute, Melvin Poe had walked up to the paddock fence next to us to watch the races! For half an hour, the three of us talked about hounds and hunting; he asked us about the clubs and hounds we’ve hunted with, and he told us story after story about the different hounds he’s had over the years, and various days out hunting. When others seemed to send us the message that it was time for us to leave again, Mackenzie and I told Mr. Poe where our tailgate was in case he wanted something to eat later; not that we expected him to come find us. Let’s get serious, we’re just two kids, he’s Melvin Poe; he doesn’t REALLY want to spend that much time with us when there are so many other more important people he could spend his time with.
Much to our surprise (again), he was at our tailgate with us ten minutes later! Mackenzie and I could hardly believe it! For two hours, he told us all sorts of stories about his life, hunting, the war, etc. while we all eagerly listened. When I mentioned that I was staying at the Marriot down the street from him, he hit me with his program and yelled at me for not stopping by his farm. Before he left, he had me write down my name for him, and told my dad and me to stop by his farm. Now of course I wanted to, but was I really going to do that? It’s Melvin Poe. He’s just being polite. He’s already been so polite to take all that time out for Mackenzie and me. No, I wasn’t going to stop by.
My dad slowed down to a crawl when we got to his farm and asked me if I wanted to stop by. “YES! SAY YES!” I kept thinking to myself. But I responded with, “Well, uhhh…”
“I know, he’s probably resting after the races, and you don’t want to disturb him,” my dad answered.
“Yeah! I mean, of course I want to, but is it really appropriate?” My dad seemed to understand, but as we slowly drove by his farm, I kept thinking of one of my dad’s favorite sayings; there are four things in this world that will never return: the word spoken, the arrow spent, the past, and the opportunity missed. Once we passed his farm, my dad turned the car around and said, “Come on, it’s worth a shot!” So I said okay, and we pulled into the farm driveway.
Peggy Poe, came outside and introduced herself, and after we explained that her husband had told us to stop by, she said he would be out in a few minutes. She showed us to the barn where they were getting ready to feed, so they had me help bring in some of the horses. After putting a large gray in his stall, Mr. Poe was standing in the hallway with my dad, looked at me, and said, “Hey! How’re you doing? C’mon, let’s go see the dogs!”
My dad and I followed Melvin to his kennels, where he fed his hounds some dog food, and talked to my dad and me about hounds, foxes, and hunting. After giving us a little tour of his kennels, Mr. Poe then insisted we come inside the house with him so he could show us around more. We tried to tell him he didn’t have to do that because he had already done so much, but he wouldn’t have it. So we followed him into the farmhouse, where about 10-15 family members were sitting in various rooms watching the Masters Golf Tournament. He showed me pictures, paintings, and drawings of him and Peggy hunting and at hound shows, photos of Ronald Reagan and Jackie Onassis hunting, and different binoculars, maps, and photos from the war. Everyone seemed completely indifferent to the two strangers getting the tour of the house—I’m sure it’s not the first time it’s happened!
By the time we left his farm, it was almost 4:00. I had spent hours with the legend, the one I never, ever even dreamed about possibly meeting, or even seeing for that matter! I was honestly just going to settle for a picture of his sign. To say I was speechless or star struck when I got back in the car would be an understatement. My friends back at school may have spent the week soaking up the sun on the beach, and maybe a few of them thought I was a little crazy for coming back so excited about my week in 45 degrees, overcast, drizzly Virginia. Some probably asked, “What did Autumn do over her break?” and a friend may have responded, “I don’t know. She said something about some guy named Melvin.” Sure, it was cold, and I didn’t come back with a great tan or a souvenir from foreign lands. This trip was far from typical for an 18 year old girl, but it was one of the most memorable and incredible trips I’ve ever been on, and above all else, most certainly not an opportunity missed.