It was a beautiful day; overcast with an occasional blue sky poking through the clouds. The foothills of the Blue Ridge provided a background of various shades of green. The grape vines lined up like soldiers standing at attention to greet us along the drive, and the brown cows grazed in the distant fields.

We were just south of Charlottesville, home of many family memories and the place where I completed my graduate studies at the University of Virginia some 28 years ago. Specifically, we were at a vineyard some eight miles south of Charlottesville off Route 29 south, not too far from Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home and the place where he died.


The occasion was the wedding of our son and new daughter-in-law. They currently live in New York City, where she attends graduate school at Columbia, but they returned to this special place called Charlottesville to celebrate their marriage.

Charlottesville was our family home for my four years of graduate school and post-doctoral studies at UVA's Curry School of Education. During that time, our son attended pre-school at the Curry School. He would return to UVA 12 years later for college, and then two years after that for law school. Like our son, our daughter-in-law was a Jefferson Scholar at UVA, one of about 30 students from around the world selected each year for UVA's highest academic scholarship.

Four years younger than our son, our daughter was born at Martha Jefferson Hospital during our last year in Charlottesville before we moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where I accepted my first real job in higher education at the University of St. Thomas. We spent eight years there before returning to the East coast. Nineteen years later we remain in Westminster.

Charlottesville, however, has always held a special place in our hearts. It is where our children were infants and young toddlers, and where my wife carried our son in a back-pack as we toured The Lawn with visitors on the beautiful UVA campus. It is where I had my first teaching experience in higher education, where I published my first papers, and where we took a leap of faith to quit our jobs and complete graduate school full-time. We took the road less traveled and it made all the difference.

Charlottesville was our first home away from the home. It is where my wife learned how to ride a horse in the pasture outside of our small rented cottage, and where I learned to drive a tractor to bush hog the pasture in order to earn a discount on our rent. I would gladly return to the two-bedroom, one bath cottage, in the middle of the woods about two miles down a dirt road off Route 20 north.

The return to Charlottesville for our son and daughter-in-law's wedding was a return to paradise for us. Our mothers, now in their eighties, made the trip and their presence made the occasion extra special. Surrounded by family and friends in this special place, during this special occasion, was truly a weekend made in heaven.

As with our daughter's wedding just over one year ago, we were once again reminded of our blessings and the rich lives we lived and continue to live. I wish for all four of my children — two born to us, two gifted to us through marriage — that their lives will be as full and glorious as ours.

As we head into our day on this and every day, let us remember what is important, what feeds our souls and what fills our hearts. These are the true measures of our life.

Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at