Have you ever been in a real place that seemed too idyllic to exist?

This is how I feel about Ashland, a little town located right near Hanover, about half an hour from my hometown of Richmond, Virginia. Ashland is made up of three generally separate areas. The first is the truck-stop area, which includes Ukrops, several gas stations and shopping centers, and Ashland Skateland a notably disgusting roller rink.

The middle area of Ashland is like a little world in and of itself, a place whose inhabitants must feel as if they're characters in a book about pretty people with pretty lives.

There are two lines of shops in "downtown" Ashland, one on either side of a railroad. This railroad runs right through the middle of the town, but only adds to the feeling of being on a trip in time, back when they called trains "iron horses".

In fact there is a restaurant on the corner, called "The Ironhorse restaurant", and it has a grand piano in the window, in front of a bunch of wooden tables and chairs, empty during the day, when I see it.

Across the tracks is the brick-red building called Cross Bros. Grocery, which has two cashiers, both at ancient cash registers and checkout counters that lack flashy magazines and conveyor belts.

Next to the grocery store is the Lilac Boutique, a purple consignment shop. People walk back and forth on the pavement between the stores and the train tracks that is rarely if ever touched by the wheels of a car. The tracks themselves have little wooden walkways built across them at regular intervals among the shops, and people cross these frequently.

There are other restaurants and buildings farther down.

Across from the Ironhorse is Ashland Coffee & Tea, the coffee joint from whose windows I gaze out at the quaint shops and people who all seem to know each other.

Beyond the railroad is the third area of Ashland, home to Randolph-Macon, a private liberal arts college. It is surrounded by fancy old houses with luscious gardens, presumably maintained by students or professors living in them.

My friend and I once came to walk on the campus, on a day that was bright but rainy, and an old man we passed handed us each a small green copy of the New Testament. I'm not a religious person but I kept mine anyway. I liked the texture of the cover and the gold lettering.

Too, there are pretty neighborhoods amongst the Randolph-Macon grounds, and there is a library and a post-office, each more modern looking but still possessing that aura of historical friendliness.

My sister and I, driving back from Ashland once a week or so, both agree that each of us should live there for a while.

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