Our home place is now under siege. Bull Creek is devoid of people, hardwood trees, ginseng, yellow root, and most other native plant and animal species. It is empty. The mountains above it have been strip mined along with my memories of Uncle Kin’s cabin and huckleberry picking. Ashford Ridge running from Ashford to Bull Creek has been scalped by mountain top removal strip mining. Behind our homeplace and just over the mountain on Fork Creek, mountain top removal strip mining is closing in on us.
Category Archives: Essays on Childhood: A Sense of Place
I was in a safe community cocoon. There were always other people waiting for the bus, and the kind train conductor knew Charlie and Grandma and made sure I got off at Gripp which is across the river from the farm. The conductor enjoyed calling Gripp “suitcase” to see if I would laugh. From the train at “suitcase” I walked on a winding path through a corn field to the river’s edge and yelled for someone to set me across the river.
Aw, Grandma. I see her herding and milking the cows, churning the milk into butter and stirring hot, thick, satin brown apple butter in a large copper pot over a wood fire. She stirred the apple butter with a long-handled wood paddle with holes to allow the liquid to pass through. To pick berries, she dressed up in a garb that covered every part of her body. Her face barely peeked out of an Arab looking head wrap through a swarm of gnats trying to get at her blood. Picking berries was slow, hot and miserable for me, but Grandma could go all morning, picking two water buckets full of berries without giving in to the heat and bugs.
On cold winter nights, Truman and I shared a feather tick under a mountain of homemade quilts. It was deliciously scary when the wind banged the big sycamore tree limbs against the house. Ghosts and strange creatures lurked in the “boar’s nest” — a dark, mysterious, and cluttered storeroom of dusty pictures, old clothes, trunks, broken furniture and a coat tree with a hat on top. Flashes of lightening or a full moon turned the coat tree into a creature looking in at us huddled close together under our quilts.
Our trust in great-Uncle Kin was well-placed. He never told on us when we charged Red Top tobacco to his bill at the tiny store across the river. We made a corncob pipe and hid out in the barn and tried unsuccessfully to light it. Truman sent me to the house for some kerosene to put in with the tobacco—we were lucky we didn’t burn that wonderful old barn down. We tried smoking corn silk and made an unsuccessful attempt at the harsh smoke from dry sycamore leaves. We were determined to imitate our role models and smoke something.
Grandma said Truman and I fought like grown men, punching with our fists and rolling around on the floor and under the dining room table. Truman had a three year advantage but he was a little guy, so our fights were usually a draw. We played hard like kids do. We got hungry during one wonderful, uninhibited, wild and joyous day of fighting, wrestling, killing Nazis, running and running.
We would meet in the parking lot of the Tech Center, a great, sprawling piece of property where most of our parents’ offices were located. Parents and kids who were going and kids who weren’t going and kids who had already been but wanted to say goodbye to their friends all gathered. There was always crying. Kids crying from fear if it was their first year and frustration if their siblings got to go and they didn’t, always last minute dashes to the bathroom, and slightly controlled chaos abounded. Parents yelling out the ever-embarassing, “Don’t forget to change your underwear!” “Brush your teeth!” “Use the bug spray!” “Don’t forget to write!”
“Our wedding in late August of 2004 took place on this land that my dad always referred to as “sacred.” That evening, all the things that were precious to me growing up merged together into one memorable occasion: family, food, and music in the great outdoors. The moon was full. The stars were bright. Cousins Fred, Lew, and Will picked away at some of my favorite tunes. My childhood was over, but my values for life were set.”
“When I went to college in South Carolina, I sometimes babysat for a young family. The Daddy went to Episcopal High School, a boarding school in Virginia, and coincidentally was roommates with my cousin Will Carter. He told me about his trip to Lewisburg once, his first to West Virginia, with Will to meet his family. He remembers driving into a beautiful piece of property, open and lovely in the spring green, and as they pulled in closer to the Prichard house, two young men, not much older than he and Will, were standing naked in the field playing their stringed instruments.”
“Most people have not experienced a Thanksgiving like the one we have at Smithover! One year we had close to fifty people (my dad and all his siblings, their spouses, and my 15 first cousins, plus some “outsiders”). And we are all…male, female, big and small… BIG eaters! We all talk loud and none of us listen. Boyfriends or girlfriends often joined us, but there was always a whisper… Do you think he’ll make it back next year? I don’t think she has the temperament for THIS crowd. Did you see his face when he walked in? Take a look at her plate…who diets around here?”