Tuesday, July 28, 2009

50 word Writers Challenge

A few weeks ago, Granny Sue posted about a writers challenge where you had to write a story in exactly 50 words, no more, no less. I thought I'd give it a try. Here's my attempt at it:

“Fetch me that least skillet,” Granny said. Nothing made me happier than when Granny made biscuits. I watched with wonderment as Granny expertly worked the dough and placed the cut out biscuits into the little skillet. “You learn by watching,” Granny stated. “Think maybe you can make these next time?”

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Homeplace Remembers You

The Old Homeplace

A stoic representation of the past
Forged out of the wilderness.
The blood and sweat of past generations
Mixed amid my rocks and soil.

As generations came and went
I generously provided life.
The symbiotic ties strengthened
and bound us as one.

Though I kept you, and you me,
It was not enough to hold you,
When the hard times came
and a new way beckoned.

Now hopes and dreams have all gone away
Fallen by the wayside,
Passed by on the road to progress.

Nothing left here of anyone
Who remember the old ways
In this Eden of the wild mountains.

Though I’m still here and I still remember,
My fields now lay fallow,
And I watch as the cedars reclaim my pastures.

I am but a memory,
Instilled in the flesh of my flesh.
I hold the secrets,
And share them to those who listen,

With each passing season I whisper louder and louder.
But no one listens or seems to care.
I remain it seems,

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Good Idea?

I visited home over the 4th of July weekend, and while there I was struck with an idea. That idea was to walk a little of the North Mountain Trail at the top of our mountain. I had been down the trail many, many times over the years, and I remembered it was really pretty, very quiet and a good walk. I asked my Mom and my brother to go with me, and they did.

We walked the trail for about 5 minutes and came to the first overlook, I knew it was a good overlook but I also knew a better view awaited just around the next bend. Still, I was caught off-guard with the remarkable view that lay before me.

As I walked closer to the cliff, this was the vista that greeted me.

There was a nice breeze that day, especially considering the wind coming off of Spruce Knob smashed against the cliffs, creating a great updraft. It was a nice contrast to the nearly oppressive humidity. I looked out over Germany Valley for a few minutes then continued on down the trail to my favorite overlook. Along the way, we picked the ripening huckleberries, they were so good.

Then we arrived at a truly breathtaking sight. The strong mountain breezes slapped me in the face as I looked out over beautiful Germany Valley. The cliffs of North Mountain Rocks were a stark contrast to the lush valley below. The huge oak trees under the rocks looked miniature, and there was at least 100 feet from the cliffs to the treetops. I knew of the view that awaited me, but never have I been able to prepare. To me, this is the most beautiful sight in West Virginia.

Of course, no trip to the North Mountain Rocks would be complete without some mention of Old Fon, the legendary goatman who lures small children up to the cliffs and shoves them off. And then there was the obligatory mention of Der Belsnickle, the mean (or perhaps just misunderstood) German version of Santa Claus who came to these cliffs with my ancestors back in the early 1700's.

We also remembered a little girl named Haddie Whitecotton, a friend of my great-grandmaw Mary, who while helping make hay one day, wandered off up into the mountains, and who was found dead over a month later. She was about 5 or 6 years old. The search party found her body up on top of the mountain near a massive mound of boulders. Nobody could figure out how she would have gotten up there through all the rough terrain. Some figured that a mountain lion had carried her up there since her body was covered with leaves when they found her. Others suspected a giant hawk had carried her up on the cliffs. A giant hawk had been seen in the vicinity carrying off a small calf only a week before Haddie turned up missing. Nobody ever knew for sure, and now a lonely little white cross marks the location where Haddie's body was found 100 years ago.

My family has been on this mountain for so long, it seems that everywhere I look I am reminded of a story about one of them. This mountain has sustained my family for so long, we are a part of it. My blood is a part of this mountain, and this mountain is part of my blood. The mountain seems to remember all of us, and it reminds us when we listen.

So what do you think? Was it a good idea to go for a walk out on the North Mountain Rocks? I think so.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Mallow Schoolhouse

When she was a little girl, my Grandmaw Virginia (whom we called Grandmaw Henry) attended school at the one-room Mallow Schoolhouse.

The old Mallow Schoolhouse, Pendleton County, WV.

The Mallow Schoolhouse sits at the top of Bennett Gap near Riverton, and had all grades in the one room with one teacher to teach all the students.

Grandmaw Henry told a story that when she was little, she and her siblings walked to school every day, up the steep road to the top of Bennett Gap. It was nearly two miles from where her family lived near the mouth of the gap. Grandmaw told of how wintertime was the worst for her, she was always a sickly child and no matter how well she bundled up, she was always very cold by the time she got to school. She told of how one time, during a particularly cold spell, she would trudge up the ridge to the school through the deep snow and by the time she got there, her feet would be frozen. Grandmaw told of how the teacher, a kindly old woman, would fear for her safety since she had to walk further than most of the other students, and because she was so sickly. Grandmaw told of how when she'd get to the schoolhouse, the teacher would stand her near the old potbelly woodstove by the door and help her take off the layers of coats and blankets. The teacher would then take off Grandmaw's shoe's and would rub Grandmaw's feet with cool water, and would eventually work her way up to warm water until the color would return to Grandmaw's feet. The teacher was sure that if this was not done, that Grandmaw would lose some toe's to frostbite. This very well may have been true because Grandmaw always said that she'd lose the feeling in her feet by the time she got halfway up the steep ridge that led to the top of the gap.

My Dad & my brother, Jason.

My Dad also has memories of the old Mallow Schoolhouse. He grew up in the same place that Grandmaw Henry did but by this time the Mallow School had been closed and all the children were bussed into Riverton and attended the old Dixie Schoolhouse. The Dixie School was built before the War Between The States, and was used as such until the early 1960's, when it was consolidated with Circleville School. Dad's memories of the Mallow School are of the summertime Bible School that was held there. Dad said that there'd be hundreds of kids all around the school and they'd run and play in the farmlands that surrounded it. Dad said they'd also have bible lessons in the morning and about noon they'd eat big, hearty meals that were prepared by the local farm women. Dad tells that after lunch, most of the kids would walk down Bennett Gap to the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River and go swimming. Dad was usually a ringleader of kids his age but not when it came to swimming, because Dad was then, and still is, afraid of water. One time during bible school, when the kids decided to go swimming, Dad's Uncle Buffy, who was but a few years older than Dad was, decided it was time that my Dad learned to swim. So when they all got to the river, my Uncle Buffy grabbed ahold of Dad and threw him into the deepest swimming hole in the river, and said, "Swim or Drown." Typically, this cruel method of teaching someone to swim will work with kids because natural instincts will take over and the kid will swim to safety, but this didn't work in Dad's case. Dad just kept going under and he kept fighting the water, and eventually Dad went under and didn't come back up. Some of the older kids recognized that Dad wasn't going to swim and they rescued him from the swimming hole and carried him to safety. Dad tells that he was sure he was drowning because he was losing conciousness and everything had already went black when the older kids rescued him. When they got home that day, Dad told Grandmaw about what Uncle Buffy had done, and ol' Buff got a good whippin' and a talkin' to from Granddaddy Thompson.

The meadow in front of the old school.

Nowadays, the old Mallow School sits vacant between two old cemeteries, where it remains a symbol of bygone days when each little community had a school of its own. While I visited there, I wondered to myself just how many of the folks who are buried near the old schoolhouse were once pupils there? I wondered what memories they held of the lone, white building in the grassy meadow? I'd like to think that if one listened closely to the breezes blowing through the grasses, they could still hear the laughter of playing children on the grounds and the various sounds of a vibrant community whose time has long since passed.

The grassy meadow that used to be the schoolyard.