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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Back to the Past-What Influences Linger?

Theresa, my cousin, has been reading my blog. We knew each other growing up, but have only seen each other once in the last…??...umpteen years. In fact, I last saw her two years ago, just two days before I moved to St. Thomas. We made a good connection that day and she has since followed me through my blogs. Last week Theresa invited me to come for a visit. All of you know I said yes. Theresa loves animals. She has scaled down. Theresa has 4 dogs, 2 turkeys, some chickens and 2 birds with a huge vocabulary that cracked me up.

Theresa and I decided to take a drive. First stop, Falling Springs Falls, a favorite stop. Theresa and I drove to Hot Springs to have lunch at Sam Snead’s Tavern only to learn they do not serve lunch. No problem. We were already heavy into conversation, so where we ate did not matter. We drove a little further north to Cucci’s where we found a table that allowed for some private conversation.
Theresa and I shared lots of life stories and noticed how similar our lives have been. I was most fascinated to learn about Granny, my paternal grandmother. I was very close to Maw Maw, my maternal grandmother, but  have few memories of Granny. I learned from Theresa's stories how much I missed 
not knowing her. We looked at old photographs.
My favorite: a photo of my great, great grandfather, Dennis Denslow Murphy, born in Ireland in 1825. He came to America at age 12. He fought for the South in the Civil War. He died in 1905 and is buried in WV. Theresa has a wonderful piece hanging in her home of her mother and father at different times in their life. She gave many photos to the artist she commissioned and asked only that the painting tell a story. What a wonderful thing to have.

Theresa lives in Alleghany County, which is where we grew up. There is a long stretch of land on the Jackson River that has been in my family for many years. A large part of my childhood summers were spent on the banks of that river. Theresa’s house is built on this property. Just behind her house lies the river. We took her dogs for a romp along the river and Theresa showed me her favorite summer morning spot. There is a small cement area where she puts an old glider. From here, she enjoys the rocky cliff on the other side and the sound of the rapids. Her little piece of heaven.
Another wonderful thing Theresa has is a barn. It is old and starting to sag. I remember horses in the pasture that is now Theresa’s yard. I used to walk there after school with carrots for the horses. Because the barn has been there since before my time, it never occurred to me that there was a time when it did not exist. So, it never occurred to me that someone had to put it there. Theresa explained to me that person was our grandfather. Gone are the horses and the pasture that are so much a part of what defined my world as a child. But the barn still stands. Now it stands for more than I ever knew.
We drove to the part of the property that belonged to my father so I could see the section where I played with my brothers, sisters and cousins. Where we swam and played in the river endlessly. Where we had cookouts. Where we built fires and roasted marshmallows and camped out under the stars. I did not recognize anything except the large rock that allowed us to anchor in the water. It seems closer to shore than I remember. The water is so clear. Emy memory of those events is gone. The river bank is no longer manicured by my father and the fields are no longer his garden. The fireplace he built is gone. The shed is gone. Sadly, there is no physical evidence of what was once such a significant place in my life. Standing there, the tapes rolled in my head like an old movie playing in black and white. Only I was in it. Barefoot. Running. Laughing. I wanted to cry.

This morning Theresa left early for church. I was not ready to leave her, but I promised to return very soon. I want to know more of the woman she has become and to catch glimpses of the little girl I knew. Before heading home, I decided to see what more I could find of my childhood.

I drove up the hill to see the house I grew up in. My mom sold it several yeas ago and the current owners have taken good care of it. But look, a for sale sign.
I drove through the neighborhood and noticed the pine grove where we caught the school bus does not even have a pine tree anymore.

So I drove to the pine grove at our neighbor’s house where we spent a lot of time high above the ground spying on people and having secret meetings. No way we could climb those trees now. Everything changes, nothing stays the same…not even the pine groves.
Determined to find something familiar, I decided to retrace the drive to my elementary school. First, I checked out another old swimming hole under a bridge by Theresa's house. We used to have to make our way down the hill on a narrow path to get to the river. Now it seems one only has to drive up on the other side and walk down a set up steps. I think that is cheating.

I stopped to see the swinging bridge, which has been repaired over the years. The second I started walking across the bridge, I felt the childhood fear I had experienced. It was just there. I started walking, the bridge started swaying as I was transformed back in time to that little girl with a ponytail, scared but determined to make it to the other side. Then and now. The journey is always worth it because of what you experience along the way.

I went by Falling Spring Elementary School. The little two room school house is gone. The original structure of the main brick building is gone. Did they wrap this new thing around it? Where did it all go? The only thing I recognize is the stone wall holding back the hillside from the road and the stone steps that led to the front of the schoolhouse. I remember a May Day celebration when I sat on those steps. I walked around the building straining to find something familiar. Nothing. Except….the road.
Ah, the road. Still so familiar. I let it take me home. Suddenly I realize the river and the mountains, especially the mountains, are more significant to me than all the things I did not find in my search for the familiar today. The mountains and the river provided the backdrop for my past. They are the unwavering constants. They are what call me back when I wander.

1 comment:

  1. Loved it. Just loved. You express many of the sentiments I feel during my yearly trips to Virginia. And, as always, your photography supports your prose beautifully.