Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lights in the dark

Some time ago I sat and spoke with a group about Appalachia, the folks back home, the way it used to be and what we all missed.  Needless to say, it was sometimes emotional for all of us who lived in the mountains. 

One by one folks who were not storytellers stood up to tell their stories from their childhood, from the hills.  We all celebrated the hard times shard by many.  We laughed at "off plumb" uncles and aunts that kissed folks right on the mouth to say hello!

We seemed to share a common bond of Grannies and Aunts who loved us, cared for us, slipped us a biscuit or tater in between meals as our bodies grew way too fast.  Uncles that gave us our first pocket knife, taught us to hunt and fish. 

Those coveyed up there fell in love all over again when one then another arose and spoke with tears in their eyes of lost loves from childhood, of those who wait for them on the other side of the Jordan, of rugged cabins stuck with determination on the side of a mountain.

Then came the story that stopped us all for ever so long in quiet reflections.

A dear woman rose carefully and told us she promised not to cry.  She spoke of her life in Eastern Kentucky, of her Mama and Daddy and little sister, of her Granny who watched them during the day while her Mama went off to clean house and cook for the superintendent's wife at the coal company while her Daddy went deep into that mine to dig coal.  She spoke with love about that Daddy who would walk out at night and get in the truck, careful not to rub the ever present coal dust onto his sweet darlin' as she sat beside him.

They would arrive home about the same time each night, hindered occasionally by snow or high waters after a hard rain that would swell the creek bed that was also the road for a good part of their journey.

Once home, her Daddy would take off his work clothes while her Mama boiled enough water for him to go on the back porch and wash the coal dust off.  Hot water, rough washrags and Lava soap would leave his skin rough and red, but clean.  It took that to get the dust out of his pores each night.

When her Granny would see the lights come on across the mountain, she would bundle both girls up, give them lard buckets filled with dinner, maybe fried chicken and biscuits in one, bowls of slowly cooked green beans with ham hocks, turnip greans, butterbeans, maybe a big bowl of fried taters in that other lard bucket, all carefully wrapped with wax paper so there would be no precious food spilled.

She and her sister would follow the path to home.  The start of the trip was always easy, but after about 100 yards they would go down into the holler.  Though the path was clear and wide, it always made them fearful.  Those girls would cling tightly to each other as they walked, carefully holding the handles of their lard buckets.  Every sound would make them jump.  Yes, they were country girls, but as she said, "we were all girl".  We all laughed at that.

She then broke her promise as she spoke of walking up the last rise in the holler.  That was their favorite moment.  That was when they knew they were almost home.

She said, "When we got to the top of that there rise we could begin to see the lights of home in the dark.  We knew Mama and Daddy were there.  We knew that if we called out they would come.  We saw the lights in the dark and knew out short journey home was complete, that the dark and the holler were nothing to be afraid of.  When we climbed that rise and saw those lights we felt safe, happy and loved."

We all helped her break her promise not to cry as she concluded, "Oh, if I could just walk that path again.  That little holler wouldn't scare me anymore.  I have been there and it is just a short walk.  Don't y'all think my folks were cruel, we probably didn't walk more than a minute in that holler.  We were just little girls goin' home."

She paused, turned and got a hankie out of her purse, "This is silly, cryin' like this, but I would give all I have to walk that path one dark night, just one more time, say goodbye to Granny with a hug and walk down into that little holler.  I would run through them woods and up that hill just anxious to see the lights in the dark.  I would run to the porch, hollerin' as I ran, Mama, Daddy, I am home, I am home and its supper."

Wouldn't all of us love to run back home just one more time, to the mountain we love, down the hollers and up the rise, to the memories we cherish, cryin' out, "I am home and its supper"?