The ridges here are many-leveled, many-legged affairs, so that even though we grew up at least two miles apart, my wife and I grew up on the same ridge. Though the distance is in miles and the direction is diagonal, we now live just one ridge over from where we both were raised. The valley between those ridges, I call the valley of my youth, since I spent so many of my younger days there, and on the surrounding slopes and ridges. Five of the homes in that valley belonged to my kin. Between them, and a few kind neighbors, I had hundreds of acres on which to hunt, fish, trap, ride horses, camp and hike. Though I didn’t know any of them at the time, the homes of my current wife’s parents, and that of her grandparents, lay a couple miles north of mine, on the highest part of the ridge that I lived on.
As luck would have it, my current job now lies on a diagonal from our home in the next valley. And so, this week, I was in my old stomping grounds for three days, hauling dirt from a construction site not that far from where my wife was raised, to my place of employment, where the creek in the valley of my youth joins the river in the next valley. My route was run 13 times each day for the first two days, and 14 times on the third. It ran from the junction of the two streams, up the lower end of the valley of my youth, turned up a side valley and then over the end of the ridge on which I now live, across the middle section of my home valley, up another side hollow and topped out on the main part of the next ridge, near where my wife was raised. Interestingly enough, this was all done on four-lane roads. (Times have changed MANY things here.)
Topping that first ridge and entering the valley gave me a perspective that I saw only a few times in my life, and those times were on horseback. Before me lay my home of days now gone—both the valley at large, and the house on the tip of one of the spurs of the main ridge. Peeking out from behind two huge poplars and a curved row of white pines was the old house I once called home. Built the winter following Appomattox, it was actually home to several families over the years. My grandfather bought the place around 1910, and my folks moved in the spring of 1949.The guy who bought it from me eventually wants to tear it down and build a new one. People around here have little respect for history. However, since I hold the mortgage, he can’t do so, either until the place is paid for in full, or until he builds his new one. I have to protect my equity, after all. The thought still saddens me, though. (Incidentally, the now-large pines were planted the same year that I was, another sign of my increasing antiquity.)
The valley looks far different than it did in my trail-riding days. Most old houses, barns and outbuildings are gone, replaced by new houses and buildings used by new people. Of the homes I can see when topping the hill and entering the valley, only one couple from my country grade school days still remains. Even they live in a different house, though his grandfather’s house still stands close-by and is occupied. I am reminded again that I’m the only person still living that knows that a former owner of that property met his death at the hands of a would-be suitor of his daughter. His fall through the “hay-hole” to the basement of the barn, from the hay-mow two stories up, wasn’t accidental as everyone assumed. Everyone involved is long dead, though, so the Lord straightened it all out years ago.
I don’t see the valley with my natural eyes as I drive along, though. I see it with my mind’s eye from the days of my youth. I see the old barns and houses, and the old people. I see the cattle grazing in the pastures, the secluded springs where they slaked their thirst, and the full sanctuary of the now nearly empty Methodist church that sits on the point of one of the ridge spurs across the valley. My ashes will someday fertilize the grass around the little flat engraved stone that I placed there last year near the upright ones for my parents and grandparents. (I was a Boy Scout, so I believe in being prepared.)
From my vantage point on the interstate fill, I can also see the big barn that was so noticeable on the hilltop that it was used as a line-up cue for one of the runways at the airport about five miles away. Dad built the wooden part of the structure with only hand tools and the lumber he’d sawed at our sawmill. There was no electric up there and generators on the job were nearly unheard of in 1960.
Passing over the creek that I’d fished and trapped in my younger days, the four-lane swings up the side hollow I mentioned earlier. I know when I’m pretty close the spot where it buried the site of the little home of my great half-aunt. My grandfather was born in that little house—my dad in one I mentioned on the point of the ridge. Not much further, I pass over the site of the home of a couple who went to Grange with my folks. He was a neat and clean fellow, always smelled like a rose, and supposedly thought that he was God’s gift to women. Despite his divine appointment, I never heard of him actually straying, he just liked to THINK he could (not that anyone thought he COULDN’T if he chose). Incidentally, he cleaned septic tanks for a living.
On my return trip back down the side hollow, I see before me the farm where I spent 80 hours each summer for about 20 years brush-hogging pasture for the guy who lived beside his grandfather’s house. There, too, is the now-stagnant section of creek cut off by the interstate when it severed the valley back around 1963. Always a home for turtles and muskrats, it’s finally starting to fill in a little after all these years.
Each trip through the valley brought back another memory, so each pass was a bit like a short homecoming. There was a little bitter with the sweet, of course, but that’s life. I feel blessed to have had those experiences in my past, and to have the opportunity to relive them once again, if only in my mind. © 2014