With a firm smack to her bottom, a tiny baby girl came to a family not unlike so many other mountain families. A close-knit group, they held her close and shared their lives with her as they taught her all the important things from their lives that they thought she should know. For 18 years, she led a sheltered life among a family she loved so very much and with friends who grew up very much the same as she did. She lived in a small world and wished for nothing more.
All too soon, though, she discovered a world that lay beyond the protective walls of her mountains. Amazingly, the same highway that ran by her house also led her all over and down those mountains into a different world, a world full of places and people she had never imagined. In psychological terms, she entered a state of disequilibrium; her mind could not comprehend all the new information it was attempting to process. Leaving home for college marked the beginning of a both a physical and psychological journey that took her further and further from the home she thought she would never leave. It would be a journey through life that would always leave her conflicted. Perhaps some of you have made the same journey.
After completing college, the young woman returned home believing she would be there in those glorious mountains forever. She was more than happy to be a part of that small world. It seemed impossible that she would ever leave her home again. But Life had other plans for her. Jobs of any kind were scarce then, and a college education did not guarantee her a ticket to employment in the home she couldn’t imagine leaving. But sometimes the impossible is actually quite possible, and all too soon, she did leave again, this time for a place and job much further away than she wanted. This job was only a stopgap measure because she knew she would return home just as soon as the job market opened back up.
But time passed, and soon she marked her one year anniversary of living in the rolling hills of Tennessee, all the while desperately missing her mountains. Then, she broke another promise she had made to herself. Instead of marrying a farmer and living in a two story white farm house she had always dreamed she would, she married a city boy from our nation’s capital. She told herself they could still go home, that she would make a farmer out of him somehow, and all would be well.
Time passed, and good jobs and more opportunity made convincing bedfellows, so the young couple bought a small house instead of continuing to “waste” money on rent. Visits back home would have to suffice for a while longer. Still, she had no doubt that they would move back home before they ever thought about having a family. How could they possibly raise children anywhere but in those mountains that held onto your heart and wouldn’t let go?
You can guess what happened. Caught up in making a good start in life, the young couple continued to work, all the while saving as much money as they could. They made friends and settled into a life that wasn’t at all what the young woman had planned for herself. Before they knew it, they welcomed a daughter into their arms, and the mountains got shoved back just a little further in the new mother’s mind.
The little girl grew and proved to her parents many times over that she had the gift of music. Piano lessons, school choirs, church choirs, and musical theater beckoned her early, and opportunities to participate in all these areas reached out to her in rolling hills of Tennessee. Her parents knew her opportunities, at least at that time, were more accessible right there. Their daughter would not be a child of the mountains after all.
So,the family dug into their life there. The young woman looked wistfully toward her mountains from time to time. She knew that with the decision to raise their daughter in Tennessee’s rolling hills, she had broken another promise. She knew the home of her heart would always be just a little out of reach. She mourned this loss mightily but seemed to be powerless to do anything about it.
Time passed. In no time, it seemed, middle age crept up on the parents, and their daughter grew into a lovely young woman. For 18 years, this young woman had lived in the rolling hills of Tennessee where she enjoyed all the opportunities her mother and father had hoped she would. She took all those experiences into the flat land of South Carolina where she went to college. It became increasingly clear that she would not be returning to her rolling hills of Tennessee home. Now, her parents really had no reason not to consider moving back to those beautiful North Carolina mountains.
But after all these years, things had evolved there, too. And, really, when they went home to visit, the no longer young woman reveled in the mountains, but truly, it no longer felt like home. The woman who had once clung to these mountains as if they breathed life into her very being now realized that what she had there had disappeared. Things she might not have noticed had she lived there the entire time now stuck out to her. Favorite stores had disappeared, some completely razed from existence while others still stood but were either empty or now housed a business completely foreign to her. The little town has slowly turned from a laid back farming town into a thriving cultural and art center in the region. Tourists, a rare sight, as she grew up, now flocked in to take advantage of the cool mountain temperatures in the summer and the ample opportunities for cold weather activities in the winter.
Even the farming had changed. Hills and meadows once covered in tobacco and corn slowly became vast forests of Christmas trees. In her head, she knew that the Christmas trees were a much needed cash crop for her home, but in her heart, they just didn’t fit. As much as the now aging woman loved Christmas, she could hardly bare to look at all the evergreen trees standing so straight and shaped so perfectly that they looked artificial. None of these trees would need to have a middle section cut out and then the top taped to the bottom with duct tape.
Time passed, and after the last of her family died, she found she visited less and less often. Sadness gripped her heart, and tears filled her eyes at the sight of the home and farm where she grew up. The yard that her father had so painstakingly taken care of now looked old and tired. The shrubbery where the Easter bunny had hidden so many Easter baskets was long gone, leaving the yard barron and dead. Leaves covered the porch where the two little girls had once begged to share a green bottled 7-Up. No one lived in her home now, and it begged for simple care like new paint and a few flowers. But worst of all, Varmitsville had disappeared completely, and in its place stood long rows of straight and perfectly shaped Christmas trees.
The woman’s soul ached for the sound of children’s laughter that she would never know again. She ached to milk cows and work in the hay and tobacco. She ached to fish and catch crawdads and play with the dogs. She ached to swing at the old apple tree and to chase chickens. She ached to hull peas and break beans and cap wild strawberries. She ached to wake up to crisp summer mornings with sunshine that cut through the dark and brightened the bedroom she shared with her sister. She ached to shovel silage and cow manure. She ached to feel hot sweat under heavy coats as she pulled the sled back up the hill for just one more trip down through the freezing snow. She ached to see a table heavy laden with food and for the family gathered around it.
She ached for people and a time long gone. Would it have been any different had she never left? Who knows? All we know is what we have right here and right now, and this aging woman had another world to be more than thankful for…I have another world to be more than thankful for. I am blessed beyond measure, and although my soul will always ache for the things that are no more, it rejoices in the things that are. I am loved abundantly and abundantly love. How could I ask for more?
Thank you for taking this year long journey back with me into a life I loved and will always cherish. It has been a year of much laughter and many tears as I relived all these memories. Why did I ever leave the mountains that still pull at my heart? Why did I never go back there to live? You know, I don’t really know. That’s the way life is sometimes. You take what you get. What you do with it is up to you. This is what I got, and I am satisfied that it was just what I needed…
Love and blessings to all of you!