I grew up in the mountains of Virginia. There is a magic there unlike any other place in the world. I still call it home although that is a bit of a misnomer. Home, to me, has always been more people than place, but sometimes a place is so intertwined with your heart, soul and mind that it becomes part of you. I no longer belong in these mountains, but the mountains will always be a part of me. These mountains are much like the wedding dress that once fit me perfectly but I know will never fit me again. I hold on to the memories more than the dress.
A few weeks ago I drove up I77 from Charlotte heading to Virginia to see my sister. When I crossed the state line into Virginia I was thrust back to a different time and place. It was a foggy morning (I had forgotten how quickly the fog can overtake you on these roads) and when the fog broke, it was as if someone pulled the curtain back and I was suddenly a young girl growing up simply and beautifully in these rich and fertile mountains. It took my breath away to see how the sun and the clouds played with shadow and light on the hills. It is not something I see often – it made me feel good. I saw the caterpillar nests in the trees on the side of the road and suddenly I was in Taylors Valley, watching my grandfather put kerosene on these nests and carefully burn them out of the trees. It was surreal. I was overtaken with the knowledge so much in my life had changed – people and places that could never ever be again. But I wasn’t sad. Maybe wishful, maybe reminiscent. Maybe a state of being that cannot adequately be described. It just felt right.
As I turned onto I81, I did feel sad. As I drove past Marion, I was reminded of some difficult times in my life – a time of loss and sadness. A time no one else will ever really understand. As I continued, I thought about my sister, Rosie. Knowing I was headed to my sister, BJ’s house, it made me sad that we could not all three sit down together. Rosie is still so present in my mind – I still have such a hard time believing she is gone. It is so much harder when it is sister time and she is not here with us.
The trip was becoming rather cathartic. As I passed familiar exits on the highway, the memory floodgates opened and things I haven’t thought about in years surfaced. Little simple things – the individual building blocks of life. I wondered where I had kept them packed away and why it took this hills to bring them to mind. I tried to call my brother as I approached the exits for the Valley. He didn’t answer so I drove on.
When I reached Bristol, I made the decision to go by my Grandparent’s old farm. I could feel my throat closing up. The last few times I was there, I sat in my car and cried. This was the first time I didn’t cry. Instead I drove through this subdivision of cookie cutter houses and remembered riding in the back of GrandDaddy’s truck rounding up cows to be milked. I remembered opening the gate and walking into the pastures. I remembered exactly where the electric fences had been and where the barn stood. I remembered climbing into the hayloft, smelling the damp hay. I remembered how fascinating it was to watch my grandmother sit on that tiny stool and milk cows with her hands. I can still remember the sound of the milk hitting the side of the metal bucket. My hands ached just thinking about it. I remembered the amazement I felt when they brought in the milking machines. Granny must have been glad! I thought about my mom and how she must have felt growing up there. I remembered all the stories about her and the animals she loved. I remembered pumping water from the well from the old pump beside the house. All good memories. All precious. All a time that will never be again.
BJ and I had a great visit. We talked a lot. We laughed a lot and cried a little. We talked about growing old and how fast the time has passed. It makes me happy to see her so at home in the mountains. For her, it is still her present and maybe that keeps her precious memories more available and closer to the surface. The visit went too fast – it always does. We had a lot to celebrate because her last surgery, even though very invasive, revealed no cancer. It was a time of jubilation!
When I left BJ’s I drove back to South Carolina through Asheville. The mountains are so beautiful – they really are breathtaking. I don’t mourn not having them in my life every day. Maybe I appreciate them more because they taught me so much. I’m a grandmother now. It is the role I think I was destined to fulfill. If I had never left these mountains, who knows if things would have worked out as they did. It’s good to know that I have roots and I am secure in knowing who I am and I will always honor where I come from. There may be days I miss it so much it hurts, but it is not my home anymore. It is where I come from.
I miss my sister and my brother, all my nieces and nephews and all the family I still hold close to my heart. But I have a job to do – It started with my children, then my marriage to the most wonderful man! Then a little boy stole my heart 11 years ago. He taught me about being a Grandma. Then two more perfect little girls came along with a title I especially love – sisters. I got to play Barbie’s again! Then a beautiful angel with curly hair and most recently her baby brother. Yes, this is where I need to be.
When I look at all God has blessed me with, I cannot be sad or question the path I took. I am thankful he has given me the ability to remember and taught me to let go and live in the present. The past no longer needs my attention, but there are lots of adventures ahead that do need me!
Never fear – I will never lose sight of where I came from. It is in every breath I take.