Sunday Morning Memories
Sunday morning! Got to get up early before the family is afoot. Slip down the stairs, cut through the kitchen and out the back door. Whistle for the dog and she comes running from her cozy nest of straw beneath the tool shed. Scratch her neck and behind her floppy ears as I watch her dance expectantly..waiting to see what I have hidden in my pocket. Do I in fact have something..of course…she smells the dog biscuits I bought at Ailiff’s store yesterday.
"You coming back soon?" comes the voice of my father from the back door. I nod a yes answer and then quietly add, "Going to walk across the hill to the Billups Gap, then walk back to town across Water Tower Hill until I get to Moore’s pine woods. Probably will stop to see if the wild strawberry patches are still there." The old man tosses a woven peck basket to me. The unspoken message is clear. If there are any strawberries left in my favorite patches, bring some back!
Off I go with Brandy the beagle following close behind. I carry a tall walking stick..not to help me climb the hills…to use as a weapon if I should come across an unfriendly snake…two legged or no legged. Brandy runs from place to place sniffing the ground, When she catches the spoor of a rabbitt, her tail wags back and forth and she looks to me for permission to track the animal. " No girl, not today. Today is a day to go walking…not hunting." I breath deeply. The air smells clean and fresh. Off in the far distance, there is the smell of a skunk…barely touching the air. I follow the dirt road to the shortcut between the sides of the switchback and then take the deer path to the top of the mountain.
The old schoolhouse still stands but the windows are broken out and the padlock on the door has been busted off. One of the student privies behind the school house has been knocked over but the other one still stands. I cut through the damp broom sage to the gate of the cemetery where generations of my family sleep in eternal peace. My mother lies here under the cedar tree that my father and I had planted. I notice that it has grown tall and now shades half her grave. Down the hill and slightly to the left of where my mother lies are the resting places of my great-grandparents, the former slaves who moved the family from western Virginia to the West Virginia/Kentucky border. They are surrounded by other relatives whose names I barely know.
Brandy sits down and looks at me as if to say, "Aren’t we going any farther, is this the end of our walk?" Again, I scratch her ears and turn toward the gate. We walk back toward the schoolhouse and the dirt road that parallels the fence. The trail is familiar, the road is old but passable. Few vehicles travel this road, few people even know it exists. The families that originally homesteaded this area have died out and moved on. The Census says Cassville has 700-800 people but most of us who grew up here figure the count was taken on a Sunday when the relatives from out of town were visiting. On top of the ridge that turns toward the Billups Gap, the dirt road shifts from yellow clay to a mixture of clay and sand. The surrounding land is flat now and for many years, since my childhood, has been used to grow hay. The old hay barn is still standing in the middle of the field. My friends and I used to meet there on Sunday afternoon, jump in the hay, throw hay at each other and play hide and seek. If I close my eyes and invoke the memories, I can still hear our playful laughter echoing through the hills. Those days are gone now and thre Gap is silent except for the birdsong of the cardinals and the bob whites.
My visit to the Gap is over and I head to the western part of the ridge and Water Tower Hill. The deer paths make walking fairly easy and Brandy constantly sniffs different places. She never strays far from me and I do not deviate from the trail until I get to the edge of Moore’s pine forest. Twice in my childhood, the Moore family had sold timber from their land..but the trees have regrown since the last time they were cut. I am glad that the pines are still there. There is something very refreshing about the smell of pine needles and pine resin . I remember my grandmother telling me that the air in the pine woods was good for people with lung problems. I suppose that this is true but on the other hand, I lived all my young life on the edge of this forest. Finally I find the path that leads down the mountain toward my uncle’s alfalfa field.
The wild strawberry patches are at the foot of the mountain about fifty feet from the edge of the pine forest near the site of Miss Virginia Moore’s old house. There I will stop and pick enough berries to fill my peck basket. If I can’t fill the basket here, there is another patch across the creek from the alfalfa field. I have never told anyone where my secret patches are and I am happy to find them still loaded with fruit although I am not happy to see the three foot long black snake slithering down the creek bank. Brandy barks at the snake from the safety of my side The critter ignores both of us.
Church bells are ringing now. First comes the Methodist church only to be answered by the peal of the Baptist church a half block down the street. By the time their bells are silent, the Methodist church on the Kentucky side of the river begins to play its chimes. By the time the chimes start, I am walking back in my father’s door with a full basket of berries. The walking stick leans against the branches of the holly tree and the dog is drinking water from the rain barrel. Thirty minutes later, my 70 VW beetle is headed north on US 23 toward the Ohio River. Sunday mornng is in motion and I have to be at work in northern Ohio the next day.