Steve writes faith-based stories about “God’s grace throughout (his) life.” He dabbles with song lyric writing, is attempting to write a novel, and enjoys acting, photography, hunting, fishing, and woodworking.
Born in Charleston, West Virginia, raised and educated in Spencer, and having Bachelor and Master Degrees from WVU Steve says, “I now live in Tennessee and love it here, but West Virginia is my forever home…until I get to the other side.” Visit his blog, On Steve’s Mountain.
Daddy Used to Whistle | by Steve Alberts
I love wakin’ up in the mornings!
It’s just starting to break dawn, but I‘ve already been up here for an hour or so… I was way up on top of tHis mountain before I ever woke up this morning…could hardly wait to visit the past…up on my mountain.
Lookin’ down on the little community of Speed…near Spencer…Roane County…West Virginia.
Moved there in ’47. I was just barely two years old at the time.
We lived there until we moved to town in ’56.
It hasn’t changed much since we lived there in the late forties and early fifties. O.O. “Double O” Casto’s horse show arena and barns are gone from the field beside Charleston Road, but our old house still stands on up the hollow… it’s the next to last house.
My bedroom was on the left just at the top of the stairs.
When I was real little I didn’t sleep there often ‘cause most nights I had dreams that would awaken me. Most nights I would slip out of bed, sneak down the hall and into the bedroom that Auntie and, my sister, Roylene shared…slip to the sanctuary of Auntie.
Never did figure out why Roylene got to share a bedroom with Auntie and I had to have my own bedroom. After all, I was the one who woke up every night imagining the bears and wolves from Grandpa’s stories coming to hunt me down. Even the Roy Rogers bedspread with its six shooters and lariats woven into the fabric wasn’t the sanctuary that Auntie provided. But, that’s another story.
When I was perhaps 5 or 6 years old … and sleeping in my own bed more frequently, early summer mornings I would often awaken … bedroom windows open…the humid summer air barely stirring…and just listen to the sounds.
…the grey fox barking up near the barn in the hill meadow
…the rooster crowing
…the feed buckets clanging
…the barn cats meowing for their breakfast
…and, daddy whistlin’.
It was comforting to hear the sounds of those routines being repeated. It meant my world was safe and solid.
I could tell when daddy had just fed and milked the old Jersey ‘cause I knew the sound of the stall door opening and the gentle lowing from her little bull calf as he was “turned back in” to nurse the last of her milk.
I knew the barn cats would get a portion from the milk bucket as daddy made his way back to the cellar to set the milk to cool before he finally made his way back to the house.
If daddy stayed with his normal routine next would be the sound of the chickens contentedly clucking as the grain was scattered and then the sounds of the trace chains clinking along the floor of the barn as he began to harness which ever work horse he was going to use to skid logs to his sawmill across the run.
The little grey horse was more tractable, easy to drive, stood well when being hooked, but was lighter framed and best when skidding the logs down the mountain. If there was to be a long haul or if the logs had fallen in the bottom of the cove and had to be skidded up hill the bay was used as he was a little stouter ‘though a little more difficult to handle.
Lying there in my bed in the early morning I could even tell which horse he had harnessed just by listening to the rhythm of the trace chains as the horse pranced across the barnyard…then I would know whether daddy and Bud were cuttin’ on top of the mountain or somewhere around in the cove … in case I decided to test my resolve by hiking up the mountain later to share his cheese sandwich and drink from his water jug at lunch.
I guess it was part of my growing up to leave the sanctuary of the house, wander up the mountain through those scary woods, find daddy, sit with his arm around me as I ate part of his sandwich, then have to return down the mountain by myself. I knew each end was safe, but the journey in the middle was sort of scary… at that age.
Once I got near the top of the mountain I always knew what final path to take through the woods by listening for the gentle rhythmic sawing of the cross cut, the sound of the horse skidding the logs toward the landing, or …daddy whistlin’ his way through the day.
The little sawmill is long since gone, but I can clearly see it in my mind’s eye sittin’ on the bank at the south side of the run…the motor and drive train from some old truck providing the power…the large circular blade slicing through the white oak and red oak…the sawdust piling up beneath…the slab pile…the ricks of lumber being air dried…Daddy and Bud Nichols using the peaveys and cant hooks to sort and align the logs to get the greatest yield, the straightest grain… and daddy whistlin’.
Cuttin’ red oak and white oak logs with a two man cross cut saw, skiddin’ it to the mill, sawing and stacking was all hard work.
Most days the routine was the same except for Saturdays when we went to town or Sundays when we went to church, visited with neighbors and rested in preparation for another week probably just like the last.
And, … most days … daddy would whistle all day long.
Daddy used to whistle
…as he wandered through the day.
‘Till now I hadn’t even realized I had heard him
…I’d been young … busy with childhood play.
Whistlin’seemed to make daddy happier
as he made up a brand new tune.
The tunes were seldom ever alike
Whether ‘twas in the early morning, or
…in the afternoon.
Except that “Rock Of Ages”
would sometimes just appear.
I guess those hymns were thrown in to keep him grounded
…to help keep Jesus near.
‘Till lately I hadn’t realize just how much that whistlin’ stuff
had stuck there in my mind.
But, now I think of daddy’s whistlin’
…from time to time.
I see daddy when I whistle.
I see him driving his old truck.
I see him working at his little sawmill,
…doing other stuff.
But most times when I see daddy
He’s standin’ in the creek
Standin’ up with his friend Carl
… the Reverend Raymond Straight’s just startin’ to speak.
Friends and neighbors from the church
were watchin’ from the bank.
Most had already been baptized
but, some were waitin’ their turn.
And, still a few others were dunkin’
…for a second time
…just to reaffirm
…the cleansing of an Easter baptism
at the shoal along Spring Creek
between Watson’s barn
and the Hickman place
with the neighbors lookin’ on.
I see daddy when I whistle.
It puts a smile upon my face.
Don’t know if it’s seein’ daddy,
if it’s the whistlin’ that’s takin’ place.
But, more important,
Whistlin’ taught me
at an early age
…by now, I guess you knew.
That whistlin’ reminds me of daddy,
…of life’s lessons,
the ones we should daily do.
…every time I whistle
whistlin’ make me a little happier, too
There’s a whole lot more to this whistlin’ than a man would have ever thought
that leads me to
about the sanctuary of my earthly and heavenly homes
…the sometimes scary journey in between
about grace and faith along my path
in things I have not yet seen
I think about my daddy
standin’ in the creek
I think about the cross
…our eternal sanctuary
that through God’s gracious act of love
our savior, Jesus, bought.
Thank you Lord for another dawn, thank you for giving me another beautiful sunrise, thank you for those memories of growing up, thank you for a family that taught me Your ways, thank you for not giving up on me when it perhaps would have been easy to do, and Lord, thank you for a daddy that whistles…today up on tHis mountain.
September 3, 2007
© 2007 Steve Alberts
You can read more about the 2012 Essays on Childhood writers here.