Essays on Childhood: Pick a Little Talk a Little by Susan Byrum Rountree

Susan Byrum Rountree has been telling stories ever since she understood the power of the Show & Tell stool in kindergarten. Words have always held a sense of magic for her, and she parlayed that magic into a 35-year career of bending them this way and that. She is the author of Nags Headers, a regional history set on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, and In Mother Words, a collection of essays about family life. Born and raised in Scotland Neck, N.C., a tiny town in the Tar Heel State’s northeastern corner, she studied journalism at UNC Chapel Hill. She is now Director of Communications for St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, in Raleigh. The mother of two grown children and two very precocious granddogs, she has written for a number of national and regional newspapers and magazines. These days she blogs about the magic of daily life on her blog, Write Much.

Pick a Little Talk a Little | by Susan Byrum Rountree

My father was an amateur magician. With a sleight of hand, he used to pull coins from the ears of grandchildren, use his nimble fingers to shuffle a deck of cards into a magic trick. He could separate inseparable rings.

He was a busy man when I was growing up. One of only three doctors in my hometown, he was up and out early, and though he most always was home for supper, often in the middle of it, the phone would ring, or people would show up at the back door, and he was gone again. My mother, brother, sister and I shared him all those years, waiting at home as he delivered babies (12 in 24 hours once), treated hearts — both broken and diseased — mended bones and emotions, nurtured families as they took root, grew old, died.

Susan on her mother’s lap

I’m child #3, so my alone time with Daddy was limited when I was little. I remember him teaching me to bait a proper hook with a blood worm while the waves of the Atlantic lapped at my feet. A walk in the woods one day (with my brother and sister), I think because my brother was working on a merit badge. A day he came home from work to sew up a tiny injured rabbit my sister found in the yard. And a day he pitched the softball to me in the back yard so I wouldn’t embarrass myself during recess. (It didn’t work.)

But one of the many things Daddy shared with me in those times when he was home was a love for banjo music. We watched the Arthur Smith Show and Hee Haw and Porter Wagoner, Daddy tapping his size 13 wing tips against the ottoman as I clapped along.

Daddy loved Earl Scruggs. Somehow back then I felt like Earl and Lester Flatt were neighbors, they came so often into our family room. I’d watch as their fingers flew, coaxing sweet music out of those strings, and it was pure joy.

Daddy had a banjo, too, and every now and then he and I would sneak away into the living room while my siblings were bent over homework, and I would sit beside him on the dressed up sofa — my feet not yet touching the floor — and he would play for me. I’d watch as those same magical fingers that shuffled the cards and stitched up that rabbit plucked the stiff wire strings until Bill Bailey filled up the whole room. Joy again, to have Daddy all to myself, for him to be singing just to me.

My kindergarten class performed a play when I was five. It had something to do with Valentine’s Day, and I played the role of “a girl.” In the picture, I stand next to a boy wearing a cowboy hat and a sly grin as big as the waxing moon. I don’t remember a thing about the play except one of the boys played Pinocchio, and that I wore a pink dress my grandmother had made and white cotton gloves. I hated that I had to stand next to the boy with the grin, who sang the theme song to the “Beverly Hillbillies” because he told our teacher Earl Scruggs was his cousin.

Susan’s kindergarten class

When I learned that Earl, the sweet man who used to visit with us often and played his five-fingered magic had died, I remembered that boy, and my Daddy playing for me, and how much banjo music meant to me once upon a time.

Wouldn’t you know that the brother of that boy is a Facebook acquaintance? So the news hound in me couldn’t resist asking if the story was true.

Not true, exactly, he wrote to me. But his uncle played in a band with the father of Bluegrass when Earl and Lester Flatt performed live for the radio. And wouldn’t you know? He and his sly brother, along about the time of our kindergarten play, sometimes sat on the stage with Earl and Lester when they performed. If I imagined them as neighbors, to be sure to a five-year-old, sitting on stage with the performers meant you were kin.

I’ve thought a lot about my banjo memories since then and have even played a little Foggy Mountain Breakdown as I worked. Though I thought my father’s banjo long gone to history, come to find out that my brother has been keeping it safe for awhile, and two years ago gave it back to Daddy, all cleaned up and ready for picking again.

“Get him to play you a song,” my brother told me.

Well, I just believe I will.

What would this world be like, if every single one of us took the time to coax our gifts out and into the world —  like the unassuming Earl, or Daddy with his magic for healing, with medicine or music? Small gestures can become great magic, when shuffled with the right hands.

You can read more about the 2012 Essays on Childhood writers here.

In a Man’s Voice: Happy Again by Douglas Imbrogno

Douglas Imbrogno is an exceptionally creative man, someone who can tell a story both in words and in pictures.

His essay here tells of a pivotal dynamic in his childhood, and of the night his emerging adult identity intersected his parents’ stormy marriage.

Something has broken in me. I quiver head to toe, shaking uncontrollably for minutes. I do not to this day have the words to describe what broke, unless it was something like the compact between parent and child. It had something to do with the fact that never again could I look at my parents without complicity, a knowing and direct participation — both embarrassing and far too personal – in the magnitude of their estrangement.

Please watch the first 25 seconds of this video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ta3jFvl3gU, and then take some time to read Doug’s essay. He does here so well what I believe many writers want to do: Engage, tell, and reflect without expecting to understand or catalog.

Sometimes the telling is enough.

Happy Again | by Douglas Imbrogno

Tommy Helms ranges into the pocket at second base. He dives, nabs the ball then pops onto his knees, scooping it to Darrell Chaney. The shortstop foot-taps second base then whipcracks the ball to first base, inches above the head of an onrushing Dodger. A picture-perfect double play. The Dodgers are done for and the win at Dodger Stadium vaults the Cincinnati Reds back into first place in the National League West.

Then, several things happen at once.

In the time it takes radio waves to travel 2,400 miles across the better part of America, a triumphant fist punches upward from beneath a blanket decorated with trains in a Cincinnati bedroom. My 13-year-old fist. The punch upsets the applecart of my bed in the musty basement bedroom of our house at 707 Waycross Road. My G.E. transistor radio tumbles onto the floor. It is past 1:30 a.m. on a school night and I should be sleeping, but true-blue adolescent Reds fans sneer at the three-hour time difference between here and L.A. The radio crackles to life down on the blue throw rug beside the bed: “And this,” says Reds announcer Joe Nuxhall, signing off with a signature line that recalls his own pitching days, “is the old left-hander, rounding third and heading for home.”

Thump! Upstairs a door slams open. Light footsteps can be heard tramping downward from the third floor, then again, down a short flight to the family room above my head. Moments later, heavier footfalls trod the same path. My mother. With my father following. “Leave me alone!” I hear, muffled through the ceiling. My mother. “What! What is it?” I hear my dad say, in a furious strangled whisper. I grab the radio off the floor, retreat back into the cove of my covers.

The author's dueling parents in better days from a photo taken eight months after he was born.

“You think sex is something …” I don’t hear what he says after that. I don’t want to hear. Please, I really don’t. But the house is made of plywood and plaster. It rests in one of the fast-built subdivisions north of the city, at the edge of the country where the cornfields start. There’s not much you don’t hear when someone shouts the next floor up. Or cries. No, my mother isn’t crying. She’s weeping. I doubt I knew the distinction back then, though now I do.

Through my basement window, which I keep open on all but the coldest nights, I can hear cows lowing on quiet nights as their exclamations carry from the hilltop farm a mile away. I hear overnight trains hoot-hooting through the valley on their way somewhere else. On nights like these, which are all too common, I dream I might hop a train like the hobos do.

Be gone.

Far gone.

This time, the shouting, the weeping, it just won’t stop. Fierce words from my father. He doesn’t hit her, I know that. He never has. He never will, though I hardly know that this night. Nor has he ever hit us, the six of us kids. We will later come to know how his own Italian father beat on him and his brother. Finally, my dad escaped, decamping to the Merchant Marines, floating off at age 17, across the waves of Lake Erie and Lake Superior. Free at last. It would take me decades, with the usual succession of therapists, to grant my father this award of fatherhood: He stopped the forward progress of physical beating in the family line. Right in our family. He stopped it.

But words, the rageful, out-of-control, spitting words frustrated fathers and anguished mothers fling at each other, these are a kind of transmuted violence. Not for nothing do we say the words he spoke ‘cut like a knife.’

I curl in a tight fetal ball beneath my covers. We curl like this – the thought comes to me four decades later – because of an unwilled body memory, an abiding recollection of what it was like when we felt utterly safe. Before we are born, that is, with a shout and a cry into a world that is anything but.

The volume upstairs rises. What is happening? Is he going to do something to her? Why can’t they be quiet? I have to stop this. Shouldn’t I do something? Aren’t I responsible for doing something? I am 13. In olden times, boys at 13 worked farms. They shot dinner. They banged a drum in civil wars. They stood up and they did things. I can’t take it anymore. Can’t take the shouting. The terrible pain in the voices, in my mother’s cowering voice, which sounds like a cornered animal. I fling off the covers, sending a hundred black locomotives flying into the dark.

I stand up. My feet miss the bunched-up area rug, hit the cold concrete floor. I shake my head as if to clear it of marbles. I don’t really know what I’m doing. But my feet seem to want to stride across the bedroom. They take me up the five or six basement steps. I see my right hand, as if seen in a movie, reach for the brass basement door handle. Twist it. The door opens. I round the corner into the family room, the sofa against the wall to the right, the TV on the left where we all watch “The Ed Sullivan Show” together each Sunday. Much later, I’ll note the ironic resonance in this scene unfolding in the ‘family room.’ The lights are off, but it’s a moon-filled night. A pale, milky aura pours through the room’s glass doors, which open onto the backyard where a tall weeping willow dominates. In summer, my brother and I can earn a quarter from my dad for rounding up the scores of thin dead branches it routinely drops.

My mother sits scrunched in a corner of the sofa, hugging herself. My father is on one knee on the carpet in front of her. As if proposing. Is his arm raised in the air? Or is he just gesticulating in his pained raged? My feet again, with a life of their own, advance me into the room. I now stand six feet from this tableau. I am probably standing there in a white t-shirt, pajama bottoms. Their voices die off. An eternity takes place between the second my parents’ eyes unlock from one another and my mother’s head turns. Turns, like a rusty gate. Towards me. My voice is talking. What will it say?

“I can’t believe,” I utter in a breathy gulp, “two people would treat each other like this.”

My arms. Where are they — at my side? Akimbo, on my hips? I don’t recall. And were those my exact words? Something like it. What I recall most clearly is the next moment. A kind of a cry, but not a cry, rises from my mother’s mouth. It’s a grieving sound beyond the ability of language to translate into vowels and consonants. Not a wail, not a moan. Something in between which drew from both.

Then, I swivel on my heels. Am gone, back down the blackened stairs. Back into my redoubt, which on train-haunted nights full of the moo of cows can be a real sanctuary. Not this night. I grab the flung-off blanket, rebuild a hidden cave of covers. Crawl in. I huddle there. Something has broken in me. I quiver head to toe, shaking uncontrollably for minutes. I do not to this day have the words to describe what broke, unless it was something like the compact between parent and child. It had something to do with the fact that never again could I look at my parents without complicity, a knowing and direct participation — both embarrassing and far too personal – in the magnitude of their estrangement.

These many years later, I am aware that given the littered landscape of shocking memoirs of household terror and abuse, my story is small potatoes. Kids with deranged, unstable, unloving, physically and sexually aggressive fathers or suicidal mothers – their lacerating wounds are the big leagues of lifetime anguish.

My remaining wounds are mostly cauterized. I know both my parents deeply loved us. Plus, I was granted the grace of telling them both directly, several times, I loved them and hearing the same back at me. Yet there is another story I have been trying to write of how I think my entanglement in their troubled relationship – and it went far beyond that night – helped upend my own life later on. The result was self-violence, bloodshed, a trauma that also rippled through the household. Those days are behind me. Yet in a sort of symbiotic blowback, I terrorized them both – back at you, mom and dad! – via my own emotional breakdowns years after those interminable fighting nights on Waycross Road.

My mother died first, after an excruciating bout with Alzheimers (is there any other kind?). My father, a man who did not make close friendships in life, was truly left behind, bereft and alone, but for us kids and a rare visit from a brother or sister. Despite the fact that they hailed from two different planets, if not galaxies, my father loved my mother, loved her beyond the words he was never good at formulating. She was – and this is no exaggeration – his all. He had trouble sleeping in their marital bed after she died. On my visits from West Virginia to Cincinnati, I would arrive to find him snoring on the sofa in the TV room of the big house to which they later moved, John Wayne astride his horse on the blathering screen.  “I saw your mother in this room,” he said one time. “I saw her just as clear as day, standing right there.” He pointed to the spot. He often slept in that room, we think, in hopes of seeing her again.

But the house was too big for him to keep up. I had come to help him find an apartment at a retirement home.  One day, we checked out a place called The Seasons. The place seemed empty of staff, so I poked around. A doorway bore the sign ‘Driving Range.’ When I looked inside the room was full of mops, rags and Spic’n’Span. “This is too much,” he said, as we inspected a showcase, two-bedroom apartment on the third floor. “All I need is an efficiency apartment.” Later, over a lunch of chicken fajitas for him and a halibut sandwich for me, he said something that reminded me of how lonely he was in the world.

“Soon enough,” he says, putting down his cup of unsweetened black coffee, like he always drank it, “I’ll be joining your mother.”

A pause. A rueful, sad smile.

“Then, I’ll be happy again.”

You can read more about the 2012 Essays on Childhood writers here.

For the Love of Music by Lisa Lewis Smith

Following our dinner with my dad’s family, once we force that last piece of pumpkin pie into our bellies, we hang around comatose (if we can find a place on one of the couches).  We ache and moan, and then we push ourselves down the road to the Prichard’s place (now called the Carter Farm)…just a short waddle down the way…to see more family, more cousins, and listen to some incredible bluegrass music.

Family music time with the cousins

I experienced the power of music, the way it works on the mind and heart, early on in life.  Although my brothers and I received the shallow end of the gene pool when it came to musical ability, my second cousins are very talented musicians.  Because of their capacity to perform so well on stringed instruments, we were all exposed to some mighty fine live music in our childhood.  (Don’t get me wrong… my dad sometimes took to the ukulele and was witnessed on numerous occasions performing “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “If You Don’t Like Peaches Baby, Quit Shaking My Tree”…I do not want to take away from his style and enthusiasm. The Prichard boys, on the other hand, they were the real thing!)

It was, and still is, a family affair. Cousin Fred Prichard picked the banjo, his brother Lew is brilliant on the mandolin (My dad always said “best mandolin player in Rockbridge County”), their daddy Fred Sr. entertained on the piano.  Cousin Will joined in on guitar or stand up bass.

Bluegrass to me represents the core values of family.  The stories told reflect both happy and troubled times. When I went to college in South Carolina, I sometimes babysat for a young family.  The daddy went to Episcopal High School, a boarding school in Virginia, and coincidentally was roommates with my cousin Will Carter.  He told me about his trip to Lewisburg once, his first to West Virginia, with Will to meet his family.  He remembers driving into a beautiful piece of property, open and lovely in the spring green, and as they pulled in closer to the Prichard house, a young man, not much older than he and Will, was standing naked….buck naked…in the open field. It was Cousin Fred playing his banjo.  What a memory of his first visit to the mountain state.  I smiled and, although a little uncomfortable, I was thrilled to hear that story of my extraordinary Cousin Fred, as I was hundreds of miles away from home.  He is a beautiful, one-of-a-kind character with a remarkable sense of humor.

To this day, music transforms me. It promotes clarity, peace and tranquility in my life.  It evokes feelings of joy and happiness.  It soothes my mind and soul. The joys and sorrows of life expressed through music is a healthy and healing avenue to deal with life issues.  Music has a magical effect on the mind.  It can be almost supernatural in the way it transforms you from one mood to another.

The feeling of warmth

I remember early teenage years…sitting in an old cabin in the woods on Smithover, listening to Fred and Lew picking away, and sipping on some scotch that was being passed around the room.  The feeling of warmth was three-fold:  the fire, the whiskey, and the music.  It was a memory that I will never forget.  I was in a familiar place with familiar people, but having an experience really of a lifetime.  It was my family and my music that I loved.  It was the place that I loved.  I felt safe and ever so grateful to be part of it.

Tomorrow:  For the Love of Marriage

For the Love of Family by Lisa Lewis Smith

Being the youngest of four and the only girl, Lewisburg helped open my eyes up to the kind of family that we were.  We moved around a lot.  We lived life with great enthusiasm.  We took it all in.  We were not the “armchair” Smiths.

My Uncle Bill would drive with his two young children over from Charleston on most weekends to stay in his log cabin in the woods. He built this cabin single handedly and with great pride (this fact was listed in his obituary many years later).  It had, and still does have, an outhouse and no running water.  My cousins Margie and Will would stay in their zip up pajamas all weekend.  They lived and enjoyed the simple things in life.  (By the way, I was devastated when this man we so lovingly called “Uncle Bill” died.  He was a special force, a gentle giant, a kind soul that you dreaded to see leave this world.  We all miss him to pieces.  He was one of a kind.)

The writer's father (2nd from left) with his 3 brothers, 1950s.

My other uncle once drove to Lewisburg for Thanksgiving (for one night) with his four young kids from Jacksonville, Florida.  They made the long, thirteen-hour drive in their two-door white 1970’s Cadillac Eldorado.  This was the first time my cousin, Curly Caroline, ever saw snow.  She and I were both in the 3rd grade.

These are our people…living life fully – driving from Florida for a family meal and keeping your onesies on.  Living life to the fullest, taking it all in.  I try to practice this today.

My dad’s passion for Lewisburg spilled over onto his children.  He always talked about this “sacred land” and, being of the Scotch-Irish descent, how the “land was the soul of the man.”  Mowing grass on my granddad’s red 1948 International tractor was his peaceful infatuation.

Sometimes we’d spend Sunday nights and my parents would drop us off at Fernbank just in time to start the school week on Monday morning.  Sometimes we slept in our school clothes for the next day, so we could easily be carried to the car early the next morning and make our way to Charleston to start the school week.

If we weren’t there to stay, then we were en route to and from that place that we loved so much. We were always on the run, going to football games in the fall, lacrosse games in the spring, and wrestling matches in between.  It was almost like we lived and traveled with Lewisburg constantly on our radar screen. It was our hub.  We came and went so often, and I’m so glad we did!

“I’d rather be in Greenbrier County” – that was our family motto.

With four kids, there was always some kind of chaos taking place.  Disorder was the normal way of life.

My parents hosted many gatherings in Lewisburg.  Lots of Bloody Marys and bluegrass music. I remember one particular party when my brother Lyle showed up with smut on is face… “Would you tell my mom I need her…my motorcycle just blew up!”  I will never forget the look on that lady’s face.

The writer's father with 5 of his 10 grandchildren, Thanksgiving 2011 at Smithover

When I was about five, we arrived to Lewisburg late one night following a Virginia college basketball game with some close family friends whose oldest son was playing. We pulled into our dark driveway after the long travel.  Our woody station wagon was full with two sets of parents, two of my brothers, two of our friends’ sons, and the only girl (me) sat up front between my mom and dad.  We were all talking about where we were going to sleep…”I want the top bunk”…”I get the couch.”  “I get the comfortable bed.”  All the boys declared their sleeping location.  My dad, being protective, grumbles loudly…”Lisa, you sleep with me and your Mama!”  I proclaimed confidently that he did not have to worry…that I was a lesbian!  Our friends like to bring it up often with a laugh, and I am proud of my quick thinking strategy at five years old.  It worked.  I got the bottom bunk that I loved so much.

The youngest generation of Smiths "clearing land" in Greenbrier County, Thanksgiving 2011

Some other specific memories:  rustling in the leaves in the fall, riding motorcycles, sled riding, bluegrass music, and “clearing land” at Thanksgiving, driving up for the new oasis on Snowshoe Mountain.  (My mom still has her awesome full body ski suit.) Our dog Muskin running into the woods as soon as we arrived…often not coming back for hours, but always returning with the strong smell of spring woods or the pungent stink of going into battle with a skunk (still today, that smell evokes wonderful memories of my childhood in Greenbrier County).

Chaos is not uncommon in a big family.  During a televised football game at one of the many Thanksgiving holidays we spent at Smithover, my older brother surprised us all during the half time show.  He pulled out his shotgun (safely, but without warning) and struck a buck from our back deck, out of nowhere.  The younger kids jumped for joy.  Once the gun was locked away, they ran to inspect the kill.  It was not a customary family event. One of my cousins left with her young child and did not return on that trip.  But she did eventually return.  Your family can really turn you off…but it always amazes me how you come back home for the holidays.  That is the beauty of family.  They say you can’t pick your family….but I sure would pick mine if I had the chance.

Dysfunctional, but fiercely loyal and never boring.

The writer (front row, blue scarf) with layers of Smith family.

Tomorrow:  For the Love of Food

For the Love of Natural Beauty by Lisa Lewis Smith

(Read yesterday’s post for Lisa’s introductory writing, For the Love of Lewisburg.)

For the Love of Natural Beauty

Lewisburg and Smithover are where I developed my powerful inner connection with beautiful and unique outdoor environments.  Imagine lush green, gently rolling land with karst topography and an awe-inspiring view of the Allegheny Mountains and White Sulphur gap.

This was our television, our big screen TV, our childhood backdrop.

The writer's children at Smithover

The woods and open fields, as well as the nearby Greenbrier River, were my playgrounds.  They helped mold me into a lover of the great outdoors, into someone who embraces each of the four seasons with vigor, someone who appreciates the raw beauty of sunsets and clear starry nights, all of which I carry with me today as a mother of two little people.

I had a passion for the woods.  In Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken,” the two paths that diverged in the woods, in my mind, have always been the two “roads” that lead from our open field into the woods and property of my Dad’s brothers, Chris and Bill.  When you stood at the divergence, one was well-traveled and the shortest distance to the cabin in the woods.  The other was “grassy and wanted wear.”  You could look down one and see “where it bent in the undergrowth.”

Both are lovely, but the one less traveled provides a lengthier and meditative stroll.

The writer's son, Greenbrier River

The open fields are peppered with giant oak, maple and elm trees.  When I was a child, the trees looked like giants waving down at me with their many branches.  Sometimes I would even pretend to shake one of their hands.  It reminds me of the endearing and imaginative children’s book, When Giants Come to Play, which portrays imaginary giant friends that play hide-and-seek, toss marbles, and drink tea with a young child.   The thing is, these trees are not imaginary.  You could actually hide in one of their pockets or pick flowers with them. My dad affixed wire, a tramway of sorts, between the Big Oak and the Old Elm.  It was like being gently tossed back and forth between two giant friends.

The Greenbrier River was our recreational oasis.  We swam and sunbathed at Cat Rock and conquered our fears jumping from Anvil Rock, which was shockingly high.  We mastered walking on slippery snail-laden river stone, porting canoes and fishing poles at places like Anthony Creek, Caldwell, and Ronceverte.  I learned early how to bait my own hook.

The river also served as a science laboratory.  We studied the physics of skipping rocks, the biology of crawdads, and the identity of mountain water lilies. We cautiously avoided water moccasins.

When the day slipped into night, something spiritual and magical took place. Sunsets transformed me.  They were my quiet obsession, and still are today.  I wanted to bottle up every moment when the sun went down and twilight appeared.  The air got lighter.  I carried the peace and tranquility of dusk into my dreams at night.  I would stare westward, surrounded by mountain air, and drink in the fiery colors of the setting sun over the open field. I continue to value and soak up this spiritual golden hour, and use it as a meditative tool or a moment to fall in love again with the astonishing beauty of life.

The writer's son, Lewisburg

Nighttime at Smithover is exceptionally spectacular as well.  Stargazing on moonless nights is also transforming.  Walking through the wet grass at night, you might think darkness is eating you whole, until you look up.  The heavens glow. Your giant friends might wave down at you again with a star dazzled backdrop….and all the stress and anxiety of life just melts away.

You feel closer to God in the country; where the air is fresh, the sunsets are miraculous and the stars…oh man…the stars on a clear cool night…they are stunning!  This is why we called it “God’s Country” growing up.

Tomorrow:  For the Love of Family

For the Love of Lewisburg by Lisa Lewis Smith

A native of Charleston, Lisa was born on June 9, 1973 (the day Secretariat won the Triple Crown).   She received her B.S. in Biology and minor in Environmental Studies from the College of Charleston in South Carolina.  She worked as a fisheries and wetland biologist in Washington, Alaska, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia before transitioning in 2002 from environmental consulting to outreach and education.  She currently serves on the board of the WV Land Trust and is an elder and lifelong member of Kanawha United Presbyterian Church.  Lisa grew up spending her summers and weekends at her family home in Lewisburg, West Virginia where she developed an early connection with beautiful and unique outdoor environments.

I am very pleased to share her 6-part reflection on the many elements of her childhood that made her who she is today.  I have known Lisa on and off since we were middle schoolers, and with increasing depth in adulthood as neighbors, community volunteers together, and raising our children.  I hope you will take the time to enjoy her stories of Lewisburg, Family, Food, Marriage, Music, and Natural Beauty.

You may think you know The Smiths, but I am confident you will learn something new as you read.  For example, I just learned that the cousins would make wagers as to which boyfriends or girlfriends would actually come back to another family dinner after their first.  I have new admiration for their spouses!  These are all fun.  Enjoy, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone.

For the Love of Lewisburg

I grew up spending many weekends and large portions of my summers at my family’s home in Lewisburg, West Virginia.  Sometimes we were just passing through on our way to and from other places, but it was a focal point for our family, a central location.  It was a familiar place that taught me a lot about the important things in life.

The writer with her 3 brothers on "Paw's" tractor in Lewisburg

In the 1920’s, my great grandmother Elizabeth Dana Smith, or “Grandma Dana,” inherited what had been the Lipps Family Farm, about two hundred acres southeast of what is now downtown Lewisburg.  It eventually became the summer stomping ground for her sixteen grandchildren known as the “sweet sixteen” cousins, one of whom is my dad.  They named the property Smithover.

My grandfather “Smut” or “Paw”, who I never met, flipped a coin with his brother Dana.  Uncle Dana acquired the lovely white home on the ridge, while Smut obtained much of the land along the ridge line, splitting that land into five parcels for his five children.

My dad and his bride built early in the 1970’s with the help of my mother’s father. Grandaddy Botts was concerned about some of the wild and consistent revelry that was taking place among young friends in Charleston. He insisted on helping to pave a driveway to his daughter’s new building site, sooner rather than later.  He wanted to help pave a more wholesome way of life for our family.  My parents finished their beloved A-frame home overlooking the Allegheny Mountains two years before I was born.  They had my three older brothers and enjoyed the feeling of being under roof in a place that they loved.

Ever since I can remember, we drove old Route 60 on Friday afternoons from Charleston to Lewisburg, in several versions of the wood-paneled “woody” station wagon.  It was two and a half hours of rough mountain road…but we persisted, always.

I would walk home from Fernbank elementary school often to find my Dad already home and loading up the car.  “Come on baby girl…we’ve got some grass to mow!”  I’d grab a couple of select pieces from my stuffed mama-and-baby animal collection, and off we’d go.

Through rain, snow, darkness or light….we drove on.  Sometimes my dad would be giving up the cigarettes.  When he did, he usually had nicotine gum behind his ear. Sometimes we’d stop at the Traveler’s Inn for a good hot meal (named for General Robert Lee’s horse Traveler that apparently stopped in that spot often to be watered down during the Civil War).

The writer's children in Lewisburg

One particular memory I have was traveling one morning on that part of Route 60 in a snowstorm with my mother and my youngest brother.  I was in first grade.  The bare tree limbs were covered and hugged each other above the road as we drove.  We stopped to let our new puppy, Muskin, out to relieve herself on the side of the road.  (We named her Muskin because we thought it was “a good American Indian word.”  My brother was “Wolf”, his best friend “Coyote.”  I was “Moccasin.”) There was not a soul around.  It was so quiet and peaceful in that moment…so weird and wonderful at the same time.  We were on our way to Lewisburg, once again.

This particular drive is etched in my memory.

Tomorrow:  For the Love of Natural Beauty