For the Love of Marriage by Lisa Lewis Smith

The writer's parents on their wedding day

My parents just celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary.  They have provided a good and sound model for my brothers and me.  A large part of the success of their marriage and our family closeness should be attributed to Lewisburg, and to our time at Smithover and the Greenbrier River.  Our numerous canoe trips,  picnics, and family car travels (during  which we put millions of miles under our belts) all knit us together. My parents devoted their time and energy to the meaningful things in life, and showed their children the true value of family and making memories for a lifetime.

The writer's parents, Thanksgiving 2011 in Lewisburg.

 

Lewisburg represents the simple life for me.  It represents not having to show anyone up and investing in the important things:  breathing fresh air, admiring sunsets with your children, soaking up starlit evenings, eating with pleasure and gratitude.  It represents committing to living life to the fullest, and to falling in love with as much as you possibly can.

Our wedding in late August of 2004 took place on this land that my dad always referred to as “sacred.”  That evening, all the things that were precious to me growing up merged together into one memorable occasion:  family, food, and music in the great outdoors.  The moon was full.  The stars were bright. Cousins Fred, Lew, and Will picked away at some of my favorite tunes.  My childhood was over, but my values for life were set.

Lewisburg and Smithover became a special place for me early on.

The magnificent fields, woods, and waters were the vital playgrounds of my youth.

It is a place that continues to transform me, continues to teach peace and harmony, and continues to bring calmness during restless times.

It is my sanctuary.

Through this exceptional place, I have learned how to take great pleasure in the fundamentals of a meaningful life.

I am forever grateful.

The writer and her husband on their wedding day in Lewisburg, West Virginia

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

Going to the Farm by Melanie Foster Taylor

Melanie claims she is “not a real writer’s writer, except for trying it now.”   She is a classical pianist, and piano teacher who has been inspired to write her childhood story by her former piano student, Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher. Forced into really early retirement by the economic crash in 2008-9, this former college music professor now has plenty of time to reflect and write. Oh what a blessing. Melanie is presently trapped in South Carolina, but visits the family in Charleston, West Virginia two or three times a year. She breathes anew whenever she sees the mountains again.  Her essay, “Going to the Farm,” recounts memories of trips to the jointly-held family vacation farm in Monroe County, West Virginia, from Charleston. Model-T’s, grand pianos, and wildlife ensue.

Going to the Farm

It was about 1956-7. I don’t remember exactly because I am now 59 and three-quarters. Most of my memories are smeared right about now in my life.

But my memories about Going to the Farm are spottily some of the most vivid in my pickled memory bank.  I remember Mommy packing the red and white vinyl Coca-Cola cooler with ice and snacks for the long (?) trip to the farm, putting them into the backseat of our 1950’s Chevy, two-toned red with a white top.

(I’m the one on the right, presagging belly-button exposure that will of course become popular later in the century.)

We were going rural! We went to the farm every year in hunting season, about October 15 from what I remember. The whole extended family, aunts, uncles, cousins and all would converge for awhile to bond, eat, and for the fellas, do some serious hunting. The big prize might be a turkey for Thanksgiving.

OR maybe a squirrel dinner. That’s Grandaddy there with his gun and three or four squirrel stew ingredients.

Grandaddy

Now I get confused because my most memorable trip to the farm was in Granddaddy’s Model-T Ford. I remember him worrying about making it up Pike’s Peak. No, really it was the big uphill grade going to the top of Flat Top Mountain! Chunka-chunka-chunka. We made it.  I remember the problems with the “choke” on that Model-T. I’m not sure but I think the West Virginia Turnpike MAY have been there then, newly opened.

We got off of the fancy Turnpike to make our way through Hinton, heading toward Union, passing the beautiful Greenbrier River on the left of the road. Going through Hinton was significant because Grandaddy and his five kids had grown up there during the Depression. Mommy liked to talk about her legs cracking and bleeding into her white socks from the cold as she walked to school. She also told me that Grandaddy set out shots of hot-toddies (Yes, Bourbon) on the stove in the kitchen for all the kids to keep them warm as they walked to school in the morning. This may be why none of the children graduated from college! But he had a job the whole time; He was a conductor on the C&O railroad. They were pretty flush for those times.

Once in Union, it was just a few miles to Gap Mills, population about 50. In Gap Mills, we had friends who kept our Jeep. The Jeep was the only vehicle that could make it up the road to The Farm (except the Model-T; memory confusion remains.) The Jeep was a World War II reclaim, and I have no idea how we got it. Sometimes we stopped at Ralph and Arlene’s for the night to pick up the Jeep and drinking water. I still don’t know how we became friends with Ralph and Arlene, but these things just happen in West Virginia. I’ll never forget the smoky smell of their house  (cigarettes and a wood stove combined) and that they had a GRAND PIANO in the living room.  I am a piano player. I liked showing off on that old, out-of-tune grand.

The next morning, going from Ralph and Arlene’s house to the farm, we stopped at a house that raised chickens, hence fresh eggs, to supply us for the next few days. That is all I remember about that! But it was about 5 more miles up a dusty road until….

Eventually we turned right onto the dirt, rocky and overgrown road that was the entrance to the farm. The entrance was tough to spot from the main road. There was an iron gate with a padlock on the dirt road, about thirty feet in from the main road. The driver had to unlock the padlock on the gate, and then we were off into the wild! The back of the Jeep was absolutely packed with supplies, and we little cousins were holding onto the top bars of the vehicle, our feet delicately balanced on the bumper. We were actually hanging off the back of the Jeep. Here we go! Get ready for some serious bumps! “Hold on tight!” said the adults who were sitting up front.

Nobody had been up the road for many months, probably since summer time, so the ruts grooved by any bad weather were deep. As we descended into the Rain Forest, the driver had to make sharp left and right juts, avoiding the big pits in the dirt road. I remember flinging right and left off the back of the Jeep as the driver jigged and jagged along the path. Sometimes we had to actually stop and fill in the ruts with brush and stones in order to create a passable road. Sometimes we would stop and pick blackberries on the way in! (But wait: that was the summer trip to the farm. But a vivid memory.)

I think it was about two miles from the main road up the dirt jungle road to the farmhouse, but it took awhile and was always a beautiful adventure. OOH! I just remembered the adults stopping on the way to shoot some pheasants who were in the road. I think we ate them. I know I remember the sound of the flight of the survivor pheasants escaping with their lives. The Jeep persisted.

Once we saw the crosshatch fence, we knew we were just a short downhill jaunt to the farmhouse. The Rain Forest opened up and there was LIGHT ahead and a fabulous cleared hill on the horizon.

We descended the short hill and saw the always sadly neglected foursquare for the first time of this season.  (In summer time, we loaded up with an actual lawnmower to knock down the 2-foot tall grass in the yard. In hunting season, I think we just dealt with the leftovers.)

As we went into the farmhouse, “interesting” odors reared their ugly heads. What does a house smell like after five or six months of abandonment? Yes, this is it. Mustiness-wood. But that smell is still a happy memory. None of the wooden walls were painted in the house so all of the open pores of the wood absorbed the scents of nature. A musty memory smell is very vibrant when you are 59 and three-quarters.

We were into the house again, and the first job for the big people was to make sure that there were no snake nests in the beds or in the outhouse. I remember Aunt Gladys finding one in a bed one year. This was very creepy. But my favorite creepy memory is when one of the uncles or aunts found a rattlesnake sitting on the “throne” in the outhouse. Yes. We had to go to the outhouse for those bodily functions. According to legend, someone shot a rattlesnake right between the eyes when we got there one season. The outhouse was a two-seater, by the way. This was pretty much a Cadillac possession for the time. I will spare you the description about sharing this experience with my family members. I remember LYE was involved.

West Virginia Moon by Joe Moss, 1963 *

After checking out the farmhouse and outhouse for varmints, we unloaded the Jeep. It was backed up to the front porch and the big people hauled in all the supplies: Coleman lanterns, water, bags of food, sheets, clothes, ice! Oh ICE! Here comes the memory of getting a huge block of ice somewhere on the trip to put in the ICEBOX. I remember the big metal hook picking up the chunk and placing it into…something for its trip to the farmhouse.

There was no electricity and no fresh water at The Farm. At The Farm, I guess we were just lucky to have a rainwater barrel on the back porch, to be used for cleaning up, ONLY. The barrel was rusty but no matter. The water ran off of the rusty metal roof.

Each family had its own bedroom in the house, except for my little family. We had to share because I was an only child, so we shared with the cousins whose family had too many, I mean FIVE kids. There was a black metal wood stove in every bedroom and a chamber pot for mid-night trinkles. Going to the possibly snakey outhouse in the middle of the night was not an option! Besides, the outhouse was tastefully located about 30 feet from the farmhouse, too far for a mid-night trek. By the way, I remember that the ceramic chamber pot really crisped-up the buttocks in the middle of the night after the wood-burning stove had spent its fuel. My steamy pee was actually a welcome relief from the bitter cold. And, yes, I remember the scent. No. It was a really a smell.

Somehow, the next morning, the Mommies managed to put hot bacon and eggs and cold orange juice on the big table in the dining room. I never thought much about how hard that might have been until now. Where did they get the heat for the bacon and eggs? Why was the orange juice cold, just like at home even though there was no Frigidaire? We were mightily fed before our kiddy outdoor adventures began at The Farm.

Which adventure would be first? We cousins could explore any number of locations on The Farm; We could go visit the Bear Wallow, an ancient cluster of rocks in the middle of the woods, named thusly by the big people because they believed that Black Bears lived in there in the winter time. Of course, that was a scary place to go, but oh so exciting. We always felt very brave when we went there. We could trek through the long grasses up to the top of the “cleared” hill to view the long distance sight of Peter’s Mountain that was VIRGINIA. The mountain was so far away that it was blue.

The Blue Mountains of Virginia.

(There it is, on the eastern horizon. It really was blue.)

We could go out on the front porch and watch the older cousins shoot beer cans off of the split-rail fence that surrounded the house. In later years, I would be contributing to this activity with my single-shot 22-caliber gun. I was a pretty good shot, by the way. I killed a lot of beer cans. I wonder now where all of those beer cans came from?

We could go to the little pond that one of my uncles dug, thinking that it would create a lovely lake for our visits to The Farm. Needless to say, the “lake” turned into a mosquito- frog haven right next to the front porch. Brilliant! But the SCIENCE of exploring that murky pond was a creative experience for all us cousins. We spent our pre-teen years with a flashlight out there, shooting the frogs, piling up the little froggie bodies and then blowing up the piles of little froggie bodies with cherry-bombs. Most of my cousins were little boys, needless to say. Why did they (we) do that? I clearly remember dissecting some of those dead froggies with my cousins. It was fascinating. Because of this, I did not have any problems with the grossness factor in Biology class ten years later in high school. I guess you could say that I already knew quite a bit about life versus death.

* * *

Fifty-ish years later, is it any surprise that I now have created a water garden in my backyard that is also flush with rain forest foliage even though I live only two blocks from the center of town? I dug that water garden pond out myself a few years ago. I guess I did not learn any lessons from that dysfunctional uncle. I keep bug spray close as I throw the ball for my darling Golden Retriever because, of course, there is a mosquito problem out there. I bought some tadpoles a few years ago, hoping to create those nightly garumphing sounds that I remember from the froggies at The Farm. They all died. My yard is really trying to look like the woods of The Farm. Because I now live in South Carolina, I do not have West Virginia foliage; I have big sprawling pecan trees, one huge Magnolia, azaleas, very mature Camellias, and on and on. I love my yard because it is the absolute opposite of preened which means that it is beautiful to me.

Now I am 60 instead of 59 and three-quarters at the beginning of this recollection. What have I learned, writing this memoir?

I have learned that it is a blessing that I mostly remember the happy things.

I must have been a happy child because I am still trying to recreate the same scene for my life, fifty years later.

And dear parents, know that the experiences you give your children early in life will live on for them in vivid, Kodachrome colors.

My beautiful wild backyard garden

* Read about the famous and controversial painting, West Virginia Moon here.