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 Food by Lisa Lewis Smith

“Beside myself”…that was Buzz Kill Terri’s (BKT – that is what we so affectionately called her) reaction to our eating itinerary at the WV State Fair.

It was lengthy: London broil sandwich to the crab cakes to the gyro to funnel cake to the strawberry shortcake (I am certainly leaving something out).  We had a plan, a line of attack.  We ate with purpose and gusto. I knew BKT was not right for my brother.  But, now looking back, maybe she was right about one thing (and one thing only!), and that was  our eating habits.

We Smiths…we do like to do ourselves in with food.

Smith cousins know how to eat!

Consistent overeating is our way of life.  We are eating enthusiasts.  We have been known to leave one meal and immediately begin discussion on our next. As Geneen Roth presents in Women, Food, and God, we are permitters.  We enjoy “glazy-dazy eating, uninterrupted by restriction.”  Permitters “merge with chaos.”  We are the “fat and jolly” Smiths, appearing to be having fun all the time, and we are, most of the time.  Sometimes it might be a little bit of denial, some escape from our daily pressures.  I have found myself eating half of a chocolate French silk pie when things are not going my way.

Roth describes permitters as those that eat as if there is not enough to go around.  They want to store up for the winter.  I am trying, now at midlife, to be some kind of a version of an athlete, and realizing how hard it is when you eat “like a Smith.”  I have recently launched a discovery process into my outlook on food and life.

The writer's son meets a WV State Fair pig in Lewisburg

I eat fast and I used to take my plate of food away with me if I had to step away to answer the phone or grab a glass of milk.  No way was I leaving it for those other eating maniacs to devour.  You eat fast because those same maniacs might just take hold your plate when they are done with theirs.  It was all about survival of the fittest.

Thanksgivings in Lewisburg:  I have missed only one in my entire life.  It is my favorite holiday without a doubt, a moment of joy just before the hectic Christmas frenzy that I have grown to dread more with every passing year.

Most people have not experienced a Thanksgiving like the one we have at Smithover!  One year we had close to fifty people (my dad and all his siblings, their spouses, and my 15 first cousins, plus some “outsiders”).  And we are all…male, female, big and small… BIG eaters!   We all talk loud and none of us listen.  Boyfriends or girlfriends often joined us, but there was always a whisper… “Do you think he’ll make it back next year?”  “I don’t think she has the temperament for THIS crowd.”  “Did you see his face when he walked in?”  “Take a look at her plate…who diets around here?”

It was rare for an “outsider” to make it to a second Smithover Thanksgiving.  The noise factor alone could run someone off, not to mention the huge amount of food consumption…the seconds and thirds…keep your hands in close and your plate even closer!

Though in China on Thanksgiving Day, the writer's brother still sustains the family honor!

Tomorrow:  For the Love of Music

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