Satchell of Memories
💫 I have a large drawing of the coal camp I grew up in (Page) hanging over my desk. An old friend (Reese) gave it to me, and I cherish the memories it triggers. It looks exactly as I remember it. When I make the yearly trek back home to visit family and friends, I always drive up to where that camp was (it was torn down in the late 1950s) and think about the people who lived there. My aunt Beulah is the only adult from that camp still living, and most of the children from there have lost touch with each other or passed away. I still stay in touch with many of my high school classmates, but very few from the coal camp I spent my childhood in. We were stuck between two mountains that only let the sunlight in for about 6-7 hours each day. Our fathers went to the coal mine each morning, and our mothers cleaned the house, washed clothes, and read a lot. We, kids, were always looking for a game to play or something naughty to do. Life, at least to us children, was simple: find someone to play with. My mother would send my brother and me out of the house after breakfast (during the summer) and instruct us not to return until lunch. She was cleaning the house and wanted it to remain that way until dad got home. If we wanted a snack, we snuck in the back door, grabbed a biscuit, and then dashed outside before being discovered.
I recall how slowly time passed during those summers and how eager I was for school to resume. I was also keen to become an adult and make my own decisions. Adulthood arrived quickly. I remember boarding the bus in front of our home in southwest Virginia, headed for San Antonio, Texas, and basic training in the US Air Force (1959). I remember looking out the window of that bus as it drove away and thinking that part of my life was over and a new life was beginning.
Now, I’m sitting here at my desk, looking at the drawing of the Page Coal Camp and reminiscing about my life of long ago. I see myself as a nine-year-old boy with a bag of coal slung over his shoulder, struggling up the hill to our house so there would be fuel for the furnace to keep us warm. That was back when all kids had work assignments, and no one was excluded from contributing to the family’s survival. Those assignments were always in addition to schoolwork and were accepted without protest. I never remember protesting to my parents about a task I was assigned. It would have had a minor effect and likely resulted in a severe tongue-lashing.
I recall telling my dad that I wanted to play high school football (9th grade), and his automatic answer (continually) was, “No!”. I immediately walked down the hall to the kitchen and implored mom to convince him to change his mind. In a few minutes, he called me back to the living room and said that I could play football, but “It damn sure better not interfere with your chores!”. I hastily assured him it would not. On a lot of nights, they were finished at 10 pm. No, I didn’t feel sorry for myself, that was just the way life was. I felt my father was justified in expecting me to carry my part of the family load.
So, I’m left wondering why I choose to think about “the good old days?” Maybe, it’s not because they were better than my life as an adult, but because of an inner need to believe that my core values were derived from that period in my life, that morals were better back then, people were more honest, friendships more lasting, religion more ingrained, and happiness was always just around the corner?
That certainly begs the question, would I want to return to that life? After all, moving back to my hometown has always been within my power. Why haven’t I done so if my life back then was much better than it is now? Of course, the answer has to be that life wasn’t really better; it was only so in my memories of that time.
Janet Malcolm said it eloquently, “The past is a country that issues no visas.” I agree with Janet, except to say that it issues large satchels of memories 😊.
💫 I was watching “Yellowstone” on TV the other night, and one character, a cowboy, told another cowboy, “We’ve all been thru things that other people will never understand.” That’s a pretty astute observation for a cowboy. I understand he was only repeating a line of the script, but someone thought that cowboy was up to making a point in that way. Most of us are guilty of thinking anyone with a cowboy hat and a horse is a genuine cowboy. Probably, some people walking around with just a cowboy hat on, never having ridden a horse in their life, think they are the real McCoy. The same could apply to a young man that drives a pickup truck, wears jeans, and speaks profanely, thinks he’s a “Redneck.”
Many of us go thru life wanting to be what we’re not. It could be the aforementioned cowboy/redneck, a sports coach, or the most essential, hard-working person in your office. Then the time for a layoff comes, and you are one of those included to receive the dreaded “pink slip.” If you’ve ever received that piece of paper telling you your company no longer needs your services or tells you the college you wanted to attend has rejected your application, then you’ve been thru something many people will never understand. If you call your father to wish him a happy 89th birthday and he says the doctor told him he has two months to live (that actually happened to my wife), you know he’s going thru something you will probably never really understand, unless something similar happens to you. That’s when you know you’re in over your heart. That’s when you feel guilty about acting like a nice person instead of being one, knowing you should get in your car and drive the eight hours to be with him during his time of need.
Thomas Wolfe said in “You Can’t Go Home Again,” “Something has spoken to me in the night… and told me I shall die, I know not where. Saying: Death is to lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life, you have for the greater life; to leave the friends you loved for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth.”
Many of us go through life wanting to be important, achieving great things at work, being a good spouse or friend, and helping those in our lives who need us. Eventually, as we travel through life, we reach the age where we look back and recognize the folly of life’s many stages. Wanting to be a “Redneck” or “Cowboy” is undoubtedly a prime example of immaturity.
C. Adichie said it best, “I think you travel to search, and come back home to find yourself there.”
Year Round… by JoAnn
I was watching one of my favorite people on YouTube the other day, and she said something that I have not been able to forget. She was showing the new Christmas decorations she had bought for her front porch. It’s their first holiday season in their new home, and she is eager to decorate. Her dad is planning to put up the lights around the outside of her house. He asked her if she wanted to have them up temporarily or if she wanted him to attach them more permanently. As in, leave them attached to the house forever! What? Did I hear that right? Does he suggest she leaves her home strung with holiday lights year round? She asks him the same question, and he answers that it is the new thing people are doing.
At first, I chuckled at the thought of doing such a thing. What first came forward into my memory bank was the vision of a dilapidated tin can of a mobile home, with twinkling lights of every color, strung in no particular order, around every inch of the trailer. We’ve all seen them either in person or in the movies. A redneck couple usually lives there. I’ll admit I have a few of these festively lit homes in my neighborhood. That’s how I know for sure they exist. I am thankful that I have never been so colorful myself.
As lovely and joyful as holiday lights are, is it necessary to leave them up all year round? I understand the chore of placing them on the outside of a house. I used to put them up just around my front porch back in the day, and it wasn’t easy. I’ve watched my grown children and their spouse venture into decorating with outdoor lights, and there is a struggle. No one wants to climb a ladder and feel unsafe just for a few lights. I can understand someone thinking it’s a great idea to string up the house and leave them there. Maybe they think if they are not turned on, people won’t notice the lights are there. I would know! And it would drive me crazy.
The YouTube video ended with her saying she would have to think about it and decide if she wanted temporary or permanent lights. I hope she decides temporary. The home is a beautiful, classic brick farmhouse built around 100 years ago. I think permanent holiday lights would bring the classiness down a few notches. I hope she agrees.
Little Monsters… by JoAnn
They are so cute! They are downright adorable when you look at them closely. But they can be the dirtiest little monsters that could ever invade your home. I’m talking about mice.
I never knew of these tiny critters until we moved to a rural farming community in Tennessee 30 years ago. I was immediately introduced to the tiny terror known as the typical field mouse. With its brown fur, tiny black eyes, and adorable little hands, it is hard to believe that this little cutie can cause so many nasty problems.
Usually, the little guys are just looking for a warm place to survive during the cold months. At least that is when they seem to prefer to make their entrance into our homes. I had never had such visitors before and was taken aback when they first invaded our house.
I could manage if just one mouse wanted to come in to keep warm, but they also wanted to bring in all of their family and friends. Someone once told me that if you see one mouse, there are sure to be at least ten right behind it. I learned the hard way that this is the truth.
I first noticed the small black droppings, or poop, that a mouse would leave behind, usually in a kitchen drawer full of clean towels and potholders. They seem to prefer a nicely laundered item. Then there is the unopened bag of noodles or rice. They love chewing a hole in the side to let the contents spill all over the pantry. I was mistaken when I thought mice only entered the kitchen of a lousy housekeeper. It turns out they love a nice clean kitchen as much as I do.
As an animal lover, I hated having to exterminate these little creatures. But after having an entire gang dirty up my clean kitchen, having to throw out all of the food in my pantry, and following up with bleaching every shelf and drawer, I was no longer the mild-mannered animal lover. I started with a “humane” trap. It was a clear plastic box that the mouse would crawl into but could not crawl back out. It worked like a charm. The only problem was, releasing the mouse outdoors did nothing to solve the problem. The mouse quickly found its way back into my home.
After dealing with the disgusting mess for a few weeks, I’m sad to say my heart hardened. I eventually got to the point where I could kill the mice. I even caught many by grabbing their tail and throwing them into a plastic grocery bag. I then took said bag outside to the pavement and smashed it. I’m not proud of this by no means. It hurts my heart to share that memory. But when these little monsters invade you, it’s all about who will survive, and the human has to win!
The last technique I used was the sticky traps. I have to say that I believe those traps are the most inhumane of any out there. After hearing a tiny little voice squeal for having its leg stuck and unable to free itself or finding one that had been stuck for several days but was still barely alive, I found the sticky trap to be too gruesome, and I stopped purchasing them.
Then a miracle happened. I purchased a gadget that plugs into an electrical outlet. It sets off a silent frequency that only certain small animals can hear. It supposedly irritates their nervous system so severely that they flee from the space. It has worked brilliantly for me! I have not seen a mouse in all the years I have owned this gadget. It also drives insects crazy. Even if one does come into the house, they slow down and are easy to catch. They are mesmerized and don’t know where they should go.
It is strange what predicaments we humans find ourselves in during our walk in life. I would have never thought I would be killing a living creature like a cute little mouse to protect my home. I genuinely hope those days are over for me. I want to leave the mouse hunting and trapping to Owls and other birds that need them for their food.
Where You’ll Find Me… by JoAnn
When I die, I believe I will go to Heaven. I hope that all the people I have loved on earth will follow me there when it’s their time. I have daydreamed about this quite a bit. It’s something that gives me a warm, peaceful feeling in my soul. I am not afraid or anxious in any way.
I firmly believe in the afterlife as described to us in the Holy Bible. I chose the path to follow Jesus Christ as a young girl. He has never left my side, even when there were times I tried to leave His. Throughout my life, he has been my shelter, rescuer, guide, and best friend. He is my Heavenly Father, and I look forward to meeting Him.
I want to share with my loved ones what I believe I will be doing when I get to Heaven. I imagine it to be a vast place, and I want them to be able to find me when they get there. These are the things I dream I will be doing the most in my Father’s home.
You will find me walking among the great and small animals—a majestic Lion by my side. We will walk through meadows of wildflowers and golden wheat. The sun shone down on us, making a kaleidoscope of colors.
You will find me walking along the sandy shores of Heaven’s ocean, watching all who never saw its magnitude on earth enjoying the sight for the first time. Adults will be playing along with the children and building castles in the sand.
You will find me swimming in the ocean. I will be riding on a Whale’s back, and Dolphin’s schools will race beside us. We will dive to the sea’s magical depths and greet every creature that lives there.
You will find me having a reunion with my loved ones who are there too. We will spend time together doing all the things we have always dreamed of doing. We will be laughing and enjoying each other’s stories.
You will find me walking hand in hand with Jesus. We will be deep in conversation as He answers all the questions I have waited so long to ask.
You may find me in a Heavenly classroom where I and others will learn what could not be told on earth. This will be a school like no other imagined.
You will find me sleeping on a cloud. The most beautiful rest I have ever known. My painful body now gone. I am light as air and at perfect peace.
You will find me dancing with the angels, waiting for my wings to be made. I once told the Lord all I wanted was to be an angel for Him.
I know this may not be biblically correct, but it is a dream I have held close to my heart. Perhaps its only purpose has been to help me through this world for another season. I’m okay with that. For I know my Lord promises to build a glorious home for me. A home waiting through Heaven’s gate. I know that whatever awaits me there, I will be eternally happy.
The Vacancy… by JoAnn
January 25, 2023
Guest WoW, JoAnn
Driving home this evening, I went my normal way through a scenic back road. As usual, I noticed several vacant houses. Houses that used to be homes. In the 30 years I have been in and out of this small town, I have seen many homes become empty houses. It always saddens me.
This being a farming community, new homes are not built very often. Most are older, humble homes built anywhere from the early 1900s to the 70s. It’s rare to find a home newer than that in this town. Much to my dislike, many of the older homes seem to die when their elderly owners pass on. Nothing makes me sadder than seeing an empty house slowly caving in because no life is left inside. The family that built it and lived there was the heartbeat that kept it going. Today I passed three houses on one road that are quickly becoming unlivable because they are vacant and not being cared for.
I remember a time when it would have been a dream come true to have my own home. A house that I could love and care for. I know hundreds of people in my town alone have the same dream. What a shame they cannot save one of these houses instead of it slowly rotting away from neglect. Call me crazy, but if I had an empty house and no one to live there, I would rather give it away for FREE than hang on to it as it dies. If I had no use for the property, it would be given to a young couple that needed a break. Or an older retired couple that had never owned their own home before. I would freely give it in good faith and love every minute of doing so!
SO many people in the United States are homeless or home insecure. They worry from month to month if they will have a roof over their heads. I know of at least three parents with young children who cannot find reasonably priced rentals. What a shame the houses I saw today could not have been offered to those families. Instead, they remain vacant and slowly rot.
I have known the blessing of having a home of my own. I am blessed in my senior years with a place where I enjoy and feel safe. Almost everyone deserves that. Other than standing on my soap box for a few minutes online, I don’t know what else to do to make a difference. I don’t have the money to buy up these vacant houses and give them away. But what a vision that would be. Maybe if more people notice it the way I have, something will get done about it. I’ll keep hoping. Until then, I’ll continue to count the vacancy signs.