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by Frank Shortt
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Sitting alone on a high spur of the Cherokee Trail, she resembled a star in the dark Appalachian
nights as she did a balancing act with gravity. She often wondered how it would feel to just let go, tumbling to the flatland of the
Levisa River down below.
During winter, wind, rain, sleet, hail, and snow hammered her
faux-brick siding. Virginia’s hot, humid sun enveloped her during summer. This tended to warp and dry-rot her rough, oaken walls leaving
her, after her usefulness, to lie fallow, decaying into dust.
As freezing, winter storms
came roaring in from the north we would sit by the old Burnside coal stove reminiscing of days gone by and about wasted dark nights.
We told tales of Ghosts past, haunting our troubled, restless sleep. Dad’s kids sometimes remembered how Grandpa played favorites,
mostly ignoring them, unless there was some manual labor to be done. We also remembered the razor strop, applied to the ones who dared
to giggle a little under the homemade quilts after lights out.
Next day it would be, “Honey,
would you mind going down to the spring and fetch us up a bucket of fresh water? Or, would you chop us a little wood so we can cook
some beans and cornbread?”
We dared to never say no! We knew the consequences! He would use one of the smaller children to carry the
tale of our disobedience home and retribution would be wracked upon the errant one in the form of dad’s thick mining belt.
After Grandpa’s older sons grew to manhood, and had mostly departed, dad’s children were sent up to help on the farm during weekdays
when our own work was caught up. We oftentimes slaved all day in the hot sun ridding Grandpa’s corn of bold, incessant weeds. In oat
season, we tied bundles of oats until our tired hands dried and cracked open. Sometimes there would be cousins from out of state who
came for the summer to spend time on the farm. They worked also, but it seemed to Dad’s kids, that these children were cut a little
slack and not pushed as we were. We tried our best to win Grandpa’s favor.
It seemed to
us that there was never enough effort. We were pushed to finish the row, competing with near grown men, who cared less for these underlings.
Many blisters were worn by the rough hoe handles, carved by Grandpa himself out of stout hickory saplings.
Cajoling, the older boys would say, “What’s the matter, ain’t you able to keep up? Didn’t you eat your Wheaties this morning?” They
forgot that we were merely children.
Around noon on Saturday Grandpa would say, “We’ve
worked enough this week! Let’s knock off for now and we can all get some rest.”
we would trudge to the wraparound porch of rough-hewn oak boards, and the minute we would sit down there would be a demand to one
of Dad’s kids to fetch some water or kindling. This became a way of life on Grandpa’s place.
We, like newly hatched birds, sat watching Grandpa as he began to give out awards to those assembled who had done all the work.
He would say,
“Well boys, since you’ve worked so hard this week, I thought you might enjoy
a moving picture show over at Ravine.”
Then the straw that broke the camel’s back! He would completely ignore Dad’s children, leaving
them with hurt feelings, and a gaping mouth. We dared not complain. If one of us asked him for money to go to the movies he would
“I fed you good, didn’t I? You had plenty of milk to drink, didn’t you?”
a blow to the ego of all Dad’s children. This was usually followed by a story of all the misery that Dad had caused him through the
years, figments of Grandpa’s imagination. We stood, crestfallen, as we watched the dust dissipate, stirred up by the departing vehicle
carrying the rewarded ones to enjoy Gene Autry or Roy Rogers.
Is it any wonder that Grandpa’s
place is just a memory? It is only a venue for the Consol gas wells that dot the countryside. There might be one or two of the volunteer
cherry trees still standing. Or maybe, one of the silver maple’s offspring could be left. If a person should dig down below the remnants
of fifty years of autumns, you would probably find some of the old, blackened chimney stones, or maybe a foundation stone or two,
reminding Dad’s kids of every injustice done to them through the years by his cold, unfeeling, father-in-law.
Grandpa’s bones now lie beneath the red Virginia dirt atop Coal Creek Mountain. He is before a just Creator who rewards those who
earnestly seek Him. I trust that somewhere, somehow, Grandpa sought forgiveness for all those lapses of courtesy toward those whom
he considered his enemies. These were probably the best friends he ever had. It is certain that they have forgiven him.