August 17, 2013 § 11 Comments
My friend is an excellent surgeon, but despite her best efforts, people eventually die. She recently witnessed a family bickering over whether or not they should send their mother to hospice. I remember this scene, from when my Dad was dying. We weighed his wishes, yes. But being left weightless was heavier.
“Bad blood mixed with sadness of loss felt by the newly orphaned,” my friend said. When my mom died, my sister said we were orphaned. No, I told her. We’re grown; orphans are children. But there is something lost when you become the oldest generation in your family. No one remembers your young life, or tells stories about you as a little child. My sister Katie recently asked me if I remembered her birth time. I’m two years younger, how would I know that? That’s a question for the one who gave birth. It’s questions like that I want answered.
Recently, I have been writing about Kentucky, where there are generations of my family dug deep in the soil. Only a few still actually live around there, but when I go back, the place and the people in it look after me. They remember me.
This time, I take Jack Henry with me. He is teetering on the far edge of late summer, slightly bored, but not wanting to admit it. We drive through NC, through Winston Salem, up into the mountains, through Fancy Gap, a name I love to say. We pass Hungry Mother State Park, another name I wonder about.
The legend says that Hungry Mother was so named because a child wandered out of the woods alone, saying her mother was hungry. They had survived a raid on the white settlement and hidden in the mountains. Of course the mother died, but the child lived. The land protected her; the creek led her to her people.
We continue on through Virginia to visit my friends, Maxine and Steve. They are true hippies, back to the landers. They take us into their beautiful farmhouse, feed us out of their garden, tell us stories until deep in the night. Maxine has recently lost her own mother, and we can feel the space Rose has left after more than 100 years in this world. We comfort each other. Through this visit, I am aware of my own smile, aware that I am happier than I have been in years. This is one of my many homes in the world, the safest place on my version of the planet.
The next morning, we push off toward Kentucky, still two hours away, and it begins to rain. When Jeff and I moved to Kentucky after college, truck loaded not unlike the Beverly Hillbillies, I remember coming over this same mountain in the rain. Dirty Harry was on the radio, WMMT, the station where I would later become known as Pop Tart, but that is another story. Dirty Harry played a country song about thunder rolling and it felt like Jeff’s black Toyota truck was slipping off the edge of the universe into another world as we tipped the peak over the Kentucky line. It was.
As Jack Henry and I cross that same line, I point out all the places I have been, and all the places I have lived. I point out my early twenties to a child who can barely believe I’ve ever been young. We are again taken in by friends, Bill and Josephine, and we make our way out to the creek where Jeff and I lived, Kingdom Come. My friend Katie and her family still live here, and her teenage daughter is anxious to get out and see the world. To get far away. “I want to go to NYU,” she says. I, who left long ago because I wanted my kids to have good schools, because Jeff and I wanted to follow other worldly ambitions–I am anxious to get back to Kingdom Come. It’s a rugged place in a poor county, but also stunningly beautiful where the mountains are not ripped away. It protects me like a mother. I follow the creek home.