Today is West Virginia’s birthday, and I am pondering the reason why God chose to put me in this particular place.
I have a fierce loyalty to my native state, and wonder if I would feel the same way had I been born elsewhere. I could have been born in one of the southern states where palm trees grow and Spanish moss hang long fronds from the live oaks. Or maybe, along the coastline where sandy beaches invite a person to search for seashells or lie in the sunshine.
Instead, as fate would have it, I was born in a little cabin on the banks of Big Laurel Creek, where the rhododendron grows and the scrubby pines line the landscape. Except for that first year, and a couple of years when we lived in another county, I have lived my entire life in this Clay County community—almost in the same spot. What is it that holds me to these hills?
It could be my kinfolk who inhabit these same hills, where our great-grandparents settled here so many years ago. There are now seven generations who live here on the same farm. It is the same with most of our neighbors, whose parents and grandparents settled here and the generations following still live here.
Grandpa Andy O’Dell and Grandma Ellen (Mullins) O’Dell came here from Muddelty and brought his father and mother, Huey O’Dell and Mary (Bailey) O’Dell with them. They originally came from Tazewell County, Virginia, except for Grandma Ellen, who came from Enoch, West Virginia. I think about their journey, by horse and wagon as they crossed Peach Orchard Road, which was called Devil’s Backbone Mountain at that time. Their journey would have taken several days, as they carried all their household plunder and several children in the wagon. I wonder how Grandma Ellen felt as she looked at the steep mountains falling away on each side of the road.
They would have to camp along the way, cooking their meals over a campfire and bedding down for the night. I’ve often wondered why they came to this rocky, hillside farm, unless it was the oil fields that were booming at that time. We live in the midst of gas and oil fields yet, and it was in their infancy that they arrived. The womenfolk must have been shocked at the raw way of living, as men lived in tents and boarded wherever they could. It must have been like the gold rush in California at that time.
I wish I had questioned Aunt May about Great-grandpa Huey and Great-grandma Mary Bailey, because she remembered them. The pictures I have of them show a very dignified older man with snow-white beard and hair. He looks so kind and gentle. I asked Aunt May about him one time and she said,”He was meaner than hell!” Of course, that may have been just a child’s perspective. I guess Great-grandma Mary suffered from some type of dementia, for she would go out in the cornfield and take all her clothes off. Uncle Myles said she smoked a long clay pipe. I’ve often wondered if she was kin to “Mad Anne Bailey.”
Is it by chance that we live where we do? I was born here in Clay County almost 82 years ago, and here I aim to die. My parents and my grandparents lie in the family cemetery, under the huge old oak tree, and I will join them there. My roots go down deep, as deep as the roots of the oak tree, and when my Savior calls, I will answer. It has been a good life here in the hills of Clay County.
I meant to include an essay last week by Ross Fortener of Elkview, who sent this before Father’s Day. It is still good any time of the year.
It seems we dads are always on watch.
We watch as our children are born, as they grow, and as they go out into Life.
We watch their school plays, church pageants, graduations and the myriad other important events.
Sometimes from near,
Too often from afar,
But we always watch.
From our eyes but mostly
From our hearts and spirits.
As you walk through your life
Whatever our past sins and trials,
Summer slides in smoothly, and June is bidding us farewell. Blackberries are beginning to ripen, and the leaves on the trees hang full and lush. Blackberry picking time is over for me, but how can you forget that special time? It was fun right in the in the beginning, when the morning was fresh and cool, and blackberries hung thick and juicy. We would climb the hill to the upper pasture field and race to see who could fill up their bucket first.
The sun would beam down hotter, and the sweat bees would begin. It was a mistake to mash one, because four more would take their place. Somebody always spilled their berries, and tried to pick them back up with leaves, sticks and moss liberally coating them. Poor Mom! She was the one who had to clean and sort them before they could be used. It was worth it though when Mom took the golden-crusted cobbler, juicy and sweet, out of the oven. We ate it with thick cream from our own cow, and it was simply delicious!
Childhood passes so swiftly, and adulthood is here. “We spend our years as a tale that is told” (Psalms 90:9) and when we look back over our life, it is almost like a dream. It is impossible to know what lies ahead. James 4:13-14 admonishes us saying, “Go to now, ye that say ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.’
I think of the early morning mist that crowns our hilltops, as insubstantial as air, and how quickly it vanishes when the sun beams down upon it. And so is our life.