Saturday, October 14, 2017

If We Were Having Coffee... (Vol. 14 - One Last Look)

If we were having coffee on this beautiful Saturday morning in mid-October, I'd definitely recommend sitting outside on the deck.  The weather has been warmer than normal, we haven't had our first frost yet, so the leaves haven't turned much.  Most are still green, although they are starting to look rather dull. It's obvious that the lush greenness of summer has faded away.

I'd uncover the patio furniture and we'd settle in.  You'd ask about my fall break and I'd share that I just got back from West Virginia.  "I went in to see my family and the fall foliage.  The leaves are already turning there."  It was a quick, but much needed respite.  There's just something about the mountains that rejuvenates my soul.

Remembering that I usually do something active like ride ATVs or white water raft when I go to West Virginia, you'd ask what I did while I was in.  I'd say that I wasn't really there long enough to do anything other than visit the family.  "I did drop by the Wyoming County Historical Museum to pick up the prize I won from back in the summer."  You'd look at me quizzically and then I'd realize that you don't know what I'm talking about.  "Back in the summer, I participated in a photo scavenger hunt sponsored by the museum.  I won the second chance drawing for $50.  My aunt accompanied me as we traveled throughout the county taking selfies of ourselves in front of designated points of interest.  I promised her if I won, we'd use the money next year to do something fun."

We'd sit, enjoying the brisk morning air.  In a month or so, it will be too cold to sit out here this early in the morning.  I'd take a sip of my soda and I'd let out a long sigh.  Staring out into the yard at nothing in particular I'd say, "I also made a quick visit to a place that I haven't been to in at least 7 or 8 years."  You'd ask where I went and I'd reply, "To my grandparents' house."

My paternal grandparents' house is located a few miles southwest of my tiny hometown in an even tinier incorporated community.  They lived from the early 1950s until their deaths in 2006 and 2008.  After my grandpa died, my uncle and his wife, who lived next door, moved into my grandparents' house.  "I wasn't really close with my uncle and aunt once I became an adult, we just didn't have much in common anymore, and that's why I hadn't been over there in so many years," I'd share.

A couple years ago, all the houses in "the bottom," as it is called, became structurally unsound.  The property owners may have owned the land, but, they didn't own the mineral and gas rights.  So, for many years, coal, located deep, down in the ground underneath those houses, has been removed.   Support beams are put in place to hold up the "ceiling" after a coal seam has been removed, but something happened and the ceiling collapsed.  When this happened, it caused some of the foundations of the houses to  collapse as well, including that of my grandparents'.

"Basically," I'd continue, "the houses were completely jacked up.  The home owners sued the coal company for damages and sometime this year the buyout deal was complete.  My uncle and aunt took the buyout and moved out sometime in late summer."

"Because empty houses are huge liabilities," I'd explain, "especially in an area dealing with poverty and addiction, I suspect the coal company will level all the houses soon.  So, I drove over to have one last look before that happens."

I had mentally prepared myself for the reality that the condition of the house might be significantly different from how it was the last time I saw it.  I knew that my uncle had put on a metal roof, put on some beige aluminum siding, so the house was no longer gray, and had replaced the windows.  "But, I tell ya what, nothing could've prepared me for what I encountered when I pulled off the main road and drove across the bridge towards the once little gray house with the tidy yard and apple tree and grape arbor in the back."

I parked the car and got out.  For a few minutes I stood there, my feet firmly planted on the asphalt, and I couldn't will them to move.  I stared at the house and property in utter disbelief.  The lawn was overrun with weeds, miscellaneous objects littered the front and side porches, and it looked so sad.  "I've never seen a ghost town before but I feel fairly certain what I was looking at had to be very similar."

After a few minutes of stunned silence and being unable to move, I finally regained control over my body and walked to the front porch. I immediately noticed that the wooden sign proclaiming my grandparents' names, undoubtedly a Christmas gift from a family member years and years ago, still hung from the porch. I gingerly walked up the concrete steps after noticing the cinder block foundation underneath had given way in some spots and peered in the window. Random belongings were scattered on the floor and a few stray pieces of furniture remained.  "It honestly reminded me of those scenes in movies where a moving van backs up to the front of house in the middle of the night and by dawn the occupants and most of their belongings are long gone," I'd say and then I'd continue.

I exited the porch and made my way around the side of the house to the back yard.  The grape arbor, which had been in a certain spot for as long as I could remember was gone.  "My granny always made grape jelly and grape wine," I'd share, "up until Alzheimer's had robbed her of the ability to remember how to make them."  I'd fall silent for moment, lost in thought.  After a little while I'd let out a soft chuckle and I'd continue. "Those grapes were a pain in my ass for many years.  I used to mow Granny and Grandpa's lawn and those sweet grapes attracted bees like crazy.  I hated mowing under and around that arbor because I inevitably got stung."  I'd smile and say, "I loved her jelly, though.  All those stings were worth it just for that jelly."

I'd explain that I continued around the back of the house and immediately noticed that the apple tree was also gone.  The backyard looked completely foreign and I actually found myself looking around for it, as if someone had moved it.  "In all my memories of events that took place in the backyard, whether it's playing wiffleball with my cousins and the other neighborhood kids or me pulling two of my aunts apart when they got into a squabble one year at Thanksgiving or me sitting on the back porch steps with Granny drinking lemonade after I had finished mowing, that apple tree is there, serving not only as a background but also as a witness of my childhood."  

I stood there for a long time, looking at the spot where the tree once stood, remembering its fragrant spring blossoms, all the apples that filled the it in summer, and all the fun times I had climbing its branches with my cousins.  "We spent hours and hours playing in and around that tree," I'd say, "Even my Dad spent some time in there, too."  As the story has been told to me, he liked to hide in the tree and smoke. Grandpa caught him smoking in the tree once. Startled by being discovered, Dad fell out of the tree knocked out a tooth or two. I'd grimace and then chuckle.  "Apparently that tree had been a witness to a lot of childhoods."

The last place I visited was my grandfather's garden.  During every spring and summer, once he retired from the coal mines, that's where my grandfather could be found. "He absolutely loved his garden," I'd say, "and he was definitely good at gardening.  I really don't think there was anything, vegetable-wise, that he couldn't raise."  

I'd share how I walked up to the dilapidated gate that still precariously clung to its hinges.  I looked into the garden and gone were the neat tidy rows of corn and tomatoes and beans that I remember so vividly. The land was completely overgrown, having not been tended to in a decade or more, and it was hard to tell by it's current state that a garden had ever existed there.  

"Before too long," I'd continue, "everything over there will be reclaimed by the earth, not just the garden, erasing over half a century's worth of proof that a family once lived there.  That's why I had to go over for one last look."

With that, I'd sink deeper into the outdoor sofa, rest my head back against the cushion, and close my eyes remembering the bronze-skinned tomboy of yesteryear who mowed grass, swore at the bees, played wiffleball, climbed trees, and loved her grandmother's grape jelly.  


Thank you for joining me for my latest installment of IWWHC.  Have a wonderful weekend!


  1. My grandparents house on my dads side is that way. My aunt and uncle moved in after they died and when hurricane Rita hit it tore up part of it. Then hurricane ike tore up the rest of it. Now they live behind it and the county won't let them tear it down yet. So I know the feeling of loss you have looking at your grandparents house

  2. As incredibly sad as this must have been what's important is that you have those wonderful memories inside of you and (alzheimer's not withstanding - I totally get that) no one can take those memories away. Your grandparents may be gone, the house might not be there next time you visit but you will still have the picture of the apple tree etc in your head.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...