“We others, who have long lost the more subtle of the physical senses, have not even proper terms to express an animal’s inter-communications with his surroundings, living or otherwise, and have only the word ‘smell,’ for instance, to include the whole range of delicate thrills which murmur in the nose of the animal night and day, summoning, warning? inciting, repelling. It was one of these mysterious fairy calls from out the void that suddenly reached Mole in the darkness, making him tingle through and through with its very familiar appeal, even while yet he could not clearly remember what it was. He stopped dead in his tracks, his nose searching hither and thither in its efforts to recapture the fine filament, the telegraphic current, that had so strongly moved him. A moment, and he had caught it again; and with it this time came recollection in fullest flood . . . And now it was sending out its scouts and its messengers to capture him and bring him in. . . . Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way! . . . The call was clear, the summons was plain. He must obey it instantly, and go.” ~ Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
Last week, in the midst of a whirlwind weekend wedding trip to Georgia, featuring 24+ out of 56 hours in the car, I woke from a little drowsy daydream on I-81 (okay, maybe it was more of a sporadic snooze) to spot the sign for Pulaski. One of these mysterious fairy calls from out the void suddenly reached me, and my ever amiable husband, driver for all of those hours, did not hesitate to indulge me. So we made a Mole-like detour down Robinson Tract Road to revisit one of the most hallowed haunts of my childhood. My father’s parents lived on a little farmstead there, outside of the small southwestern Virginia town. Set in the rocky ridges and peaks of Appalachia, it was a spot of peace and quiet, a haven of cheer and comfort. It was a place where I was loved, oh so very loved.
Here I spent many Thanksgivings, two weeks every summer, and quite a few other weekends during the year; whenever I could be there, I was. It was a different world then: beginning at age 9, I rode the train, and later the bus, across the Commonwealth for a visit even when Dad could not spare the long hours driving round trip. Granddaddy was always there to meet me at the station. One of my dearest memories is waking up under about six cotton quilts—still love that heavy feel of quilts for sleeping!—and hearing my sweet grandmother, in her soft and low southwest Virginia voice, singing “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.”
This is Grandma & Granddaddy Parsell’s house on Robinson Tract Road today. The shed on the left side is new, and that tree is also actually “new.” I think one of my cousins told me that the maple in front of the porch—the one that was my climbing and reading spot—fell years ago. That front porch! So many hours sitting on the swing with Grandma, Granddaddy, uncles, aunts, cousins . . . I helped Grandma shell many a mess of peas out there. At least, I think I helped. She may have privately called it something else, but she was always patient and encouraging out loud.
Okay, so the truck and trailer kind of ruins the picture, but I had to get a shot of the front yard. Somehow, I remember it being MUCH longer. Running between the front porch and the tree at the road seemed like an endless stretch to me. Also, the driveway you see here kind of runs through Granddaddy’s garden, the house on the right didn’t exist, and the garage behind the trailer didn’t either.
And the new house in the back is a bit beyond where the old barn sat. Such smells! Today, I’d probably last all of two minutes in there—I’m sure there were snakes and spiders and all manner of creepy crawlies. But back then, it was a heavenly place. Granddaddy let me mix formula for the calves with an old whisk . . . I can smell it this minute, and I can feel the little calves sucking on my hand while they bawled for their bottles. To this day, when I read a story that has a barn, Granddaddy’s barn is usually the picture in in my mind.
We would walk just “a short piece down the road” from Grandma & Granddaddy’s house to the little Methodist church. I loved going here with my grandparents to church, to Sunday School, and even to a shower or two! Such kind and hospitable folks.
I loved the trip to Pulaski with my dad. Joy and anticipation mounted with every milestone along the way. I knew every inch of that route. When we finally got to this sign, it was hard to sit still in my seat. I’d be on the porch and through the front door in just minutes . . .
And, hard as it was to leave, the outgoing sign was a promise.
Best of all . . . in that beloved house, in the tiny back bedroom, my grandmother read to me. Before bed every night, she read from several of her books. But always, there was at least a story or two from Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories. A little fragment of that book lives on my shelf today.
In another hallowed house of my childhood, on the opposite end of Virginia, Grandma Morrison read to me too. My memories of both dear grandmothers’ homes—two of the places I most loved to be—are inextricably linked with hearing the soft cadences of their markedly different voices reading aloud. In later years, long luxurious hours of reading on my own in their warm, welcoming, homey homes joined the array in my mind’s eye. Truly, the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.