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Posts Tagged ‘memories’

As Memorial Day approaches, I like to ponder the special meaning that this holiday holds for Kentuckians.  Although Memorial Day was originally set aside as a day to honor Union soldiers who were killed in the Civil War, it has come to mean much more, especially in Appalachia.

Every year thousands of former Kentuckians make the long journey from their homes to trudge up steep, lonely hillsides, often in remote areas, to visit family cemeteries.

Why does this ritual endure?

It endures because each time they stand atop the windswept hills, amid the bones of their ancestors, they are back home.  Once again, they are where they belong, and the memories roar around them like a flood.

These bottle green days of spring are reminiscent of days when they accompanied Grandmother in the April sunshine to pick wild greens, while from the dogwood-frosted hills, came the sad call of a mourning dove.  They induce thoughts of walking through brown patches of plowed earth, dropping seeds or potato sets into the welcoming soil.

Children’s voices echo from the twilight summers past, laughing from the fun of chasing and catching fireflies, only to let them go again.  The voice of a whipporwhill, an insistent, unseen piper, enticed the troops onto the front porches where the adults sat watching the night sky pierced by stars.

In the fall, October’s high azure skies were unsullied by clouds, as youngsters crackled over the russet matting of fallen leaves to gather the treasure of nuts that the tall hickories so generously yielded.

One-room schools, tobacco-filled barns, elections, hog killings, Christmas plays, striped candy canes and warm patchwork quilts all create memories that swirl in the hearts of these erstwhile Kentuckians and then gradually recede as they deliver their synthetic flowers and walk slowly away.

Unlike those of us who have chosen to remain in Appalachia, their world is no longer encompassed by these beloved hills.  Their feet no longer tread the paths of their forebears.  The scope of their lives is not defined by time-honored traditions.  Their happiness does not depend on the scarlet flash of a cardinal’s wing or the paintbox of wildflowers on hills and meadows.  They do not require a continuous fellowship with their native soil or their ancestral legacy for contentment.

They have found pleasure among people with diverse accents, in places where the terrain is flat and monotonous, and in modern lifestyles.  Yet, the familiar beckons them, and they are irresistibly drawn afresh to the fountainhead of their essence.

Their kinship will not be denied.

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I am remembering my cousin, Steve Oakley, on this morning before Easter. Our coloring eggs together is a favorite memory of mine, and I have very few childhood reminiscences in which he did not have a significant role. We would sit at our kitchen table and joyfully transform the dull hen’s eggs into a rainbow of Easter eggs, making a most iridescent mess for my mother to clean up afterwards.

The odor of vinegar would pinch our noses as we concocted the dye in containers that we gleaned from who knows where. Paper or Styrofoam cups were not readily available to us then. We often tried to create exotic colors by mixing hues and double-dipping the eggs, an effort that was largely unsuccessful. Nevertheless, Steve always had some innovative idea for designing unusual eggs, despite past failures.

Steve and I both owned Daisy BB guns, and one Easter weekend, he was suffering from a very red and swollen eye, the result of a ricocheting BB, but he still arrived as usual to help me color eggs. I can see him as plainly as if happened yesterday, dipping eggs and doggedly “enjoying” the activity. I was so upset about his eye, but he would not let our tradition go unobserved.

On Easter after Sunday School, my mother would hide the eggs in the vacant lot across the road from our house, and several of us would run wild in the tangled vinca vines and tufts of spring green grass, gleefully searching for them. After all the eggs had been found, we’d often hide them again, but eventually, we’d loll in the grass, drape ourselves over the steps, or sit on the porch and peel the Easter from the eggs. My mother would give us all a cold bottle of RC Cola, and the finder of the lucky egg received a quarter.

We were fortunate to be happy and uncomplicated children, growing up in a quiet, close-knit community. One of my favorite books is “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but as I remember those Easters, I am convinced that Jem and Scout had nothing on us.

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