“Where the Hilltops Kiss the Sky”

“Home is where one starts from.”  T. S. Eliot

I stood in front of the white clapboard house, which lay in stark contrast to the bright green surrounding it.  Rolling hills of lush spring grass cascade down the backyard that is alive with budding hardwood trees and birds flitting between the branches.   The simple structure needs a bit of work, but what a sight to behold.

My parents built the house a few years after they married in 1939.  While viewing the home on Hoyt Street, I thought I heard the faint sounds of a baby crying from the bedroom.  But it was just a memory planted deep within my soul.

Mama gave birth to her three babies in this pretty house in Monterey, Tennessee.  The first one, Betty Ray, lived only three days, and when she passed, Daddy cried beside Mama’s bed where she lay.  Betty was buried a mile away in the old cemetery.  The house grew quiet that cold February day as grief passed through the halls and down the rolling hills.

Those who call this home

After a while, the sound of a healthy boy’s chatter filled the still summer air.  Soon, delight returned to those who played in the yard, sled down the hills in winter, and laughed at the antics little John would pull.  “A handful, to say the least!” I heard them say.  Six years later, when the leaves turned amber in the autumn, I was born in the same bedroom down the hall in the pretty white house on Hoyt.

I think of my mother and her life as I watch the front door expecting it to open and see her standing there calling us in for supper.   However, Mama, Daddy, and John are with Betty Ray now.  I simply recall all that began here and all the lives touched by those who once called this place home.

My mother and father grew up in this town where everyone knows everyone else, and most of them are related.  And even though we would move away when I was young, we often returned to see old friends and kinfolk.

Mom’s best friend, Violet, passed away last year at the age of 102.  She rests just up the hill from Mama in the cemetery a mile away.   As I pass the place where the old high school once stood, I believe I hear a basketball dribbling on the newly waxed gym floor.  Crowds are cheering as the two girls continue making point after point to win their championship game. 

I expect them to burst through the gym doors dressed in their purple and gold with a trophy held high, but the door remains closed as I realize it is just their legacy planted deep within in my soul.

Deep within my soul

The lake at the edge of town surrounded by a vast farm is probably the most beautiful place on earth.  I was always told that, so I know that it is true.  As I watch the wind move the water to lap onto the shore, I see my brother swimming in the shallow end as Daddy tried to catch another big bass.  Mama is unloading a picnic basket of sandwiches and cookies on a grassy knoll near the lake’s edge. Folks happily wave as they pass by in canoes and skiffs. 

The wind calms, and all goes silent because I know it is just a beautiful scene painted deep within my soul.

I drive to the old lumber mill, but it is no longer there.  Yet, I hear the mill whistle blow telling all their workday is done.  I see my father excited to go home, where Mom has fried chicken waiting.  Since that was Dad’s favorite, he was in a hurry.  I smile at how it was the simple things that made my father so happy: a family, a pretty little house, a good job, and fried chicken.

I look up to find the whistle, but it is gone. Instead, the sounds of it all are frozen in that place that is planted deep in my soul.

Memories take us home

People say you can’t go back home, but I disagree.  Those memories carry us to a place where we clearly see those we adored and those we always long to see again.  Those people who taught us the importance of family, roots, connections, and love prompt us to return to relish their memory planted deep within our souls.

The logo for Monterey, Tennessee, is, “Where the hilltops kiss the sky.”  I swear I just felt mother kiss my cheek because I returned to the home where I began.

For my mother:  Elizabeth Walker 1919-2010