When I was seven, my father accepted a position as a research chemist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratories, forcing our young family to migrate from Ohio to Tennessee.
My maternal grandmother had already instilled in me a strong sense of pioneer spirit. Fess Parker wore a coonskin cap and shot a musket while looking quite debonair as Davy Crockett on TV once a week. And last, but not least, my mother made it very clear on a daily basis that my father had committed us to life in parts unknown.
I was thrilled!
Adventure had now knocked on my door.
Looking back on it, I must have seemed like a strange and serious child to the adults around me, but then, they were the problem.
From my birth, they had addressed me as an adult, and I had been expected to act, think, and talk like one. As a result, my vocabulary was prodigious.
Don’t get me wrong. I was quite happy with the arrangement, as I ping-ponged back and forth between the two halves of our double house. (See blog entry On the Road – posted 6/17/11)
For all intents and purposes, I must have appeared to most as an adult who had somehow shrunk in the wash, but inside there was a budding flower that was bursting to get out.
The first sign of trouble exhibited itself in my sandbox that was constructed with no bottom – only four wooden sides in which to contain the sand.
My red plastic shovel having proven itself insufficient for the task, I borrowed a tablespoon from my mother’s kitchen and proceeded to spend a quite happy, albeit somewhat tiring, afternoon digging a hole through to China.
I have no memory of the context within which I learned of China’s existence. Possibly it stemmed from a now forgotten story about an oversized orange and blue ginger jar that held court daily in my paternal grandmother’s dining room, but the truth is long ago lost in times past.
Whatever the source of my interest in the countryside of China, it had filled me with a burning desire to go there.
My maternal grandmother was certainly responsible for my understanding of the strong rope that tied me through her family heritage to the area in Indiana that is now known as Turkey Run State Park.
The mere sight of a Conestoga wagon in a picture sent chills up my spine back then.
Is it any wonder that the first school library book I checked out was a biography of Sacajawea?
Now we were moving to the hills of East Tennessee, which my mother daily described as half-civilized. I couldn’t have been happier if I had been twins!
Life, with a capital L, was finally beginning!
The day of our leave taking finally arrived, and by then I was barely managing to contain my excitement.
The five of us and our green parakeet, Doc, were loaded into our ’51 powder blue Pontiac with all our family treasures that my mother had refused to entrust to the movers stuffed in around us.
My widowed paternal grandmother watched stoically from the top of the steps, arms crossed, as her only child prepared to leave her behind.
My great-aunt, Doris, scurried back and forth between us giving us giant hugs and pressing her tear-moistened cheeks against ours.
It was a grand send-off indeed!
Understand, I had ridden between Ohio and Indiana many times, and once I had accompanied my parents on a trip into New England. I viewed myself as a seasoned traveler.
Nothing had prepared me, though, for the long drive ahead.
My mother cried as we crossed the bridge over the Ohio River and entered the northern reaches of Kentucky, enhancing the drama.
I remember well when we passed the black-sided buildings of the Renfro Valley conclave from which square dancing was broadcast to our tiny TV screen each Saturday night, recognizing as I did that this meant we were closing in on our destination.
Then came the Cumberland Mountains in all their majesty along with the twenty-four miles of hairpin curves between Jellico and Lafollette, Tennessee, which were much more exciting than any of the rides that I had previously experienced at the Ohio State Fair.
The foliage, too, had changed as pine and cedar now mixed freely with the hardwoods.
Even the houses differed from the smart white farmhouses of the Midwest, the homes we now passed often looking more like shanties as dejectedly they huddled together shrouded in coal smoke – my first introduction to the area’s poverty.
Even the barns stood unpainted and forlorn, many having been left to fall in upon themselves.
Finally, we stopped just outside of our new home town – the car needing gas.
My father gave instructions to an unshaven man, who was chewing tobacco and occasionally spitting with gusto. Wishing to purchase a map, my dad then left us to go inside the rather ramshackle station, much to my mother’s chagrin.
The car’s tank having been filled and the oil under the hood having passed muster, the attendant leaned towards the driver’s window that my father had left open and addressed my mother in his strange accent, his breath almost knocking me over.
“Nice bird.” This fascinating personage pointed at Doc in his cage – one exotic being acknowledging another. “Don’t see many of them around here.”
“No.” My mother attempted to appear very busy with something in her purse.
“License says y’all come from Ohio,” the attendant continued, not having gotten her message. “Going far?”
“We’re moving to Oak Ridge,” I piped in, immediately receiving a meaningful look from my mother.
“That so.” The man grinned, exposing the few blackened teeth that remained to him, before he slid his gaze again to Mother. “You’ll find things are much different down here, ma’am, if you see what I mean.” He sent her a leer.
“Really?” My mother, who was now deeply engaged in the taking of a complete inventory of my baby sister’s overly stuffed diaper bag, mumbled the query.
“Yep,” the stranger ascertained with authority as he turned back to me. “You see, there’s been a war in these parts.”
Memories, you’ll understand, run long in the South.
And so, I received my first introduction to the Civil War or, as it is sometimes referred to in parts southern, that unfortunate War for the Confederacy.
My small, yet highly romantic, heart embraced this confrontation completely. My adventure, as Emeril would say, had been taken up a notch.
Is it any wonder then that I eventually double majored in history and English – to me very vibrant and living entities, keeping the past alive in the present?
This week, Annie Acorn Publishing has uploaded my most recent ebook, When to Remain Silent, onto Amazon.
Set in post-Civil War times, it follows two Southern belles as they make the reverse journey from mine, leaving their home in war torn Charleston for a new life in bustling New York City, where they bring their steel magnolia tendencies fully to bear as they fight for survival.
Let me know what you think of it!