Friday, November 7, 2014

Our visit to Appalachia

The week has been a blur (hence my lack of blogging) due to our visit this past weekend to Appalachia to see Papaw Chester's two sisters.  I have been playing catch-up.

Papaw will be 90 next month.  His sister, Barb, is 85.  His youngest sister, Juanita (whom everyone calls Dude because the kids in the family could never pronounce Juanita), is 84 and in poor health.  I'm not sure what her official diagnosis is, but it is in the realm of dementia/Alzheimer's.

The sisters never married and live in the house in which they grew up.  Papaw lived in that house as a child, and when he married Mamaw Mollie, he built them a house directly across the street from his childhood home.  Straight up from the house he built is a mountain.  There is no yard; only rock.  Mamaw (D's mom) lived in Island Creek until she was 13. I think she was 10 years old before they had indoor plumbing.

The house that Papaw built, and the house that Mamaw (my MIL) grew up in.

I had been wanting to visit there for years, to see where Mamaw and Papaw Chester grew up, to get a sense of what life was like in the mountains.  I have been hearing the stories for 17 years, and I also wanted the kids to have a chance to see where part of their family is from.   My children are so very fortunate to have a living great grandparent and great, great aunts.

Having never been to Appalachia I didn't know what to expect, really, although I anticipated quite a bit of podunk.  It wasn't as bad as I thought.  They did watch local channel gospel music shows all day on Sunday.  At one point, G leaned over and mouthed out This is terrible! to Mamaw.

It was cool to learn that Papaw Chester's parents are buried at the top of the mountain down the road.   It was cool to see the church where they attended and see the spot where Mamaw's 2-room school was (it is now a valley filled with trailer homes).  It was cool to hear Papaw tell of how he would cross the creek by horse as a kid.  How he climbed the mountain on which his parents are now buried to mine coal.

Papaw Chester's childhood home, and the mountain right behind it.

The house that Papaw Chester's mother had grown up in, just a little ways down the road.

I was already in love with Papaw Chester, and this visit just upped my "I adore Papaw" feeling.

However, as much as I loved learning about the family, there was sadness too.

Barb, at 85, is struggling to take care of Dude.  Dude said repeatedly most of the time we were there, "Theys some pretty fellas."  She forgets that she has eaten and insists on eating more.  She fell (or slid off the bed) 2 times while we were there.  The first was Sunday evening, and EMS had to be called to get her off the floor (since Barb, Mamaw, Papaw Chester and N couldn't do it; me, D and the boys stayed at a hotel).  On Sunday morning when the four of us arrived back at the house, Dude was on the floor again. D and I got her back up, but it was awkward and tiring.

The house is, more or less, falling apart due to its age, the age of its owners and their lack of money to pay for repairs.

Sadly, I took the opportunity to visit now because it probably won't be available too much longer.

The kids, despite the gospel tv show and the smell of cat litter and the ceiling plaster falling in and no toys, were well behaved and even had fun.  M and G goofed off outside, playing on a decrepit swingset, smacking tree stumps with sticks and crossing over the small creek that runs beside the house.  N was happy to dress her dolls.

Playing with rotten apples.

It brought me great happiness to watch G and M playing on the living room floor with their great grandfather, who had also played on the floor with his brother (now deceased) when he was a boy, watching them.

Returning to the roots of a family is always both a happy and sad journey.  

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