The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Perhaps You Can Go Back, After All

By Lisa S. Jordan © 1995

Issue: Winter, 1995

"This has to be it," Mike said as he pulled the car over to the side of the narrow dirt road.

I gazed at the tangled patch of weeds before us with an acute sense of disappointment. Somehow it wasn't what I had expected.

We got out of the car and stood, each taking a quiet moment to survey the little piece of ground at the base of the hill. It was overgrown with burrs and brambles; just a little thicket with a wooded hillside rising steeply behind it. Except for the dilapidated remains of a small shed, an old well, and what I assumed had been the outhouse, it was hard to imagine that a house had once stood on this spot, a house that our Uncle Bill had lived in. Although I didn't remember much about Uncle Bill, I owed him much, yet I realized that my feelings at the moment were probably not as poignant as Mike's, as he was older than I and had stayed with Uncle Bill during the summers years ago.

I watched his face as he began telling me about his vague shadowy remembrance of those hot summer days long gone, about visiting a man named Doc Shepherd, whom Uncle Bill had worked for, and of playing in the creek by the rusty iron bridge that spanned it. In my mind I could picture a dark haired little boy, skipping rocks on the water, pausing occasionally to wipe the sweat from his brow. I could see him running through the long hayfield next to the road, chasing after a fleeting, ever elusive butterfly, with a lop-eared puppy at his heals.

"This is a part of our roots, Sis," he said, with a note of proud excitement in his voice, as we climbed the slight embankment and gingerly picked our way through the weeds and briers.

"Look, here's one of the foundation stones from the house," he said, pointing out a big square moss covered rock.

I tried to imagine what the little house must have looked like as it sat at the foot of the hill in this little hollow called Bear Branch.

"It's a shame the house burned down," I said, wishing I could share in Mike's memories.

We stayed a little while, both of us lost in our own thoughts. After taking some pictures of the place so that we could remember it, we climbed back into the car with a sense of accomplishment. Part of our quest was now over. We had found the spot where our Uncle Bill had lived. Finding it meant a lot to us. It was a tangible common denominator from long ago. We had been disappointed the previous year when we had searched in vain for this very spot. We had not been able to locate it, even though we had driven right past it. Perhaps the time just hadn't been right.

What I longed to discover, however, was another old home site. One that I had no memory of whatsoever, but I knew that if we could find it, something special would happen inside me.

It didn't look like we were going to be able to locate this other site, however. I had questioned my aunt and my grandmother as to how to get to it, and their directions had been decidedly vague, at least to me. I hadn't been able to make heads or tails of them. My grandmother hadn't shared my enthusiasm over our trip. Perhaps subconsciously she felt a need to shield me yet again from this past from which she had rescued me. She had suggested I call a neighbor lady who had grown up in the little hollow where my parents had lived all those years ago. I was reluctant to interrupt this neighbor lady's Thanksgiving, so I didn't call. How does one find the place where a house used to sit, that has since burned to the ground? Especially when one has no direct memory of such a place.

As we drove along Eighteen Mile Creek, up steep and winding hills looking for an unknown road into the vanished past on this special Thanksgiving day, our hope soon turned to doubt, like the barren leafless trees flanking this country road. We didn't even know the name of the road we were looking for.

Why hadn't I done more research? I couldn't answer Mike's question, because truthfully, I didn't know why, unless I had wanted the discovery of our old home place to be something we both had an equal part in, not just something I had undertaken on my own.

After driving around a while longer, and checking several dirt roads, we abandoned our search, vowing that on Mike's next visit, we would find it. I promised solemnly that I would obtain directions to it, and determined within my heart that I would definitely do so.

It was frustrating to search in vain for something we knew was so close, yet always just out of reach. Without help from somewhere we would never discover it, and I was determined that find it we would.

As we traveled back to my house that fall afternoon, I felt a little dejected, but more determined than ever to find this elusive place we were searching for. Somehow today it had become more important to me than it had ever been in the past. On our previous attempt it had been almost a whimsy, something pleasant to share with my oldest brother Michael. But today something had changed within me, and I longed to see this place of the past. My grandmother said that the house had burned down long ago, but I felt that somehow, just being able to see the yard would do something to me.

We were no longer simply searching for Michael's memories, but my beginning as well, even though I had only been a baby when my grandmother had carried me out of a little hollow and taken me into her heart and her family to love and raise as one of her own children.

I couldn't remember any of that, and it had always been something I had taken for granted, but suddenly I felt the need to explore my past, and I wondered what it must have been like for Michael and my other three older brothers in that little rural valley. I had often been told that our mother had been sick and unable to care properly for me, and that Uncle Bill had told my grandmother "if she wanted to see that baby alive, she'd better come and get her."

Suddenly I found I did not simply want to go back, I needed to go back.

Mike dropped me off, and left to travel to our parents house in Ohio to spend the remainder of the Thanksgiving weekend with them before returning to his home in North Carolina.

I went into the house with a determination to uncover our roots. Mike hadn't been gone more than five minutes until my telephone rang. It was the husband of the neighbor lady that I had decided not to bother, calling to see if I could come and sing at his church. After making arrangements for that, I began to question him about our old home place. I discovered that it was on a little unmarked road called Luke's Branch, which we had driven by earlier, and it was called the old Clarence Davis house. But best of all, I discovered that it hadn't burnt down. It had been remodeled and a couple was raising a family in it now. I was ecstatic. He said the road was passable, and that it dead ended at our old home place. This somehow seemed symbolic to me, much like the end of the yellow brick road, where each one found the thing they valued most already within their heart. I thanked him and hung up, fighting tears of joy and the urge to jump in the car and rush after Mike. He was already gone. Too late.

I know that if God's grace affords us our next visit, Michael and I will indeed find the old home place, and this trip into the far reaching past will be something incredibly special for both of us. Even though we cannot go back into the past and change the events that turned our lives in different directions and denied us the family relationship we could have had, nor would we want to change them as God had His reasons for them, we will be able to see the place, the only place on this earth, where our family was ever truly complete. Until that time, I remain in hope that perhaps, for only a little while, we can go back, after all.

Editor's Note: Lisa Jordan said that she would let us know if she and her brother do find their old home on their next trip. I'm sure all of our hearts go out to her and wish her good luck in her next journey back in time.