Archive for November 27th, 2006


I Left My Heart in the Pine Woods

November 27, 2006

It is a long and lonesome road, my friends, that leads out of the pine woods.  I have been back and forth and to and fro on that stretch of highway more times than I care to count, and it only gets harder.

Most recently, I shook the wrinkles out of my going-to-town clothes and started a brand new job in Olde Wilmington, my second home and the site of an enjoyable (if largely misspent) stretch of early adulthood.

That first week, I forced myself out of bed pre-dawn to make the drive.  My commute was attended by a red sunrise, herds of deer feeding on new rye, thick traffic heading over the bridge into town, and at least one tragically fatal tornado, as I rolled through Reigelwood one morning some ten minutes behind a storm that cut a swath through the little town, killing eight people.

A shaky beginning, to be sure.  My new apartment was ready by the end of week, however, and so I set about the task of making me a place to sleep in town.  I was glad to give up the long drive that bookended my day, but the commute, however tedious, made the move and the change of life seem less permanent.  It was not until Sunday night, leaving my grandmother’s house (where I’d been quartered for a couple months due to a chain of events too convoluted to describe here) that I took a deep breath and thought of the things that I was leaving behind.  I sat in my car, surrounded by the last small essential accessories, and cried as hard as I have in a good long while.

I’ve made a good deal of noise over the past year or so about needing to get away, find a new context, shake off some rust and heal a few scratches.   And while all that is true, it doesn’t diminish the attachment I have to those old pine woods.

Some of the things I’m missing are easy to explain.  My family, for one.  Mother, father, sister, and a little neice who has no teeth but gnaws on chicken bones and almost always has smiles for me.

There are the ghosts:  My grandmother, the center of all things family, whose house we filled to capacity for Thanksgiving, either to honor her absence or make it bearable.  Also Andy, my good friend and Rabbit Hill’s own stumbling wise man.

I missed them in Rabbit Hill and I’ll miss them here, but leaving the place they called home, the landmarks where their spirits linger…tis a hrd thing, is all I’ll say about that.

And Andy’s dog, who I kept for a year and who is better off with fields and cows than pavement and closed spaces.  (And who would have been a stone cold lock to wake my new neighbors and wreak havoc on thier citified pets.)

Then there’s the other, indescribable attachment.  Could I call it the soil?  Could I call it history?  I’ll provide this anecdote by way of explanation:

When I was but a Duckling, no older than 5, a man appeared at my Grandmother’s home who I came to recognize as Uncle Tonk.  He was as old as anyone can reasonably be.  He sat in a recliner in the corner of the room and gave me candy when I came to visit, and I never thought to question who he might have been or why he came to live at Grandma’s, there being any number of old people around back then who I was told to call Uncle or Aunt and who made a great show of pinching cheeks and tallking loud, none of whom I remembered from visit to visit.

As it turns out, Tonk was really my great-GREAT uncle.  He and a brother had gotten themselves crossways of the law sometime in the 20’s, and found it necessary to vacate the pine woods without so much as a wave goodbye or a forwarding address.

They ended up in Tennessee, and when the brother left Tennessee for Texas he and Tonk never spoke again.

Forty years later the brother showed up in Rabbit Hill with not much more to his name than a limp and a bad cough.  He spent just a few months getting reaquainted before he died.

Same for Uncle Tonk, twenty years later and six decades removed from Rabbit Hill.   The people he knew were mostly dead.  The houses he inhabited as a young man had fallen back into the fields or grown up in briars and saplings.  So he moved in with his nephew’s widow, my grandmother, who he had never met.  And she took him in, and with help from her daughter she fed him and gave him a place to sleep and eventually washed him and changed his diapers when he got too sick to attend to himself.

Within a few months of his arrival he died.

At home.