After the hike we drove about 60 miles back to my brother’s hunting cabin in Pike County. This place is near and dear to my heart for it once belonged to my beloved Grandfather, Smokey. I called him Grandad.
Grandad always wore a long sleeve shirt and a tie….even when working in the garden on a hot summer day or at the cabin during hunting season. Another one of his faithful accessories was a hat. These pictures are burned into my memory and the image that I conjure up when I think of him, which is often. He has been gone for over 20 years, but for the little girl’s heart…he left only yesterday.
Grandad sitting outside the cabin in Pike County....he's not wearing a tie!
There were three grandchildren growing up. We each had his heart in such different ways. Chris, my brother, was the only boy and the first grandchild. Therefore he was the hunter and shared the excursions to the cabin with him. I believe that he also healed the heart of a man that lost a son of eleven years old, six years earlier. My brother was his name sake, as is my son, Tucker. (Tucker was a nickname for Charles Christopher Clevenger, the man that would have been my uncle.)
I followed my brother a short 18 months later and my sister was 11 months after me. (I can feel what you are thinking right now). I was the one in the garden with him, learning about planting corn. “Four to a hole Sissy (that’s what he called me). One for the cut worm, one for the mole, one for the crow and one to grow.” I was the one that would spend the night at his house and he would give me a coffee canister full of pennies and ask me to wrap them. My reward was that I could keep half of them. (Nice profit margin)
But my sister was his favorite. He had a special place in his heart for her, the softest spot. He would sneak her treats (and only her) to her room and put them on her pillow, something that she only shared with me many years after he was gone. He would go out of his way just to make her feel special and important because she wasn’t like me or Chris. We were out going and boisterous and ready to conquer anything. She was meek and quiet and shy. He was drawn to her quietness in his own tranquil way.
So this weekend, I returned to his “hideaway”. The place where he went to just be with the boys. As a child, I went on the occasional trip to Pike County. But it was mostly for “The Boys”.
Back then, it was a rough frame house that was the home of many critters that you really wouldn’t want to share a space with. The only water was a hand pump (the pump is still there and still the only source of water) outside the house on the back patio. There was an outhouse and that’s all I will say about that…if you know what I mean. Typically the grass would be high and needing to be cut whenever you drove up. But the peacefulness of the little valley that the house sat in was like a little piece of heaven on earth. In 1997, they burned down the old house and rebuilt it.
I knew a little of what to expect since I have seen the photos of the changes. But I have not been there for close to 15 years. To say that I was apprehensive would be inaccurate, nervous, maybe and anxious to a degree. As we drove along Hackleshin, the scenery became familiar and I was seeing the same places through the eyes of a young girl going to Grandad’s cabin. Down there, time moves at less than a snail’s pace…unlike where I live today with immediate internet access, cell phone on my hip, cable TV…etc. In Pike County, there is no cell phone service, no TV and definitely no internet. OH MY…What’s a girl to do????
Now….you will find a two room cabin, with bunk beds for 10. The kitchen area has a microwave and apartment size frig. There are loads of lights, but no windows. Because sadly, a window is an easy way for a thief to break in.
Each bunk belongs to someone and is personalized to reflect that individual. Some bunks have small shelves with clock radios and photos. There are gun racks made of deer hoofs and favorite college team flags hanging on the walls. These beds tell the story of the man or boy that sleeps there and what is close to their heart.
Then outside….there is an outhouse. BUT…it has a light, exhaust fan and an air freshener (I laughed out loud when I spotted it) and an pseudo sink. Pseudo you say??? Well there’s a sink, but no running water. Once again, a source of laughter for me. My Oh My, how things have changed. The yard is well maintained with bird feeders scattered throughout and you can even spot an occasionally squirrel feeder. If you cross the bridge over the creek and walk up the path into the holler, you’ll find the deer feeders that Tucker talks about filling whenever he goes to Pike County.
As I sat by the fire ring and listened to the running water of the small stream that runs behind the cabin, my heart felt that Grandad would love what they have made here. It’s a place that my heart has yearned for and I didn’t even know it until I went back. The peaceful, quiet of that holler and the bright stars in the sky spoke to the little girl that still lives deep down in my soul.
That little girl stood back and watched her little boy come to life in a place that holds a special magic for her. A place filled with the magic of family, heritage, and tradition, but mostly filled with love.
I left there knowing that I have to go back. I need to hear the stories of Grandad from the men who knew him when he was there on “vacation”. The men that love him deeply to this day. My heart still aches for him and for Granny. They say you go on, but the heart never totally heals. I would have to agree, sometimes the ache I feel for them is the same as the day they left.
A few years ago, I opened my desk drawer (it was once Granny's) and discovered one of his old smoking pipes. Heaven only knows how long it had been there and why I still had it. As I reached for it, I wondered if it still smelled of his pipe tobacco. Naturally, I cupped it in my hands, drew it near my nose and inhaled deeply. I could still smell him and my mind drifted back to him sitting in his leather club chair watching CBS evening news, smoking his pipe. I keep that pipe tucked away in a baggie in my desk. When I think of him, I'll pull it out and smell it once again. Letting myself go back to those days and memories.
But maybe when I’m mushroom hunting this spring, I can remember him taking a little girl by the hand and leading her into the woods for the hunt. I’ll remember him standing in one spot and just staring at the ground. Inevitably, when I would follow his gaze, I would find the mushroom that he had been patiently targeting for me to find. Hopefully I will still feel the leap of my heart, like the leaping heart of a little girl that would scurry with glee to pluck that mushroom out of the ground and slip into Grandad’s bag. Then, I would smile, grab his hand signaling I was ready to go and walk until he stopped again.
Oh how my heart misses him.