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AS I LOOK BACK AT THE YEARS (2) – News From The Hills

The waters of William’s River run swift and cold. It rushes around huge boulders, cresting in white spray and moves swiftly onward. It looks deceptively shallow, but is deep and very swift-moving. Rhododendrons line the bank, and dip down to the water.

Yellow-spotted trout lilies are blooming there now, as well as painted trilliums and clumps of spring beauties. Blue violets are prolific, as are the tiny bluets that spring up in the rich soil along the river. Windflowers, or wild anemones, which are usually white but sometimes pink, tremble in the slightest breeze. Buttercups, with their glossy yellow flowers, add their own brand of sunshine to the scene. My heart is up there this time of year.

In my mind, I see Daddy spying out the best campsite, which was usually located near the big rock where a pipe spilled out the clear, cold mountain water. No fancy camper for us, we had a huge tent with a canvas floor, which Daddy pitched over hemlock boughs or hay brought from home.

The fragrant pine boughs mingled their odor with the scent of hot sun on the canvas, to produce an unique perfume that lingers in my memory.

We all pitched in to set up camp. While Daddy erected the tent and stretched a tarpaulin over the campfire, we kids scurried about dragging in dry wood for cooking and larger logs for the roaring fire we built at night. Mom would drag out the quilts and bedclothes, and fix our beds in the tent. It would sleep ten or more, and sometimes more than that. We would be packed in like sardines in a can, and there was no question of family togetherness.

She would unpack the cooking utensils, and after the fire had burned down to red coals, she would prepare the evening meal. One of my sisters remarked the other day, “Boy, Mom was a good camp cook!” We always had fried potatoes-and potatoes fried over an open campfire ranks with the finest cuisine found anywhere. She baked biscuits in an iron Dutch oven, buried down in the coals. We had fried trout too, as soon as Daddy had time to put a fishing pole in the river.

Ah-the memories keep coming. In my mind, I can see Daddy rounding the curve in the river, his hat decorated with dry flies and his fishing creel lined with damp ferns and the speckled trout he had caught resting on them. Ronnie has fallen into a tributary that runs into the river (which is ice cold even in the summer) and comes shivering and dripping to the campfire, while Mom scolds, “I told you not to get around that water!”

We always sat around the campfire after supper, as Daddy piled large pieces of wood on it to build up a roaring fire. It’s time for the old stories that Daddy tells, and we never tire of hearing. We hear about Grandpa Green and the bear, a tale that has been handed down through the family. I’ve always wondered just who Grandpa Green was, and how he related to our family, as this was a true story.

It seems that Grandpa Green went out in the woods to cut firewood for winter, and a bear attacked him. He defended himself with his axe, but the bear tore him up pretty badly before he finally killed it. His wounds were so grievous that he couldn’t make his way home. Cold weather was coming on, so he crawled into a hollow log, and piled brush that he’d already cut to make him a shelter. With the bear he had killed to provide meat, he managed to survive the winter.

His family at home had already given him up for dead, so when Grandpa Green appeared (minus his nose, which the bear had clawed off) they were more than astonished. Grandpa Green had lived to tell the tale, which still circulates in our family today.

Naturally, with night shadows making their way across our camp, the story-telling would turn to ghost stories. Daddy was a master story-teller, and would tell us of supernatural happenings at the “Ha’nted Lick,” where his mother lived. Mom was not to be outdone, so she would chime in with stories of the “Ha’nted Mudhole” on Twistabout where she grew up. When bedtime came, and prayers were said, (fervently I imagine, to ward off the ghosts) we crawled into the tent. Tired and content, we were lulled to sleep by the rushing waters of William’s River and the smell of wood smoke.

Those were the good times, when the family circle was complete. Secure in our parent’s love, we grew up healthy and happy. We were taught to love nature, and to appreciate the wonderful world that God has made. The appreciation is still here today, but camping on William’s River is over for me. Still, the memories linger on.

Mom and Daddy are gone, and brothers Mark and Ronnie also (too soon.) The rest of us are growing old, and my hair is silvered over for the tomb-one of Daddy’s expressions. Time has passed so fast that I can’t account for it since the days we camped on William’s River.

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Alyce Faye Bragg

She writes the "News From the Hills" column. Born and raised in the country, and still lives on the same farm where she was raised. Has a sincere love for nature and the beauty of the hills. Began writing in 1981 & currently has three books published. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer