The sun is shining benevolently down on our West Virginia hills today and all is calm and peaceful. A male cardinal, flashing his brilliant red plumage, peers in the window at me as if to say that the birdseed is getting low in the feeder. Criss has just plowed the garden, leaving furrows of brown soil basking in the sunshine. On the hillside below the barn, black cattle are placidly chewing their cuds and lying in the sun. Altogether, it is a serene day.

I received a letter from a dear cousin (originally from WV) who now makes his home in Florida. I don’t know if he was encouraging me to look forward to spring, or if he was boasting of Florida’s warmer weather. Anyway, this missile came in the middle of January, when we are usually fighting snow and freezing weather.

It read like this: “Ah Spring! We are a couple of weeks away from the beginning of new growth. Though we are in the deep South, we do have winter. The lawns cease to grow, although they remain green. Flowering shrubs just stand bare except for old leaves. Some deciduous trees that shed their leaves in the fall will be sending out buds. The live oaks have shed their acorns for three months though change in their foliage is undetected, except for year around shedding.

“All of this is a mystery for we rarely have a night that reaches freezing. Some unknown force announces the start of the growing season, though temperatures remain unchanged. The only recognized change is the increasing angle of the sun, and occasionally a slight increase in rainfall.

“Note: During the summer season the nights are longer here than in WV, which is a blessing. The days, though shorter, are usually in the mid 90s with an afternoon shower almost daily. Nights are often in the low to mid 80s with 100% humidity, making sleeping difficult without air conditioning. Florida has a permanent population explosion, but only since the availability of climate control.”

Well, thank you, Cousin Bobby, but I think I’ll stay right here in the hills. Imagine a place where there is no discernable signs of the coming of spring! We watch feverishly for the budding of the spring flowers, from the tiny yellow coltsfoot flowers (which are usually the first wildflowers to bloom) to the crocuses and Easter flowers (daffodils) to poke their heads up in the lawn. He didn’t mention the spring birds (maybe they sing all winter) but it is so thrilling to hear the song birds here pour out their medley to spring. In fact, I heard one yesterday morning warbling merrily, and it matched the song in my heart!

Mom always said that the songbirds mated in February, and made their nests in March. That is another springtime thrill, to find a bird nest with little eggs in it and keep an eye on it until the little birds hatch. We had a female robin who made a nest every year in our grape arbor, down at the other house. We watched that brood, from the bright blue eggs until the hatchlings flew the nest. She got so used to us that she didn’t panic when we got around her nest. I wondered if she was Henrietta, a robin that we raised when she fell out of her nest. We had her so spoiled that we had to dig worms for her after she was perfectly able to fend for herself.

Valentine’s Day is very near, which breaks the monotony of February and gives us sentimental folks the perfect opportunity to express love. I don’t need a special day to tell folks that I love them. I like the quote by Etienne de Grellet who said, “I shall pass through this world but once. If, therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing that I can do, let me do it now; let me not defer nor neglect it. For I shall not pass his way again.”

I have been thinking of the Valentine cards of long ago—cards I wish I had kept, cards I wish I had sent and cards I wish I could send now. Remember the Valentine Day cards that we sent and received in grade school? Childish, simple little greetings they were, some of them homemade and most exchanged as routine. But there was always at least one extra-special card, bigger and fancier than the others. It had the heartfelt, undying, everlasting love that only an adolescent boy can feel (although the recipient changed from year to year and sometimes from week to week.) I wish I had kept the first one of these puppy-love cards that I received—although I am gray and he is bald. I would like to have it just for memory’s sake.

There was a big rock just down over the hill on the school grounds where Jeuell Beth, Myrtle Belle and I would go to tell our girlish secrets. There we shared our first love letters. My friend Beth and I had crushes on two brothers we had met at church, and I got a love letter from one of them. I was terrified, at age 12, that Mom would find out that I liked a boy, much less received a letter from him. We are not like children of today, who date at that age and go steady a year or two later.

I hid that letter under the rock, and as far as I know, it is still there. As we passed that rock the other day, I saw it was overgrown with briers and bushes and seemed so much smaller than it was when I was young. It looked as if it had sunk in the ground. Beth and I have changed too, and Myrtle Belle is gone. The river of life flows on and on, sweeping us along with it.

I don’t think it was puppy love that drew Criss and me together, but we were only teenagers when we got married. I was ten months older than he was (yes, he married an older woman!) and my mother prophesied that the marriage would never last. Well, it has been over 62 years now, and I think we’ll make it! There have been rough places, many ups and downs, but God has kept us together and blessed us abundantly. If you want your marriage to succeed, make God the center of it.

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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