Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" All nations, under the Goddess, individuals, with tenderness and mercy for all!
We can dream, can't we?
For the past few days we've been pruning the good ol' family tree. And now we come to the payoff. What every good arborist knows: Sometimes under the rotten wood, a lovely green twig may grow.
(If that's not true, please be mindful of the fact that I majored in Animal Husbandry in college, not Horticulture.)
When I was a youngster, my greatest treasure was my bicycle. In those long ago days, an enterprising gal could leave home in the morning, ride through Antietam Battlefield and on down to the Potomac, ride along the Potomac a brace of miles, and back again. Sans helmet, water, money, or ID. What teenager worries? If they did, we wouldn't have anyone enlisting in the Marines.
Exhibit A: This is Gettysburg, but you get the idea.
One of my favorite routes took me past the lovely white antebellum farmhouse in which my illustrious granmaw grew up. The house belonged to my great-grandmother and her second husband. When Granmaw was but a young and beautiful girl, she and her half-sister planted a huge flower garden beside the charming house.
Exhibit B: Pale Imitation of Ancestral Farmhouse
For years and years I rode past Great-grandma's farmhouse, taking solace in its homey charms. I wished my great-grandmother was still alive to welcome me home and offer me a piece of pie. I admired the flower garden, and the wide fields at the base of the mountain, and the barn with its green roof, and the darling shed behind the main house. But I never went closer than the gate, because some other farmer had bought the farm in the early 1960s when Granmaw's long-lived stepfather died.
Mama's photo albums had old black-and-white pictures of Great-grandma, and Granmaw as a teenaged beauty, and Granmaw's half-sister, standing in front of the house. They all looked so happy. I thought I'd be happy too if I lived in that farmhouse at the foot of the mountain, stone's throw plus some from the Antietam Creek.
Three years ago, I took my daughters, The Heir and The Spare, home for a visit. And as we were leaving the good ol' hometown (now hardly recognizable due to exurban sprawl), I said to my kids, "Hey. Let's drive past Great-grandma's house!"
And there it stood, surrounded by the green fields, untouched by time and unmarred by sprawl. I pulled the car up in front of the house and stopped just for a minute. I said to my girls, "Isn't that a beautiful little house? My grandmother was a girl in that house. They had taffy pulls and ice cream socials, and they competed to see who could memorize the longest poem and recite it the best."
We stared at the house for another minute. Then I drove on down the narrow country road, looking for a place to turn around. When I found a driveway and started my K-turn, I noticed a pickup truck driving down through the fields that used to belong to Great-grandma. I didn't think much of it until it became obvious that the pickup truck was following me back out to Scenic Route 40, the nearest snow emergency route. And I thought that was odd. I hadn't trespassed or anything, but whoever was driving was clearly on my tail.
He continued to tail me until we came upon a gas station, one of those newfangled ones where you can buy a pack of smokes before you pump. I pulled in. He pulled in behind me.
I turned to my daughters and said, "I don't know what this is about, but I'll straighten it out soon enough." Saying that, I got out of my car and went right over to the pickup.
An older farmer was driving. He rolled down his window.
I said, "I'm sorry if I startled you, sir. My great-grandmother owned that farmhouse once, and I wanted my daughters to see it."
He said: "Who wuz yer great-grandma?"
And I told him. I also told him how my grandmother had grown up there.
He asked my name. I gave my maiden name and said my mama's name. I figured if he was local (and his accent sure sounded local), he'd recognize the family.
He looked at me, and then he looked at my New Jersey license plate. He said, "Are you bound fer home jes now?"
And I said, "Yessir. We been visitin my dad, he's not doin too well."
He reached into his overalls and pulled out a piece of paper and a pen. (Isn't that something? I doubt if I could open my huge pocketbook and haul out a piece of paper and a pen.)
He wrote something on the paper and handed it to me. He said, "Next time yer up thisaway, stop by an me an my waaf'll show you the place."
I looked down at the paper. He had written: "Johnny and Sally Tewell. 301-xxx-xxxxx."
I looked up at the old farmer. I said, "Was you any relation to Bubba Tewell?"
And he said: "Bubba and my daddy was brothers."
Readers, when your mama's a woodpile child, this is how you meet your kin. I looked at that old farmer, and he looked at me. We both knew we were lookin at blood.
I said, very politely: "When I next come to town, I sure would like to call on you and bring my daughters. I've always dreamed of seein the insaad of that house."
He said: "Well, you're most welcome. I was mighty fond of yer great-grandma and yer great-aunt Bridey May. I knew yer granmaw too, when I wuz a lil boy. I'm sorry if I skeerd you ba followin you, but bein back thar on a country road we sometimes have troubles with strangers, now the county's so built up."
The longest tunnel has the brightest light at the end.
In recent years I've gotten to know Johnny and Sally Tewell, my woodpile kin. I've gotten to see the antebellum farmhouse in which my great-grandmother spent her life and my granmaw grew up. Sally has restored it magnificently. She and Johnny are two of the nicest, kindest people I've ever had the pleasure to know.
They have told me so many wonderful stories. For instance, my great-aunt, who died before I was born, used the darling little shed behind the house as a bakery. She made cakes for a living. When Johnny was a boy he would visit her on his pony, and she would give him a spoonful of icing to lick.
(Oh no, it's Ron Popile again!) But wait, there's more!
Johnny and Sally are sitting on 40 acres of highly-prized land, the kind of close-to-an-interstate-exit country farmland that makes grown developers weep like tots and slobber like rabid pit bulls. Johnny and Sally did sell part of the property. It used to be 80 acres, but they sold 4 "farmettes" of 10 acres apiece, with the ironclad legal stipulation that the "farmettes" couldn't be subdivided. Two of the stupid chumps who bought "farmettes" can't afford to build houses on them. The other two have occupants who wonder who the hell is gonna mow two acres of lawn in the years to come.
The sale of the "farmettes" gives Johnny and Sally enough of a nest egg to spend their golden years in their (and Great-granny's) farmhouse in fine style. They have no plans, now or ever, to subdivide the rest of the farm.
On my first visit I showed Johnny and Sally the old photos of the house. I'd scanned the photos so they could keep copies. When my daughters went outside to explore, talk inevitably turned to old Bubba, my DNA grandpa. And we all agreed that, well, who the hell cares anyway? Blood is blood, no paper can change it.
Exhibit C: Bubba's DNA at Work
Johnny allowed that his daddy didn't like Bubba's lifestyle and that the brothers weren't very close. But having gotten to know Johnny, I can say without hesitation that I lucked out in the DNA lottery, if only because I'm kin to one of the precious few farmers in Upper Appalachia who hasn't taken the money and run when the subdividers came calling.
The luck of the draw gave me Bubba, an enigmatic woodpile ancestor. The bored gods gave me Johnny Tewell, awesome kinsman of whom I can be oh so proud.
See? Samhain is still 11 days away, and already I feel better.
THE MERLIN OF ANTIETAM