“I’m not going to tell you the story the way it happened. I’m going to tell it the way I remember it.” ― Mitch Glazer
I was about nine years old when I realized my love of stories and discovered my affinity for people and times long gone. I think it was the summer of 1964, and my grandma and I had hiked to an abandoned log cabin to dig for glass bottles and other antique treasures. It was the first time she’d taken me up the mountain, and we left right after breakfast, leaving my two brothers and all my boy cousins behind. At that time, my grandparents lived in a ramshackle house on Hardscrabble Road, a tarred thoroughfare that wound through a valley, just a few miles past the logging town of Drain, Oregon.
It took us more than an hour to reach the cabin that morning, and as we made the steep climb, my grandma told me stories about the people who had once lived there. My grandparents’ landlord, Ole Mr. Haines, was a widow-man. His late wife had been born in the cabin, and the land my grandparents’ house sat on and stretches of Hardscrabble Road were all once part of her family homestead. My grandma knew how to spin a tale, and by the time we reached the first fallen outbuilding and passed the remnants of a collapsed hay barn, my imagination was alive, and I could see the place as a working farm, the way it was when Mrs. Haines was a little girl.
Looking back on that day, I can now say that I think my grandma was a little envious. Mrs. Haines had lived out her life on her family home place, and when she died, she was buried in a plot near her people. Like Mrs. Haines, my grandma was also born on a homestead, but hers was in Kentucky and her papa moved his family from there when she was a little girl. Even though she descended from one of western Kentucky’s earliest settler families, she spent the next two decades moving around between Kentucky, Missouri, and Mississippi. During that time, she married my grandfather. Right after the birth of their sixth child, and after spending years as Mississippi sharecroppers, my grandparents finally moved their family out West. They followed two of my grandma’s younger brothers all the way to Oregon, where the two brothers had settled after completing duty there with Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps. My grandma spent the rest of her days in Oregon, and although she enjoyed a good life there, she never forgot her first home. From the stories she told about her past and the way she talked about her childhood, I believe she always wished her papa had never taken her out of Kentucky.
I don’t remember for sure what all my grandma said that morning as we followed a set of wagon ruts up to the cabin. What I do recall is the hum of bees buzzing around my ears, and that we walked through a patch of brush and discovered an overgrown blackberry thicket. I know that she was telling me something when we stopped to pick a handful of ripe berries, because that’s when the history of that mountainside overcame me. Surrounded by briars and lulled by the quiet mountain, my senses followed her voice back through time. I settled into a new awareness, mesmerized by the rhythm of her Southern speech and absorbed in her old timey expressions.
Ever since that morning on the mountain, I’ve had an enhanced perception of time. And since that day, my view of most places I visit includes an imaginative or studied peek into its past.