Thursday, September 03, 2009

“Observations About Mountain Country”

c. 2009 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers – What follows here is an essay produced by a recent stay in the ‘near south.’ As I spent time helping my parents cope with personal challenges, certain truisms became apparent. I present them here for your inspection.

Parents constitute a lifetime resource. They offer much to children in the form of wisdom, guidance, and protection. Even as an adult, one may depend on their parents for homespun family counseling and medical advice. Yet, what happens when this chain-of-duty is reversed?

I began to find answers to that question recently, after leaving Geauga County to help my father through an episode of major surgery and recovery.

Twelve years ago, Dad was beset with intestinal cancer. It was a serious enough affliction to have nearly claimed his life. But though he survived this medical challenge, the after-effects persisted. Finally, it became necessary to once again seek intervention by a trusted surgeon.

The work was difficult and tedious. We prayed together while the doctor labored with his team of heroes. Their task involved removing unhealthy tissue, and fashioning a new wholeness out of what remained. Long hours elapsed while this magic took place. We waited breathlessly as day turned into night, and the sense of drama grew stronger.

Happily, mercy was bestowed by our higher power.

Tomorrow came as a gift. It constituted the ultimate reward – more of that precious essence called time.

Afterward, I pondered many things. Foremost in my mind was the value of life itself. And the endurance of love. Yet as the strictness of this moment yielded to everyday concerns, I began to consider my temporary surroundings.

They were not like anything seen in the uppermost corner of Ohio.

My parents live in an enclave nestled among the mountains of West Virginia. Neither of them is a native of this spot on the map. But after twenty-three years, they have been ‘adopted’ by the community.

My extended visit offered a chance to consider the unique character of rural, southern living. So, I decided to soothe the effects of post-crisis decompression with a bit of reflective wordsmithing.

The result was a short list of thoughts about mountain living:


IN MOUNTAIN COUNTRY… guardrails by the roadside are few. People here reckon drivers should have enough good sense not to land on the roof of someone’s home when negotiating a curve.

IN MOUNTAIN COUNTRY… names take on an entirely different character from the typical nature of more citified surroundings. Women may be known as Raylene, Jolene, Carlene, Maxine, Georgetta, Mary Sue, Rachael Anne or Judy Beth. Men are often identified regally as Ezekiel, Zebulon, Zachariah, Buhl, Blaine, or Hezekiah. Creative spirits reign in the hills!

IN MOUNTAIN COUNTRY… dogs are co-equal with human beings. Here, the affection of a loyal canine is on par with any sort of familial love. So they may be included in all kinds of social activity, or holiday celebrations, except for a bridal shower.

IN MOUNTAIN COUNTRY… folks are proud to have known Billy Ray Cyrus before he was Hannah Montana’s daddy.

IN MOUNTAIN COUNTRY… roads still follow the paths first trodden by ancestors. They may meander through villages and towns with a closeness to local dwellings that can seem almost frightening. The sight of a concrete curb that rests directly against the porch pillar of a house is not at all uncommon.

IN MOUNTAIN COUNTRY… any kind of foodstuff can be fried, breaded, or smothered in gravy. Additionally, meal preparation may be done without the common need for dietary correctness. Deep-fried Snickers Bars or Vienna Sausages cause no guilt. Bacon may be dipped in chocolate. Hot dogs are adorned with garnishes of chili, onions, sauerkraut, slaw, relish, and BBQ dressing. Pork rinds can constitute the basis for a salad, soup, or dessert.

IN MOUNTAIN COUNTRY… there is actually a boulevard named for Don Knotts, who played Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show.

IN MOUNTAIN COUNTRY… any vehicle with four-wheel drive is worthy of ownership. This holds true even if it is over thirty years old, rusty, roadworn, limping mechanically, and patched with duct tape. A pickup truck is essential for navigating uncivilized roadways while transporting lumber, fuel, spare parts, food, and children.

IN MOUNTAIN COUNTRY… nearly anything may be homemade, from a prom dress to the wooden flatbed on a pickup truck. People here have retained skills like painting, carpentry, landscaping, light construction, and sewing in their DNA.

IN MOUNTAIN COUNTRY… if you see a straight section of road, it is probably someone’s driveway.

IN MOUNTAIN COUNTRY… recycling is an age-old virtue. Any discarded item may have a new purpose when viewed in the spirit of innovation. Truck tires can provide the platform for a garden. Old hubcaps might hold water for pets, or flying creatures. Worn out blue jeans can become purses, seat covers, or drapes. Plastic jugs often end up holding cleaning solutions or as part of a front porch décor.

IN MOUNTAIN COUNTRY… grocery stores still bag items for their customers, deliver orders to senior citizens, dispense advice on household chores, and sell products actually made on-site. But they may also offer fishing tackle, hunting equipment, and yard ornaments.

IN MOUNTAIN COUNTRY… a road is also known as a ‘run.’

IN MOUNTAIN COUNTRY… small churches abound. They are in traditional, steepled structures, in modernistic meeting halls, fanciful lodges, weathered outbuildings, or in converted warehouses. They boast billboard signs that proclaim “God allows U-turns” and “Jesus can heal your achy-breaky heart.” They offer evidence that even though some in America have embraced a sort of generic philosophical unilateralism, many still revere the age-old concept of God.

IN MOUNTAIN COUNTRY… time is a relative concept. Typical community architecture often includes a striking contrast between decades, or even centuries of development. Civil War relics co-exist with 1950’s theaters and diners. Turn-of-the-century grandeur might share a spot with the commercial blandness of McDonald’s or Subway. Fuel stations not remodeled since the Nixon-era abound. Only Walmart seems to provide convincing evidence that the present moment really is today.

IN MOUNTAIN COUNTRY… folksy names like ‘Ketchem Trail’ or ‘Green Bag Road’ are common.

IN MOUNTAIN COUNTRY… class divisions are not so obvious. A mansion might be positioned across the road from a humble house trailer. Or a wealthy family could inhabit the sort of home typically given to po’ folk. Plots of land are often passed down through generations of a family. So strict neighborhood definition is less common than in more urban confines. The common denominator – everything is built on a hillside. They wouldn’t have it any other way.

IN MOUNTAIN COUNTRY… biscuits go with everything.

The pace of life in Mountain Country is less speedy than one would expect living near Cleveland. Yet this peaceful setting offers a chance for local residents to pause and reflect on more important things, like fishing.
And, the precious joy of living.

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