I grew up just past the last settlement made before one enters no man’s land. Growing up on a 75 acre farm that spanned from the top of the southern bank of ruff run hollow…the whole way down to ruff run, teaches a person a few things.
You learn to understand the way that land lies, the reason that it lies like it does. You learn that on the southern face, there is a warmer world in existence…and that if you live on the north face, ice stays until the end of March, sometimes into April.
You become keenly aware of the forces that shape the hills and the hollows, the springs that feed the creeks, and just which feeder creek valleys are the loneliest places on earth.
If you walked down across the far west pasture field, and crossed our small, nameless creek that had gouged out skunk hollow over millenia, you would be faced with an exceptionally steep hillside to climb up over.
When I was a child, it was the home of giant white oaks, the canopies of which shaded hepaticas and anemones, trilliums and mayflowers. And the shoemaker lived up there in an old hollow tree… at least that was the story told to little kids round these parts.
And from the top of that great white oak woods, you could see Smith Road.
At the base of that steep hillside ran our "lower lane". It ran straighdown alongside the pig pen and at the bottom of the field, crossed our creek over a bridge built of old timbers, and then wrapped around the base of that huge, steep hill.
On the backside of that hill, it crossed over neighbor’s property and junctioned with Smith road…a seldom used (by anyone) dirt road.
The lane had been used mostly as access to the church in Coylesville (the Irish Catholic Church) when my grandmother still drove a horse and buggy to church. It cut off miles and miles–rather than her going out the lane proper, and junctioning with the road named after "double sales" …after which she would have to wind around the top of a hill and then follow Smith, road alonside a creek that had cut the next valley over, and eventually pass the end of our ‘lower lane’ on her way to the church.
But by the time that i was old enough to recall going to church, we had already switched to the German catholic church…and the lower lane had fallen into a nearly impassable state. The bridge was all but washed away–10 feet or so, downstream but still intact.
Our side of the property was kept trimmed down, due to a lot of animals grazing, however, that backside, across the property line, had become overgrown with brambles and small witch hazel trees.
It was always a bit of a mystery to me. I never went that direction, except once when I was ten years old and my puppy was lost. I looked everywhere for her. (She found her way home, and lived to be 12 years old) (best dog ever, really, Pokey is great, but Heidi was the best). It was lonely back there. All that resided in that valley was an old coal tipple, and the house of the Smith’s.
It was an old red, shingle sided, tumble down wreck of a poverty dwelling if I ever saw one. Long since abandoned, we were told to just stay away from that place, "No need to go nebbing over there!"
And then there was that story that we always got to hear, right after we had been told to stay away from there. About how after Melie Smith had her baby, my grandma, being neighborly, took over jars of home canned meat and fruit and vegetables. This would have been during the depression.
When grandma stopped back a week later to check on Melie and to gather up her empty Mason jars… oh my! She was told that Melie had not washed them… she had thrown them out in the old mine entrance where they threw all of their ‘garbage’.
Grandma claimed to have never said a word about it to Melie or her people…but lol, she said alot about it to us… for many, many years!
So there it was, the hollow at the bottom of Smith road, where that small creek met ruff run. It was a place that we passed only on rare occasions, when we went to Kittanning to visit my Aunt and Uncle…or if we went past Kittanning, much further north to the banks of redbank creek to visit my other grandma.
When I was 12 years old, we drove down Smith road one day to access 422 the shortest way…and much to our surprise, there was a trailer a.k.a. mobile home, sitting on our old lane at the Smith road end.
I don’t mean sitting there as if they ran out of time and parked it there until tomorrow. I mean that it was now a home…in that God-for-saken lonely valley!
I can still see my mom waving at a man sitting outside of the trailer, and still see him not moving a muscle, then, lol, hear my mom say, "Well, new neighbors…and rude ones at that…and the nerve of them, blocking our lane!"
We had not ever used that lane that I could recall… and for someone moving in, it was not even obvious that a lane had been there.
Summer waxed and waned, and we heard nothing about the people back on Smith road. Life went on about its normal way, and we kids in our ‘neighborhood’ visited and they came and helped us put in hay, because they actually thought that it was fun.
Karen and Cheryl had moved here from Texas just two years before…and the neighborhood was for all intents and purposes, a girl vaccuum, lol, the only two boys were cousins…so they did not even count!
The first day of school came with the expected resignation that the end of summer freedom brings. This year, Cheryl and I were making the switch to the high shcool bus—we were off to junior high school which was in the same building as the high school… Karen, one year older was riding that bus too–on her way to Junior high. Betty was left behind for one more year in the neighborhood elementary school.
The bus stopped and picked us up, and we sat down and started looking around for familiar faces. All three of us in one seat (safety in numbers you know?) We saw older boys and girls of local farm families…and there were a few unfamiliar faces of boys we had never seen before.
We got through our day…so much newness, too many hours of that uneasy unfamiliar feeling inside. At the end of the day, we boarded for our trip home, and I noted that one unfamiliar boy getting on our bus at the elementary school. Hmm?
We once again piled into one seat. We were at the bottom of the food chain here…and any confidence/cockyness was kept in check. It did not matter if the loud mouthed Snyder boys each took their own seat (there were four of them), we were just trying to get by.
The students on the bus were really thinned out by the time we reached the end of Keasy, turning onto Stargrill and then passing Smith…
"Wait…stop! This is our stop!"
Karen, Cheryl and I turned to see two boys coming forward in the bus…to get off.
We sat, speechless, as they crossed Stargrill road in front of the bus and headed down Smith road while we pulled away and headed up over Frazak hill.
We were each (no doubt) silently thinking, lol , BOYS!!!!! Living on Smith Road! BOYS!!!!
The next day, my task was at hand…assertaining their names…Woody and Ken. That would be short for Woodrow Wilson…and Kenneth.
I was always friendly and welcoming…and by the time they got off of the school bus, they had been invited over to see the farm, and to meet my family.
They must have run down Smith road. I was barely home when I saw them rounding the bottom of that steep hill at the bottom of the fields.
Heidi wanted to rip them to shreds, lol, but in spite of that, they were outwardly friendly and anxious to meet us too.
Woody was the oldest of five, physically small, shorter than me, and Ken was about my height. They had sandy blond hair. They laughed easily… but even one as young as I could see, there was something sad in their eyes.
It was a nice visit, and as soon as my sister Betty got home, luuuuuuv was obvious in her eyes.
They overstayed their allotted time, and it wasn’t much past that time that we heard a woman’s vouice yelling, "WOOOODY!!!! KEEEEN!"
They took off immediately down the old lower lane and were quickly out of sight.
I called karen immediately and told her all about the visit. Karen, my first cousin once removed, was already, and still is my best friend inthe whole wide world…was on that day, jealous…the only person more jealous than her was her sister Cheryl, who had love in her eyes too…
Dang that little fella Woody, had two hearts pounding!
The next day I made my way, after having been invited by their mom, to their home to meet them.
When I stepped out of the witch hazels and the brambles into the sunshine of their yard, the man was sitting outside of the trailer, as he had been a couple of months befoer when we first saw them.
I said hello, and he said nothing. I continued on, with his eyes following me as I moved, but ne never said a word or moved an inch.
A woman stepped out of the triler and smiled as she said, "Hi, I am Deet".
"Hi, I am Teresa."
She looked over at the man sitting outside and yelled, "Wood, this is our neighbor around the hill, on that farm over there that the boys said they could see from the woods. Her name is Teresa."
He never moved or acknowledged that she had spoken.
We went inside and she showed me her new trailer. "The four boys share this bedroom, and Wood has this bedroom and Rosita and I stay back here."
Another man emerged from the back bedroom that she had identified as hers, and she introduced him as Ed… "Wood’s brother."
The trailer was spotless, and she had the look of a hard working woman. You just knew that she was a no-bullshit person. And I could respect that. In the years that she lived back there, I developed an awe for her…and a great fondness.
I met Mike, Jack and Rose that day too, after they got home from elementary school. They all walked me back to the property line. I crossed the barbed wire fence and bid them goodbye, "See you in the morning"
As I walked back to my house, another quarter of a mile, I wondered about much of what I had just seen… but never waivered on accepting Deet’s friendliness at face value.
Of course Karen and Cheryl were just about beside themselves with questions about Woody’s family. Poor Ken, he never captured anyone’s heart…he was kind of awkward, but without a doubt, the brightest light shining of that group. Ken, I adored. He was a sweet person, I imagine that he still is…living somewhere in Oklahoma last that I heard.
Oh, lol, back to the day…
Next day on the school bus, after the crowd had thinned out, we alll split up in our own seats. Ken and Woody came and sat next to my seat. Ken did the talking.
"You know who Wood is?"
I shook my head as I said, "Nope."
"He is our dad. He had a stroke. He can’t talk or even move really."
I wanted to cry for them, and I wanted to ask a bunch of questions that I managed to stifle, and now I understood so much about how Deet lived.
I knew the source of the sadness in their eyes… a sadness so deep that Woody, the oldest and his father’s namesake, could not even speak of the stroke.
I learned a lot from them while they lived back there. I never knew anyone who had pain like that in their life.
There were no divorces, no separations, no strange living arrangements due to physical infirmaties… in my neighborhood, in my church… and I watched while adult women in my backwoods world, judged and then ostracized Deet…
And I watched a good, hard working and honest woman…doing what she had to do to get by…
That taught me more about human nature than all of the other neighbors that I ever had…and of all that I probably ever will have…
And all five of those kids were my friends. We had a blast…and many more stories that include them will likely find a home on this livespace.