|By Juanita Morris Hawkins|
I wonder why it is almost impossible to get the yearning for the place where I was born and raised out of my heart. I came to Florida as a young woman with a husband and two small children to find employment and a new start in life.
Florida has been good to me and I can’t complain about much except for the loss of that small town I used to live in which has grown to be a city. Still yet, it is on the whole a good place to live.
It has almost any convenience I could want within a three mile radius and our streets are maintained well and the crime is low here in my city. Yet, there has always been something missing.
I was born and raised on my grandparents’ 200 acre farm near Elkview, West Virginia. I grew up in the wonderful days before electronics took over. My brother and I could roam all of those 200 acres without fear of any kind except for a stubbed toe or the occasional fall from a tree.
We never knew that in the eyes of the “outside world” we would have been considered “poor”. We always had wonderful home cooked, garden-raised food to eat, fresh milk to drink and clothes to wear. My grandfather worked several jobs that took him away from the farm during the day, but when he got home, he took over his farm duties which he loved.
I was surrounded by the love of family who lived near enough to see often. I had an abundance of cousins who were like brothers and sisters. We were a pack, of sorts. I loved them with all my heart.
I have vague memories of World War II and it’s impact on my life. I remember my uncle (my mom’s brother) going away to serve, and many other family members being shipped out. I really didn’t understand what “shipped out” meant except that my mother and many of my family members being in tears.
I remember one day especially well. We had a battery operated radio and I was playing in the house at the time and heard the radio playing. Suddenly I heard my mom give an agonized groan and heard sobbing follow. I rushed into the kitchen terrified to see my mother sobbing so hard and asked with a broken voice what was wrong.
She pulled me close to her and said that our troops had gone across the English Channel and were in the midst of a horrible battle. Her brother was there somewhere and she was terrified. I remember hearing a man’s voice on the radio and he sounded like he was sobbing also.
He said the water had turned red with blood.
Upon hearing that my mother almost fell to the floor and I was terrified. Later, I was to learn that my uncle was indeed there on Omaha Beach, and was later to fight over much of France with General Patton. Thankfully my uncle survived and came home one day. He brought me a silk handkerchief from Paris which I still have to this day.
This was my life until I was six years old, then my life was changed forever. My grandmother and grandfather were going to go to the church to help clean it up before services the next day, Sunday. They were walking and were almost to the church when their neighbors stopped in their truck and said they were going to Charleston to do some shopping and asked if my grandparents would like to come along.
Grandmother thanked them but said she was meeting some other ladies to clean the church. My grandfather decided to go along and pick up some supplies he needed on the farm. On their way home, there was an accident when the driver veered for some reason and hit an overhanging rock which caused the truck to crash.
My grandfather’s head was slammed against the rock as he was riding in the bed of the truck. He never regained consciousness. Three people died that day in the truck, my grandfather being one of them.
My grandmother had to go to work to keep the taxes paid and afford to keep the farm going. Most of the farm animals were sold. My family moved to Charleston where my dad went to work repairing radios, jukeboxes and the newest thing to arrive, TV.
We lived in Charleston until I was a sophomore in high school and then we moved to Elkview where I was to graduate.I worked at the Diamond Department Store as a secretary after graduation and two years later married my high school sweetheart. We moved to Florida where I have lived ever since.
The farm has since been sold but the family cemetery is still owned by my family. I have lived here far longer than I lived on that farm but here it stays within my heart and soul.
I have asked myself so many times, what is its’ hold on me, why can’t I forget. I think, as far as I’m concerned, that those early years of complete happiness and safety so imprinted upon my mind and soul that they cannot be separated.
I can sit here in the Florida sand and remember how good it felt to wade in mud puddles of clay and feel the silkiness of that mud oozing between my toes. I can feel and smell the woods on frosty mornings and hear my feet crunching as I walk.
I can remember picking hazelnuts as I walked along. I remember lying on a carpet of soft green grass in the summer, chewing on a sweet blade of grass, and watching clouds float overhead.
Perhaps, I wonder, was it that I lived there in a different time, the last true time of innocence in this mad world. Time when neighbors helped each other and watched over each other’s children. Time when we were proud to be Americans as we stood head and shoulders above the nations then. I don’t know.
I ponder these questions as I read of all the people who struggled to live and die there in Calhoun County in the Hur Herald’s archives. People who were of the same heart and mind as my grandparents. People who had the same love of their land.
I’m not sure why my heart still yearns for that soil of my youth, longing for a time machine to take me back.
Whatever it is, it is lodged somewhere deep within, it seems to have become a part of my very soul.
I cannot travel back there these days as I would wish due to health concerns, but I am partial anyway to the West Virginia of my mind and soul and all the good people who live here in my soul with me.