I don’t often write poetry, but I am taking a creative writing class (yes, I learn from others!) and I thought I’d share it. This happened when I was a kid-won’t say how many years ago, but most the folks mentioned are dead now, and there’s no one to remember some of these times:
The Hills in Me
I love my family, all my kin, I miss the lost, I love the living, but they are the reason I have not camped in Mohican State Park since I was twelve.
My daddy served in World War 11 and Grandpa WW1;
Came home, married hillwomen, raised families and got along.
Grandpa was a moonshiner, a coalminer, a tavern owner, a farmer of corn and canaries.
He raised 8 kids on sourdough buckwheat pancakes, molasses and hard work,
the boys to the mines at 14; the girls to work downtown at McCrory’s five and dime
no need for schoolin’, it was above the likes of us; don’t need uppity manners or minds.
Grandpa kept their wages ‘cept for a dollar a week and when they left home, they took their Sunday suit, one change of clothes in a sack, and whatever they’d saved to get started in life.
It was hard, but we hill people thrive on hard.
My daddy left the hills to move to Ohio and make a better life
He had four kids and mellowed, did things his pa would never have done
Like buy a camper, a white and blue go tagalong, thirteen foot long,
and he loved his wife for herself and not what she could do;
he taught his kids to work, but play sometimes, too.
And grandpa came to visit us; over six foot of mountain man, ruptured from working the mines, still strong and tall.
My grandma five feet tall both ways, round and wearing her faithful red shoes and her warm gramma smile, hugging on the grandkids who begged her to go camping.
Last time grandpa camped was in the war in France,
No good memories to be had there but he gave in. There’s something about your grandkid’s smiles.
Mohican State Forest let you park by the river back then,
Soft and flowing by, not too deep, cool on fourth of July.
Nothing like camp food, river splashing and by the fire telling tales
Of grandpa’s special truck with the hidden tanks, and raising canaries for the mines
Of Wicked David Ziccafoose, the mean landlord who cheated dad and old Burt Rhodes who made rocking chairs during the depression to raise his family
and how he wouldn’t let himself be put over a barrel at the bar when he came home from war.
He was a man. We would be too.
Then time for bed, mom and dad in the top bunk,
Grandma down below, me on the floor, sissy and the baby on the kitchen table bed
My brother Mike stretched on the picnic table in his boy scout sleeping bag.
Grandpa in the station wagon, keeping watch for hessians.
Somebody had to have sense in this family.
Next to us camped a boy scout troop, thirty people strong in tents stretched down river.
By midnight, it was quiet ‘cept for nature croaking and creaking, peeping and prattling about the neighbors, and the stars coming close to talk to the earth.
Grandma couldn’t sleep; she rolled, and turned and tossed and moaned a little.
She was used to the tick back home, not four-inch foam.
It got dark, the stars came close, the river twinkled in the moonlight flirting with the sky people.
The woods were hushed, stilled by smells brought by the breeze of dying campfires, wildflowers and piney trees.
Then grandma flounced too hard; the braces under her bed gave way,
She rolled into the underbed storage and out the back door and down into the river.
Now it was only six inches deep, but in your flannel nightie in the dark of night it was enough to set grandma caterwauling like a hound in a leghold trap.
Dad jumped down from the bunk onto me and I started yelling, which woke the baby and he started yelling, and Cindy rolled over and fell on me as dad in his shorts was going out the door, as Mike fell squalling off the picnic table and grandpa jumped out of the station wagon
And shot off his 12 gauge straight up into the trees.
We didn’t know he had it with him.
The boy scouts in their BVD’s rolled out of their tents, flashlights in hand, a first aid backpack
and several large flinging rocks in case it was a bear, with three sleepy troop leaders pulling on their jeans and stumbling along, telling the boys to slow down.
But they were charging upriver to rescue us, which convinced Grandpa the Hessians were coming.
He was reloading when the park rangers showed up.
After they read us our rights, I was twelve, I don’t remember them, the boy scouts left, having counted this as their good deed for the day,
leaving their rocks in a pile at the edge of our campsite.
Grandpa unloaded, cracked the gun and stored it and the ammo in the spare tire compartment,
and we were escorted out of the camp.
I have visited, I have picnicked, I have been in church groups on walks to the dam;
But I have never camped in Mohican state park that day to this.
And I’m older than the trees in the second growth forest, I have raised six kids, I have had careers, and I still love my family and I camp in an RV with no added relatives and generally not close to home,
And I’m still from the hills, it never leaves your heart, and neither does your family or the lessons learned.
J. Traveler Pelton
See you next week!