Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Mountains Run Through Them...

I grew up in the foothills of the Bliue Ridge Mountains. But my father's family came from the Blue Ridge. And we spent a lot of time "up home." That is what we called the place where our branch of the Atkins family lived. The technical name for that place tucked between the mountains in that particular part of Rappahanock County is a "cove." But everybody knows it's really a hollow. And they also know it's pronounced "holler."

Uncle Charlie and Aunt Ethel and Aunt Nellie lived in a small, 2 story house with low ceilings and a wood cookstove that had a fire in it twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. It only went cold once in a while so that my great-aunts could get the ashes out of it and start a new fire. My great uncle and great aunts kept a few cows and milked them. They raised a few hogs. They had chickens and plenty of eggs. They had a garden and canned their food. An apple orchard produced a little income as did Uncle Charlie with his handmade black walnut furniture.

All of my fondest memories are of "up home." So in the same way that a river ran through Norman Mclean's memories of growing up in Montana, all of my fondest memories have mountains runing through them. The Blue Ridge Mountains are the one place in the world where I feel most at home and most at peace. When I was working at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, Diana and I would ride over into Arkansas on Saturdays just so we could ride around in the Ozarks and visit the towns and villages there. It was predicatble. It was a home away from home.

That makes the Mossy Creek Chronicles almost predictable, too. The people I know and love come from the Appalachian South and other places like it. There is something special about those rural places. And the mountains make it even better, almost magical. When I was growing up, life in the mountains was simple and basic. People worked hard, enjoyed what they did, and celebrated simple things like having food to eat and a front porch with a glider. It was a simple, slow-paced life. It still is, I think.

I can imagine people saying that I have romanticized a region with real problems that are stubborn and won't go away. I am familiar with those limitations personally and professionally (as a student of Southern history and culture). But life went on from week to week. And each week started on Sunday. And Sunday started in worship. The best meal of the week was Sunday dinner. There were two or three kinds of meat, vegetables, biscuits, cornbread, and all kinds of pies and cakes for dessert. That table was magical for a child like me.

Maybe it was a romanticized life. Maybe I found what I was looking for there. Maybe it was peace and peace of mind. But I know that my extended family lived on a faith that God would provide and that the worst problems could be solved by appealing to scripture and making time for prayer. It was, in retrospect, a solid, simple faith that trusted God for everything. The people I know from the mountains worked hard and waited on the Lord.

"But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:31 I have found that scripture to be as true as the day is long. I learned it from my family. I learned it at home and at my home away from home in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is a matter of faith with me even now.

And so are the Mossy Creek Chronicles. I'm actually inviting you into my family and my past. It means so much to me I can't help but share it. I want you to see and experince the world I grew up in and my extended family and their neighbors. Are the people of the Apalachian South  better than anyone or everyone else? No, of course not. They are just faithful, hardworking people. And I have always believed that if you met them you would love them. I do, and I hope you do, too.

And so the mountains run through my memories and my dreams. They are the place I remember with great affection and could never forget. Faith, family, hard work, the passage of time, and a world that was almost timeless. The Mossy Creek Chronicles are the stories of people I have known and loved and admired. I hope you come to feel the same way over time. Maybe, just maybe, you will find your strength renewed and find yourself on the wings of eagles from time to time as you join me in the mountains I love so much. I hope so.

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