January 11, 2018
We are back in Laurel Fork and the thought foremost in my mind is how wonderful it feels to not be cold. Last week was so reminiscent of my days in Alaska. The temperatures, of course, did not compare to the 50-60 below zero we had there during a cold snap, but the cold that radiated from the walls and windows and the winds that drove the cold into our poorly insulated farm house sure did remind me of those days. Today it was in the 50’s and raining and it just felt so good not to have that debilitating cold. I finally got the Christmas tree down today. I always leave my tree up until after Epiphany but because we had that whole section of the house blocked off as we tried to keep the rest of the house warm, the tree sat untouched until we returned to Laurel Fork this week. With it being warmer outside and comfortable inside, I was able to tolerate the closed off portion of the house and get the ornaments put away. (I had already taken down all the other decorations in the rest of the house.) Mike worked inside the barn as it was much to nasty to be trying to do anything outside. The ground was just saturated, soft and slimy. Anywhere we didn’t stay on gravel, cement, or blacktop, we simply slid or sunk into the mess. There’s a huge, attached shed on the back of the barn and it has a long, wooden, feeding trough in it that needs repair. We decided to take down the back section of the trough so that the cattle can have a lounging area in inclement weather and so that we can get a loader in there to clean it out. It was a quiet day and a day to get down to the nuts and bolts of all the little things that need to be done. Monday, Tuesday and half of Wednesday were busy days as we were in Staunton to catch up on things there. Mike always has things to do around the farm (home place in Verona where his mom lives and where his nephew is leasing now). When in Staunton Mike still eats breakfast with his mom, helps her around the place with anything she might need, helps Matt feed the cattle, catches up on delivering hay to customers, often helps Gabino cut wood so that we have wood for the outdoor boiler that heats our house in Staunton, works on equipment (this week it was brakes on one of the farm trucks), runs errands, and such. The winter routine is slower but still busy. (In the summer he is busy making hay and tending to the garden as well.) Monday was the first day of Alissa’s new schedule which keeps her away from home for about 14 hours. The girls were really good for me and Rory did well. She is much easier to keep now that she is walking and able to eat and drink well rather than just relying on nursing. (Neither of Alissa’s girls would take bottles hardly at all. Instead, they would just scream from hunger and wait for momma to get home to nurse them, which meant a long day for me as their caretaker.) I think they both really missed Mike and I while we were away from them for two weeks. Their being happy to have us home was part of the reason they were fairly content Monday with Alissa being gone. Tuesday, I spent half a day at the Antique Mall in Verona working on rearranging the booth and taking inventory. I anticipate needing another two, full afternoons to complete the inventory in that store. Sales have been really slow the last of December and first of January, but they were slow last year at this time as well. Alissa goes in to class later on Tuesday evenings than she did last semester which is good and bad. I had enough time to get supper made before she left which made it a little easier on me but it means she gets home later. After supper and baths, I took the girls downstairs to play where they could interact with Mike as well as he watched a ball game on television. Wednesday morning I packed another load of things to carry with us back to Laurel Fork and I caught up on the paperwork that had been sitting in Staunton waiting on me over Christmas. Gabino was late getting to the house to watch the girls because he was helping Mike. Alissa had to leave to teach her classes at Blue Ridge Community College, so I watched the girls for a while until they got back. The girls played well and I was able to get the downstairs swept and mopped. Rory likes to chase me around as I sweep and mop, so it’s always a circus, but the floors were at least a little cleaner. With all of us in and out so much, keeping the floors up is almost impossible and with a baby who likes to put everything in her mouth, it provides a real challenge. I think we finally got out the door around two on Wednesday. That last few minutes when we are trying to get everything packed up and remember to take everything we need is always the worst time of the week for us as far as our attitudes are concerned. It seems Mike and I inevitably snap and fuss at each other the whole time. Trying to stay organized and keep up with two different places that are almost three hours apart in distance can be a real challenge. It never fails though, once we get in that truck and head down the road we are able to get over whatever we have been fussing about, release the stress and usually get a laugh out of our stupidity. Maybe someday we will finally learn to just roll with the stress and stop biting each other’s heads off as the days in Staunton come to a head and we prepare to travel south. The traffic on Interstate 81 was as nasty as usual on a late Wednesday afternoon and we had not been on the road more than a few minutes when I realized I was absolutely starving. I am so busy when we are in Staunton, that I don’t stop to eat breakfast or lunch and typically just eat the evening meal. I had not had a bite to eat all day and had only had two meals in the last 72 hours. We stopped to eat when we got to Lexington. I inhaled my food! We got to the house after dark. We were hauling a very long cattle trailer. Mike had some supplies in it for the barn and he wanted to park it as close as he could to the house rather than leave it down along the road. We have a narrow bridge that goes over a lively stream right as you turn into our driveway and getting the truck and trailer in is not an easy task. I stood in the dark and watched the trailer as Mike pulled in the driveway. We had to start over a couple of times and I was a nervous wreck thinking that the tires would slide off the edge of the narrow bridge, but we made it over, and up the drive so that we didn’t have to carry everything so far. We unloaded the truck and settled in for the night. Every night I call my grandmother to check on her and to talk to her. Getting through to her can be a real challenge because she doesn’t always hear the phone. We have a system where if she has not heard from me by a certain time, then she calls me. This works well when I am in Staunton with good cell phone service, but it can be a challenge when I am in Laurel Fork. Often, calls do not even come through and when they do, there is only one spot in the house where I can talk and I have to stand very still so that I don’t lose the call. I never fail to get in touch with grandma one way or the other though. It is an important part of her routine and she depends on my calls and panics if she thinks she can’t get in touch with me. It is a way for me to know that she is ok before she heads for bed. In the event I can’t get in touch with her, I can call someone local who can go by and check on her. It is also a way for me to see how her day has gone. Some days go really well for her but a lot of days she gets confused about things. She likes to go to McDonalds on Tuesday and Saturday mornings with my cousin who sits with her. Many days now she gets confused and will be up well before dawn and ready to go to McDonalds on days that they are not schedule to go. My cousin, Lou, is so good to try to make my grandma feel comfortable and she will often go ahead and take her even on those days. Being a pastor’s wife for fifty years, church has always been a major focus for my grandmother, and she worries about getting ready for church in time and will often get up at 3 or 4 am and get ready on Sunday mornings. She told me this week that she called her pastor’s wife and asked her if they forgot her because she had been ready for so long and they never arrived to pick her up. It was not a Sunday and my grandmother was just confused about the day. My calls to her each evening give me an opportunity to hear from my grandmother about her day and to witness her frame of mind. Some days I can tell that the anxiety is greater. I know that as she struggles to remember things, she is aware that she is struggling, and this only makes it worse. We want her to be able to be comfortable and keep her routine as long as possible. It is so important to her to be able to remain at home, but it makes it a challenge for us to make sure that her needs are met. This is why I make frequent trips to check on her and keep her affairs in order as well as call her each night. My brother checks in on her multiple times a week and my cousin is there with her during the day except on “church days” when her pastor and his wife are checking in on her and taking her to church with them. We are working on possible funding from the Veteran’s Administration to provide her with an additional care giver for some afternoon and evening hours as well. Grandma gets upset and agitated if memory issues are mentioned and on one hand often tells people that “Tammy thinks I have dementia but I don’t”. She will turn around and tell them that she is unable to handle her business affairs anymore and that “Tammy handles all my business. It’s nice to have your own bookkeeper.” I don’t often write here in my journal of all the difficulties we face in caring for an elderly family member. Because there are a number of people who feel a personal connection with my grandparents who were mentors, surrogate parents, and adoptive grandparents to so many people over the years, there are those who feel they must try to step in and take over when they don’t really understand the full picture. It’s hard for those who only see a part of the picture to understand all the dynamics, and our family has suffered from interference of those who evidently thought they were helping but in fact were making certain situations more difficult for us. Sometimes, I feel very strongly the pull of being in the middle with trying so hard to take care of the grandchildren who are three hours to the north of us and trying to take care of my grandmother who is almost six hours south of us. Both generations are a blessing and I am tremendously thankful to be able to give of myself in both situations. I also get tired. I’m only human. I also often miss my mother, in a very selfish way, even after all these years. (I was seven when she passed away.) My mother was an only child and my brother and I her only children. That leaves us to look after my grandmother and while I am thankful for that opportunity, I often wonder what it would be like of my mother were here to guide me and show me the way.
January 12, 2018
I’m truly thankful that the folks who built our farmhouse put it on a bank ABOVE the creek rather than sitting down next to the water like so many of the old farmhouses I see in this area. These hills are full of springs and streams and many of the old homes, including ours, get their water through the use of a gravity feed system directly from the springs. I believe easy access to water is why so many of the homes were built on lower ground, coupled with the fact of easy access from the roads which at one time in the not too distant past were little more than one lane, gravel paths. Our home is definitely “in the holler” and a huge ravine sits to the side of the house that can become quite a stream when the conditions are right. In the front of the house two, spring fed streams come together to form Roades Creek. Our home sits on a knoll up above the creek where we can hear the sounds of the water and the frogs in the summer when the windows are open. This morning, that stream is rushing full force as all the water meets and swirls after a night of heavy rains. Had all this moisture met the cold from last week, we would be digging out from under a snow storm but with the temps in the 50’s this week, we are getting rain instead. I brought a pile of papers with me to organize and file and today will be a good day to work indoors. Of course, the rain always reminds me of my Josh who would never miss an opportunity to walk in the rain. His presence is always near but rainy days bring back precious memories of my special child.
January 13, 2018
Yesterday it rained, and rained, and rained, and rained. We had well over an inch of rain as we went into the evening and it continued raining well into the night. We could hear the creek rushing even with the windows closed and the competing noise from inside the house. The temperature began to drop as night fell and the winds continued to gust as they had been doing all day. Several times the power flickered and I wondered if we would end up using the generator that I insisted we have. We did not lose power and sometime in the night, the rain ended. In the upper 50’s yesterday, the temperatures have fallen into the twenties overnight, the wind is gusting up to 40+ miles an hour with wind chills below zero, and we are under a winter weather advisory as all that moisture is now frozen into ice on the roads. Yesterday was the first day that I felt a twinge of seasonal depression that I struggle with each winter. I kept busy and tried not to give into the winter doldrums. I was able to get a lot accomplished around the house and Mike worked inside the barn. It’s nice that he is able to have a dry place to work and he seems to enjoy the process. We have been somewhat relaxed about the whole process but are starting now to feel the urgency of getting things done. The winter will go by quickly and we really want to be able to move the animals by summer. I’m really trying to use up some of the preserved food that we have had around for a while. We have had so much excess in the last few years that the freezers are full of fruit, some of which is four years old. The quality of frozen food is so greatly diminished even within just six months. The only thing that kept any of this fruit even edible is the fact that a lot of it was vacuum sealed. I do run across some that wasn’t vacuum sealed and if it’s too old, I just have to throw it out because it is beyond edible. I came across a bag of blueberries while digging for fruit and made a cobbler with them in my iron skillet. It was so good and our grass finished burgers tasted especially good last night as well. We also had corn that I had cut off the cob and frozen back in the summer.
January 14, 2018
We twist and weave our way along the back roads between our place and Christiansburg where we catch the interstate. The first thirty minutes of the trip I look intently out the window, taking in the details, recognizing what is fast becoming familiar, as well as adding new details to memory. Since I was but a child, I have had a habit of staring at houses with curiosity. It’s not the houses themselves that intrigue me, although I do love the architecture; it’s the stories that are told within the walls. Even as a very young child, I would look at the lights shining from the windows at night from various homes we passed, and wonder about the people inside. So many of the houses we pass in the economically depressed areas of Southwest Virginia are abandoned. Others look like they should be abandoned, but are in fact, inhabited by folks obviously just trying hard to hang on. In my own way, I attempt a form of necromancy. Of course, I don’t actually attempt to “contact the dead”, but in my head, I try to experience the spirit of the people who once lived in these mountain homes. The abandoned buildings are clues that help me to conjure up a bit of the past. I’ve read books about the area and scrounged for information online. I’ve read some historic documents about the people who settled this place, and I see remnants of their spirit in those descendants who remain. In researching Carroll, Floyd, and some of the surrounding Southwest Virginia counties, I have found the fortitude, determination, individualism, independent spirit, and devotion to family that defines so many of the individuals that once lived in the area reminds me of my own Northwest Georgia Mountain heritage.
January 15, 2018
We have rolled around to another Monday. I have been up since 5 am. In Staunton, the house is heated only with wood by an outdoor boiler and with the temperature at only six degrees this morning and a house full of adults who use a lot of hot water (also heated only with wood), the first one up must tend to the fire. I was hoping to sneak buy and not have to go out in the cold to tend to the furnace, but when I got in the shower and the water was cold, I knew I was out of luck. I raked the coals to bring life to the dying embers and found a few small pieces of wood that would burn quickly, laying them in a pattern that would encourage them to burn quickly. I looked for some small logs I thought would burn well and placed them over the smaller pieces of wood, shut the door to the furnace and made my way inside the house where I waited about a half an hour before heading back out to make sure the furnace was burning properly. There was a nice fire burning and while I was out, I added more wood and then settled down with a cup of hot coffee and my computer to wait for the rest of the house to stir. Alissa will soon be headed off to work at Blue Ridge Community College and the Little Girls will be awake and ready for adventure. Today will be a short day of only nine hours of babysitting as Alissa’s classes at James Madison University have been cancelled tonight in honor of Martin Luther King Day. It is Gabino’s birthday, so we will all be here to celebrate with him, which will be nice. As we start a new week, even with the cold and the short winter days, I can’t help but recognize my blessings.