I have written here before about our move as a homecoming of sorts. For those who have lived and grown up in the same area or community it is a common sensation to be “home”. For others home is a place your life may have taken you to new places and communities and you may have never returned for one reason or another.
For me, this place and these mountains are home. It is a sensation of comfort and familiarity–a sense of belonging. But it is in many ways much more than that.
To build a home here when my family first came here–to grow crops and raise livestock on these hillsides and ridges was no easy undertaking. It took years of hard work and perseverance–and the perseverance and strength that it took to make these mountains home compels me to think of these mountain people with respect. My family along with many others made lives and homes here despite the many hardships.
The people who lived, loved, and died here shared all in small communities that grew along the streams and creeks. And in all these communities there grew churches of various faiths, with preachers, priests, and ministers traveling from one area to another. These churches provided meeting places and gatherings of many kinds and one of these includes the church “homecoming” or as it was called in some a “decoration Sunday”. These events would bring the community members out to provide care for their community graves and cemeteries. Some would have a community meal called a “dinner on the grounds” and others would just focus on cleaning graves, pulling weeds from around them and placing fresh flowers on the resting places of family and loved ones.
Yesterday, I did a little homecoming of my own–visiting the family home community deep in the Appalachian mountains and I sought out one the family cemeteries. It is one of the most beautiful and peaceful settings. And one that sits up on a hill–bringing to mind a poem I love very much…
Muriel Miller Dressler tells of the family cemetery in her poem Appalachia,
“….You, who never once carried a coffin
To a family plot high up on a ridge
Because mountain folk know it’s best to lie
Where breezes from the hills whisper, “You’re home”;
You, who never saw from the valley that graves on a hill
Bring easement of pain to those below?
I tell you, stranger, hill folk know…”
(Wild Sweet Notes: Fifty Years of West Virginia Poetry 1950-1999)
The stones or markers I looked to see were snow covered and the high hill top that holds people I hold dear was just beautiful. I brought no flowers on this day, nor shared the time with others who lived nearby–but knowing I am here now and won’t leave again is a very special homecoming indeed.