Recalling An Autumn Visit
To Grandma's House
Down The Back Roads
By Bob Smith - 2013
The honking of the flight of wild Canadian
geese, as they passed overhead, caught my attention as the sun
sank low in the western sky. The "V" formation of the
great birds was winging its way south, and the cool evening
breeze suddenly seemed just a little bit cooler. The birds came
from somewhere north where the days were already much shorter
and the chill of the nights had told the migratory creatures
that it was time to begin the annual journey that was as old
as time itself. I watched in awe of the splendor of it all,
until the geese had disappeared over the southern horizon.
Autumn was just around the corner. If the robin is the harbinger
of spring, then the geese would have to be considered the messengers
of the winter yet to come. More than that, however, the wild
geese have long triggered feelings of nostalgia in the breasts
of men, and so it was with myself.
I found myself remem-bering an early autumn a long time ago.
I was a small boy at the time. I still recall how the older folks
proclaimed it the earliest fall and winter in years. As the leaves
came down with the chilly breeze, my mind explored that long
ago weekend when Mom, Dad, my sisters and I rode the train from
our home in Letcher County to visit for the weekend Dad's parents
in Lee County. Dad worked on the L&N Railroad and had a pass
to use the passenger train to go about anywhere he wanted, whenever
he liked. The trip was a long one, lasting around four hours
or so. I had plenty of time to get sick and get over it before
the journey came to an end at St. Helens. Dad said to sit up
straight and look straight ahead to avoid motion sickness, but
I just couldn't resist watching the river and towns go by. The
leaves were already changing colors, and as they passed my window,
the hills and valleys reminded me of a large book of landscape
paintings I had once seen.
About halfway through the trip, a porter brought a tray of sandwiches
by, and Dad purchased some for all of us. I was already too sick
to eat anything, however. In those days if I was too sick to
eat, boy was I sick!
When the train stopped at St. Helens, I was more than ready to
get off. After a few minutes in the cool fall air, I was feeling
much better. Dad left us for a few minutes and soon returned
with the good news that someone he knew had agreed to take us
to Grandpa's place.
The Elias Pryse Hotel, once located in Beattyville, Lee
County, Kentucky, is situated to the left in this photo taken
in 1902. To the hotel's right is a store. The hotel sat in the
vicinity of the late Ed Jackson's law office. This photo, which
is from the 2011 Three Forks Historical Calendar published by
the Three Forks Tradition, P. O. Box 557, Beattyville, KY 41311,
was taken from the area where the Beattyville Post Office now
Mom and Dad piled into the cab of the big flatbed truck and my
younger sister sat in Mom's lap. There was nothing for me to
do but climb up on the back of the truck. I had to ask what the
good smelling dry leaves on the back of the truck were and learned
they were tobacco. I held on to the standards behind the cab,
as the truck wound its way around the narrow gravel road. The
fresh air kept me from getting sick all over again.
Eventually the truck turned off on a dirt road, and I was happy
to get off when it stopped at an old graveyard. The driver said
something about the hill below the graveyard being too bad to
get back up, and this was as far as he could take us. I saw Dad
hand him some money and we started out walking. The truck driver
had been right about the road. There were ruts I could have hidden
in. Where the road crossed Peddler's Fork, there was no bridge,
so we had to pull off our shoes and wade the creek. The water
was cool, but not very deep, and soon we had our shoes back on
and continued our walk. It seemed to go on forever past the
fields and forest, although I learned later that it was no more
than a couple of miles.
We smelled the smoke from Grandpa's chimney, well before the
road turned down the hill to his house. I was delighted to see
a squirrel come down the side of a hickory tree and take off
running along the top of a rail fence. We came in sight of the
house and Granny was coming out the kitchen door. Grandpa was
coming around the side of the house with a pail of water as Granny
hugged my sister and welcomed everyone.
Our timing was good, and before long, we were sitting down to
a big supper. I went out to the well with Grandpa, as Mom helped
Granny take the food off the stove and put it on the table.
Grandpa pulled a battered old galvanized bucket, containing a
jar of milk and a crock of butter, from the well.
Supper consisted of fried chicken and all sorts of garden fresh
vegetables. I couldn't get enough of the piping hot cornbread
with gobs of melting butter. The best part of all, however, was
Granny's apple pie, fresh from the oven of the wood-burning cook
After supper we all retired to the living room as darkness and
the chill of the autumn air closed in. Grandpa had a roaring
fire going in the fireplace and the warmth felt good. The light
from the fire combined with a single kerosene lamp to provide
the room's only light. The smell of the burning hickory and kerosene
is one I still remember, even after all these years. The dancing
flames conjured up all sorts of images as Grandpa told some scary
tale about Daniel Boone's narrow escape from the Indians.
When I crawled into that featherbed that night, I slept the sleep
of the innocent. I awoke shortly after dawn to the sounds and
smells of breakfast coming from the kitchen. There was a light
frost outside and Grandpa remarked again about winter coming
early as he poked up the fire in the fireplace.
The visit to Grandpa's farm was over all too soon, and we were
on our way back to the town life and school that I knew. A couple
of years later we would move to Lee County and would live near
Grandpa and Granny. Still, I never forgot those early visits.
Bob Smith, Editor-Publisher of The Three Forks Tradition newspaper,
kindly shares a little part of Kentucky's history with our readers
each month. He is a native of Fleming-Neon and would appreciate
any historical information from that area. He can be reached
at The Three Forks Tradition, P. O. Box 557, Beattyville, KY