Articles & Stories

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 stands.

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 stove.
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 41311; 606/464-2888.