Thursday, December 29, 2011

Up on the Hill

"Up on the Hill" and yes "Hill" is capitalized, is a phrase I think my mother-in-law is growing tired. My father-in-law grew up on Bryan Hill in central Pennsylvania. Now he is in dementia, yearning in a way to be where his childhood was. His sister, Twila, still lives on the homestead, so he wants to revisit it every day.
We made the trip on Tuesday this week. I have been up on the Hill many times in the past thirty two years, in all weather. My favorite is fall, of course. The first time I went with David to visit his grandparents was a dreary fall day that dissolved into snow. Grandpa at the time sat in his chair staring at me. At the end of the visit, he said, "I'd like to kiss that girl." I didn't get to know him very well, as he also had that dementia that runs in the family and died in 1981.
Soon, it was the two ladies on the Hill, Grandma and Aunt Twila. David and I always made the visit up on the Hill. Susie Skillman Lyon, truly was a refined mountain woman, always gracious in her elder years. At her funeral, so many of the nieces and nephews and others visited that Ray, my brother-in-law declared she had a ministry to the down and out. They knew they would have a praying ear.
The church on Moore Hill played(still does in Aunt Twila's life) a central part in their lives. It had originally been on Church Hill, where all the ancestors are buried now, looking over the slope to the new church, which is a white old school house. One of Susie's proudest moments was when she could play the pump organ, as they had installed an engine to power it. Instead of Little Brown Church in the Dell they changed the chorus to Little White Church on the Hill. The Sunday after Labor Day is Homecoming when members that had moved away, come home for a day with a picnic in the pavilion.
I gazed out the window on our trip up the other day, looking on the high way so very far down. I remember when the road was paved, the biggest news in decades. There is the house on the bend that I wonder how many cars have run into it or at least how often headlights disturbed the peace inside. Hunting camps scattered over the area, old abandoned trailers left to rot. In the dreary rain with no leaves on the trees this is the least favorite time to look at the sights.
This day, a well is being dug in the front yard because the spring that never dried, did so this past summer. A buck's head with a rack always stares at us in the living room. Dad asks, "Did Dad get that in Hick's Run?" to the point I'm sure the buck was killed in Hick's Run.
I observe the living room, trying to imagine the family raised here. Dad was the youngest boy, Clark and Leon, the older brothers, Aunt Twila, the youngest and only girl. She remained on the farm. I think of the baby with a heart defect, that would stop breathing. Years ago, Dad spoke of him. When he stopped breathing, Susie would dunk him in cold water to shock him back to life. The baby didn't live longer than seven months, I think. The saddest part of Dad's dementia, now, is it is hard to carry on a conversation. He has to stick to the script.
Aunt Twila talked about a creek that Paul, David's older brother, played in. My husband sitting on his bent over legs, like a little boy, insisted, "I played in it, too."
I wish I had that time machine to go back for an instant to see a small boy, not in black and white, but flesh, splashing in the creek that isn't there any more, either.
After David helps his aunt move wood in the small basement, we load up the car and drive away. David chooses the other side of the mountain to go back into town. The old school, where Dad walked uphill both ways is gone. We go past relatives' homes, that remained on the Hill. David talked of riding his bike down this twisting road, after someone drove their bikes up to Grandma's.
The day is too cloudy and wet to stop at Look Out Point, but many times we rested and took in the town there. Before we know it we're crossing the Broad Street bridge, but it is a new one, not the humming bridge of years ago. No loitering on the bridge now. The first day of trout will not see fishermen on this new one.
On this day, I really wish the Hill was in my deep recesses of memory. The fact, they didn't have electricity until the 1950's. Who lived where, riding down that Hill with the wind in my hair as a free kid.
This is in my children's DNA, their ancestral history. They'll remember four wheeling, sledding parties, feeding the horses, and the rest deep down in their souls. I hope they take away from this family deep faith. Also from my mother-in-law's family that lived on the other side of town.
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