It is strange how the landscape can change at night; the familiar landmarks seem transformed into odd and unfamiliar objects that are somewhat frightening. The air is crisp and cold as a ripe Winesap apple, and the threat of frost hovers very near. Not a cloud mars the clarity of the nighttime sky, and the world seems hushed and waiting.
Dark shadows crouch behind each shrub and tree, and the flowerbeds, bright and bold by day, are leached by the moonlight streaming down upon them. Pale ghost flowers by night, their spirits will soon be vanquished by the coming frost. You can almost feel the season, slowly but inevitably, changing. The new moon is shining overhead, observing all, but saying nothing.
Today the sun shines from a cloudless, October blue sky, and the cricket’s lonely dirge is heard as the dry grasses grow warmer, where they are hidden. The chipmunks and squirrels are working diligently to store their winter supply of nuts, while the frivolous grasshoppers and crickets have fiddled away their summer. The cry of the katydids grows fainter as the nights grow colder, and soon will cease altogether.
Although most of the trees retain their greenery, the tall poplars have shed their leaves, except for the very top, where a crown of leaves flutters and shimmers in the sunshine as a playful breeze blows through them. Here and there, a flaming crimson maple stands out against the hillside, and on the high ridges the leaves are changing fast. It is a feast to the soul to walk through the autumn woods and while away a leisurely hour or two just soaking up the beauty.
On a day such as this, my mind is transported to Hickory Knob. I smell again the unique fragrance that belongs to that place, a blend of rich earth warmed by the sun, that warm, nutty smell of fallen leaves and dying summer and the ripe odor of harvest time. Nowhere else on earth is found that compound of sun-kissed woods and autumn leaves. I can close my eyes and I am back there again.
Daddy has pitched the tent underneath the big beech tree, where we always camp. After dragging in some dead wood, he has chopped up some firewood and then took his gun into the woods to find some squirrels. Mom is unpacking groceries and bed covers to use in the huge tent, where Daddy has pitched it over a layer of soft pine boughs. The tent has a canvas floor in it, and she piles quilts on it. The tent is so big that it take three quilts pinned together to reach from side to side.
Uncle Homer and Aunt Bertha lived just above our campsite, and he always made a trip down to our camp to visit. At one time, there was a grandson who lived with them, and I loved him the first time I laid eyes on him. He climbed the tall tree where the wild grapes ripened in the sun, and dropped pods of them in my lap. We climbed the immense rocks that lined the creek and gathered the little red deerberries and mountain tea berries. Korea put an end to our plans and daydreams.
So many memories . . . I remember Mom cooking breakfast underneath a tall pine tree, and brother Ronnie climbing the tree and shaking dew down in her skillet of bacon. He was a scamp, and couldn’t seem to stay out of trouble. Sometimes his escapades included his brother Mark. I see them now, little blonde haired boys; close in age. The family circle has been broken, and they are both gone. How I miss them! There will be no more camping in Hickory Knob with them.
The last year that Daddy took us camping, his grandsons were all lined up in sleeping bags on the ground near the campfire. Daddy was tired and sleepy, and the boys got louder and rowdier as the hour grew later. He warned them a couple of times, and then got up to give them a smack. In the darkness, Andy got left out and Freddie got two smacks. That did set them off, and Daddy gave up trying to sleep.
That was Daddy’s last fall to camp out. He took Noel up on the hill with him and told him that someday his old Poppy would not be there to hunt with him; but he was to keep on coming there. Those were prophetic words—the massive stroke that he had the next spring ruled out his camping forever.
Memories are bittersweet. I think of how wonderful it would be to go once more to Hickory Knob with Daddy, and Mark and Ronnie and all the rest—Uncle Homer and Aunt Bertha, and of course, Myles. Mom would be there too, minding the campfire and frying potatoes in the big iron skillet. She told me once that her idea of heaven was to be back on Big Laurel Creek with Mommy and Dad, and all her brothers and sisters. I like that idea too; to be back home once more with the ones we love.
However heaven is, it will be more wonderful than we can imagine. Revelation 22:14 says, “Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” Luke 20:36, “Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.”
Heaven will truly be worth it all.
PETALS OF THE PAST
By Betty J. Banks
A flower pressed within a book
Must have a tale to tell.
Could it but speak it would relate
The story very well . . .
“I once grew by the garden gate
Beneath the needled pine.
Was chosen by a nice young man
To give to Caroline.
She pinned me on a pretty dress
She’d worn for her first date.
With breathless hurry she did rush,
Not making him to wait.
With blushing cheeks, she took his hand,
Bade ‘night’ to Dad and Mom.
Upon a cloud of silvery pink,
Went dancing at the prom.
Around the floor their hearts did twirl
To new love’s wistful tune.
Then strolling home with hand in hand,
Gazed, raptured, at the moon.
When they returned to garden gate,
Lips touched with tenderness.
I was placed here to remember
Sweet Caroline’s first kiss.”
There is nothing sweeter than that “first love” unless it is that “first kiss.”