On the occasion of officially becoming a senior, I took the time to go home, look back, and discover that time and change stop for no one…and I mean, NO ONE!
Scottown, OH – There is a hillside along Guyan Creek, on Ohio Route 217, outside of Scottown, in Lawrence County, where I spent countless hours growing up: picking wild blackberries in three-gallon buckets filled in the summer, hunting squirrels in the fall and hunting rabbits. hunting when the autumn leaves fell and the broom turned bronze in the November chill… heather thickets made a reliable hiding place for white-tailed rabbits sitting on a sun-dappled December day.
It was owned by my paternal grandparents, ND and Sylvia Fulks, who raised nine boys and one girl on 180 acres of rolling hills and lowlands in southern Ohio during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
They milked a small herd of Holstein cows, grew a couple of acres of tobacco, melons to sell… anything to supplement the income needed to feed so many mouths. Located along the nearby Ohio River, Huntington, West Virginia was to the south, while Gallipolis was 18 miles upriver to the east and Ironton 18 miles downriver to the west.
In the summer I spent a lot of time on that farm, trying to help out with the housework, but overall, I think I was just in the way. When I was old enough, Grandpa and Uncle Frank let me mow lowlands and grass fields with a Farmall C tractor and sickle bar mower.
For fun, I swam in Guyan Creek, a small tributary that eventually found its way into a larger one, called Symmes Creek, and eventually into the Ohio River. Guyan was about 30 feet wide and two feet deep after a heavy rain, but it looked like the mighty Mississippi to a ten-year-old boy who wanted to cool off or catch minnows with a purse seine.
Back then, I thought it would never change: the hills, the woods, the fishing pond behind the milking barn where we caught giant bluegill and the occasional sea bass.
I thought Glenn Holschuh’s General Store in Scottown, where you could trade a bucket of fresh blackberries for a bottle of RC Cola and a bag of chips… would always be there.
I thought the neighborhood characters (Homer Graham, Ferry Swindler, and Claude Beckett) would last as long as the giant rocks that surrounded the hills behind ND and Sylvia’s house and barn.
And the college and post-school years he spent working made no difference. In my mind, the farms up and down Route 217 from Scottown to Platform would be there forever, along with the people. Because, in fact, they had been there… forever!
Family gatherings would bring you back to reality, of course. As time went on, so did the people of Windsor Township: empty chairs at annual meetings and houses and land changing hands. People from nearby Huntington began to move in to claim their place in the country. Suddenly there were new houses ten times bigger than the ones I grew up with. And these people didn’t swim in Guyan. They had pools in the backyard!
The family, and that glorious collection of uncles and personalities, also began to wane. ND Fulks passed away in 1976. Sylvia passed away at age 98, in 2003. All those uncles and my one and only aunt (Norma) would eventually become a lovely couple, Frank and Dan, both in their 80s now, and still around to anchor them. memories of nephews and nieces, to remember so painfully the past time and the loss of sweet innocence and no particular responsibility.
Last week I went back… to Ironton, Chesapeake, Proctorville and Scottown. He shared a meal with his schoolmates Danny Burcham and Danny Huff. And on the third weekend of every July, our evolved family, now scattered to the four corners of the world, do their best to come home, to reunite… and remember!
Uncle Frank still lives on the family farm where he grows some hay and enough silage (chopped corn) to feed a herd of Simmental cattle. He was surprised to see me, my cousin Paul and my friend Steven Long, both from Arlington, Texas, when we arrived on Friday…as I asked to go back to the hill on the other side of Guyan to take photos of the valley, the same place where frequented 50 years ago.
“You can’t get there anymore,” he said, struggling for words. He had a stroke years ago that prevented him from speaking, but not his energy and enthusiasm to maintain his daily routine of feeding and caring for things on the farm. He gestured to the hill on the other side of the creek and said, “I’ve cut wood four times since you were last there.”
After a bit of prodding, he motioned for us to get into his ATV and we headed through Guyan and up the front of what we once called Nelly’s Branch…past the foundations of the old house. by Homer Graham from the 1940s, long gone except for what remains of the adult house. -on foundations.
I was surprised when he tried to climb the side of the hill, that wonderful, beautiful hill of the 60’s, of blackberries, squirrels and rabbits, now so thick with trees and brush that a rabbit could not get through it. In fact, we gave up and weaved our way back up the same tracks we did going up. The lower ground framed by Guyan Creek is the same as I remembered, planted in chopping corn for winter feeding.
“If you want to see the valley from above,” he said. “…we are going to cross to the other side of the farm, upstairs where the cattle are.”
There’s a gravel road that climbs 300 feet to the top of a different hill above the valley, where their black cows and calves graze…and where the same roads and rocks exist from my youth, except they’re on al’s farm. side. . On a brutally hot and humid day, the cattle rested in the shade, wagging their tails to fight off hordes of flies. They took Frank’s appearance on the ATV as a sign of food and quickly gathered together to investigate.
Further down the slope he showed us the hollow of the rock house, where we used to play as children on hot summer days. Now 81 years old and hampered by the passage of time, Uncle Frank still has that same twinkle in his eye for the finer things in life and the fruits of his labor. He was enjoying the visit and the chance to be not just a tour guide, but a caring uncle again.
“You know, I just turned 70,” I said.
“No,” he shook his head in disbelief.
“For all these years you have been eleven years older than me,” I joked with him. “Now, it seems that I am four years older than you.”
And with that glow… he laughed.
We took dozens of pictures, and when we came down the hill, it took us to the great expanse in the road where you reach the low country from Scottown, where the creek meanders down Nelly’s Branch to the east, and past Tommy’s houses . Null and Cline Bricker (long gone) to the west. As you make the big turn around the hill, the Fulks family farm opens up to a view unlike most you’ll find in southern Ohio, framed by the ‘mighty’ Guyan on one side and rolling hills in the background. .
I was done with the tour, feeling old and a bit naive. How could he have changed so much in the short span of only fifty years? I asked. Uncle Frank shook his head, amazed, I’m sure, that he’d gotten this far.
But more than likely, he had his own moment of appreciation for time and reality.
ND and Sylvia Fulks’ original house burned down years ago. The original barn was torn down due to decay, replaced with a different, more efficient structure. There are no more cows to milk, just the Simmentals on top of the hill.
“You know,” he said with satisfaction, “they didn’t cut my lawn today.”
“And cutting the hillside across the road is out of the question, do you think?” I joked, shaking my head, sad at the reality.
Uncle Frank nodded and just smiled. Of children who had to grow old, time and loss, and the inevitable pain… of coming home.