I crossed the small bridge over Peter Creek toward cousin Barry’s house. “Turn right handed after the railroad tracks and drive up to the red brick house,” he said when I phoned.
The last leg of my annual pilgrimage to my birthplace, Matewan, West Virginia, I anticipated meeting Barry’s wife, Loreen. Their Kentucky homestead looks up to the cemetery where many of our O’Brien and my McCoy ancestors rest in peace with Barry’s mother, born an O’Brien and my first cousin.
Peter Creek separates Barry’s homeplace from the McCoy Bottom where my mother’s folk settled four generations ago. Barry and I planned to visit my Uncle Herm, the last surviving child of my maternal grandparents, Floyd and Ollie McCoy.
My O’Brien aunts and uncles have long deceased. My father, the youngest O’Brien child, died in 1995, and is buried in our local Lakeville cemetery in Addison Township.
Barry and Loreen Sullivan’s hospitality began with hugs and introductions to their son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. Barry told the truth. His wife Loreen doesn’t know a stranger.
They led me up to their porch to sit in the shade. A retired coal miner, black lung disease has slowed down my cousin, a man prone to mend broken machinery.
“That was my job in the mines,” Barry said.
After Loreen left for a graduation ceremony, I drove Barry around the hairpin curve I’ve navigated hundreds of times and down the blind driveway to Uncle Herm’s home.
The picture of good health at age ninety-one, I wouldn’t have guessed Uncle Herm was recovering from minor heart surgery. He smiled ear to ear. “Well, y’all come on in.”
We gathered around his kitchen table in the house he built for his belated and beloved wife, Geraldine. “I remember when all you girls came in to visit,” he said.
A sweet moment, Uncle Herm referred to my four sisters and me, now all grandmothers, and one a great-grandmother. He fetched an envelope with photos of his grandson and new great-grandson.
Later, Barry and I walked around the McCoy homeplace, now under new ownership and renovation. Barry nodded to Uncle Herm’s garden behind the house. “Herm and I plowed it.”
All along my journey south, patches of tilled earth and seedlings signified the growing season.
After Loreen served us a delicious dinner of soup beans, cornbread, and fried green tomatoes, Barry said, “Before you go, let’s drive up to the cemetery.”
We stood upon the steep hilltop that Barry’s son and daughter-in-law manicured, and read tombstones engraved with names of our O’Brien ancestors – my McCoy forefathers’ gravesites to our right.
Barry stopped before a monument inscribed with the names Harold and Sue Sullivan. “This is Mommy’s and Daddy’s grave.”
He opened a lid to an oval cameo attached to the stone. I recognized Barry’s parents in the photo. He wiped a tear. “Daddy lived by ‘do what I say, not what I do.’”
We stood side-by-side in silent understanding as a coal train slowly passed on the track below.
And out of sight.
Contact Iris at email@example.com.