Our frequent trips from southern Ohio to visit our grandparents in Kentucky were an important part of the fabric of my life. Without Kentucky, without Jackson County, without Grandpa and Grandma Isaacs, without their log cabin in the head of the holler, without our cousins, there would have been so much less material that forms life and the result would have been vastly different, and I think, lesser.
All of these things and so many more ingredients of our Kentucky visits contributed immensely to the life that was built around me.
The visits in the spring, summer and fall were full of adventure and education about so many things. I will never forget riding on the tractor next to Grandpa, fetching water from the well, canned goods from the dirt cellar and eggs from the chicken house for Grandma, playing with our cousins and running free for hours in the mountains.
Those days of playing in the barn, working in the field, helping in the garden, picking blackberries and watching Grandpa work hard and diligently to make the best Molasses in the world come to life are indelibly written into the framework of my life.
But the snow that fell recently in Jackson County and the pictures that my cousin, Cindy (Isaacs) Townsend sent me, have opened up the floodgates of memories of visiting Grandma and Grandpa in the winter. This week, Kentucky winter memories warmed my heart.
If the holler and the house and the barn and the mountains seemed like a treasure waiting to be opened in the summer, the snow added a thick layer of attraction and intrigue and unbelievable fun that my mind has never forgotten.
All it took was a couple of pictures to cause my memories to come alive.
Cold and snow meant the pot-bellied stove in the living room would be red hot. It would be the most dangerous, yet the most popular item in the whole house. Our conversations revolved around the stove both physically and literally.
When Grandma or Grandpa would make a move to check the fire or add wood to the fire, my Dad was right there to help and that meant me and my brother were helping with the wood and watching them do their magic with the fire.
Devotions at night were always held in the living room, Grandpa would sit in his chair, reading his Bible aloud by the light of a coal oil lamp. He would teach a chapter or two of God's Word, lead a bit of discussion and then we would kneel and pray before going to bed.
In the winter, we listened to the Word of God and prayed as close to that old pot-bellied stove as we could get. The house was built of logs and the only added insulation was the many layers of wallpaper that had been added over 40 years. The windows were single pane and often frozen completely inside with frost by morning. Oh yes, that is why life revolved around the stove.
There were two rooms upstairs, each with two beds. Our family always slept in the room over the living room. The stove pipe came up through that room. It was warm to the touch, but I do not remember much heat radiating from it. Surely we were warmed at least a touch from the pipe and the heat radiating through the floor.
The saving warmth was the sheer number of heavyweight homemade quilts on each bed. I remember as a child having a hard time turning over under the weight. By the middle of the night, under those quilts was the only warm place on the earth, it seemed to me. When morning came, we would pull our frozen clothes into the bed and try to dress under the covers.
There was a specific memory that rose to the surface when I saw these winter pictures. The recollection took me back to the 1970s. We left home one winter evening when Dad got home from work and headed to Jackson County. We had no way of knowing a winter storm was blowing in there.
By the time we turned off the paved road in Madison Country, there was snow on the road and ice underneath. We made it up the hill by the cemetery. We made it down into the creek, through the creek and out of the creek back to the gravel/dirt road.
However, our progress ground to a halt shortly after that. Even though Dad tried several times to get up the next big hill in his 69 Ford truck, it would not go.
The only thing to do was walk. We got out of the truck and began. My brother Steve and I had our bikes in the back of the truck and we thought we would ride. The thick layer of ice under the snow put a stop to that dream. We could not even push the bikes up the hill.
We walked to a house as you turn up the final holler about 1/2 mile from my grandparents' house. My Uncle Charles and Aunt Callie were living there and they took us in and warmed us up. After a while, Uncle Charles took us to our destination.
I do not remember if he used a tractor or a team of horses to pull the wagon, but I remember being very cold!
Never fear, the pot-bellied stove was red hot and Grandma and Grandpa welcomed us in and warmed us up right away. I am sure that welcome included some leftover biscuits with homemade blackberry jam or molasses that tasted like Heaven itself!
And so the memories of a cold winter night from my childhood have warmed my heart the last few days. I hope they have warmed you as well.
Thank you for reading today.