Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Purple Irises, or More Than Zinnias

So many stories in my family’s history involve flowers. Peony, lilac, roses, and daisies immediately come to mind as characters in some of them. This particular story begins with a bed of zinnias, planted neatly inside an old tire in the front yard of my grandparents’ home near Riverton. My grandmother – her name was Virginia- was only able to keep zinnias alive, because they are hardy, tough flowers that grow anywhere - and they could survive her ten children, their pets, wild animals that ate the roots and bulbs, and sundry unruly neighbors who had turned her yard into a hardscrabble dirt path.

The years passed, and nothing but the zinnias bloomed. For a while it seemed that the world had turned against her. One of her sons, Joe, was accidentally shot and killed by his uncle in 1965. Then later, her kitchen wood stove exploded, burning her arm and badly injuring two of her children – my Aunt Donna and Uncle Tom. Her husband was often away, working in Baltimore or wherever the road led him, while she kept the family alive and happy in the holler.

Grandma was especially happy when I was born. I was the first grandson, and her favorite grandchild. I was so spoiled I wouldn’t sleep at night without being able to fall asleep in my Grandmother’s arms. I can still remember her long, auburn hair and her ever-present apron.
Soon my parents, Jake and Linda, had moved with my brother Matthew and I to Johnson Holler near Franklin. Our home was only ten miles from Grandma’s house, so we still visited pretty regularly. I was only five years old then, but I still remember my father coming home early from work one day in tears. My grandmother had died of a heart attack on the sofa. She was forty-three.

It wasn’t long after the funeral that somehow a wayward bulb found its way into the family cemetery and took root. None of us ever knew who had planted it, but it soon became a family legend. Before long, a bed of dark purple irises (that always smelled like grapes) spread its way out from Grandma’s grave and covered the cemetery. It makes me believe that my Grandma finally got her wish. She had something more than zinnias.

All these years later, I still hold the memory of my Grandmother to heart, and have always marveled at the masses of purple irises that now grow in the family cemetery on North Mountain. Over the years those flowers have spread down the mountainside into the holler, and now grow all through the old family homeplace. When my parents asked me what I wanted them to bring for my new home I bought in Morgantown, on the top of my list were some of those purple iris bulbs – so that I will always remember the magic there is in life, and that if you truly want something bad enough, it will come to you.

I Love you Grandma.

Welcome to Words From the Mountains!

First I would like to say "Howdy!" to all of you who stuck by me when I had the blog at Tripod. Now that I'm at blogspot, I hope to be able to update my blog more readily and easily, as well as to update everyone on the progression of my work with West Virginia's ghosts and monsters. In addition, I'll be filling everyone in on the renovation of my new house, which is new only to me - it's 88 years old this year!

So in the coming days, I hope to be creating a great blog about my life in West Virginia - and tell a tale or two along the way. In addition to everything else that I do, I'm also a storyteller, and I specialize in ghosts and monster tales from West Virginia. You can out more about that here: