Beech Mountain, North Carolina (Elevation 5,506)
High in the hills of Western North Carolina, lies the town of Beech Mountain. Before my husband and I bought our second home on Beech, we visited often. Mountain serenity captivates our senses and reverts us to a more comfortable state-of-being. Now that I’m “midlife,” I purposely wander the road less traveled, an effort that affords me the simple pleasures in life—and, at times, fills me with tranquil bliss.
The transition of the seasons, an ever-present reminder of the ebb and flow of life, disrupts and delights. When the first warm rays of spring sting my virgin skin, I know the dark, dank days of winter are over. Everything comes alive with the rebirth of spring. For me, nothing spurs my spirit more than lounging on a front porch equipped with thick, cushioned furniture; listening to the sobering coo of doves, or the feel of a gentle breeze that brushes over my skin. And, nothing compares to the smell of mother earth as she slips from her winter slumber. It truly appeases the soul.
As a youngster, I imagined what it would be like to live in another place. I wondered if I could ever go there. Now that I’m grown, my curiosity still prods and prompts me to pull back my familiar curtain and take a peek. It’s scary, at times, when my life’s journey rewards me with mountaintop experiences as well as soul-searching valley experiences. I thank God for each one.
I grew up smack-dab in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia; but growing up, I rarely appreciated the mountain’s majestic beauty. After my high school graduation, I moved away. I wanted to see the bright lights of a city. I wanted to look through a window from a high-rise building, which I did. And, I wanted to drive on a road where I used the gas pedal more than I used the brake. I did that, too, and it rewarded me with a speeding ticket. But, looking back, those experiences were nothing grand, compared to the nights of my childhood when I gazed up at a star-filled sky.
Once upon a time, I lived somewhere over the rainbow. It was a place called Home. Everything is as I left it because everything that I hold dear lies within the confines of my memory. I go home when I want to remember things that I don’t want to forget, especially when it comes to my childhood. Whenever I think about Home, I remember the smell of warm pavement after a summer rain. I remember the feel of new clothes waiting to be worn on the first day of school. I remember the excitement of a pep rally on the eve of the first football game. I remember the crunching sound of decaying leaves in the fall. I remember walking under the street lights in the snow on my way to my grandmother’s. I remember my bedroom, my transistor radio, and my purple beanbag, where I sat and penned my thoughts in a composition book. And, I remember that I couldn’t wait to leave.
Sometimes, life throws curves. Life blindsides and sucker punches. It hurts when that happens. It’s a hurt that lasts for a long time. My mom has dementia. Like most, Mom’s dementia came on gradually. Mom talks a lot about going back home. She tells stories about her youth and about her life growing up in a holler in West Virginia. Mom’s memories sleep peacefully, for now. They lay tucked away and wait for Mom to wake them. Mom has good days. In fact, most days are good for her, which makes me question not only her diagnosis but also my own sanity. But then, it happens, and everything I hope for and pray for are snuffed out in a single breath. Mom becomes confused and she fixates. She believes things and says things that I know are not true. It makes me sad. I am learning, through research and by talking with other caregivers, that it’s best to not try to reason with her or try to correct her. Instead, I allow her to tell me her “story,” knowing that in a few days all will be forgotten. And, when she feels anxious, I assure Mom that I will take care of whatever is disturbing her. Mom trusts me in the same way that I trusted her when I was a child. Funny, the way the table turns, isn’t it?
If only I could turn back time, but I can’t. No one can. Sometimes, I want to ask Mom about a recipe, or I want to ask Mom’s advice, or I want to tell her something trivial about my day. Then, I remember, and I don’t bother.
Like I said, I question my own sanity. Mom forgets; I remember. I pray I never forget. “It will only get worse,” they say, when I share her story or when I need a listening, sympathetic ear. Of course, Mom will get worse. This, I already know. But for now, Mom’s memories equate beautiful stories that she tells again and again. Her memories take her back to a specific moment in time where she’s young and beautiful, and her memory is as sharp as an elephant’s. Mom remembers everything, each detail carved into moving imagery. During these moments, Mom’s mind’s eye does not flow like fragmented drips from a leaky faucet but clear as a mountain spring. Mom longs for home. I know this with each tale she tells.
At night, I resign my day and close my eyes and remember when I lived somewhere over the rainbow. I drift back through time, through drowsy layers of fog. I see the familiar road. I know it well. I take my time and look around. I visit places I’ve long forgotten. I see faces that are no more. I laugh; then, I cry. I wake and realize that I’ve dreamed of Home.