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A Letter to My Children
By Earl Hamner

During the last fifteen years of my mother's life she suffered with Alzheimer's disease. Until then she had been a bright, cheerful woman deeply interested and involved in the world around her. I would go home to visit her in Virginia and she would look at me in a puzzled way and ask, "Who are you?" I would answer, "I'm your son." "Where do you live?" She would ask. "In California," I would tell her. "Isn't that interesting," she would say, "I have a son in California."

At the onset of the disease she seemed simply forgetful and confused, but later on she would endure periods of intense agitation. If she were unattended for a short time she would leave home and wander away. She would pace through the house she had lived in most of her life crying fretfully that she wanted to go home.

Hoping to please her and put her mind at rest I would take her for a drive, visiting sites where she had lived as a child. In the yard of the hillside house in Shipman I sat in the car and admired the vista of the old oaks and long green lawn. I envisioned my mother there as a little girl playing with the pet lamb she had been so fond of. I looked to her for some response. She shook her head and said, "I want to go home."

The house in Alberene where she had been born brought no better reaction. The house had changed little since she used to take us children there to visit our great grandparents. They were an ancient bedridden couple, propped up side-by-side on pillows. She had a powdery medicinal smell. He had a handlebar mustache that tickled when you kissed him. They hid peppermint balls in a Mason jar under their pillows and rewarded them to us if we would kiss them. I asked my mother if she would like to visit the house, walk in the yard, sit on the porch. "No," she said, "Take me home!"

Over the years I have decided that what my mother was calling home was not a place, but a time. I suspect it was a time when she was much younger, when her children were still underfoot, when her husband was still vigorous and attentive (My father was an adoring father and loving husband who would pick up our mother and waltz her around the kitchen all the while singing "Let Me Call You Sweetheart, I'm in looooooove with you…").

Watching my mother's anguish set me to wondering where I would have in mind if someday I couldn't find home and wanted to go there. In this family we tend to be long lived and we grow fuzzy minded as the years go by. At eighty I have already noticed some alarming symptoms. My doctor says the forgetfulness is only natural, that it comes with age. Still the specter of Alzheimer's lurks out there. Someday if and when I become even more cloudy minded and disoriented than I am now, unable to drive and unable to tell you where "home " is, I expect I will ask you to take me home, I know you will do your best to find the place I need to be. I leave these notes for your guidance.

Often in dreams I go home to Virginia. I rent a car at Dulles and drive down Route 29. Around Culpepper the Blue Ridge comes into view in the distance and my heart lifts. Past Charlottesville I leave Route 29 and follow the curve of the narrow country road that borders the Rockfish River. The river is old and the water level is low most of the year as it flows gently over and around time worn boulders and mossy banks. It leads past farms that have moved further up the hillside after Hurricane Camille turned the river into a wall of roiling water that swept away the owners' homes and barns. There is a spot right before Power House Number One where my brothers and I used to catch as many small mouth bass as we could carry home. There is where the road bends upward and where some domestic goats once got loose and established a wild herd on a rocky ledge.

Then for the next six miles the road curves through wooded country. These are old forests of white oak and water oak and red oak and every kind of pine and dogwood and redbud and maple and sycamore and sassafras all of them making such a show of color in the fall that it takes your breath away.

The road leads me finally to the Village of Schuyler. Mixed feelings of revulsion and love rise in my throat. I was born in this village. It is where I grew up, and was once the storehouse of my most treasured memories. The house where we lived has gone out of the family now but it is owned by a friend who is in the process of restoring it. My father bought the house from The Alberene Stone Corporation when the mill closed during the Depression and employees were given the opportunity the buy the houses they were already living in. Darkness was usually gathering by the time I arrived there, but my mother and father were expecting me and would meet me at the car. Home! Three bedrooms, a living room, a bathroom, a kitchen. Upstairs were the "boys' room" and across the hall was the "girls' room." We boys slept two to a bed. In that room I kept a journal seated at my "writing" desk, a contraption with four legs, a drawer which I had built myself. It faced a window where a crab apple tree dominated the field. When it blossomed each spring it was covered in pinkish white blossoms and then turned to gold when flights of wild canaries flew home again and rested there. The view of the misted Blue Mountains from the kitchen window was stunning and the yard was filled all summer long with bird song. Even today I can still recall the aroma of bacon cooking and coffee percolating on the woodstove while my mother started breakfast. My parents raised eight children there!

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