Sunday, December 9, 2012
Back during WWII, I used to walk/run out of Rhodes Cove each morning to catch the bus to the Sylva Elementary School. I was one of a dozen kids that stood under the Old Cherry Tree over on #107 near the space now occupied by the big “Super Shell” and the new Dairy Queen. In my memory, the tree was a great hulking shell with only a few feeble branches of greenery near the top. Over the years, it had become a popular place to board the school bus (# 18) or to “flag a ride” to Cullowhee or Sylva. I often heard my friends say, “Pick me up at the Cherry Tree” when they were planning a trip to the Ritz Theater or a ball game at the Sylva High School.
Each morning, rain, snow or shine, the kids would start arriving at the Cherry Tree a few minutes before the bus arrived. I think all of us became experts in judging the time it would take to get there, and many of the kids in Rhodes Cove would linger on the front porch or yard until the last possible moment. Then, we would come swooping out of the Cove, always a little anxious that the bus might just leave without us. It never did.
I especially remember running down the dirt trail from my grandparent’s farm house, past Granny Painter’s garden on one side and a huge lot full of hysterical guineas on the other - guineas that cackled terror and destruction as I sped past. If I arrived early at the Cherry Tree, we usually indulged in horse play and games until the bus came. There would be marbles, or some spirited “tag” with boys and girls running through the kudzu-covered hillsides around the bus stop. I vaguely remember a game called “Red Rover,” and another one called “Pretty Girl Station.”
I don’t remember when the Cherry Tree vanished. I guess it was some time in the late 40’s when suddenly, there was a vacant space where it used to be, and we were riding a bus up Rhodes Cove (soon to become Cherry Street). My world began to change and a dozen houses disappeared. Suddenly, Wimpy Hyatt’s house was gone, as was Fred Cope’s and the place where Ronnie Stewman lived (he had more comic books than anybody in the Cove). There was a little cabin called the “Watson place” that was suddenly... gone.
The land was changing, too. Pavement was spreading through the Cove and street lights began to appear. The rough, unruly woodland along the road was being curried, trimmed, and whittled away. I guess you could say it was tamed or subdued. Blackberry and laurel thickets vanished along with flocks of grouse and pheasant. George Wilkes’ “communal pasture” where people went each afternoon to milk their cows, was gone. (I still remember people walking past the house carrying buckets of milk home.) People who kept cows and pigs were becoming rare.
When I sit on my porch in the evening now, I am profoundly aware of a constant clatter and screech from the distant highway and the place where the Cherry Tree once stood. The noise that rolls up Cherry Street from #107 is often deafening and always unpleasant. Sirens, stripped gears, motorcycles, shouts, whistles all wrapped in a blanket of smells, burned meat, rubber and fermented milk. Even though I am hearing impaired, the thundrous sounds usually drive me indoors. I am amazed that I once sat on this same porch some sixty years ago and heard nothing but rain crows and wind ....all bathed in the soft light of moon and stars.
I am told that progress is good and that I should rejoice that my home is in easy reach of milkshakes, hamburgers and gasoline. Perhaps so. I have definitely come to feel that I am a “vanishing breed,” and the new world moving up Cherry Street is the wave of the future and it is alien to me. I can’t help but wonder if we are losing something precious and vital...something that lived in pastures, cornfields and Mamie Painter’s garden. I guess we have made a “swap”....We swapped the rain crows, the peace and the moonlight for gasoline, hamburgers and raucous goodtimes at the Dairy Queen.
There are nights now where I dream of the Cherry Tree, and those cackling guineas and the lowing of cows with tinkling bells that used to curiously regard me as I raced for the school bus. Did we not, for a brief time, live in harmony with the natural world? Has something been leached away by the sirens, shouts and barking dogs in the night? Time to move into the house close the door. Maybe play a little classical music....something old-fashioned and corny like Tchikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” or Willie Nelson’s “The Red-headed Stranger.”