Man of the Mountains, a Poem Not Yet Written

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A VG Serial: Hills of Eden

Episode 11

Memory.

As long as memory lasts, there is no aging, no death.

There may even be something to pass on to those who come after, to our children, our grandchildren, to people who will be born when our generations have been forgotten. If we put down the things we remember, we may even leave something of ourselves to other minds, other generations.

We may leave a collection of ideas and ideals, distinctions of character, morals. Or heritage.

We may just leave scraps of memory.

Memories of beautiful things we saw in passing.

The Ozarks have given much to me, to my family. I cannot speak for them, except that my wife, my sons and daughters, as well as those I’ve met here, are part of those memories. My memories.

Memories of beautiful things that are so fleeting, so ephemeral, they almost didn’t stick in my mind. Almost.

Sometimes those brief glimpses into a peoples’ character, scenes of incredible beauty, leave a more lasting impression on the mind’s memory than those things we see so often they dull our senses.

But we must remember these things and, perhaps, we must record them lest they fade from what someone will someday call our heritage as a people, as humans who lived here for a brief time in these gentle hills.

Here are some of the impressions I’ve had that made no sense at the time, but only left me dumbstruck, somewhat awed. They are all simple things, everyday things, but they must mean something because they move out of my mind now and onto paper with an urgency, a compelling urgency, to record them for now and for whatever future is left to us.

I don’t know what they mean. Perhaps nothing. But they may mean something to someone, or they may trigger the memories of others who will add to them, realize their place in time, in history.

They mean something to me, only because I feel fortunate to have glimpsed them, to have seen beyond myself, into lives not my own. Beautiful things.

Things that float on the memory like ghost images, blurred and wavery photographs in an album.

Things like these:

A woman with flowing tresses that shawl her shoulders as she plucks a dulcimer. She is young, mature, her fingers delicate as a mother’s tending to a newborn babe. Her face reflects an inner light. I see that the music comes from within her. The dulcimer is only a sounding board, an amplifier. There is a strange, haunting composition here. The woman, the instrument, are one piece, a painting with sound, a single entity, composed of separate elements that appear incongruous at first: wood, flesh, hair, smile, fingers, sound waves. I do not know the woman’s name. I will love her always.

There are many of her here in these hills and hollows.

I saw her at folk festivals, on a downtown street in Branson, in a hardscrabble farm during the 30s. I saw her at the Globe Theatre in London, back in Shakespeare’s time, in Yorkshire and Wales and Ireland. I saw her in Fayetteville and in the rugged hills of Newton County, Arkansas, somewhere in the smoke of Elkhorn Tavern and in the twilight along Osage Creek when the setting sun painted the water with all the colors reflected in her soft eyes.

The veins in Edna York’s hands.

Michelangelo might have sculpted them. In her hands, I saw the road maps of pioneers who came from Compton County, Tennessee, settled in the Osage Valley in 1839. I saw the road from Bellefonte, through Capps, down to Fairview, the old name that has been wiped from the records.

Frank Stamps’ face, another history of those hills, solid as the rock that housed his store in Osage, Arkansas. He was a man who offered friendship to strangers. He was a poem not yet written, a man of earth and commerce, whose general store was better than any chain store ever built. To him, a stranger was just someone he hadn’t shaken hands with yet. He was the first Ozarker I ever met, and I credit him with making me want to stay when I didn’t know where I wanted to go.

Hills of Eden will be published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Please click the title, Hills of Eden, to read more about Jory Sherman and his books.

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