Of Memories and Brown Water

I came down the steps once--I just remembered!
I came down these steps once on my bike--I just remembered!

I’m looking at the VDOT Road Conditions map this morning before dawn, trying to plot a way to work not blocked by water.

Short of the hurricanes of late summers past, we’ve not seen this kind of flooding in our 12 years here–hardly a meteorological record but significant in our short story. Roaring water threated the road in many places coming home from town yesterday in spots where I’ve never encountered flooding before. That was near noon and it’s rained constantly since then, so by now is only much worse as we’ll see when the sun’s up.

I lament how brown the water is–usually mountain spring water and crystal clear–as flood waters carry away so much precious topsoil. I haven’t inspected our garden since Wednesday to see how much topsoil we contributed or if the bean seeds washed away. Much more rain, we’ll have root rot, mildew and such. Maybe I should have planted rice and sugar cane.

Our low-water bridges disappear in high water so I didn’t risk crossing, backed up, turned around and took the long way home yesterday, not even sure even that way I could get the car as far as the house. I would have walked (in my sandals if I’d had to) in the woods above the high water. For Ann at night, that was not going to be an option. I waited up for her as she drove I-81 battling the truck rooster tails, finally arriving around 11.

Killing time to stay awake, I played with Google Maps which boasted improvements in street view. Self-imposed but highly-recommended time-passer: go find your elementary school and walk home.

I was amazed at how much I remembered and at how much I had forgotten but could so easily recall with the visual prompt of the map: the house I was born in on 49th street and 7th avenue south (in Birmingham AL); the neighborhood houses where my friends (now old men and women, alas) had lived. The modest 80 year old houses are still pretty much the same but with cars colors other than the black of my earliest memories out front. More trees here, fewer there. Eyes closed: the smell of zoysia grass, summer rain, chicken frying at dinner time while we played in the tiny front yard.

The image above is the terraced “front lawn” of my grammar school, Minnie Holman, torn down and replaced by a modern brick building. Funny, it doesn’t look so formidable looking up. But looking down for the first time from the top over the handlebars of your bike while the devil of DO and the devil of DON’T debated on your shoulders…

I did. And last night I got the same belly rush coming down the first pitch (heart beating fast) and then the second–the thrill of victory and Jr. Man merit badge of courage and honor gained at the bottom! (Bike down the steps came later, separate merit badge.) Needless to say, such adventures helped me stay awake while Ann was having her own, sleeping still this morning so she can go back and replay the same story after work again tonight–maybe this time without the rooster tails.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. What a walk down ‘memory lane’! Going back to my grade school on one trip I was met with a corner with condos….it certainly gives you that lost feeling of knowing what was there and has disappeared. (sigh) I enjoy your writes, as you put the reader where you have been….and, of course your photos are wonderful..
    Have a great day…

  2. Flooding? Wide spread or local?
    Sherlene and I are planning to drive from East Tennessee to the Peaks of Otter on Tuesday for our yearly June Blue Ridge inspection trip. Your post has me wondering if that is a wise decision.

    We have gotten more rain than usual here in East Tennessee, but I have only heard of isolated cases of flooding. I have noticed some of our mountain roads are showing signs of possible slides and I know that some sections of the Blue Ridge also prone.

    Maybe a couple of nights at Fall Creek Falls instead 🙂


  3. What a great story about your old neighborhood and school.
    glad you posted a photo of the school steps…..
    Everytime I drive thru Pleasant Garden, I can still see some of the old school that I attended in those low grades. Some new buildings have replaced old ones.
    Ya’ll be careful out on those roads…….
    Have a great weekend