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With a focus on joy

Being one of eight children in my family meant I always had someone to play with.
Even dark, cold winter days couldn’t restrict our adventures.

For a short while, when I was very young, we rented a house in the small village of Arabia, in the north-central part of Lawrence County.

The field behind the house backed up to where Aaron’s Creek emptied into Symmes Creek. It didn’t take much for the creeks to swell and flood. In the winter, this meant we’d have the opportunity to try our best at ice skating. Of course, we never had real ice skates, but that didn’t deter us.

I remember bundling up against the frigid air, wearing two pairs of pants and the biggest winter coat I could find. We’d layer socks on our feet and on our hands to serve as mittens. Our shoes were the kind with already-slick-soles. Then we’d venture out into the field to find the thickest patch of ice around.

We’d slide and twirl and scream with fun until the cold penetrated our clothes. I think, perhaps, when I was a child, I didn’t gage coldness the same as I do now, because, in my memory, it seems we would stay outside for hours.

Every now and then, we’d have our mishaps — like the time we didn’t judge the thickness of the ice well enough and Amy plunged through. There she stood, waist deep in the water. Though she was able to stand, she couldn’t get herself out of the water. Instead of helping our sister, we ran screaming to the house for Mom to come rescue her.

We were soaked to the skin when we finally got back home. I remember us laughing at the red blotchy skin on our frozen legs. Though it must have been a scary experience for Mom and especially for Amy, my memory doesn’t let on. I only remember the laughter and the sweet exhaustion of an afternoon playing hard.

Soon after we moved into the house up the holler on Aaron’s Creek, we had even more fun winter adventures. We’d climb the very steep hill across from the house and sled down, building up such speed that we’d travel across the bottom land before stopping. If we had a soft, fluffy snow, Mom would make snow-cream, mixing snow, sugar and milk. This was a rare delicacy since it could only be made in the winter.

The house we rented in Arabia was a large two-story, four-square style home. It was owned by the same man who rented out several houses in the village. He lived in a much larger Victorian home that had to have been very grand in its early years.

I remember watching him walk up and down the road, wearing a fedora hat and a long wool dress coat, even in the heat of the summer.

He was a short, thin man who almost never talked to anyone, other than to collect the rent. He seemed so mysterious and eccentric to me that my curiosity was aroused.

I couldn’t have been more than five years old, but I remember making up stories in my mind that perhaps he was a foreign king with great powers over the people of the village. I imagined that he had rooms full of gold in his house and riches beyond what any fairytale could describe. I was, at the same time, fearful of him and fascinated.

Once I found a silver dollar on the road. I was certain this old, powerful man had dropped it. I struggled over whether I should tell my mom about the coin so that she could return it to him. But, finally, I rationalized that with all the gold stored up in his fine old home, he wouldn’t miss this one. So I walked to Robert’s store and bought candy.

Growing up in a single parent home, with many siblings and too little food, made for many difficult days in my childhood. Yet it’s not hard to find the happy memories, too. Children are blessed with a priceless gift: a spirit that longs for joy.

With our mother’s help, we were able to touch into that joy in sweet ways. I could choose to focus my memories on the difficult or joyful memories. I choose joy.

 

Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at norastanger@gmail.com.