Across the way, over a wet-weather stream, there is a time past. In real time, down the road some three miles to the highway, it is late April of 2012. In the hollow, it is somewhere between another time and a longer-ago time.
That may not make sense to you, but from where I am sitting with Don Golden, it makes perfect sense.
Swaying easily in a porch swing, I am looking at an old blacksmith shop, a corncrib, a woodshed, a smokehouse, a hog pen, a springhouse and a chicken pen.
The cackling of a half-dozen Rhode Island Red chickens join in the spring music of nature’s feathery choir wheeling through hickory and oak, maple and dogwood. The birds dart in and out of sun and shade. Some perch on high limbs and sing to us.
Oh, yeah. One other thing.
Just “over there,” under another shed, is a whiskey still.
A whiskey still.
Golden, a man with hard work in his face and leathery hands, quickly goes on record with ...
“It’s not a working still. I was quick to tell my preacher that. And Sheriff Larry Amerson, too. Truth is, I don’t drink. Never have.”
Golden is an authority on this hollow. It was his dreams and his sweat and his love for the grandchildren that set the fire, the dream coming during the night that he needed to do something for “the kids.”
That was 17 years ago.
“People had to do what they had to do back then and I’ve tried to create that up here in these woods. This is for my grandkids. I felt I had to do something to teach them that there was something other than welfare and people who were too sorry to work for a living.
“I’ve tried to use this place to show the kids how to handle situations when there’s something that needs doing, that they can do it without having to get someone else to do it.”
And when Golden refers to “the kids,” he isn’t just talking about his grandkids. Others come to the hollow, too, on field trips from nearby White Plains and also from Golden’s church, Trinity Baptist in Oxford.
First to come was the small cabin, perched on an upslope at the edge of the hollow.
“I built the cabin so we’d have a place to spend time in the woods and not have to use a tent.
From there, the “other times” came ... idea by idea, step by step, building by building, all rooted in the past ...
“I lose myself in time when I come back here. When I’m back here, I’m 150 years old. I’m off in another world, another time, just like all the stuff up here.
“I tell everybody I’m 150 years old ’cause I live in that era. Those were my kind of people. I like it ’cause they were self-sufficient. They could survive.”
Quiet a moment, he adds:
“I never lived on a farm, but I always managed to have some animals.”
In addition to the six Rhode Island Reds, there’s a few dogs roaming the hollow, some cats, and a pet goat is nibbling in a clearing just down the way. That doesn’t include the squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, opossums and bobcats that still consider this their territory. Deer and wild turkey also find comfort in the shady hollow.
And there’s been a report or two of black bears in the neighborhood.
“Had 13 of those Rhode Islands at one time, but the coons came in and cleaned ’em out. But we’re still getting eggs, don’t have to buy any. The goat is ‘Bootsie’ and that big dog there is Winchester. He’s my elephant dog.”
With a slow grin ...
“You don’t see any elephants around here do you?”
“We’ve got a pig here somewhere, one of those pot-bellied ones. The kids who come up here love to play with him. Also had as many as nine horses at one time, but can't afford to feed ’em now. Too expensive.”
Golden may never really finish this “other time.”
“I’m going to build a store right over there, have a barbershop on one side and a carpenter’s shop on the other.”
From the beams on the porch hang dozens of old farm-hand implements – scales, plowshares, nail pullers, what have you. “Stuff” is everywhere, sitting on the floor, too ... and inside the cabin.
“When I’m back here, I’m just off in another world, like all that old stuff you see up there. What I know, I got from that. And how it was used. It came from older people who told me about it. I bought some of it; some was given when they found out what I was doing. They’d tell me how their dad and mom would use those things. They’re getting hard to find these days.”
But “today” is still out there and like somebody once said, “You can’t live in the past.”
So after a while, along with Don’s wife, Ruth, we got up, left the hollow and drove down the mountain to Big Daddy’s for a bite to eat.
Ruth got a small hamburger; Don held his hands in the shape of a huge saucer in ordering a big cheeseburger. I got a chili dog.
And left with a lovely memory of another time and another place in the mountains.
George Smith can be reached at 256-239-5286 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.