When I was a little girl our family spent many weekends visiting my great-grandparents, Buford and Zora Powers or Grandma and Grandpa Powers as they were to me. They lived on a little ranch outside of Wilson called Hungry Hill and I spent many happy afternoons there with my brothers and cousins exploring the old barns, catching frogs by the windmill that pumped water for the cattle, gathering eggs from the hen house where my Grandma raised bantam chickens, and watching my Grandma milk the old milk goat and occasionally a cow or two. We played with antique toys there that entertained us all for hours like the duck that waddled down a board, buttons on a string, rubber-band powered wooden spools, wooden puppets that danced at the end of a stick, sock monkeys and rag dolls.
Since we were the oldest great-grandchildren, my cousin Chuck and I felt privileged to do a few things that the others were too young to do. A few times we were allowed to walk down the hill to visit the remains of the old dugout where my great-grandmother had lived as a little girl or retrieve jars of canned goods from the cool, dark, cellar. One of our favorite privileged pastimes was playing the old pump organ. Chuck was a better musician than I, but we took turns pumping and playing old hymns while Grandma hummed along. I’m sure our efforts were not always as beautiful as the old songs deserved, but Grandma said she loved to hear us play the old organ. She told us that someday she wanted one of us to have the organ but we’d have to decide between us who took it.
My memories of Grandpa Powers are not as vivid since he passed away while I was still young and our trips to Hungry Hill became less frequent as we grew older and moved further away. However we continued to return for occasional visits until after I was married and Grandma Powers lived to see and hold my children. When my son, Justin, was left handicapped in 1992, my visits to Hungry Hill came to an abrupt stop. I even missed Grandma’s funeral when she died just a few years later. My cousin, Chuck, died suddenly when we still in our mid-thirties. My great Aunt Shorty moved to Hungry Hill, great-grandchildren grew up and even great-great grandchildren grew up, and life changed.
Recently I returned to Hungry Hill with my mom and dad, my brother, and a couple of our sons. We discovered that while some landmarks have disappeared Hungry Hill has endured the passing years with little change. The old barns are gone and the remains of the old dugout have disappeared, but the entrance over the cattle guard and rocky road to the house are just as they were long years ago. The old windmill no longer works but it still stands as a reminder of times gone by. Inside the house, pictures still hang on the walls just as they did when I was a girl. The long table in the dining room is draped with a cloth as though it is ready to once more be crowded with plates of fried chicken and canned goodness from the garden while family gathers round.
It was with bitter sweetness that we took the old organ from the place where it has stood for decades – close to a century – and carried it home. I will be the sixth generation to own it, but it has passed through the last four generations in the same location. I feel blessed beyond measure to own such a valuable heirloom, but as I watch and listen the items that belonged to my great-grandmother – things both large and small – are divided out to grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I realize that although some things are quite valuable, the real value is in the people and memories those items represent.
We are shaped by the people in our past. My great-grandma Powers was from a hearty stock of pioneer women. She built fences, rode horses, raised chickens, cattle, and goats; she fed her family with the fruit of her labors and she worked on the land long past the age of retirement. I remember her when I feed my chickens and milk my goats and feed my family from the fruit of my own labors. While it is God who has formed us and placed us in the times, places, and families in which we live, he has allowed those people in our lives to have a hand in the carving and molding of our beliefs, ideals, and values. Their hearts that they shared with us through their love and their lives – that is our heritage that we carry with us. So while we cherish the earthly goods that they leave us, those things will eventually perish, but if we forget the hard work, independence, beliefs, family values, and standards they left us – those things that shaped this once great country – that would be the irreplaceable loss of our real inheritance.