A memory of Christmas past
Friday came at last! A December week that had hosted a full moon and produced more that the usual number of crazy, irate and hyper active students. If you have ever taught school or worked with children or young people you know what I mean. Not only a full moon but Christmas right around the corner. Although all my students were of the college age it didn’t make much difference. They were really bonkers that week,excited, enthusiastic, creative, exhausting and in every way, off the charts! After teaching all week I was totally done. My wife Linda, also being a teacher was worn out as well. As tired as we were at the end of this week, it was not too much trouble to get into the car and drive 125 miles to North Georgia. We had recently bought a place in Gilmer County on Big Creek and although the cabin was unfinished, we couldn’t wait to go up there to spend our first weekend. Having packed everything Thursday evening we were ready to hit the road as soon as we got home from school on Friday and picked up the three dogs. Being the week before Christmas we knew the traffic coming through Atlanta would be terrible but never once did we question whether or not we should go, it was a given. Making it through another week of teaching and the life we lived in Clayton County was rewarded by the trip to the new/old cabin. It was built early in the 20th century and situated in an ideal spot. Very old and in need of almost everything you could think of, we fell in love with it the first time we saw it. To us it was a miracle to top that final hill and come down on Big Creek road just as the pavement ended and into the Big Creek valley. We were not only amazed that first time we saw it but every time from then on. The mist shrouded mountains, the rushing silver creek cutting through Hobert’s pasture where the silent cows would lazily nod in our direction acknowledging our passing. The magenta mountains folding in on top of each other were enough to make us loose our breath at first sight. It still is, even after 36 years. When we got close to Big Creek it was as though we had entered another dimension, a place apart.
The first weekend we actually spent the night there was quite an experience. The temperature dropped to 18 degrees while we slept on the ancient wooden floor without benefit of heating or any modern convenience save a toilet and sink that had no water hooked up to it. The old house was perched 50 or so feet from the rock filled creek where icy cold water rushed down the mountain at a furious pace. We carried the water we needed from the creek that night in a rusty bucket the carpenters left. The old house had no finished doors or windows, no insulation and no working plumbing but like I said we couldn’t wait. The place was a tiny, very old, dilapidated wooden structure that had a tin roof and untold numbers of mice and assorted vermin that lived in and around the area, including Racoons, Opossums, Skunks, Musk rats, Deer, Beaver and many others. The interior walls had been covered with newspaper to help slow the drafts of wind that whipped and spun around the rocks and trees surrounding the house and found each and every crack in the siding of the structure. When it snowed, which in the winter at Big Creek (as we eventually found out) it frequently did, the snow would blow through the cracks in the door, after we got doors. We were freezing all the time but honestly did not care one bit. The people remodeling it had done a good bit of work before we got there for the weekend but it was still a mess with lumber, nails and pieces of PVC pipe everywhere. Luckily there was an ancient stone fireplace that was operational. There was an old abandoned house falling off its foundation adjacent to the cabin that we had already contracted with the remodelers to pull down before they left the site. We used the wood from that house to build a fire in the fireplace of the tiny room in our new/old cabin. The wood was so old and dry it started with one match and burned to black ash in just minutes. A brief moment of warmth and light on a frigid dark night was all the relief the old wood fireplace could provide. Luckily we had three dogs to snuggle with us there on the floor in front of the briefly roaring fire place. This was way before our first child was born (much less our grand children) so we could still do crazy things like camp out on a night in Gilmer county when the temperature reached 18 degrees. We were young and in love, rarely sick and able to do almost anything we set our minds to. I cut a small Hemlock tree down and anchored it in a broken pot. We decorated it with corn shucks knots and made a small star for the top. This was our Christmas tree.
Dinner consisted of a couple of sandwiches we brought from home, bottled drinks, left over popcorn bought on our way up and little else. It was a wonderful night. As we prepared for sleep, tacking a blanket over the open space which was eventually to be the door, fluffing up the sleeping bags and bed clothing we brought from home and putting more of the dried wood to one side of the fireplace we noticed a brown oval object hanging from the ceiling near the corner. It was a sleeping Bat which immediately motivated Linda to disentangle herself from the sleeping bags and race out through the blanket hanging over the door. “I’m not sleeping in there with that Bat” she insisted! I found a broken tree limb and shooed the bat out of the house. “Is that better now?” I asked. “Marginally” she replied. The dogs snuggled with us all night and although there was little sleep to be found on that hard heart pine floor, we managed. Oddly that night I dreamed of Bella Lugosi and swirling Bats. The rest of the weekend went much as the first night had gone and we reluctantly left for home Sunday afternoon. We were totally exhausted, but very happy.
That was our first night at Big Creek and although we have spent many nights since, rarely has there been any that were as memorable.