After entering the thick forest and while making my descent down the steep hill, I made still another game of counting the huckleberry bushes. I had to touch each one that was within my reach without leaving the trail, and made a mental count each time my fingers touched a new bush. There were hundreds of huckleberry bushes in those woods and the summer brought many a trip off the trail for picking and filling a coffee can full of the delicious berries to sell at the local gas station up by the state line. We kids could rake in a dollar for each can of berries picked. Of course, we always ate more than we picked. Tummy aches abounded, especially for us city kids who visited the mountains and their sweet treasures infrequently.
About half way along, the path dipped to its lowest level, and during the wet season, a small trickling stream ran through, which I easily hopped over and began my climb up the other side of the ravine. The mid-way point was the darkest and deepest part of the woods, and sometimes I would become a bit frightened and nervously try to scamper myself up the other side as quickly as possible, in order to stave off any dark, impending doom that followed behind me. Other times, however, I simply enjoyed the climb, and often continued my huckleberry bush counts along with trying to make my steps as long as I possibly could.
On the occasions I would not be alone during my trek along the path, my cousins and I would most likely make a race of it. I came in last most of the time, as most of my cousins were boys. However, if my sister came along, I delighted in the fact that I could outrun her every time. Of course, she was four years younger than me. I remember sometimes making her cry when I’d leave her behind on the trail and she became frightened. I caught heck for it when Mom found out, too.
As the years went by, the summers came and went, and we grew into adolescence, the path took on a whole new meaning and adventure. At 16, and the product of a dysfunctional family, I lived most of my world within myself, especially when we would visit the country relatives. I found my boy cousins to be annoying and tedious and I grew impatient and bored with their inability to entertain me to the level I felt they should. We were too old to play in the red mud and run and hide among the trees and bushes of the forest. Now I would take the path by myself, and sometimes three or four times back and forth, just so I could be alone with my thoughts and dreams. I walked that path and made plans for leaving Georgia and Tennessee and my parents and the life I was sure I had outgrown.
The years moved forward to the summer I was 28 and I walked the path with my husband and son, while visiting the country relatives for a family reunion. That was the last time I ever walked that path and I recall it looking so much smaller and different than I had remembered. The huckleberry bushes were still there, along with the pine trees. Nothing about the forest had changed except for the size and thickness of the trees. I had changed though. I had seen many things, been many places and had experiences that altered my perception of everything. I would never again view the path in the forest as I had in my childhood.
Now I can walk through a lovely park with big trees and be transported back to that little path in the Tennessee mountains. I didn’t appreciate the beauty back then, as I’m sure I would now. However, I did accomplish something much more important. I experienced the same path as a child and later as a teenager, and then an adult, but each time I took a separate journey. A journey that connected not only two properties, two houses and two families, but one that connected me with myself.