The woods are lonely and empty there now, but in my mind there is a place which will always remain as it once was. A house on a hill surrounded by forest and filled with laughter and generations and love. My grandparents called it Silver Hill.
In the spring and summer the air of Upstate New York has a sweetness to it. As if the maple trees and rocks, the flowers and the sun breathe new hope into the land itself. Little things take me back. The smell of fresh-cut hay, the clink of ice in a glass of tea on a hot day, the aroma of pipe smoke, the sight of an old orange tractor.
For me, Silver Hill was magic. It was a place of safety and refuge, a constant in a childhood rife with upheaval. My folks moved many times, and I attended about twenty schools, but Silver Hill remained a beacon of hope and stability when things got dark and mean. I remember riding the lawn mower with my Grandfather when I was about four or five, and later being allowed to mow the whole yard myself, a thing I enjoyed. It’s where I learned to shoot, love the woods. I recall reading an entire series of Piers Anthony books over about a week, perched in a comfortable nook of a towering tree, surrounded by twittering birds, the wind whispering through the leaves, and the branches rocking me gently.
There were family reunions and birthday parties during the warm months, and I’d roam the woods and the yard with my cousins, all of us with skinned knees and dungarees. Catching frogs and tadpoles down at the pond, always on the lookout for a snake or Bigfoot, who was rumored to inhabit the area, and whom I was fairly certain I’d seen at least once. Building forts of increasing complexity. The adults would join in games of softball, and football, and there was this wonderful togetherness. That’s how I remember it, and that’s the truth which remains.
We ate blackberry pies, hot-dogs from the charcoal grill, and stacks of steaming pancakes from the griddle, my Grandmother making them as big as we wanted. Eating was a kind of celebration.
In the fall there was a bittersweet, fleeting explosion of color, as the woods came alive in red and yellow and every breath held the promise of the coming snow, a sharp, tingling sensation, a singing feeling in my soul.
Winter meant vast snowbanks, crackling fires, and Christmas. The aunts and uncles and cousins would migrate to Silver Hill, and we’d eat turkey and stuffing and tear into presents, savoring each one. We opened them one at a time, and it was a joyful thing, anticipation and wonder all wrapped together. We built igloos and had snowball fights, epic battles when the wind was cold and the snow was deep, knowing a warm fire, hot chocolate, and a slice of pie waited inside.
Silver Hill became a part of me, and looking back I realize that it’s because of the people, my family, my blood, and the memories which live there for all of us. We’re spread out all over the country now, but Silver Hill, and those black and white and faded picture still recall.What I remember most is love, unconditional and true.
Before every meal, my Grandfather would lead us in a short prayer, the same one every time,and it is etched indelibly into my heart.
“Lord we thank you for this food, and for thy many blessings.
We pray you will bless this food to our use and us to thy purpose.