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Sunday, January 18, 2015

No. 128 "The Path to the Landing"

I can still see in my mind the big black hearse that carried Ole’ Pa’s body up the path to the Landing on a warm Indian Summer’s afternoon in late September of 1957. It had large letters on the side showing the name of the funeral home that sent it, but I was too young to read them, and I knew that what really mattered was what was carried inside of it.

It was a dirt path; actually as much shell as dirt, and it was dissected by a long row of jointed grass that was able to survive and even thrive between the tire tracks on either side. It was no more than two hundred feet from the paved road to Ole' Pas' house where his body was to lay until his burial the next morning. Our house was at the edge of the road, and then there was the home of my Uncle Louie, whom everyone called Big Buddy, and finally the big white house that Ole' Pa had built for Aggie, my grandmother and his first wife, when finally they moved from the Banks in December of 1900.

There was hardly a bend in that path then and now, although it wasn't really strait – shifting just a little from due south to the southeast as it approached the shore – but not enough to notice unless you were trying to look from one end of it to the other. And it inclined down just a little, no more than a foot, as it approached the old house and the shoreline where it ended. But it dipped just enough to give little boys like me a boost when we were running or riding our bike and wanted to go real fast. At the corner between our house and Big Buddy's there was a small oak tree, one we would later call "Denny's tree" after my nephew fell from one of the limbs and broke an arm while trying to retrieve a baseball lodged in a bough, but that would be a few years later. And there was another larger oak about midway down the path that shaded both Big Buddy's side porch on the west'ard side, and Tom Martin Guthrie's side porch on the east'ard. A few yards further, and just inside Big Buddy's fence, was a persimmon tree that hung over the path and that late every summer covered it with fruit so that you couldn't walk barefooted to the Landing without having a hot and juicy persimmon squashed between your toes.

Then, just where Big Buddy's fence ended, and Ole' Pa's place began, there was the tall oak tree that had been the main landmark of the site since long before Ole' Pa even thought about building right beside it. My daddy used to tell me that he had heard that when Ole' Pa's house was being built, the workers would shade under its branches while they rested from their labors. Now, more than half a century later it still dominated the landscape so that the silver maples that ran almost from its roots to the shoreline were dwarfed by its stature.

That giant old oak, and the big white house that sat just to it's southwest had marked a gathering place for more than three generations of Hancocks and their relatives, especially the Willises, Guthries and Moores. Together, within sight of both the oak and the roof of Ole' Pa's house they had established a neighborhood of homes and families that was so closely connected by blood and the everyday routines of life that most of us didn't even bother to acknowledge what our blood relation really was. All of us, especially the young ones, just knew that somehow we were kin to everyone else, and that what affected one of us mattered to all of us. And for as long as anyone living could remember, nothing and no one else mattered more than Ole’ Pa.