By SAMANTHA PERRY
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It is the early 1970s, and I sit huddled in the branching “V” of a large chestnut tree situated at a corner where backyard meets hardwood forest. For hours my tears have seeped into her bark — cries of a child mourning her beloved pet.
Beneath the boughs of the tree is our pet cemetery. Our beloved Brownie has been buried there for months, but I didn’t know. My parents, worried about their sensitive child, told the tall tale. The lie. As an adult I know why they did it. The story of Brownie running away to a farm was much easier for a child to digest than the cold hard reality of death. But a cousin’s unruly mouth spoiled the fantasy.
I spilled enough tears to fill the Bluestone as I mourned the loss of my mixed-breed mutt. And I retreated to my sanctuary — the chestnut tree.
The tree had a gentle lean, and low branches in easy reach of a 5-year-old’s grasp. I could climb her in seconds. Once in her limbs, I felt secure. It was a good place to cry, and reflect on the harshness of life and death.
At age 8-ish, I was confident enough to explore more of our mountain. I would enter the dark recesses of the forest and traverse trails where only the deer had roamed. Ultimately, I would end up at “The Red Dirt” — a minuscule field where a lack of trees resulted in a semi-open area on the side of a hill. In one spot, the brush was so barren the dirt beneath was revealed. Its color was deep rust, reddish in tone — thus its name.
The Red Dirt was a perfect spot for mulling elementary school issues. Test scores, favorite teachers, friendship issues — all were pondered while sitting in this sunny field deep in the mountains of Appalachia.
In a world where strict teachers ruled and math scores seemed life or death, The Red Dirt was a place to breath freely. A place to contemplate the world through the eyes of innocence and youth.
In junior high and early high school, I ignored the call of the chestnut tree and found little time to head deep into the forest. But still I sought sanctuary, and The Big Rock fulfilled that need.
It was, as name implies, a monstrous boulder situated off our wooded driveway. Located a mere 15 or so feet off the road up a steep slope, it provided a perfect place for middle-school contemplation. Whether worried about an argument with a good friend or a low score in home economics, The Big Rock was a place where I could sit in peace and never be judged.
In high school, college and early adulthood, time spent in sanctuaries were brief — a tanning bed session, a bubble bath, a Saturday morning lounging under the giant oak tree. Life was fast, and living it to the fullest was important.
Then there was a job, a career, a husband, a family. Who needed a sanctuary when the world — the big, wide-open, bustling, exciting world — was at the doorstep?
I was not prepared when my dad got sick. A small stroke, and a larger one. Then the knowledge of what was ahead. My dad was always the strong one in the family. The problem fixer. The one who everyone called when in a bind. Suddenly, he was the one in crisis.
For weeks, I was the optimistic child, the family cheerleader — the one who was hopeful when doctors gave a grave diagnosis. In public I kept the facade. But arriving home one night around 3 a.m., I lost it. Curled in the corner of my kitchen, I broke down — shedding torrential tears as I acknowledged the fact that my father’s time on earth was coming to an end.
My German shepherd, Jazz, licked my tears while snuggling against my body. In the height of despair, I found comfort in a corner — a sanctuary.
We lost Dad in 2000, and Mom in 2006. Suddenly, I found myself back at the homeplace. The chestnut tree had outgrown me. The deep “V” was no longer a comfortable resting place, although the pet graves beneath her boughs still brought misty eyes.
It’s 8:15 a.m. on a weekday. The newsroom is empty as I tabulate payroll and mileage expenses. In the background the police scanner squawks with EMS calls. It’s my gray noise — my babbling brook.
Lounging in my office chair, I feel happy, secure, grounded and at-home. I close my eyes and inhale deeply. I can smell the newsprint in the air, and ink from an early-morning press run. There is no better aroma on a late summer morning.
I finish payroll, exit the program and begin updating our website. Within moments, the scanner wails with news of a minor MVA. “No injuries. Minor spillage.”
I pull out my legal pad and begin jotting notes.
It’s not a chestnut tree or a quiet spot deep in the woods, but it is a sanctuary nonetheless.
Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at email@example.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.