Just when man believes he has gained some control, amassed some power, Mother Nature quickly puts him in his place as she did recently through the tornadoes that pounded our area. Particularly hard hit was West Liberty, a town which, although I have never lived there, still holds a special place in my heart, for it is the birthplace of my maternal grandparents, grandchildren of families that came from Wales and eventually ended up settling on land in what is now the Daniel Boone National Forest.
These are memories of a couple who once lived in that area, which was destroyed by great force, though not so great as the strength of the human spirit that continues to make us keep trying even when it looks as if nature or any other force has its boot on our necks. We will prevail.
It was told that my grandfather, James Leslie Ellington, built a log house with his own hands, bringing his new bride to live there on Possum Ridge where they eventually had eight children, one of them my mother. That was during the first two decades of the last century, when horses and trains were still the main mode of transportation, when most food was homegrown, and clothing was made by hand. It was an era when children walked to school, yes, in a foot of snow, when they had to invent their own forms of entertainment like tag or red rover, and when parents worked so hard that it was easy to close their eyes and go to sleep at sunset, only to open them again before the sun rose the next day.
My grandfather moved his family in the 1920s to Ashland where he used his talent as a carpenter to help construct what was once called Armco Steel Corporation. My mother recalled the day the family boarded the train in West Liberty, saying goodbye to grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, making what seemed then to be a long journey to the big town of Ashland. They probably looked like a bunch of ragtag country bumpkins getting off that train, but soon my grandfather had built another, nicer house for them on the outskirts of town, leaving the dusty roads of Morgan County behind and walking on real pavement to a larger school around the corner and a new job at a steel plant.
Many years later a few of the family members visited that area of Possum Ridge, long after the last ones had moved away, but not so long after that they could not find a few foundations from homes that once stood on those shady hills in Morgan County. They waded in the creek where my grandmother had drawn water, and they found a tree with the initials JLE, ones my grandfather had carved there decades before.
My grandfather was actually one of the most intelligent human beings I have ever known, not to mention a man of great humor and wit. Whenever he was not working he was reading or telling funny stories to his grandchildren, many of them made up, but we did not know the difference. They were great stories. My grandmother was equally talented and intelligent, but in a different way. She could sew beautifully and bake the best homemade cherry pies I have ever tasted. She too was an avid reader, and both of them were politically minded individuals, conservative to the core, choosing to discuss their views many evenings over the family supper until I would ask, “Please tell me stories about Possum Ridge.” Their recollections were so vivid that I felt like I was living there with them in that little log house or playing in the yard with the children. Though I am sure they had hardships, they focused only on the good times, those memories of a loving family in a world that now seems so far away.
Yes, the storm took its toll, demonstrating to us once again that we are no match for Mother Nature, but neither is she any match for the human spirit, for that strong desire to work and rebuild as the residents of that sweet little place we call West Liberty will surely do. And, even though things will never be quite the same; they never are, I am betting that one day there will be plenty of grandparents with good memories, with great story-telling abilities who will tell stories about that little town so vividly that their grandchildren will surely see it just the way it was back in early 2012.