by Gore, Virginia

Out in western Virginia, in the shadow of the Alleghenies and very near West Virginia and Romney, you may pass by the village of Gore.

If, that is, you travel on US Route 50 west from Winchester. You might not notice the sign that points to Gore off of the four-lane US highway, but you will pass right by it; the village is just by and south of Route 50.

Gore? Well, no; I don’t know how the village along Back Creek at the head of Back Creek Valley got its name. Perhaps from a family named “Gore.” One such family migrated out from the Northern Neck and Lancaster County into what is now West Virginia and spread south into Tennessee. I really haven’t researched it and, I’m afraid to reveal, it’s really of little interest to me.

Some of us have been working—volunteering—to build a public hiking trail on the Great North Mountain ridge just to the east and south of Gore. For me, it’s quite a distance to go from my home to the work site, so I asked around to find a place we could bunk on Saturday evenings when our crew is out there. As it happened, a member of our club owns property near the village, including a late 19th– or early 20th–century farm house. The owner is renovating the house to use as a bunkhouse, to accommodate more who rent his new home atop the hill behind. He and his family let us stay at the old place for free when we’re working on the new hiking trail.

Some sleep inside; some pitch tents on the small front yard. All of us sit a spell on the porch after supper, spinning tales and solving local, national, and international problems. Our discourses are often lubricated by the beer brewed, bottled, and brought by one of our crew members; his brews are good, indeed. None have ever reached inebriation, but the beer does compliment our conversations.

But, that’s just the setting, not the story.

I always roll out my sleeping pad & bag and sleep on the porch. I get to listen to the sounds of the night critters—including the semis hauling their cargoes up and down Route 50 all night long—and see the stars overhead past the roof over the porch. After all have turned in, I lean back, light a cigarette, and think.

easter 1962It worries me to be away from home these days. My mother moved in with me from Florida nine years ago. She was 80 then and very active.

Today, after two joint replacement surgeries—a knee and a shoulder—she’s very unsteady and uncertain when she walks.

She doesn’t climb steps if she can avoid it.

Her hearing aids tend to greatly amplify background noise, so she doesn’t enjoy eating out or participating in meetings of her DAR chapter as she has always in the past.

Mom is sharp; her mind is like a steel trap. And, trapped within her mind ever more these days is the realization of all that she cannot any longer do, or that she cannot easily do any longer.

The fact that she suffers from four disintegrated discs in her back, coupled with her concern for her knees, means that she cannot shop the department stores as she did and as she loves to do. At least, the grocery stores and the DoD commissary nearby provide electric scooters, so she still shops for food.

She has become, more and more, a self shut-in. She loves to converse and looks forward to the visits by friends that come less and less frequently than before. But she is a Queen of the Internet: her e-mail contact list dwarfs mine by an order of magnitude. People from across the country and overseas ask her for genealogical help and those contacts have created a new network of true friends for her.

But, when I’m away from home for any significant amount of time, I worry for her. Like her, I do love to travel, just for the sake of traveling. It’s just something I cannot afford to do, much, any more.

Mom in 2002 at Wakefield PlantationMom is in a lot better shape than my Dad was. Over ten years ago, he was in a grocery store shopping for Thanksgiving dinner when he was dropped, literally, by a stroke. My father went, in an instant, from being strong and hale at age 78 to being a husk of his former (physical) self. Thanks to the superb work of doctors, nurses, and therapists at the Veterans Administration hospital in Decatur, Georgia, Dad did improve considerably.

But…not nearly completely. He was afterwards limited to moving about in a wheelchair when he got out, with help, from his bed. He could not go back to his home again; he needed too much skilled assistance at all times. He became what he never wished to be: dependent.

Whole chunks of his memories were unavailable to him. He could no longer think through a system diagram or mechanical drawing, or work up an order for industrial supplies, upon which he’d made his living and his reputation. He’d “forgotten” that his parents and brother had passed long before; he worried that they were worrying about him and his condition.

I couldn’t personally provide the care he needed. I didn’t—do not—have the skills and the equipment required. I watched and hovered, as best I thought I could do, over those who did work with him to assure myself that he and his needs were met. And, they were, as best I could determine.

Still, for some stupid reason or another, I felt guilt over my inability to do these things for him. After all, he was my father, not theirs.

Dad passed away from pneumonia two weeks after his 80th birthday. That happened in mid-week before the visit I’d planned for the coming weekend. (I traveled to see him and follow up on his care every four to six weeks after I returned to Virginia from Georgia.)

Every person and every set of personal circumstances is different. It is a shock when you first notice that your parent or parents are, or have become, frail. In my experience, they don’t cry out for your help, or they resist doing so. My mother jealously defends her right and ability to make her own decisions about everything, and there’s not a thing wrong with that. There are times I know that things have to be done, or done differently, so we have our moments.

But, the thing I think about—the thing that bothers me the most—isn’t what I “have to do.” No, it’s not really about me. What bothers me is how aging affects those whom I love; those upon whom I depended absolutely for sustenance and nurture. The reversal of roles bothers me because of what it means to them. That heartbreak doesn’t go away; you deal with it, but it doesn’t go away.

I snuff out that last cigarette in my old Sierra cup—the same cup I’ll clean out and use for coffee in the morning—and pull the sleeping bag up.

Tomorrow is another day…

I’ve a long drive back home and I’ll think on these things again. Later.

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