HEART PATHS - By Alice Hickman Sawtelle


"The West Virginia Hills"

1. Oh, the West Virginia hills! How majestic and how grand, With their summits bathed in glory, Like our Prince Immanuel's Land! Is it any wonder then, That my heart with rapture thrills, As I stand once more with loved ones On those West Virginia hills?

CHORUS:Oh, the hills, beautiful hills, How I love those West Virginia hills! If o'er sea o'er land I roam, Still I'll think of happy home, And my friends among the West Virginia hills.

2. Oh, the West Virginia hills! Where my childhood hours were passed, Where I often wandered lonely, And the future tried to cast; Many are our visions bright, Which the future ne'er fulfills; But how sunny were my daydreams On those West Virginia hills.

3. Oh, the West Virginia hills! How unchang'd they seem to stand, With their summits pointed skyward To the Great Almighty's Land! Many changes I can see, Which my heart with sadness fills; But no changes can be noticed In those West Virginia hills.

4. Oh, the West Virginia hills! I must bid you now adieu. In my home beyond the mountains I shall ever dream of you; In the evening time of life, If my Father only wills, I shall still behold the vision Of those West Virginia hills.

Written in 1879 by Reverend David King as a poem for his wife Ellen. Mr. King wanted wife's name on the music. Ellen King was born in Glenville, WV on April 22, 1846. H.E. Engle (Henry Everett Engle) (1849-1933) added a chorus and composed the music in 1885 and it was designated as a state song in 1961. Arranged by W.L. Reed.

(Recently my friend Jane Gainer Collins Cain of Tanner, told me that Henry Engle had added a chorus and composed the music to this song back on the hill near Rosa Bell Gainer’s home on Rt. 5 in Gilmer County. Jane still owns the property where Engle lived. He was an uncle to Pearl Collins. Pearl was aunt to Jane’s late husband Rick. The Collins families lived in the Tanner area.)

Yes, it was within the boundaries of the West Virginia hills that I was born. A bungalow, hidden in a small cove-like dip off a ridge-top of Gilmer County just across the county line of Calhoun County is where Momma and Pop had settled. I have memories of my Poppa pushing me in a rope swing tied on a high branch of the big ole’ maple tree that shaded that little home. I was little. That swing went high!

There was a big round dug well in the yard, formed by rocks stacked row on row around the sides. I was warned to stay away from that dug well or I might fall in. I think water was pulled up from this open well on Saturdays for washing clothes. And Momma washed clothes in an old gasoline-motor washing machine. It was loud!

Then there was the outhouse on the lower side of the backyard fence. That is where we lost a young pet that had slipped inside through a partly open door. My young mind struggled to grasp the severity of that loss. Maybe my first awareness of grief.

My memory holds a vivid picture of eating dirt while sitting under the lower edge behind that old house. Yes, it’s true! Maybe a common term “mud pies” had some influence here.

And, I still recall my pop challenging me to finish drinking my glass of milk before he could drink his. We sat at a large dining room table, or at least it seemed very large to me. I may have been only two or three. Pop and Mom had a cow on that little farm and the cottage cheese that Momma made was a favorite. A much richer flavor than the store bought these days.

There was a small meadow that yielded a crop of hay. One summer I was riding atop a large pile of hay that was loaded on the horse drawn wagon as it headed toward the barn. The hay was loosely piled and as I got off center, the sliding began. There was no stopping! But before I hit the ground Poppa or Uncle caught me. Those days were grand!

One year on my grandma’s farm, Auntie and I walked back on the hill behind the house to look for a Christmas tree. I don’t remember if we found a tree. All I remember is the pine-tree grove. There was snow on the ground. The trees seemed very large to me. The warmth and quiet I sensed as I stood in that mystical place touched my young soul. One of my earliest and fondest memories with Auntie.

Then there are other visions that once again seem like yesterday. Of a large rock on grandma’s home-place that sat above the dirt road. The road went through the center of the farm. The cousins and I used to venture out on top of the rock and ‘play house’. The rock had different levels, tempting us to climb. Another favorite place that I played house was around on the roots of a big oak tree. They were partly exposed atop that creek bank where the tree stood. Here to, I had different levels in my pretend house!

Speaking of creeks, catching crawdads was a fun game. We kids giggled as they moved backwards at great speed to find a rock to hide under. We shrieked at the thought of their pinchers latching onto our fingers!

I can still remember the smell of biscuits in the oven at grandma’s house. The buttermilk pancakes with homemade chocolate syrup. The pleasure of picking a ripe tomato and standing in the garden eating it with juice squirting and running down my fingers. Stepping in chicken poop as I run barefoot and played near the garden. Holding a teat feeder bottle shaped similar to a momma ewe as an orphaned lamb pushed and tugged while guzzling down the formulated milk. And the rabbits nibbling on the grass and leafs that we pulled and threw into their pen!

Walking with Auntie through an open field and picking wild violets is another treasured memory. Johnny-jump-ups we called them. Then there were the wild grapes! A perennial woody vine that could be found growing in the countryside? The flowers were fragrant and the fruit was a sweet delight.

That was the age of innocence. That was before the troubles of life began. As the good book says, “In this life we will have troubles.”

As I got older I was allowed to roam alone more in my community countryside. I had come to know the back woods fairly well doing such things as climbing the hills in the evenings and driving the cows to the barn for milking and such. Or gathering fallen walnuts from various trees throughout the neighborhood.

I fell in love with the woodsy and whimsy sweetness of this place. It’s like non other.

Oh these West Virginia hills. They surely are majestic. In my adult life I’ve left these hills more than one time, but always returned. And so it is, once again!

My land. My people. My home. My West Virginia!