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SWINGING ON THE PORCH - NEWS FROM THE HILLS

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Swinging on the porch swing in the gathering darkness. . . only the monotonous sound of the night bugs. . . tree frogs singing a sleepy good-night. . . an old song runs through the mind. . .

"Once in the dear, dead days beyond recall.
When on the world the mists begin to fall,
Out of the dreams that rose in happy throng,
Low to our hearts love sang an old sweet song."
Chorus:
"Just a song at twilight
When the lights are low,
And the flickering shadows
Softly come and go.
Though the heart be weary,
Sad the day and long,
Still to us at twilight
Comes Love's old song.
Comes Love's old sweet song.
Verse 2
"Even today, we hear Love's song of yore,
Deep in our hearts, it dwells forever more.
Footsteps may falter, weary grow the way,
Still we can hear it at the close of day.
So till the end, when life's dim shadows fall
Love will be found the sweetest song of all."

Those long-ago children played and romped all night in my dreams. Young and eager, full of energy, they ran and laughed. The little girls played hopscotch and jump rope. You can hear their childish voices reciting, "Johnny crossed the ocean, Johnny crossed the sea, Johnny broke the milk bottle and laid it on to me, I told Maw and Maw told Paw, and poor old Johnny got H-O-T!" The rope was then turned very fast.

Some of the smaller girls built playhouses—down in the edge of the woods and under the school house porch. They'd brought cast-off dishes and odds and ends from home, and stocked their playhouse with fine accessories. The bigger boys played "Longtown" and "Prisoner's Base" and nearly all of them played their marble games. You could hear cries of "Knucks down!" or "You're fudgin'" as they played "Keeps" or "Four Holes and a Peewee." Even the older girls played marbles.

The schoolyard was bare of grass; the ground packed down hard by hundreds of running feet. The children picked handfuls of huge beechnuts and stored them in paper cups fashioned from notebook paper. When the bell rang to call them back to classes, they cry "Books are taking up!" and run back up the steps to their classrooms.

The children gathered together for another grade school reunion, although at this time they no longer ran. Some were on canes and limped along with hip or knee replacements; some were assisted by others. Hair had turned gray, and in some cases was missing altogether. Their youthful faces were hidden by wrinkles and the marks of old age. Still, their enthusiasm was evident as they greeted one another, and their conversation spirited and joyful.

Some of those long-ago children have left this earthly playground, and are now sporting in Elysian Fields. As time goes on, more of us will join them in their play in one eternal reunion.

Yes, time has wrought a change. The old school house has been long gone now, and a house sits in its place. Yet the landmarks are almost the same. The huge beech trees that provided the biggest beech nuts I have ever seen were cut down long ago. The big rock down over the bank, where we girls retreated to tell each other our childish secrets, is now overgrown with brush and briers. That was the place where Jewel Beth and I hid our love notes.

The rock where we "jumped the hump" while sleigh riding in the snow is still there, but it seems so small now. Trees and underbrush cover the hillside where the boys once had their "mud slide" and came home so coated with mud that their mothers almost disowned them. Many generations of long-ago children went to school there, and memories abound.

I found a poem that my cousin Evelyne McLaughlin sent me some time ago, and it seems appropriate. The only thing—it's more like 70 years ago!

FORTY YEARS AGO
From the McGuffey Reader
"I've wandered to the village, Tom,
I've sat beneath the tree,
Upon the schoolhouse play ground
That sheltered you and me;
But none were left to greet me, Tom
And few are left to know
Who played with me upon the green
Just forty years ago.
The grass was just as green, Tom
Barefooted boys at play
Were sporting, just as we did them
With spirits just as gay.
But the master sleeps upon the hill
Which coated o'er with snow
Afforded us a sliding place
Some forty years ago.
The old school house is altered some
The benches are replaced
By news ones very much the same
Our jackknives had defaced.
But the same old bricks are in the wall
The bell swings to and fro
Its music just the same, dear Tom
'Twas forty years ago.
The spring that bubbles 'neath the hill
Close by the spreading beech
Is very low, 'twas once so high
That we could almost reach.
And kneeling down to take a drink,
Dear Tom, I started so
To think how much I've changed
Since forty years ago.
Near by that spring, upon the elm
You know I cut your name
Your sweetheart's just beneath it, Tom
And you did mine the same.
Some heartless wretch has peeled the bark
'Twas dying, sure but slow
Just as that one whose name you cut
Died forty years ago.
My lids have long been dry, Tom
But tears came in my eyes
I thought of her I loved so well
Those early broken ties.
I visited the old church yard
And took some flowers to strew
Upon the graves of those we loved
Just forty years ago.
Some are in the church yard laid
Some sleep beneath the sea
And none are left of our old class
Excepting you and me.
And when our time shall come, Tom
And we are called to go
I hope we'll meet with those we loved
Some forty years ago.

A line of a song runs through my mind, "Love will remain when all else shall wane, Guiding me on through the years, Auf Wiedersehen, Auf Wiedersehen."

"And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity." (1 Cor. 13:13)

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Alyce Faye Bragg
About This Author
She writes the "News From the Hills" column. Born and raised in the country, and still lives on the same farm where she was raised. Has a sincere love for nature and the beauty of the hills. Began writing in 1981 & currently has three books published.
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