The white trilliums are blooming now on the road bank on the route to Clay. Later, they will be replaced by the yellow-white honeysuckle vine that twines up and down the hill, releasing a nostalgic, unforgettable fragrance. Elk River, green and inviting, flows on the other side of the highway just as it always has. Some things are constant, although the world does change all around us.
Clay is still a very small town in the county of Clay; even smaller than it was years ago when the Widen mines were in operation, and the Elk River Coal and Lumber Company operated the big sawmill at Swandale. Streets were full of bustling shoppers, especially on Saturday when loads of people traveled from hollers and ridges to go to the bank, the post office and grocery stores for their staples. They also took time to exchange small talk with their neighbors, from weather predictions to the planting of crops.
Clay was once called "Clay Court House" as the county's business was transacted from there. Formed from parts of Braxton, Kanawha and Nicholas, it was named Clay County in March 1858, and was named in honor of Henry Clay, Kentucky statesman. Some of the first settlers were Jacob Summers, who fathered a total of 21 children by two wives. Adam O'Brien was another early settler as well as Sinnet Triplett. These surnames are common today, as their descendents populate the county.
It seems a sleepy little town now, with vacant store fronts amid newer commercial buildings. It looks much the same as it did when I was a child. When I started to high school, the building seemed huge to my eyes, with three stories contained in it. (This was the old high school, which partly burned and is now Clay Middle School) I was a scared little mouse. I was sure that I'd never be able to change classes and find the right classroom.
The basement contained the locker rooms, plus a few classrooms. It always had a musty, shut-up odor, which probably came from the showers. On the main floor were most of the classrooms, and the upper level housed the Home Economics Department and the Biology and Chemistry Lab. On down the hill from the school was the "New Building" containing the Band Room and Journalism Room.
We had three minutes to change classes, and it was just my luck to have Home Economics on the top floor and Band class in the New Building. If you ran at top speed, you could get down two flights of stairs, out the front door, and down the black-topped street (all downhill) before the bell rang.
I'll never forget the day I tripped on this journey, slid several feet down the hill, and ripped my skirt from the hem to the waistband and tore all the buttons off my blouse. Scraped and bleeding from elbows and knees, someone helped me to the principal's office where Mr. Fred Smith attended to my wounds. We didn't have a school nurse or Wellness Center such as the kids do now. The principal got to do the honors. I loved Fred Smith -- he was kind and sympathetic, and a great teacher as well.
Our 60th high school reunion has come and gone, and the viney honeysuckle still grows on the banks to Clay, its fragrance reminiscent of school and graduation and long ago friends. Elk River flows onward, through the years, through the past and in the present. The new high school is situated along the banks of this river, with flocks of students moving through its halls. Some things never change.
They possess new-fangled educational instruments, things our generation never dreamed of, yet they travel the same road of life that we traveled and are still traveling. We are all headed for eternity. Everything we have accomplished, or failed to do, will not matter then. Solomon gave us good advice in Ecc. 12:13-14. It says, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil."
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By Robert William Service
Full fifty merry maids I heard
One summer morn a-singing:
And each was like a joyous bird
With spring-clear not a-ringing.
It was an old-time soldier song
That held their happy voices:
Oh how it's good to swing along
When youth rejoices!
Then lo! I dreamed long years had gone,