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Amelia SanJon Gallery
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Sandra Baker-Hinton
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Amelia Island Artists Workshop (for workshop schedules)


Going home to visit my family is usually anticipated with lots of good feelings but not this time.  The signs of dementia in both my mother and Aunt Helen had escalated.  Mom we had known was getting forgetful, but she misses so much because her hearing is so bad, it is hard to know which it is, but Helen's came more suddenly, along with other problems with blood pressure and blood sugar levels (being a diabetic for a long time), with several emergency room trips in the past month and a half from some kind of "spells" she seemed to be experiencing.  It became apparent that we had to do an on site evaluation of the situation.


We as a family don't face adverse things very easily we prefer talking about pleasant things and avoiding the unpleasant, but when brother Mike scheduled a trip for early June, Susan and I decided we must go too.  Our biggest fear was whether Helen could not be relied upon to take her insulin correctly making it critical that we go sooner rather than later.  Its a long drive and it had been a long time since I had been in the mountains in early summer.  Usually I go there in the Fall for my mom and Helen's birthday.  It was a perfect time for a ride through Asheville with beds of Day Lilies in full bloom along the Interstate.  Although a bit blurry you can see the great splash of color they made.


Interstate 26 which we picked up in South Carolina becomes a beautiful mountain drive from Asheville, North Carolina on toward Johnson City, Tennessee.  It crosses the mountains and descends through a picturesque landscape of the kind postcards are made.  Since we got a very late start on Thursday, we split the trip into two days.  We arrived at Mom's' home midday on Friday.  Brother Mike (the Headache Specialist) would arrive the next morning from Washington State.  Brother Gary, who lives nearby, has shouldered the brunt of the care up to this point.


Arrival day, Cousin Raymond, was helping with a fish fry at the Oak Glen Community Center, formerly their old school house, that evening.  We decided to go and get all of us girls out of the house to see who we could see in the way of old friends.  After eating too much, and still lots of daylight left, Susan decided to drive some of the old roads through the countryside where we grew up, which we had not driven in years, some I had never explored.  It is a very rural area with the nearest town of any size being Kingsport about 12 miles away.  The dogs barked at us as we paused on a corner to snap a quick photo of this chicken.  They way they sounded we were glad to be inside the car.



It is beautiful countryside with small farms and tall rounded hills with step like terracing made by a hundred years of cattle walking around them, leading up to larger mountains nearby.  This is the foothills of Northeast Tennessee and Southern Appalachia.


This is Jackie's Beer Joint, as it is informally known.  I don't think it has an official name.  And yes, that is a drive in window the main course of business.  I wish I had gotten the photo with the pickup truck sitting there but it left before we could turn around for the shot.  I am sure it is quite successful even though it is just alongside the road out in the middle of nowhere.  Although location, location is all important, being the only act in town matters too.   I remember when it was in its former location a few miles away, the guys used to gather in back and play Rook, my Cuz was one of them.  Now they play rook at the community center after they clean up from the fish fry.  Guess they have moved on from the Beer Joint which wasn't the greatest locale for a deacon and song leader in the church to be playing cards.



After leaving Oak Glen and cruising the Beer Joint we drove by the church where the last evening of Bible School was in full swing.  The grass was newly mowed as we slowly moved through the groups of children.  Both Mom and Helen were feeling guilty for not helping with refreshments this year.  We stopped for a few minutes for Susan and me to pay our respects to daddy and our other relatives, then we took off up what is called Clay Hill Road to visit the home place where Helen used to live.  We had a lot of fun talking about our many happy memories of spending the night with her.  Susan's memories were much more exciting than mine as she used to go out with Aunt Helen to shoot 'possums when the dog treed them and wouldn't stop barking.  Susan was about 6 but Helen would say "Let's go shoot us a possum."  She would give Susan a flashlight and say, "Angel, you just hold the flashlight right on the head and don't move."  Helen would bring it down with one shot that took out both eyes.  Daddy always said she was the better shot, even though he was a sharpshooter and sniper in WWII.



The late afternoon shadows in early summer made everything look lush and green.



My sister who has an eye for cars spotted this prize on a two tiered driveway cut into the hill.  It was a beauty for sure.



Just below it on the lower tier where we had pulled in to get the photo and turn around was this vehicle.  We were not sure this was a legal tag but it looked like it was loaded for a trip to the dump.



As we drove on further into another part of Greene County we came across "The Big Orange" in a most unexpected place, out in the country, farm country, another "beer joint" with what must have been inside seating, from the number of cars an pickups parked around it.  Another case of having no competition in a place with no other resources like this.  We surmised they might be waiting on the kids to get through with Bible School.



The views as we ride down the country roads seem to have stopped in time from the years that had passed from the last time I had traveled this way.  One thing I did notice was a number of big fancy houses built on the tops of hills with some nice view to be seen from their windows I am sure.  Surprises to be in such a rural area.  I asked my brother about them and he laughed and said we call them hill top mansions.  Come by in a few years and there will be foreclosure signs on them.  It takes a while in any community before you are accepted as a local.



Back to Fall Branch, another time warp, where little has changed except to deteriorate further.  Little care is given to preserving so any of the old homes and what were once beautiful farm homes when I was growing up there.  They have been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair as heirs have no interest in keeping up the old homes but want to hang onto the land.  A friend's son moved into the area thinking it would be a great area for him to ply his trade in restoring the old homes, but left after he found no interest there at all.  There was some market in taking new homes and putting things in them that appeared to be old but not in keeping up the ones already there.



On Saturday we all, the whole clan, went to my brother's and his girlfriends home in Rheatown.  The area is near Greeneville, Tennessee, but more farm country on the way.  It looks like a good hay field cutting this season with the giant rolls that takes the place of the nice little stackable bails that were so labor intensive, and had to be taken in out of the weather or they would ruin.  These new ones can stay out all year.  The air everywhere smelled of newly mown grass as it seems Saturday is the day everyone mows their yard.



It was pleasant to sit on the porch in the cool of the afternoon with all 4 siblings together for the first time since my father's death probably.  My brother, Gary had missed mom's big birthday bash.


Patsy and Sister Susan laid claim to the porch swing. Uhhh Sis that's my necklace you have on.



I took some time to spend conversing with the resident Parrot.  We had quite an animated conservation our squawking bothering the front porch conversations.


Patsy gave us a tour of the garden and made me homesick for my own garden but I never had one which looked this good.



Patsy's homeplace had a really nice "country" home feel which was very comfortable.



We visited their donkey out back who had quite a personality also.



Inside Patsy showed us the quilts her mother had made before she passed away last year.



Everywhere you looked were interesting things that had been collected from Patsy and Gary's garage sale excursions on Saturday mornings.



Helen had an episode the next day, which my brother with his medical training was able to witness.  Her mouth got numb and one eye drooped a bit and her speech was slurred for a while.  He felt it was a series of small strokes she was having and probably the reason for her memory lapses.  Otherwise she was her old self, joking and reminiscing about the past with no difficulty.  My mom's hearing was terrible but we had an appointment with the ear doc on Wednesday. ( Unfortunately they found out 3 hours before we left for home that her battery was dead and she had not remembered to replace it.  Just in time for us to leave she could finally hear us.)



After a really great dinner of barbecued ribs and chicken we headed home before "the girls" were too tired.  As we passed the local grocery store they were just beginning their Saturday evening pickin and grinnin' session, kind of like our Sounds on Centre.  Even Helen knew about it and she lives 17 miles away.



The sun was getting low as we passed several small community churches.  This one was particularly pretty in this light.  Wish the street light had not been there.


I thought this was a very interesting view of a hay field on the very tip top of one of the big hills.  Somehow it reminded me of a very simplistic abstract painting, even the thin power line marks through the sky only added to the composition.



The drive back and we were finally back to my childhood home which was a view we always loved until neighbors build homes across the street which blocked our view.  It was still very nice from the top of the hill a few houses up the street.



There was a doctors appointment on Monday which my brother Gary and not meant to keep since Helen had just had to go see him after one of her "spells" the week prior.  However my brother, the doctor, wanted to meet with her doctor and see if they were on the same page.  Dr. Franzus confirmed that he had already realized Helen was having the mini strokes and put her on Plavix.  He called us all in and gave us our options.  A straight forward doctor who spared no punches.



We were given several options some of which we rejected immediately, for now at least.  The one we opted to keep was someone medically trained who could monitor Helen's insulin injections.  After some talking with Cuz Raymond we came up with what is a workable plan for now until something catastropic happens.  Mom and Helen have neighbors who love them ver much.  The "boys" who live next door came over and planted their yard with beautiful flowers this Sping and are available whenever they need to go anywhere.  My ex-sister-in-law, wow that's lot of hyphens, has been watching them daily up until now trying to monitor their medicines, and Orie who came down with them for the family get-to-gather lives within walking distance and usually walks down at some point during the day to check on them.



Our Plan:  Cousin Raymond has a sister-in-law who is a retired RN who lives across the hill.  She can come in morning and evening to see that Helen does indeed take her specified dosage of insulin which is kept in the refrigerator in a small combination lock box.  Everyone but Helen and Mom know the combination, not that they would remember.  She will also monitor the pill taking for both Helen and Mom, taking them into town for Doctor's appointments, etc.



They are so well loved that it was not a problem to find a couple of neighbors within walking distance to be trained and will fill in when Catherine, the RN can't make it.  For now Helen can fill her own syringe and give her own injections she just needs to  have someone watch to see that she does indeed take it and won't be able to take it again in 10 minutes when she has forgotten she has done it.  I think that Mom has finally understood that it is a serious enough situation that pretending that everything is fine will just not work.
The road home was a little easier feeling that at least for now we had a better handle on the problems.  I hope that our experience will be helpful in dealing with others who have a similar problem.  A rain shower made its way over the mountain in the distance as we left our homeland in the mountains not knowing what the next trip would be.
We cannot separate the girls as they have become like Siamese Twins in the years since my Father died.  You see Helen is my dad's sister but they could not be closer than they are if they were sisters.  As long as it is anyway possible they have to be together and know that they will be happiest in their own house.  We don't believe either would survive very long without the other.  Our primary goal is to keep them together and as safe as possible at home as long as we can.
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These photo-stories have always been offered completely free, to simply share the wonders of nature. Thousands of hours have been poured into them and it has even become necessary to enlist the services of a paid email service to send out the large numbers who now receive them. So, with the current economic situation if you are able to make a small donation to help ensure the continuation of the stories it would be greatly appreciated.)



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