August 24th, 2006 by The Lexington Herald-Leader
DSTEPHENSON@HERALD-LEADER.COM
AWILSON1@HERALD-LEADER.COM

The world has not changed so much when viewed from Mina Warren's porch. The old Warren house, a really long time back a schoolhouse, sits on the corner of Old Sand Hill and Forge Hill roads, just off Interstate 64. It doesn't look like a schoolhouse now because the Warrens, with five youngsters back then, built on and changed so much of it, Mina says.

At the edge of Mina's property in Peasticks is the old store, built quite a few years back by her husband, Estill. "It was the only way to make a living here, honey," she says, neglecting to expand on how bad times really were or whether storekeeping was prosperous.

Mina says her commute to the store wasn't so far. Ten steps maybe. The hours were long, though. As best as she can remember -- Mina is 95 -- the store stayed open late for working people, like herself, who might need something you hadn't thought you needed when you last went into the big store in Morehead.

Now abandoned, the Warrens' store -- it never had a name or, if it did, Mina cannot recall it -- has hung onto life as a billboard for the signposts that direct visitors to Bailey's Chapel or Old Virginia Church of God or to a yard sale or how to vote come Election Day. Slung low, the old building is held up by a tangle of vines. These are the same vines Mina planted a long time ago to "beautify" the cinder-block fortress that fed her family.

Looking straight out from the porch, across Old Sand Hill Road, is property that belongs to one of Mina's daughters now. It was bought, Mina says, when Estill died and things were sorted out.

Mina misses Estill mightily but also misses "Sweetpea," a daughter who died.

Mina sits on her porch on a dark green metal patio chair once owned by her grandmother and sees what her family always saw from this vantage point: a well-trimmed front yard, a road and, beyond, a magnificent last piece of flat green terrain that stretches wide then kneels almost reverently at the very beginnings of the Appalachians.

Mina's life began in Peasticks, then her family moved to Bethel for a spell, and then she landed back here on Warren land, which has a clear title back to a Revolutionary War grant.

Up at 7 a.m., Mina sees a lot of what goes on here still. She sees neighbors out walking. A tiny gray kitten in the bushes. She smells a skunk's irritation with something. She sees the school bus go by. It's the first morning for the bus since school let out in spring.

On the bus this day, Scott Chapman, 6, is in the front seat next to Bath County Schools' most demanding bus driver. Just down Forge Hill Road, Erica Chapman had checked her watch carefully. She and her small son had waited in folding chairs propped in the driveway since 7:15 a.m. Close by, the Chapmans' dog, the one with the brain aneurysm, barks happily, walks a little oddly and hears the bus from a long way down the road. It is Scott's first day of first grade, and he seems quietly at peace with the whole enterprise. His mother, however, has worried inordinately about making the bus because the bus driver has said she will keep the front seat empty for Scott -- but only if he is ready in time.

When the bus rolled up at the Chapmans' house at 7:32 a.m., Scott was bundled onto the big steps into the yellow behemoth. There was no time for tears or last-minute admonitions about saying "please" or reminders about raising your hand to go potty. It was a swift movement toward the door, and away the Bath County school bus went, down the road, past where Mina Warren's stand of tall rosy leafless amaryllis known as naked ladies proudly bask in the morning sun as they have for years.

Paul Sexton is taking his usual 40-minute walk up the road and back. With him is a golden puppy of indeterminate breed who fell in step with Sexton two months ago on this same walk and has yet to leave his side. Paul named him Bruiser.

In front of Mina's house, he and Bruiser spot the gray kitten.

"Here comes that cat we lost," he says to Bruiser, who makes the kitty go clawfensive and poofy.

Paul picks up the cat. He figures the kitty got in the car with him a few days ago when he and Bruiser went to check on the family's cows and then got out, unnoticed. Paul imagines that the kitty has waited around until the guy with the dog came back around. Paul is hard-pressed to remember the kitty's name -- "I am not a cat man" -- but he knows it has a name because the women at his house gave it one, explaining why rescue now is required.

Paul says his grandmother told him that Peasticks got its name because "it used to be broom sage and native cane was all that grew here." And, apparently, people from all around these parts would come to this plot of land and gather cane sticks when they were putting in their peas and needed nature's own climbing trellis. Back then there was Peasticks, Bailey's Chapel, Moore's Ferry, Old Virginia, Hedrick and Forge Hill -- all settlements that somehow coalesced into a large yet diffuse area now commonly called Peasticks, a collection today of residential farms with pretty ponds, tobacco, corn and chickens scattered around.

According to Paul, Old Virginia got its name because there was a slave cemetery back there, and when slaves died, the owners would tell them that they were "taking them back to Ol' Virginny," but they were just taking them over the hill.

Paul finds that sad, just as he finds it sad that his own property was once referred to as "the penitentiary" because the land was owned by the Rose Run iron ore-mining company, and company-owned shacks littered his fields. The pay for iron mining was in scrip, or paper money, he says, and the company store was the only place that took the scrip, of course, which means slavery here lasted a long time after it was supposed to be done with.

The land still holds rock-tinged red with iron oxidation. The mineral rights below the land still belong to somebody in Pennsylvania. The marks of the "dinkyrail," which hauled the ore away, still shape the land now enormously energized by fertilizer and fescue.

Paul is on his return trip back by Mina's now. He picks up tomatoes offered by Dewey McCarty, a neighbor. He drops in on his cows. He delivers the cat -- its name, he is reminded, is Poof -- and he can look east, past Mina's house, to I-64, which only barely mars the view. He looks out to dark-violet mountains that keep their distance and their secrets.

Which is OK with Paul.

And with Mina, who says she is unafraid of life after Peasticks. "I have done nothing I think is wrong. I have lived the best life I could," she says.

After she is dead, and only then, the family may do what they wish with her grandmother's patio chair and matching glider.

For now, it will stay put. It is not for sale. Neither is the store with no name. Nor the view. Not even the pink-petaled naked ladies.

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