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Vacation gives a glimpse into yesterday

The road to Hot Springs, Va., was just the same. The curves not as ferocious as they were before the state highway department worked them over with convict labor, back in the 1930s. Even today, great mountains are not so easily changed, and it is easy to recognize the inexperienced mountain driver who still overuses his brakes and hugs the right-hand berm.

The leaves were still turning, a little late for the time of year, but lack of rain had delayed the tourist schedule by a few weeks. The trees were changing color, but not as quickly and certainly not as dramatically as in past years.

I could remember almost every turn in that crooked old road. It was easy to imagine, in advance, the next mountain rising through the early morning fog.

When we approached the Cascades, the great falls gushed over the jutting rock formations. I had the same thought that had occupied me as a youngster. I wondered when my family came here, did they stop and marvel at this sight, or did they hurry on to find a suitable place to stop and decide what they were going to do? Did they ride their horses, or did they pull a great wagon loaded with all the things they would need to start a new life?

Had they seen the great river that came to be called the Jackson, and did that beauty added to all the others help them decide to stay? It had to have been late spring or early summer. Certainly, they never could have traveled into this magic place in the winter. The ice and snow alone would have kept them on the other side of the mountain -- in fact, either mountain, for there are two, both great bastions of formidable strength that surround this valley and have been a natural fortress that protected all that came to dwell in this glorious place. They are known as the Covington and the Warm Springs, and they are mountains that have built legends that stand alone in the history of this county called Bath.

Had some brother or friend been in this place before, or did they travel here on the word of another adventurer or a relative with an enterprising spirit? We will never know.

When older aunts, uncles or parents were asked about the history of our arrival here, they just shook their heads and said, "I only know that Old William thought this was the most beautiful place in the world, and I guess that is why we are here.

"But where did we come from?" we all asked. The answer was always the same. We came over or down from Botetourt or Northampton, that is all we know, and then the inevitable statement was always added, "Listen, child, we were too busy feeding a family to wonder about where we came from."

We do know that it was William Keyser Sr. who made the move, the very man who enlisted in the Continental Army and got himself inoculated for smallpox and then marched to join General Washington at Valley Forge. He marched all around New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania and ended up doing a short hitch under Mad Anthony Wayne and a dramatic stint at Saw Mill River Bridge. He was a member of Washington's special forces because he was a talented sharpshooter -- no easy trick with the gun he was using. Which, by the way, he brought from home. He kept his enlistment commitment for three years, and at 70-some years old, he applied for a pension, got it, and passed it on to his wife, Keziah, at his death.

He fathered five children, ran a farm on rocks and a short growing season and sent two grandsons to fight for the South. All the men of our family participated in wars that this country has endured. Each generation sent at least one man to fight and die in Cuba and World Wars I and II. More than two went to Korea, and even more to Vietnam, and now this mountain family has again sent men to "whatever" it is for which the young are dying in Iraq.

Now, in October 2007, my daughter, Leighton, and I went to all the places where I had gone as a young girl. We soaked in the Warm Springs pools, the very place where Jefferson, Lee, and the Yankee troops that were brought there to rest, during the great war, paddled in the constant changing 98-degree, 6-foot-deep water.

We ate fine food at the Grist Mill Inn and at Sam Sneed's Tavern, where one of my relatives served us a delicious dinner. We tramped though the cemetery where Keyser markers fill the landscape.

However my family's arrival here happened, they stayed, and we all did well as a result of tough, determined souls who came before. I am grateful to be a part of them.

It was a vacation to be remembered; however, the old saying is true: "You can't go home again."

Of course not, my home now is in Edgemoor.

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