This week, I’m back in East Tennessee with Axel, taking him to meet his great grandparents. I wonder what it is like to have great grandchildren? I’ll have to wait a while.
You can trace my family lineage back to the 1600’s, when they came over from Germany. I thought about naming my son “Hans” instead of Axel because there was a Hans 10 generations ago.
Loudermilk comes from “Lauter Milch”, which means “pure milk”. I guess our ancestors were dairy farmers. I do love milk chocolate.
When I was 13, my grandfather took me on a trip to see the Loudermilk homestead in West Virginia. We spent four days road tripping around Greenbriar County.
On the trip when I was 13, we went to see the old Loudermilk family home, it was just a cabin in the woods. There are some photos from back then – that was back before smiling was invented.
I had always hoped I came from nobility, turns out it was mostly poor folks leaving Europe to get a better life here. Recently I bought myself a hereditary title of lordship, so now I feel much better.
Our little family house was a big contrast to the Greenrbriar Resort right next door – which is America’s oldest resort, it might even be older than the country. It’s where all the visiting royalty and heads of state go to stay. When you arrive you get your own horse to ride around the grounds. But you have to check your sabre when you go to the restaurant on the premises.
They have a sulphur spring on the resort property that smells like farts. Being 13, I filled up several water bottles to bring back home with me in the hopes of a smelly prank. Unfortunately, all the smell had dissipated by the time I opened the bottles a week later.
My grandfather grew up in Cass, West Virginia. This was during the depression. The biggest event each week was when the train came to town. For the last 80 years, my grandfather has loved trains. I guess it’s like the Internet for us.
He told me a story about his father who had borrowed $150 over the course of the depression to buy essentials at the company store. The government forgave everyone their debts from the depression, but he paid his back anyway, out of principle, a dollar or two at a time.
My grandfather has had a pretty interesting life. He was a radio repairman during the Korean War, a business school professor, and an accountant for 50 years. The company he worked for closed when he was in his late 50s. Instead of retiring, he got another accounting job where he worked until he was 84.5 years old. They say if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. Maybe that’s how he was able to work so long.
Have you seen the movie The Hatfields and McCoys with Kevin Costner? That’s what the land around here looks like. The whole feud that killed all those family members back in the 1800’s happened because everything is so isolated that honor became the most important currency.
It’s still pretty isolated around here. You see lots of houses with a handful of junker cars in the yard and a falling down barn. There aren’t many jobs, and there is a big problem with meth.
But there is also amazing mountain biking, sailing, whitewater rafting, and rock climbing. East Tennessee and North Carolina are an adventure paradise.
I was out riding my cyclocross bike today and I rode up the mountain until the pavement ended and then kept going on the dirt. The last house I passed was a one-room log cabin that a tree had fallen across. I stopped to talk to the owner – the house was fine except for the porch, which was all smashed up. He didn’t seem too worried about it.
Right after the smashed cabin, I encountered three people on a horse drawn cart heading into town. They were drinking beer and really friendly. I wonder if you can get a DUI for driving a horse cart drunk.
We might be spending more time here in the future. We are staying in a castle (not really a castle, but an old stone building built by the logging company as a post office/company store/boarding house) and the owner is trying to talk me into buying it.
When you’re a dad make sure you know where your ancestors come from, so you can tell your kids stories about the old days.
Photo: Getty Images