Jane loved to go to the Station. The Station didn't have much business anymore with Sneedville growing to a small town but the Station was closer to her home. Still, the travelers on the other side of the river stopped there as they traveled towards Nashville.
The punt was tied to the dock. Sarah and Caroline didn't want to go. Jane untied the boat, grabbed the pole and pushed off from the dock. At 9, she was big enough to cross the river by herself. Today, the current wasn't very strong. It was late summer and no rain had fallen for awhile.
On the other side of the Clinch, her uncle Sterling waited. The oldest of her uncles, he was always there for her. Jim split for the gold fields in California when she was five leaving her mother and two younger sisters to fend for themselves. Jane was tough and did pretty much what she wanted. Sterling wasn't really her uncle, more like a 2nd cousin but he had always been there.
“Uncle Sterling”, she hollered, when she was about half way across the river. He waved, smiling at her. Of all the kids in the family, she was his favorite. She was the one most like him. She loved adventure and was always willing to take on a challenge.
“Where’s Uncle John?” she asked as she glided the boat to dock.
“He’ll be here soon”, he laughed as he watched her face. She was smitten with his brother. There was a huge gap in their ages. Sterling was 15 when John was born. John was only 4 years older than Jane and they had practically been raised together. But that had been the deal made long ago when his Uncle Andrew and father John Elijah had made a pact to help Priscilla raise her children. Jim and his cousins worked the Rhea Station for many years until Jim married Polly. An adventurer like his daughter, Jim decided to secure the family fortune and took off for California. It seemed the pattern was repeating itself. John had disappeared and now his son.
“Sterling”, John yelled as he ran towards the dock. “Where are we going?”
“ I want to show you the cliff. Someday, I want to build a house using the face as the back wall. It’s high and the river can’t reach it.”
“That’s boring”, said the 13-year-old John.
“No it’s not”, replied Jane. “I want to see it Uncle Sterling.”
They paddled up-river past the hollow until they hit the bend in the river. Sterling turned the boat towards shore until they caught sight of the cliff. Sure enough, the granite wall was flat and and loomed about 10 foot high.
Sterling jumped out of the punt and helped Jane out. John jumped out behind her and they headed to the cliff. Sterling climbed the rocks until he reached what seemed to be a platform. It was about 20 x 20 and relatively flat.
“This is where I want to build the house. The rock is flat enough to use and the back wall will be heated in the winter by the sun. Should keep it warmer.” He paced of several feet and using a rock, showed the kids where the wall to the bedroom would be.
“There is a stream nearby so getting water won’t be hard,” he said.
“Where is the kitchen,” asked the practical Jane.
He strode to the other side and using his hands to demonstrate, made a window. “The kitchen is here with a view of the river. “
Jane was thinking that she would like to live in such a house. Even at her young age, it was important to have plans. Nothing could be left to chance and this seemed like a fine home. She had already started to gather things for her hope chest. She didn't have a chest but saved bits and pieces under her bed. She had a blanket, a hankie, a dishcloth, and a chipped china cup. Polly was teaching her how to make a quilt so she could make her own when she needed them.
John was curious too in spite of the fact that it was boring. “Sterling, how do you get the wood to stick to the granite?”
“I don’t know yet but there has to be a way. It doesn't matter, I’ll figure it out. We are a good ten feet above the river. Even if it floods, it won’t reach up here. There will be steps down the side, right next to the stream. There is a patch out back for an outhouse and a place for the animals. It sits up high too.”
The more Jane heard, the more she liked it. It was far enough away from the Station to make trips there frequently and it was on the north side of the river so visiting home would be an easy journey. There would be no river to cross so unless it was flooding, there would be nothing to get in her way. She liked how high it was. Flooding was a fact of life for the river folks. There had been some talk of moving closer to Sneedville but no one seemed anxious to leave the river.
The Clinch River was usually placid. It was only when it was storming that it took what was in its way. Farmland got swallowed up, houses washed away. River folks were smart and understood. Once in a while a new family would wander in and setup housekeeping on the river. Depending on the attitude, the Rhea’s could be extremely helpful. One such family had arrived and built a house on the riverbank. They were warned but they would not listen. A whole winter went by and the river behaved. They were smug and pointed out that nothing happened. The next winter was different. Snow came early and when it started to melt, it started raining. The river wanted its due and the Rhea’s managed to rescue the family before the river took the house. They were also able to save the livestock but all the belongings washed away. The family stayed at the Station for about a month and then packed up and headed to Nashville.
Jane understood the river. She had been born there. Her mom and sisters lived in the Hollow. It was back from the river on higher ground. The two room house had been built by her grandfather and left to Jim. Jim had added two more rooms so the girls had their own bedroom and there was a sort-of sitting room where they entertained guests. Most of the guests were family but it was nice to have a place have a quilting bee. The kitchen had a wood stove that heated the whole house. It was Jane’s job to start the fire in the morning and make biscuits. Each of the girls had separate chores even at their young ages. Everyone worked together.
It was harder for the McCollum girls. Since Jim had gone to the gold fields, Polly had to find employment. She would hitch up the horse and ride the 5 miles into town. She worked for two ladies, cleaning and cooking. At the end of the day, she would ride home and the girls would have supper ready. None of them noticed that they had to work harder. It was just part of life but Jane loved it when she could take off for the Station. It was there where she could see others outside of her small world.
She would sit quietly when travelers would come in and share tales of the trek through the hills. She heard talk of Indians but she didn't believe them. Her grandmother was Indian and she didn't think she was one of the blood-thirsty “Injins” she’d heard about. She soaked up all the talk of society. She admired the women with the newer fashions. Some people who came in to trade would give the little girl trinkets. As she got older, she realized leaving the river was not for her. She still loved the stories but the little valley with the river running through it was her home.
Jane never left the valley. About half of her kids moved away but Jane was born there and died there. It was where her husband, parents and grandparents were buried. But most of all, it was her home. The majesty of the green mountains, the sound of the river, and the fertile land held her captive and she never wanted to leave.Sterling never built the house on the cliff. However, Jane and John did build their first house on the spot. The kitchen window overlooked the river and they were happy there. They lived there 5 years until the family outgrew the house and they started looking for an new place to build. The Rhea’s owned over 1000 acres which was shared with the family. They found a new spot facing the river, just east of the Holler. It had good farmland backing up to the river for irrigation. They took the granite from the area around the old house and built a foundation higher than the river could get and continued on with their lives.