The Story Behind the Story: “The Spine Falls Away”

When I was three and my brother was one, my parents moved us into an old farm house on top of a mountain in Harrogate, Tennessee. It felt very remote and isolated with several hundred acres of wilderness around the house, but it was only a short drive from the university where my father taught.

My father was still working on his PhD and my mother was finishing up her Bachelor’s degree. They were students making student wages, and for a while we lived on credit cards. We rented the farmhouse from a guy named Frank. It was a steal at $50 a month, but it came with its share of problems—no air conditioning, undrinkable well-water, termites, windows that wouldn’t open, a wood burning stove that only heated one room—the living room. I remember taking baths after school in the winter so we could warm up.

But it was a magical place as well in that way that forests and creeks and old houses are magical. There were out buildings and barns and trails in the woods for my brother and I to explore. A good portion of the land was overrun with blackberry brambles, the berries of which grew as big as our thumbs, and even though we picked them for days on end we hardly made a dent in amount of blackberries growing there. A short hike from the house, there was a creek full of bluegill and crawdads. We spent a lot of time fishing and looking under rocks for salamanders. Many of my best childhood memories stem from this house in the woods, and I find myself writing about it a lot.

When he was 16, my brother died, and even though he’s been gone for 20 years now, I find myself thinking about that old house in the woods that we lived in for six years and all the trouble and fun my brother and I got into. A couple of years ago, I drove back to Harrogate and made the drive up the mountain to our old place, only to find the house had been demolished and the blackberry brambles uprooted to make way for a horse farm. There was a locked gate over the driveway and a no trespassing sign, so I turned the car around and drove back home.

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About Lydia Copleand Gwyn

Lydia Copeland Gwyn’s stories and poems have appeared in New World Writing, Elm Leaves Journal, Appalachian Heritage, Glimmer Train, The Florida Review, Hermeneutic Chaos, and others. She lives in East Tennessee with her husband, son, and daughter.