Come sled on Kirk Hill - Remember what is good and simple

To the Editor:

It was right around Thanksgiving of 2001 when my grandfather, James L. Kirk, passed away. Now that my husband and I live in his former home not a day goes by that I don’t think of him in some way, especially during the holidays.

James Kirk was brought to Altamont by his parents during the Great Depression. They left him here with two young sisters to be cared for by his uncle and aunt, Luther and Margaret (Kirk) Warner, in hopes that life on the farmstead would provide more than a life in the city.

He survived the Depression and became a paratrooper, joining the 82nd Airborne. He dropped into Normandy on D-Day and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He was the definition of the greatest generation.

On my grandfather’s last Christmas, he told us the story of the night he came home from the war. His family had been informed that he was AWOL and no one was sure if he was dead or alive.

But he was alive, and he was searching for the 505th Infantry Regiment, H Company that he had trained with and had become separated from during one of their missions. He had left the hospital to find these men. These were the men who knew his whisper, knew his footfalls, knew his breathing, knew his silhouette. These were the men that kept him alive and these were the men he wanted to keep alive, too. 

When he arrived home that Christmas Eve, his family had heard nothing of his status. He stood on the front porch of his parents’ home, watching through the window as his mother and sisters decorated the Christmas tree.

The snow fell around him as he watched silently, for nearly an hour, knowing that as soon as he opened the door everything would change. No doubt it was a scene that had kept him going throughout the war, a scene he hadn’t been sure he would ever live to see again.

My grandfather valued the simplest of gifts that life brought, and it’s easy to see why. I think memories of a childhood in Altamont, where the farmstead could provide more food than his parents’ paycheck could, where there was land to run, and a simple hill for sledding — allowing family and friends to, for just a moment, forget about their troubles — was of great importance to him.

It was why he encouraged the hill for sledding, the watering hole for swimming, and the creek-side for strolling. It was, I think, why for the rest of his life he continued to invite neighbors, family, and friends to take a moment during the winter when the snow was falling, to remember what was good and simple.

We invite you this winter to continue in his sledding tradition.

Jen O’Connor and Eric Krans

More Letters to the Editor