Ready to Walk Home


The old home place up on Smith Ridge. This was before the porch was enclosed to make the big living room. The kitchen was in the “little house,” as Mawmaw calls it, to the right of the porch. It think that may be my Aunt Bonnie on the far right.

Press the Play arrow to listen to “Ready to Walk Home.”

Thanks so much to so many of you for replying to my recent letter about my Appalachian childhood – radio obituaries, soap operas, and pineapple and cottage cheese salads. It’s good to know so many other folks kept their relatives company while watching Days of Our Lives or Guiding Light. No one will be able to pull one over on us ever. We saw it all on the soaps when we were kids!

The song I’m writing about today relates to something I said in my last letter about my grandmother and visions: “Mawmaw could say that she had a vision as comfortably as she could tell you she was going outside to fill the bird feeders.”

Just before Christmas 2021, my Aunt Katherine passed away. She was my grandmother’s older sister.

Aunt Katherine in her teens.

Mawmaw had spent even more time than usual with Aunt Katherine during the few years before Katherine’s death because Katherine had Alzheimer’s. Though she had nurses to help her, she was happiest when the nurses would bring her to Mawmaw’s house because that’s where they all grew up. Mawmaw still lives in the house where she was born. So, at 91 she keeps the home place. That’s the house in the photograph at the top of this letter though it looks different now.

Recently, a friend asked me why Mawmaw still lived in the house where she was born. I suppose my first thought was why would you live anywhere else. You’re on top of a green Virginia mountain at 3300 feet looking out at birds, deer, and bears (yes, bears!), apple trees and wild iris. Your church and, thus, your heartsease is across the road. The sun sets like fire in the gap between the trees and you can hear the crickets and frogs singing at night. It’s the wilderness and it’s home.

The sun beginning to set outside Mawmaw’s house.

A more practical answer would be that Grandaddy Hankins was a scoundrel, Mawmaw found herself divorced in the 1960s with two boys to raise at the same time that her own mother was widowed. Mawmaw moved back up the mountain from her married house on Tazewell Avenue in Richlands. My Dad and Uncle Tom then had two mothers, slept under piles of quilts, and built a moonshine still in the woods nearly blowing themselves up.¹

It’s also like the writer Lee Smith once said to me, when you’re born in the mountains, “you need a mountain to rest your eyes against.”

Mawmaw remarried, divorced again, had sweethearts, and every one of them tried to get her to move off the mountain. But Smith Ridge was her home. She never could leave. Almost all of the stories of her life are there. She’s been as far as Costa Rica and Italy. She’s driven across America. But she was always glad to come back to the mountain and look out her kitchen window.

Mawmaw wearing her prom dress and standing on top of the dairy at the home place. 

During her married, life Aunt Katherine lived just a few miles away from the home place over in the coal camp on Jewell Ridge. But when she began to struggle with her memory, she wanted to be “home.” So, her nurses would bring her over to Mawmaw’s house most days for hours where Aunt Katherine would sit and be with her sister. Sometimes, she thought things in the house were hers. Sometimes, Mawmaw just let her take things home. It didn’t matter.  Sometimes, Aunt Katherine would ask Mawmaw why she (Mawmaw) was in her (Katherine’s) house. Mawmaw would say, “It’s very nice of you to let me live here, honey.”

They were sisters.

On the night that Aunt Katherine passed away, many of her family were with her. They told Mawmaw that Katherine kept saying, “Come get me, Tince. Come get me, Daddy.” Tince (pronounced with a long “i”) was her cousin, the son of Uncle Frazier and Aunt Erma.² When they were children, he used to walk Katherine home from Jewell Ridge school, down the valley, and back up home across Smith Ridge. He stuck up for her when other cousins were bullies. At the end of her life, Katherine was ready to be walked home and she knew who could safely take her there.

The night before Katherine died, Mawmaw had a vision. As she tells it, “There was a big big church. Katherine and Edith³ were standing at the back of this church. Edith wore a yellow dress. Two handsome men, like ushers, came to escort them to their pew. And I felt like things would be fine. Katherine was with Edith now and these men were looking after them. I wasn’t there with them, but it was like I was outside looking in.”

Katherine passed away the next night. Edith was her eldest sister who had died the year before. I asked Mawmaw what color Katherine’s dress was in the vision. She said, “It wasn’t colored in. I suppose because she hadn’t passed yet, but I think it will be blue now. Katherine always looked beautiful in blue.”

Ella Katherine Smith up on the roof of the dairy at home on Smith Ridge.

When Mawmaw told me about her vision and Aunt Katherine’s words, a song began to form. I had recently attended an online church service at St Mary’s in Cottingham near Hull. Reverend Durnford’s first words in her sermon were, “The pace is quickening!" because the birth of Jesus was coming – it was advent. And later she said, “Their hearts were smitten.” Those words also found their way into my song. They seemed fitting for Katherine’s wish to go home. In February of 2022, Sam Inglis recorded this simple version of me singing “Ready to Walk Home” in Hull on England’s east coast.

Press the play button at the top of this letter to listen.

Aunt Katherine taught me to make a triangle quilt block. Her children passed her button box and several of her lovely sewing things on to me as well as terrific red hat.

When Mawmaw said she was outside looking inside, I felt this is how it is for me when I’m writing songs about ancestors I’ve never met or things that happened while I was away. I wasn’t there, but I still saw something I absolutely had to sing about.

Ready to Walk Home
by Jeni Hankins © 2021

Come get me mother,
come get me daddy,
come get me sister, 
I’m ready to walk home.

My heart is smitten.
The pace has quickened.
This day is different.
I’m ready to walk home.

I am ready
I am ready
I am ready
to walk home.

Once I was outside.
Now I am inside.
Come be by my side.
I’m ready to walk home.

I’ll join the banquet.
Rejoice, be thankful.
All darkness vanquished.
I’m ready to walk home.

You wear the yellow. 
You lead, I’ll follow.
I’ll go where you go.
I’m ready to walk home.

Come get me mother,
come get me daddy,
come get me sister, 
I’m ready to walk home.

You can hear a song about my Dad and his brother Tom by listening to the song “Warm Morning Stove.


You can hear a song about Aunt Erma who witnessed the murder of her father-in-law here. And you can also hear a song and read a storyabout Erma’s other son Charlie who was struck by lightning twice.


I’ve written several songs about Aunt Edith who told me many stories and who I loved very much. Here are “Sweetness Keen as Pain” with Grammy winner Jim Lauderdale on harmony vocals and “Goodnight, Tazewell Beauty Queen.”

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I’m working on a bunch of new songs based on Mawmaw’s stories. If you’d like to give me the gift of time to write, you can send a tip to me here on PayPal or here on ko-fi: TIP.


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