I could see Fairview Mountain from my living room. I remember being three or four years old, staring at it out the window. It was the western horizon. The sun set down behind it every night. Atop its crest stood four towers. From right to left, they were the skinny one, the little one, the big one, and the last one, which was my favorite. It was the widest, and the shortest other than the little one. It was red and white, and crowned by large white dishes at each corner. I called it the tower of ears. It knew everyone’s secrets. It was big enough to hear it all.
Back then, you could drive right up to all of the towers. I remember when Dad took me in his green truck to see the big one close up. A square brick building stood next to it, and made the tower look even more mammoth. Inside the building was a man, and more televisions than I had ever seen in one place before, all turned on and stacked up against the wall. Dad told me this was the transmitter for WMPT 31, the channel I watched Mr. Rogers on. We never went up to see the little tower, but Dad said that one was for WHAG, channel 25 in Hagerstown. I don’t remember what the skinny one or the tower of ears were supposed to do.
It didn’t matter. The tower of ears was there to listen. Dad and I drove up to it once. It was further down the side of the mountain and the road was harder to find. When we made it to the top, I stood at the foot of the tower, in the shadow of one of the ears, and leaned back to look up at it. It was the most impressive structure I had ever seen. On the way back down the mountain, Dad pulled the truck over and spray-painted Steve, Dad, and Mom on one of the smooth rock faces that showed where the road had been carved out.
There were simpler priorities then. I had stuffed animals, and a big back yard to play in. The year revolved around Christmas in December, and the carnival in July. Pap was alive, and I could spend the night with him and Granny whenever I wanted. The world was Clear Spring and Hagerstown and Hancock. School was the place I went for a few hours a day to play with cardboard blocks and scribble with crayons. All the other kids were my friends. Work and worry and grief and death never touched me – I never had a reason to think about them. My name was on the side of a mountain, and there was nothing to hold me back.
I don’t know if my name is still up on the mountain. The roads that wind up through the trees and the rocks to the towers were all blocked off with metal gates years ago. I haven’t been four years old for a long time. I know that the tower can’t hear me – it has no ears, it has antennae for receiving and transmitting radio signals. Now sometimes I find myself sitting on the front porch, looking at the tower of ears, remembering when it was able to hear every word I said, and wishing it still could.