Telling stories

The Ghosts of my Old Home Place

Posted by southwrite on July 3, 2014

Abondoned House WoodsOn the hot sticky summer afternoons of my youth, I’d find myself walking the dirt road that ran in front of my parent’s home. Barefoot I’d make my way past the fields and thorny blackberry bushes to where the road curved and I lost sight of the red brick house where I grew up. Emboldened by freedom and desire for adventure I’d keep walking as the hot Middle Georgia sun beat down on me and sweat trickled down face and back.

Following the ruts, I’d reach the heavy woods and then set off down a less traveled path back into the thick pines. After a time I’d finally see the lone chimney standing against the trees. It was all that was left of the house that once stood there – long abandoned and collapsed. At some point most of the ruins had been taken away so that only the crumbling brick fireplace remained.

It was somebody’s old home place. I never knew who had lived there, as they were long gone even in those years – dead no doubt and buried in some other place. Yet, I felt drawn to the spot. I’d sit there for a time, look at the outline of the foundation  and wonder.

When you’re deep in the woods alone there is no silence. The whisper of the wind through the pines, a small movement in the underbrush, the song of a bird is loud and ever present. Occasionally you’d hear the distant and lonely sound of a train whistle passing through Eastman  some five miles away.

If you meditate there long enough you start to hear other things as well. It becomes hard to tell where imagination ends and reality begins. You begin to hear the voices – both adults and children – talking and shouting. This was someone’s old home place where people were born and died. It was the center of their world. Now it was gone.

Author Tom Poland describes them this way: You’ve seen old home places. You’re driving a back road and you go by what I call ruins. I have in mind those places where you can tell a hand once tended a yard and you can tell by how the trees grow that, yes, once upon a time a home nestled among these trees. You can spot old home places in the spring by the golden profusions of jonquils that grow in a disorderly way. You can spot them by the little chimneys that stand like monuments to the lives they once warmed. You can spot them by the stately piles of rocks where a foundation once rested. These little heaps of rocks, standing amid weeds and pines amount to cairns, a mound of stones heaped up as a memorial, and memorials they became.

Growing up in rural Dodge County, Georgia, I saw a number of these simple  wood frame houses (the look is really classic). There was another on the edge of a field just across the dirt road. It was still standing the last time I was there, but already half swallowed by vines, and bush. The rural south is filled with these old home places. Abandoned, they hold out against the encroachment of age and undergrowth as long as they can. Then one day they vanish, consumed by indifference.

Path in WoodsI’d walk by keeping my distance from the thick growth. I knew there were snakes in there, but deep down I also suspected spirits of the death also hid within the dark walls. I wondered where the people had gone and why they stopped caring.

Then I saw it take my grandmother’s rambling old Four Square house. A short walk from my parent’s place, I had spent many afternoons playing in her wide sandy front yard. Here we escaped to the warmth of her fireplace when ice storms cut the power to our modern all-electric brick ranch. Built sometime in the late 19th or early 20th Century, the house had no indoor plumbing [there was a two-hole outhouse across the back yard] and water was drawn from a deep well at the corner of one of the wrap around porches.

After she passed and the property sold, the new owner torn off the porches and stuffed the house’s four equal sized rooms with hay bales. He planted pines in the big front yard hiding the house from the road. Driving by after many years and seeing what it had become, I was filled with a deep sadness. This place and the surrounding acreage that had once been  owned by my family was alien to me. The house was still standing because it made for convenient storage. It was a reminder of how things change and how quickly what we know is gone.

We’re good at giving up these old places.

In fact, we abandon just about everything. Small town and big city America is filled with empty structures. They range from industrial buildings and warehouses to old storefronts. Some are almost ancient, but others are more modern. Consider these pictures of abandoned shopping malls or the left behind cars, trucks, boats, industrial machinery and, of course, houses found on the stark and beautiful landscape of Iceland.

So much that was once useful and probably loved falls from a state of grace into one of loss.  With people gone even the best constructed houses eventually fall away. Sadly, it’s the way we do things.

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