My Essays: March 2016
Big House: Reynolds, Georgia
A cousin who lives in Georgia recently posted this picture of our family home in Reynolds, Georgia.
I cannot even begin to tell you the memories and love that this house holds for so many people. I cannot even begin to tell you that I still dream of being in that house among the beloved members of my family–the older members of which can now live only in my memories and dreams.
Or, how happy I am to see that it is being lovingly restored so that it will go on to be a haven for even more people.
Big House was a casualty of the consolidation of small farms into big ones, of changes in federal monetary policy, of the movement of rural people into cities. It had just been bought and restoration started the last time I saw it–at my mother’s funeral.
Behind the two windows on the upper left was the “blue” bedroom. One could crawl through a third window on the “poka chez” (porte cochère) side– quietly as the floor out there was tin that crackled–and spy on an older cousin coming in from a date. Would she let her date kiss her or not??? I fell asleep, so never really found out. We were, of course, strictly forbidden from going out onto those roofs.
Upstairs were the blue room, the pink room, the red room, the small sleeping room, and in the middle, over the stairs, the sleeping porch with its bed raised up to the height of the windows so it could catch any summer breeze. (Air conditioning wasn’t around when I was about 10 or so.) Big windows opened up over the central stair well from this room, and once, a cousin sleep walked out of them and fell down the stairs. Why that fall didn’t kill him, we will never know. He didn’t seem to be hurt at all. It was a drop of 8 feet or so to the middle stair landing.
Upstairs had ONE bathroom that we all shared–even when all the bedrooms were full. I never recall feeling I needed it and could not get into it.
Downstairs ceilings were so high–at least twelve feet. The rooms had BIG fireplaces, and in the winter, roaring fires, around which we gathered, were part of that season.
On the right, behind the green tree, lower level, is “the north porch”–site of many evenings of sitting in the dark after dinner and visiting, telling stories, and talking politics sometimes–with the glow of the adults’ cigarettes the only light as the dark closed in on a hot summer night. Often, after breakfast, my grandfather would come in from the farm with a mess of peas or beans that needed shelling for dinner, and we’d sit in the cool of this porch and do this work before being driven out to the “Reynolds pool” for a morning swim. This pool was fed by three artisan wells that were crystal clear and icy cold.
The back yard was shady and covered with pine straw. When freshly laid down, we had to walk gently with our bare feet. My grandmother’s famous garden stretched to the right side of the house for several hundred feet or so and was laid out in sandy paths bordered by river rocks. She had so many azaleas and camellias. It was here that I learned from her so many plant names–and where attempts to pick up baby blue jays in the spring resulted in the mother bird dive bombing my head with real intent to harm. We played “kick the can” by the hours in this back yard, with grandmother threatening our deaths if we hurt any of her bushes when we hid beneath them. Or if we pulled any of the red Nandina berries to use for weapons. With all that running, someone always stubbed a toe on the pathway river rocks, and grandmother used to laugh her great big belly laugh. We had to laugh, too, through the pain, and realized we had just learned a lesson about being more careful. We used to climb up onto the roof of the garage–using the roof of the smoke house to get started–though forbidden. None of us ever fell off.
Pop and Grandmother had any of their grandchildren or children of their cousins who could come–at any time of the year. Big House was our home away from home. It was my anchor in a military life of moving every few years. It was where my love of the land, of gardening, of growing food, of preserving good, of cooking, of making your own fun, of being part of a family started and grew. I spent a lot of time in a city while raising my own children (and myself, truth to tell), so it an utter joy to be able to live once again close to the land up here in Maine and among people who value a more rural life and who still have small farms.
Big House is lost. That way of life is lost. At 71 now, I often mourn that loss and wish for those simpler times. They were simple, yes, but also harder. Cash was hard to come by. Credit, too. Goods had not yet flooded the market as they have now. Racism ran rampant, yes, and that’s a whole other story. But, many people could and did take a month’s vacation without worrying about their jobs. People lived with having less and made do. We fished, we swam, we spent time in the woods, we visited with friends, we grew and harvested food, and we ate well three times a day–together–with food freshly cooked that we shared. (No one had special meals made for them.) Life was not so “instant,” so fast, so connected in ways that have killed one’s privacy and time off. There was time for reflection before acting. Educated people were respected, even though some of the “educated” were sometimes thought to be a bit strange. Nevertheless, getting good grades in school was important.
Kindness was valued. Personal honor was valued. Community was supported. Winning was not ok if one cheated or lied to win. Sex was private and personal, and bodies and body parts were not flaunted. Polite language was demanded in mixed company. Of course people still “sinned” in those ways, but they were socially punished when they did. Those sanctions could last a life time if the deeds were severe enough.
Where are we now? Today’s politics tells it all. Kindness is not valued. Personal honor is not valued. Community is not supported when factions of it are called out for ridicule and demonization and when good people support this behavior because they believe that they, personally, will benefit. Cheating and lying are par for the course, and people do not care because they think they, personally, will benefit. Sex and body parts are flaunted–the wife of one presidential wannabe who has been married three times has naked, sexy pictures all over the internet. Polite language and manners are a thing of the past. Education and knowledge is demeaned; the hard work of learning about issues or government structures is not done. And the one candidate who “sins” in this way every day could win the GOP primary, though not, I think, the national election.
Indeed, it’s more clear every day that winning an election is more important than honor for many of these candidates and for their political party. Personal ego and preserving wealth for the wealthy has overridden community. The market, with all its mandates (like business driven health care/insurance) and controls (deep pockets in legal fights) and political money infusions, is winning. And we, all, will be further lost in this morass of false promises because the ends do not ever justify the means. No one can “lead” from inside such a morass.
I want to go back…
…to my childhood days at Big House.
It was not a perfect time, but the rules were clear and the punishments clearer, and we were all better for them.