*This post originally appeared in September 2014. I was celebrating ten years of living on Green Hill Farm (purchased in 1912 by my great-grandparents) and the restoration of my family’s homeplace. I thought remembering this milestone seemed like a good way to start the blog, Fourth Generation Farmgirl. Every May, I like to re-publish this post for new readers. It’s an introduction to this blog, but even more, it’s a nice reminder for me of the importance of continuity. May 2020 marks the 16-year anniversary of living in my ancestral home (circa 1790). For those of you who may have already read this post, I apologize for its repetition; however, if you choose to read it again, you have my thanks. : )
There’s a sign that hangs in our vestibule or small covered porch that reads “PERSEVERANCE,” and it’s been our mantra since moving to Green Hill Farm. My husband and I were in our early 30s when we decided to take on this project. Sometimes when we look back at pictures we say, “WHAT in the world were we thinking? Were we INSANE?!!” Whatever the answer, it was the path taken. This path has lead us on a journey that has been difficult and challenging at times but rewarding and enriching, too. Anyway, we all know that anything worthwhile isn’t easy. Which brings me to the next piece of our story.
The first day we visited the house after construction had started was surreal. It was a hot, humid day in June, and the grass was starting to need cutting. I could smell the fragrance of something blooming that I didn’t recognize, and the wrens were singing away–weedeater, weedeater, weedeater, tweet! As I walked toward the house and started to process what I was seeing, I felt sick to my stomach. The large, white columns that had stoically stood sentinel in front of the house had been removed from the front porch; and where they’d majestically once stood, skinny, dark, wooden poles leaned in to hold-up the roof. The porch floor had been completely ripped out, and planks lay in piles around the yard. I understood that this is what needed to happen for progress to take place, but it was still jarring.
I remembered seeing Grandma sweep the floor of that porch so many times, I remembered sitting on the porch steps on Sunday afternoons listening to my aunts and uncles talk and visit as my Granddaddy rocked in the old, white rocking chair that his papa built years ago, and I remembered…I remembered all of their faces–some of them not here anymore. I took a deep breath and thought to myself, “Chin-up! This is going to get worse before it gets better.” And I was right.
I walked into what used to be the kitchen…..more rubble. It looked like the house had been hit by a bomb! I wanted to cry. As if all this wasn’t disturbing enough, in walks the project manager–I’ll call him Mack. Mack was short and stout; not so much like a teapot, but more like a barrel. He had flowing, red hair that framed a round, ruddy face. He looked kind of like a Viking. As Mack reached out to shake our hands, I noticed his charming tattoo that read, “_ _ _ _ YOU.” I’ll let you fill in the blanks. Anyway, Mack proceeded to say that he didn’t know WHAT our contractor had told us, but it certainly was going to take A LOT longer than 6 months to restore this house, and it definitely was going to cost A LOT more money, too. He beckoned us to follow him from room to room as he pointed out everything that was wrong, tired, and basically not good about the house. And after a short pause and with a frank look on his face, he said, “If I were you, I’d just bulldoze it!” A moment passed, and I thought, “What?! Did he just say what I thought he said?” I felt hot. Anger and tears began welling up inside of me. I stood there for another second, blinking back a tear, and trying to steady my voice. “We’re NOT bulldozing this house,” I quietly said.
Here’s the thing: Mack wasn’t a bad guy, and he turned out to be a good carpenter. It really wasn’t his fault that he was coming across as an insensitive arse. He didn’t know about my fond childhood memories of bugging Grandma to show me the barrel vault ceilings in the upstairs bedrooms when I was little, because surely a princess would have a curved ceiling like that. Or my memory of sneaking into the house with a childhood friend via the window over the staircase that happened to be about 15 feet off the ground, using Granddaddy’s old, rickety ladder.
On a more somber note, he didn’t realize that both my great-grandfather and my great uncle had both passed away within the imperfect walls of this house. Nor did he know the story of my great-grandmother sitting in the parlor, holding her nine-year-old and eldest son, Ernest in her arms as he died of meningitis, because they had barely missed the last train leaving rural Thaxton going to the City of Roanoke and a hospital.
No, Mack didn’t know about ALL those memories and stories. He just saw a really old house that was at an extremely critical point. To him, it was just a dusty, dirty place with uneven floors and absolutely no right angles. He was looking at the structure of the house, but what he wasn’t seeing was its soul.