By Dr. Curtis Varnell
The school kids excitedly took pictures of the old home place and talked among themselves. Wonder who lived there? What was that building used for? If those walls could talk, wonder what stories they could tell?
My mind drifted to those days growing up and visiting in my grandmother’s home. The old house was built in dogtrot style, one large room on each end with smaller bedrooms in the middle. The kitchen and dining room were building blocks attached haphazardly to the back of the house. Planks covered the original log structure, the paint long deteriorated leaving the stark grey exposed board. Behind the house sat the smokehouse, barn, the well, and more importantly, the outhouse. The hog-wire fence surrounding the garden was immersed in sweet-smelling honeysuckle vines. My grandmother loved flowers and roses, daffodils, and iris grew abundantly.
Yet, it wasn’t the appearance of the house that made it important to my childhood, it was the life within. My grandmother cooked and heated with wood. Nothing like getting up early in the morning surrounded by the aroma of breakfast cooking. With a large family of working men, breakfast was important. Grandma always had a huge pan of biscuits sitting on the open cooking stove door and a dozen or more eggs cooked and ready to serve. She fried up fatback, bacon, and sausage and used the leavings for milk and red-eye gravy. Red-eye gravy was just grease with coffee interspersed. The coffee sank to the center bottom of the bowl and gave the concoction its unique name. I much preferred the chocolate gravy, butter and biscuits! The left over eggs, bacon and sausage were inserted into the middle of the three-inch high biscuits and placed in gallon lard buckets and carted away for the men’s lunch.
The men worked hard at rock quarries, lumber yards, or cotton fields while we were at school. My grandmother stayed busy around the house, milking the small jersey cow, slopping the hogs, tending the garden, or canning. Get outside and play! That was our instructions when we got home. Grandma didn’t have television until I was twelve and, for a large part of that time, no electricity. Some of my fondest memories were short winter days when we came in early. The pop-bellied coal stove glowed fiery red in the semi-darkness of the room and the adults and visitors sit around talking, telling jokes, and discussing news. I loved to read so I sat further back, near the kerosene lamp, listening to the conversation and straining my eyes to read Zane Grey westerns.
No-one that hasn’t experienced the trip in the dark to a freezing outhouse can explain the convenience of modern restrooms. Then time for bed. My grandparents slept in a bed in the living room, the rest of us in scattered unheated bedrooms. Usually, two or three of us shared a bed and a pile of the hand-sewn blankets that kept us warm. My favorite time was spring nights. Winds whistling around the house, lightning flickering through the windows, and the gentle sounds of rain falling on the old tin roof as I drifted into sleep.
Yes, those walls could tell a story and they still whisper to me in my dreams!