|NONFICTION / LOST PLACE
FEBRUARY 2009 – NO. 30
Before it was sold and restored, the family farm house sat empty for 38 years.
In my family we simply called it "The Farm," a smallholding of about 16 acres in Northampton County, North Carolina. My grandfather worked the land with mule-drawn implements, mostly by himself, and raised chickens and hogs.
Dad's parents moved there from neighboring Bertie County, probably in the 1920s when he was a small boy. He remembered living at "the old home place" in Bertie, which I can't even find now. The small acreage was part of the older and much larger Duke-Lawrence estate, which contains the oldest home in the county. As it was only three miles from our own house, my two siblings and I spent many happy hours there running around the big farm lot, playing with the dogs, feeding the chickens, and eating hearty home-cooked meals and delicious biscuits that my grandmother prepared on a wood-burning stove.
My grandparents moved in with us after my grandmother had a stroke. The farmhouse was abandoned, the land rented out to a tenant farmer. We kept a garden there for many years.
We lost the chicken coop and outhouse, both removed while my grandparents were still living. The outhouse was finally supplanted by indoor plumbing in the 1960s. The smokehouse that my grandfather built and where he smoked his own hams was torn down after my grandparents died. Cherry, peach, and apple trees and an overgrown grapevine eventually died from neglect, age, and disease. Time and termites finally claimed both barns. One barn roof formed a near-perfect V when it collapsed in on itself, even as the rest of the barn stubbornly remained standing. The small outdoor washhouse was barely standing when I finally got tired of looking at its sad and dilapidated frame and tore it down during a visit home over Christmas 1991. My father, brother and I expended hundreds of hours mowing the grass over the long summers and picking up fallen tree limbs at a house that no one lived in any more.
The living room's wood heater, rusted farm tools in the barns, a corn sheller, and other miscellaneous items were stolen. I sincerely hope that whoever took them benefited, as they had long exceeded any usefulness to us.
The house stood empty for 38 years, during which no real maintenance was performed. There was no heat, no air conditioning, no power. The front and back porches rotted away. A chimney collapsed. Window panes were broken. Yet the original tin roof, so marvelously melodic during hard spring rainstorms, held tight.
The house slowly marked the days and months of solitary years on a 1967 feed store calendar still hanging from a nail in the kitchen. My dad occasionally talked about selling the farm but could never let it go. My mother finally sold it at auction after he died in 2005.
The house is still there, now restored by its new owner. Extensive carpentry work, a modern heating and air conditioning system, and new wiring and plumbing have saved the old structure. It practically glows with newly installed aluminum siding. The last time I drove by, furniture sat on the rebuilt front porch. A hometown cousin told me it has heart-pine flooring and was built to last when the builders were the owners.
I want to go by there and see lights in the windows at night.
Photograph courtesy of the author.
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