A Homecoming Revelation
I rubbed my tired eyes and blinked as the 19th century farmhouse came into view. I had hoped that my eyes were deceiving me. The wood post and rail fence was broken and worn, tattered from the secrets that it had held. Newly built cookie cutter houses now bookended the property to the east and the west where the regal pines once stood, stripping the house further of its original lure. The house appeared vacant and cold. Windows in the top floor had been broken, and paint on the porch’s wood pillars was peeling away from its façade. I slowed my car as I noticed a large orange sheet of paper blemishing the grand wooden door. The house appeared abandoned now, so I decided to take a closer look.
I turned onto the driveway lined with wild Queen Anne’s Lace and Black-eyed Susan, and listened to the familiar crunch of gravel beneath my wheels. The sound reminded me of the State’s welfare checks on myself and the three other children fostered in this home. I found myself wondering if that very noise was the previous inhabitants’ first alarm that the enemy was approaching. Because just as this house comforted me during my childhood years, it was also a safe house many generations ago for the Underground Railroad.
Once out of my car, I walked up the creaky old steps and approached the front door until the black print on the orange paper came into view. CONDEMNED it read. I gasped. Not this house. I jiggled the handle on the front door, but it would not release, so I went around to the back door to try my luck there. It was already opened a crack. Cautiously letting myself in, I found myself standing in the mudroom, formerly the butler’s pantry, staring at the markings on the door frame indicating the various children’s heights. A smile graced my saddened face as I pictured my foster siblings and me sitting at the kitchen table waiting our turn to be measured. I was the tallest until Bobby shot up in the seventh grade. He overtook me by a foot that year. I wondered where he was and what he was doing now.
Moving on, I first peered into the cellar, the musty odor both strong and familiar, a scary place to the youngest of the children.
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Continuing, I walked into the dining room where floor to ceiling panels of red fabric still framed the high windows. Torn and holed, I reached out to stroke the curtains. A puff of dust billowed forward at my touch enticing a cough, to which I quickly retracted my hand. Happily, the ornate built-ins still remained, albeit covered with a thick layer of dust.
A hole in the carpet tugged at my heal, and unable to resist, I bent down and grasped a corner of the hideous brown shag carpet and pulled it away to reveal the servant call button in the middle of the floor. I remembered my foster parents explaining this fascinating button to all of us kids as we scrambled to see who could push it first. Those past generations had seemed like a different world to me — maids and butlers a thing of southern storybooks. But now, I found myself standing here, feeling the roots of this old house in quite a different way; the foundation supporting much more than four walls of stone and mortar, but holding instead the history of our forefathers to be discovered and learned by those who chose to cross its threshold.
Instinctively I knew what I must do.
I quickly walked through the remainder of the house gazing at the old bluestone fireplace and small upstairs bedrooms, taking note of every detail I could, while reminiscing about the five enjoyable years I had spent here many, many years ago.
Now I found myself almost running to my car. The high school reunion wasn’t for a couple of hours and it could certainly wait. This couldn’t. I hoped that my schoolmate’s mother still worked there as I fumbled around the inside of my purse feeling for my cell phone. Once located, I quickly dialed information and gained the number I had sought.
I hopped in my car and dialed the phone once more. Now dust and gravel flew from beneath my wheels as I headed out the driveway and pointed my car towards town and in the direction of the county’s historical society.
I was going to save this house.