Thursday, February 28, 2013

VISITING THE PAST


The day was a warm one for February 28, 2013 in East Tennessee.  The man and woman stopped their 2007 Dodge pickup in front of an old white house that sat in disrepair on the edge of a large field.
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Trees were prominent to the rear of the house and over to the right, an old dilapidated barn barely stood, defiant against nature’s attempt to dismantle it.
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The driver’s door opened up and a man stepped out and stood stoically for a moment, staring at the house.  He walked around the front of the car to the other side and opened the passenger door so the woman who accompanied him could exit.  They were from Wyoming, according to the license plate on the car, and were visiting their son who lived in Johnson City, Tennessee a couple hours to the North.  They drove down here to Rogersville to visit a piece of their past.  This desolate place used to be theirs.  It was their home, their attempt to carve out a future for themselves and their family.
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Tom Ball and Sarah Hart were high school sweethearts and married a few years after they graduated.  Both were only 19 years of age when the vowels were taken in the Baptist Church that sat down beside the Holston River. 
Tom’s father was a dairy farmer and Tom delighted in helping his dad with the farm chores every day and wanted to be a farmer himself.  Tom’s mother had joined the angels in heaven years ago and he barely remembered her.   His wish to become a farmer came to fruition when his father passed away shortly after Toms eighteenth birthday and left the entire operation to Tom.  Tom regretted that his father and mother could not be there for his marriage to Sarah.  He knew they would be proud.
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Now Tom and Sarah stood on the front porch of the old house that sheltered generations of Ball families.  They noticed that the old kitchen coal stove was still inside.  Sarah made a lot of apple cobbler, Tom’s favorite, on that stove. They were amazed that the property was not sold or altered in any way over the years.  Tom and Sarah had worked the farm together for twenty years and raised two children there, a boy and a girl.  Tom Junior became a newspaper editor and moved to the city while Sally married and travelled to New Mexico to live her life as the wife of a Forest Ranger.  The farm flourished until one morning the bank president and his secretary stopped at the house and presented Tom with the news that his father had not paid property taxes on the farm over the past twenty years.  He handed Tom a court order to appear at a hearing where the matter would be litigated.  The tax owed was a considerable amount and Tom had no way to pay it.  His father, thinking he was passing a legacy on to his son ultimately placed a yoke on Tom’s shoulder’s that the boy could not possibly bear.
Tom was able to land a job working on an oil pipeline in Wyoming and he and Sarah left a week before the Sheriff tacked signs on trees and fences inferring the property was seized due to unpaid property taxes.  They both were 40 years old.
They returned this day to see what had happened to the old property fully expecting to find parking lots and business along the road where the farm used to sit.  Their eyes widened in disbelief when they saw the grounds covered in weeds and brush and the old house still standing.  The pasture field still looked as it did when they operated the farm.  Someone was using the big field to grow hay as the grass was cut short and the edges of the field were clearly apparent and not grown up in scrub.
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The old original house where his dad and mom lived before building the big farm house was even still standing.  They were amazed.  Tom’s dad used it as a chicken coop through all the years he worked the farm. 
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Even Cecil Ware’s old house still stood across the road.  Cecil and Tom’s dad leaned upon each other through all sorts of farm emergencies that affected both families.  They were tight friends, to say the least.  
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This valley appeared to be passed over by time.  In reality there was no work to be had anywhere near here.  No one would buy or build a home this far away from the city where the work was.  No interstate came near and this entire area used to make it’s livelihood by farming.  Farm kids grew up and shrugged the idea of making a meager living working on a farm that required intense labor.  As the youth departed – the aging ones from an almost extinct era were left to sit on their porches and dream of what once was, or worked on until the labor became too great for frail bodies to handle.  Many died in the fields with the plow handle in their hands.  These were people of the earth – a breed that current society will never see again.
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Tom felt Sarah’s hand grasp his and a gentle squeeze followed.  He turned his head toward her and their eyes met.  Drops of tears appeared at the corners of Sarah’s eyes as she stared at Tom’s face and he wiped them away with the tip of his index finger and encircled her with his arms, drew her to him and kissed her forehead. They both walked to the car and turned to look at the house one last time.  They would never return to this place.  There was no reason to.  There was nothing here for either of them. 
He glanced more than frequently into the rear view mirror as the car pulled farther and farther away from the old farm.  The old house grew smaller and smaller in the mirror until it was removed from sight.  He hid the ache in his heart from Sarah and somehow held the tears back that were pressing against the back of his eyes.
He turned to Sarah and said, “hey – lets go find something to eat.”
Sarah seemed relieved that the silence between them since leaving the farm was broken.  She didn’t want to be the first to speak.
Relieved, she smiled, looked at him and replied, “lets find some apple cobbler.”
I hope you liked that little tale.  I just dreamed it up while driving through the beautiful farm country that surrounds the river.  You may be getting as tired looking at turkeys as you were viewing bald eagles on this blog.  Below are just a few more that I saw today.  I quit counting turkeys at 260 birds this morning.
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Hey – where’d she come from?