01/03/05 — OPINION -- Sentimental journey

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OPINION -- Sentimental journey

By Gene Price
Published in News on January 3, 2005 1:57 PM

The old year was melting down to its last minutes. It was time for reflection. Time to brush away the cobwebs of the mind and dust off old memories. Not just of the past year, but of times long past. My thoughts drifted to a sentimental journey to a time and place of my boyhood. Join me in the thoughts that came as I revisited what to me will ever be hallowed ground ...

Speak not harshly of that run-down farm at the end the road.

Tread softly and quietly through those tall weeds that cover the rotted ruins of what once was a home.

And judge that shallow, trash-filled hole not for what it is. But for the wondrously cool well it once was.

This is the farm where the Brickhouse boys lived. It's at the end of the road that leads west from Beartown, the Elizabeth City mill district that was home for my first 18 memorable years.

To appraise it for what it is would be to desecrate the memory of what it was.

Sit quietly here amid the ruins and perhaps you can hear, faintly, out of yesteryear, the high-pitched laughter of skylarking boys, the haunting honking of farmyard geese. And that lonesome wail deep in the swamp -- that would be Ol' Red, the coonhound, long dead.

You can hear locust sounds from the cedar trees. They stood over there, bordering the lane that led, winding, by the well.

And that low, vibrating snort would be Ned, the ancient white mule. "We keep Ned for what he has been." That would be "Mr. Emmett," the Brickhouse boys' daddy who worked most of the day in the hosiery mill -- and then well into the night on the farm.

The well there has the coolest, sweetest water in the world. Careful of the spring frog and that terrapin at water's edge. They might be pets.

The old iron rod? It's for playing horse shoes. Some folks say sound vibrations never die, but diminish on into eternity. Listen. Was that faint "ping" the sound of a ringer of long ago?

The path over there will take you to the woods and Askew's Hill, across a fence or two. There are briar berries along the way and you might find a cantaloup in the field. You can go barefoot if you like.

There's a rattan swing across the swamp to the right. You can grasp it up high, swing back, and then fly clear across the ditch. You must make Tarzan sounds to do it properly.

The panorama of woods and fields is ever-changing: Green and dancing with heat waves in summer; a-burst with color in the fall; gray, black and silent in winter.

These timbers here, they would have been the back porch, piled high with stove wood. The coon dogs slept over there, in the corner where the walls come together. Drying pelts of coons and possums hung here on the rafters.

The door was here. It went into the kitchen, dark and good-smelling. The water bucket sat here on the table. And over by the wall -- that would be this timber -- stood the old kitchen cabinet with the single barrel shotgun leaning against it.

"Mrs. Gertie" (she was Mr. Emmette's wife) was happiest here. This is where she did her cooking and her singing -- and her scolding when the boys were too rambunctious. Good people, the Brickhouses. Their good young'uns grew into good grown folks.

We were pals, the Brickhouse boys and I. We called each other "Plug" and no one knew why except that it always made everybody grin. We grinned a lot in those days, and laughed and "rassled" in the grass a lot. We ate watermelons and caught fish and tadpoles in the creek and rode in the mule carts. And we never looked back as one glorious day rolled happily into another -- and then, silently, on into the past.

Sometimes I spent the night with the Brickhouse boys. We slept in the uninsulated attic where little mice gnawed joyously and ran helter-skelter all night.

Where did the mice go when the house rotted down?

And was anyone around the day -- or night -- when the empty old house groaned and sagged at last to the ground?

Perhaps it was well, not being there.

But it was good to have gone back that day a few years ago. And to reflect now on that bitter-sweet sentimental journey. While rubble and weeds cover the grave of where boyhood was buried, pleasant memories spring eternal.

They warmed the heart as the wrinkled, age-spotted hands of the boy -- now 76 -- turned the page of his calendar to yet another year.

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