The Old House in Dry Creek. First constructed by my great great grandparents circa 1892, this family home is my favorite spot in the world, source of many of my stories, and my best writing muse. Below is the opening story from my second book, The Old House. Pen and ink drawing is by my uncle Bill Iles.
The Old House at the End of the Road
If it’s possible to love a house like a person,
Then the Lord knows I love this old house.
It’s a place reminding me of family,
And the things in life that really mean the most.
It’s a place I return to when I’m lonely. . .
. . . Or it seems I’ve lost my way.
A place where I always feel welcome,
As I sit down and think for a while.
This old house is more than boards and nails
Because it tells me of our past . . .
As I walk through it, I’m reminded that
The special people in our lives never last.
Although they’re gone, I will remember
How they still live on inside of me.
Because this old house reminds me of who I am,
And everything I ever want to be . . .
There it sits- surrounded on the east side by tall long leaf pines and along the west fence line by oak and hickory trees as the land slopes down to the swamp. Out in front is a dilapidated old barn, and behind this house to the south are overgrown fields- once bearing tall field corn and purple hull peas, but now grown up in a tangle of briars, tallow trees, and weeds.
In the middle of this sits the most special place on earth to me- The Old House. Built by my great-great grandfather in 1892 on land he and his wife homesteaded, it is now vacant, and slowly deteriorating the way homes do when not lived in. However, to me it is a beautiful place of peace, reflection, and solitude. As the above poem states, it is the place where I go to get my bearings and remember what is really important to me.
Recently, my sister frantically called me at work. “A woods fire is burning close to the Old House!” I ran to my truck and quickly drove to the Old House which is next to the home of my parents. As I turned down their gravel road, I could see the dark smoke billowing up above the tree line. The one-mile drive down the road seemed much longer as I hurriedly drove, wondering how close the fire was to the most special house I know. I’ve always lived with the fear that the Old House would burn.
I sped by the homes of my parents and two sisters, and parked in the driveway of the Old House. I breathed a sigh of relief seeing that the fire was much further away than my sister, Claudia had thought. I was both relieved and thankful.
As I sat in my truck looking at this original log house, built onto by five generations of my family, I was once again reminded why this is my favorite place in the entire world. I’ve gone far away over the years but invariably I return, in body and spirit, to the Old House at the end of the road.
You see, the Old House is where I come to write. On a beautiful spring day like today, when the world is once again alive with the dazzling greens of early spring mixed with the colors of the azaleas, dogwoods, and honeysuckle, my heart yearns to sit here and write.
On days like today, I write on the porch, sitting in the same rocking chair that “Pa,” my great-grandfather, sat in as he read Louis L’Amour books during the last years of his life. It’s the same porch where his son, my grandfather, would call up to our house, two hundred yards away, “Come on down. I’ve got a fresh pot of coffee.” Out front is the same yard where he would yell out his “pig call” each evening and woods hogs would come tearing out of the swamp for the shelled corn they knew awaited them.
During the chill of winter it is often too uncomfortable to sit on the porch, so I move inside to the middle bedroom. There by the double fireplace, I attempt to stay warm by sitting right up near the fire and doing what I love best- writing.
There’s an art, which I’ve never quite mastered, of being up close to a fireplace without getting too hot. The trick is to get warm and toasty on the front of your body, while your backside is freezing to death. The most important thing is to remember is not to let your front side get too hot. Nothing burns worse than the front of your jeans sticking to your legs as you move away from the hot fire.
During these cold days of winter, my fingers become numb as I type on the laptop, but I still love being here. The warmth and companionship of a fire, whether it is a blazing campfire in the Arkansas mountains, or this fireplace, gives comfort and security to anyone fortunate to sit beside its warmth.
Often, when I’ve camped in the woods, it has amazed me how a campfire unites a group of men- physically as they huddle together, and emotionally as they begin to open up. Something about staring into a fire causes us to lose our inhibitions- somewhat like being under the influence of alcohol. I’ve seen tight-lipped men, who normally would never show outward emotion, gaze into the fire, and begin telling their deepest secrets. The eyes of a man staring into a campfire as he shares deep feelings from his heart, is a scene not easily forgotten. As this man talks, the warm reflection of the fire in his tear-filled eyes create a reverence in those of us as we listen.
It seems a good fire has the same effect on my writing. Stories seem to just appear and burst forth, as I stare into the December fire and hear the cold wind moaning through the cedars in the front yard. Sitting here, I’m accompanied by the popping and crackling fire. From time to time, a hot ember pops out of the fireplace against the fire screen. In the same way, ideas for stories just seem to be conceived and spring forth as I sit bundled up in this room.
This middle bedroom is where some of my older ancestors died and where others in my family were born. It’s the same cozy room where I always best loved to sit and visit with my grandmother. It was peaceful as we would sit there visiting, just rocking back and forth.
Sitting here today, there are still two rocking chairs by the fireplace. The one next to where I’m sitting is empty now. My, what I would give to spend another evening rocking and visiting with Mama in front of this fireplace.
When I sit bundled up by this fire in the middle bedroom, I know a telephone is not going to ring for two reasons: First, there is no telephone in the old house which is just fine with me. Secondly, my cell phone won’t work here deep in the woods. A cold day at this old house with no ringing phone is worth the frozen toes and numb fingers. This room becomes my hideout. I can well understand this quote from Susan Allen Toth:
“A closed door, a comfortable chair, a view out a window- maybe that’s all that a hideout requires.”
However, true winter days are rare in Southwest Louisiana, so most of my writing times are on the front porch. The outside sounds of nature motivate me just as winter’s fireplace flames. Pausing from writing, a nearby red cardinal
flies by as a reminder to write about him. A green lizard scurries by on the porch railing, stops, and puffs up the red sac under his neck. As he “shows us his money,” I laugh at the absurdity of this great ego in a two-ounce body. Just like me, mister lizard thinks he is the king of all he surveys, when in fact we are both just travelers passing through and enjoying the pleasure of being here on the front porch.
All of these gifts of God through nature prompt future stories to be written. There’s something about sitting on a porch in the woods, alone and silent, that causes a peace to settle in my soul, and the ideas for stories just seem to naturally come to the surface.
So from the front porch of this log house, in the edge of Crooked Bayou swamp,
is a good place to begin this book. A book of simple stories of the people of six
generations who’ve lived, laughed, cried, and died here. A book of stories about the
lives, experiences, and special people of my community. A collection of stories from my
heart, written in the setting of a place I love: The Old House . . . at the end of the road.
To learn more, visit http://www.creekbank.net