Friday, February 3, 2017

Exploring the Past

I think that's a beer bottle, but I know beside it is a snake.
A memorial for somebody who must have been killed in an accident
on this back road.

looking ahead

I grabbed the camera and three of us loaded into the GMC to scout the countryside: me, my sister Lynn, and my niece Jacy.  We rode down country roads until we found the place we'd been looking for. The property was free of “No Trespassing” signs and was not boarded up.  The old house, probably 110 years old or more, was hiding behind waist-high weeds and grass, at the edge of a huge field that would turn white with cotton come September.  The 4-room house, packed full of secrets and ghosts, had no indoor plumbing. My sister and I talked about the history of the place. We could imagine children laughing, children arguing, children crying, children working. We could imagine a mother cooking for her family and her husband and children eating at the kitchen table. 

I decided to go inside, by way of the front door, to see if the floors had rotted. As I made a path through the overgrowth, Lynn said, “Watch for snakes.”  

And I did. We’d grown up in the country, picking blackberries near areas where rattlesnakes had been spotted and killed. We’d worked in tobacco and fished and swam in ponds near cottonmouth moccasins.  We grew up with our feet bare in southern soil.
barbed wire

I watched the ground as I strolled toward the house.  The porch was right before me when I spotted a long, thick rope, half under the house, the other half spread before me. Stretched near an old bottle of some kind, the fat rope was lifted at one end and frozen in place. And then it hit me: snake. I took a step back and called out to Lynn and Jacy, “Oh my gosh. It’s a snake.”

My sister edged closer for a look. I told her, “It is so still I think it is dead. It would curl up if it wasn’t dead.” 

Lynn, who was now standing behind me, but still close enough to see, said, “Get back.  That thing is alive. This house is probably filled with snakes.”

“But the snake isn’t moving at all.  It must be dead.”

“Then maybe it has shed its skin. Is that snake skin?”

“Maybe.  But I still can’t understand why its head is raised like that. It looks alive, but it can’t be.”  My sister backed out and I called to Jacy to come look at it.  She eased toward me, handed me the camera, took a peep at the snake, and ran back, afraid it would attack.  

The snake still didn’t move. I took pictures of it. “It’s got to be dead, Lynn, or it would move at the sound of the camera clicking.”

After taking several pictures of the snake skin, I, too, reversed paths, and went around to the back of the property.  I’d need to climb over the dead snake to pull myself onto the porch.  The front steps had been removed and I really didn’t want to get near a snake, dead or alive. And I'd have to wade through even thicker growth to enter the porch from another location. Neither option sounded reasonable to me. I was afraid of coming up on another snake. Deciding not to climb onto the porch, I retreated to the rear of the house, leaving the same way I'd come in.

a cardinal
From the rear, the three of us looked inside the house through a large opening where the back door had once been. The house was falling down, the floor caving in. Jacy took photos while Lynn and I looked for remnants of the past.  With visions of the snake haunting me, I was mindful of where I placed my feet.

We stood under a magnificent oak tree, its trunk twisted with age. Who had played under this tree?  Did a tire swing ever hang from its strong arms? How many families had it seen come and go? 

We found a blooming bush we couldn’t identify, along with weeds and flowers that Lynn said reminded her of Spring.  She said that as a child she loved those flowers because their colors meant Spring had arrived.

I said, “I’m going to climb over the dead snake and go in the house. Or at least get on the porch and see if I can look inside.”  

I traipsed through the overgrowth again and stood looking down at the bottle under the porch. “Lynn! The snake is gone!”

She yelled, “Get out of there!”

I backed out carefully, retracing my steps, fearful that I might plop my shoe down on a snake. We loaded into the truck, but our day didn't end. We spent hours traveling down dirt roads, searching for forgotten places. 

That night, I dreamed of the house and its multicolored past.  The abandoned house had survived numerous winters alone, deep roots of the past sleeping in the soil surrounding it, a past of green leaves and blooming flowers, a past that had witnessed the poverty of the Depression, a past that had witnessed joy and loss.  

Brenda Sutton Rose
Author website at

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