By Curt Iles
I leave my mom’s home and walk the short distance to the Old House. It’s sunset and our homestead, built in 1892, stands starkly against the background of Crooked Bayou swamp.
I hurry in from the cold and build a fire in the middle room fireplace, my favorite room, where I spent countless hours with my grandmother.
The Old House is over 130 years old and hasn’t been occupied since the 1970s. Despite that, the old lady is in fair shape for her age.
But it’s been dark, empty, and lonely for many years.
Sitting by the roaring fire, I have an odd thought. Why don’t I go through the house and see which lights work?
Amazingly, as I pull the light cords, every light, including the porch lights, comes on.
I walk out in the front yard, and I’m amazed. The Old House is aglow with light.
The Old House is alive . . . again.
I can’t recall the last time I saw it like this. It’s alive again after all these years of darkness.
I take a chair to the front yard and soak in that eerie time of day when dusk slides into nightfall. This gathering darkness only serves to illuminate the Old House.
I recall, as a boy, coming out of the swamp after dark walking in the general direction of home until I saw the lights of the Old House. I now knew where I was. I was headed home.
I return to my mesmerizing fire, carefully easing onto a rickety cowhide chair as my dog, Bandit, takes his place by the hearth.
I have a vivid imagination. That’s where thirteen books and novels will lead you.
What happens next isn’t a dream or vision. It’s just imagination from deep in my heart. It wasn’t real, but I wept like it was:
I hear footsteps on the wooden porch. I step outside to see generations of my family emerging from the dark. They’re all healthy and alive again – several walk up from the swamp, smelling of squirrels and Garrett’s sweet snuff.
Another shadow appears from the upland east forty carrying an armload of rich pine kindling. My grandfather walks by with a bushel of roasting ears.
Headlights appear on the gravel road, and other ancestors arrive in old cars with fiddle cases, guitars, and homemade casseroles.
They crowd into the places where I knew them best: the log room, the old kitchen, and the two bedrooms sharing a double fireplace.
Most congregate on the dogtrot porch, where they tune their instruments. As always, it takes forever. My father, healthy again, stands among them, poised to launch into one of his old ballads.
The aroma of dark roast Seaport coffee wafts from the kitchen. It’s mingled with the laughter of country women working together. As they come in and out, the sweet sound of swinging screen doors fills the air.
They’re all here. I’m surrounded by my grandparents, great-grandparents, and a host of uncles, aunts, and cousins.
I do not recognize several people, but they smile and seem to know me.
I realize they’re the ancestors of this house I never knew. There are John and Sarah Wagnon, who built this old house, and their daughter Louise. They lived their entire lives here long before my time.
These are the pioneers who homesteaded these eighty acres, built the log house, cleared the land, and laid the foundation for what the Old House is today.
But the foundation they laid was much more than logs and boards. It’s a legacy passed down to me and the generations to follow. A legacy of the land. a legacy of enduring family ties, a legacy of love.
Next, in my dream, other cars arrive. It’s my sons, their wives, and my nine grandchildren.
They mix and mingle with family members they only knew by name or story.
I think about the old Southern song, ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken?’ Tonight, that circle is complete at the Old House. We’re all here.
I’m not sure how long this reunion lasts.
I look up, and the fire has died down. Although the lights are on, the Old House is empty again.
It’s just me and Bandit, but I don’t feel lonely or sad. I feel a warmth from the legacy of my deep roots in these piney woods.
I cover the fire and walk through each room, pulling the switch cords until the Old House is once again dark.
Before stepping away, I flip a porch light back on.
Just in case someone is arriving late at the Old House.
The Old House that sits on the edge of Crooked Bayou swamp.