Olivia’s death was the final impetus.She must find the house. What happened there?
|Patricia was old but the house, if it even still stood, was older. She always knew she would have to see it. She first heard about the house as a child. Her second cousin twice-removed Olivia half whispered the tale to her as a child. Patricia was with her parents on a rare visit to the north Georgia hill relatives. But it had taken her 40 years to gather the courage and resolve to complete the journey.
Journey’s end was coming near. Once more she looked at the directions scribbled down from relatives while at Olivia’s funeral. Olivia’s death was the final impetus. Patricia had to find this house. What happened in it loomed large in the family mythology of who and what and how they all lived.
Lost in thought while driving down the rough sun-baked clay road, Patricia almost missed the last turn noted on the directions. There was the cemetery and behind it -- Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. It was a small building, paint peeling with a half rusted tin roof. It was looking as hot and worn out as Patricia felt. She hit the brakes to navigate the turn to a tractor path winding off and up a rising hill behind that church.
She stopped and glanced back into her rear view mirror at the old church and cemetery at the top of the rise. Later she would come back to find the family plot. The peaceful look of that holy ground seemed at great odds with her heart, rapidly beating in her chest.
She looked forward past the crest of the hill. Could she see the house from here? Oh yes. That must be it. Not too far away either, perhaps three-quarters mile. She could see the stone fireplace chimney rising amidst the ever present Georgia pines as well as a glimpse of tin roof. The directions were right. She was almost there.
A feeling of lassitude came over her. Perhaps it is just enough that she saw it from here. Was there truly a need to explore farther? Hadn’t she already accomplished her goal? Patricia stretched her arms and said, “Grandmother, I am doing this for you. I have to see.”
Feeling more resolute, and strangely calm, she began to ease down the hill to the house. She wondered how it would be to touch this mythical house home of “the tragedy” as her older family members termed it when they even spoke of it at all. The young relatives rarely heard the story nowdays. Most dismissed it as ancient history, not pertinent to their busy modern lives. As always she felt on the cusp between two generations. Maybe she was the one family member still alive who most felt the effects of the tragedy. At least now she would see where it happened.
“House” wasn’t the word for it anymore. “Ruins” would be more accurate if the shack was not so utterly unremarkable. It resembled thousands of other abandoned sharecropper houses throughout the South.
The front porch had collapsed. The front door was busted and half hanging off one rusting hinge. Three large rocks were haphazardly jammed up near the door sill. It looked as if someone once a long time ago pushed them there, perhaps to see what Patricia these many years later was also looking for. At least the rocks would allow her to get inside.
Patricia got out of the car and walked to the house. She stared down at her feet as she walked up each rock for fear of slipping. Kudzu, the ever present landscaping weed of the South threatened to overtake even these three rocks. At the doorway, Patricia hesitated. Through the pine filtered light of the one window on the side, she could see what must have been the main room. The stone fireplace was on the outside wall. Across from it two rooms were off to her left. And there in the back wall was the wide entrance into the kitchen.
A movement on the floor caught her eye. She glanced down just in time to see a snake’s tail as it crawled into a hole in the wooden floor. Suddenly Patricia was sure she didn’t want to actually go in this house, abandoned to the wild for so many years. She looked once more through the room and saw the entrance to the kitchen. She and climbed down the rock steps. She walked around the shack to the back. To the kitchen. Where it happened.
Patricia rounded the corner and looked at the back door. A bit of tin overhang sheltered the door and its rough hewn stairs. They were still in fairly good shape. Patricia put her right foot on the first step and then slowly her left on the second looking down all the time for snakes. As she put her right foot on the top stair she looked up towards the door. And there it was--the reason for her trip.
The hole was irregular and the size of a small teacup. After all these years, tiny splinters pushing outwards from the kitchen wall were silent witness to which direction the hole began. Patricia stared at the hole. She felt her breathing and heart beat fight each other. Her throat tightened. She barely could gasp as she tried to focus on that hole in the wall. It was eye level to her perhaps six inches from the edge of the door jamb.
This was it. She discovered she was crying when she tasted salty tears that must have streamed down her face into her gaping mouth. She couldn’t have said what she felt unless overwhelming numbness was a description.
This hole. This splintered hole in an abandoned sharecropper’s shack in the hills of north Georgia. This silent witness was all that was left of “the tragedy” . She couldn’t go into the house. Seeing the hole was enough. Patricia didn’t want to go into the room where in a drunken rage her great grandfather grabbed his shotgun. Patricia traced the outline of the hole. It was mute testimony to the blast that blew through her grandmother’s skull as she tried to escape.
Patricia staggered backwards down the stairs. Her journey was over.