Sunday, January 21, 2007

What Remains Behind

Nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass,
glory in the flower.
We will grieve not,
rather find strength in what remains behind.
-William Wordsworth

There are random scatterings of bulbs and boulders around the grounds of Freeman House. When I first began cleaning up the yards in 2004, the weeds and brush towered above my head. Now the backyard resembles any other cleared-out but untended yard; it's bare. Bare, that is, except for a few hydrangeas and roses, one large, mostly-buried rock, a few trees, and these random flowering bulbs to which I refer.

Yesterday, as the sun shone, I sneaked up on a cluster of these flowering clusters and beheaded them with a fatal whack! Once I'd removed the foliage, I dug several inches to extract the bulbs. As I did, I heard a dull clink. I fished in with my hand and removed an unusually hard stick. Wait. That's no stick. It's a bone.

Whether it and the ones that lay with it belonged to a cat or small dog, I couldn't tell. What I did know, however, was that I had disturbed the grave of an animal that someone - at some time - loved. Someone ... a woman... a child... someone, had taken the time to bury this small animal and plant bulbs above its grave.

A lot remains behind here. The story of Freeman House is an interesting one. Built in the 1880s, this home was the pride of the Connor family, some of the original settlers of the fourth oldest community in Texas. Around 1900, the Irvin family, who owned one of the first dry goods and hardware stores in the state, purchased the home. But in 1913, a Mrs. Ella Irvin, (a terrible and prideful woman, by most accounts I've read), decided the frame house was inferior to the brick and wallpapered homes she was hearing about. She had the house moved - on logs! - down the hill to where it now resides, and built a red brick house in its place.

Mrs. Ella apparently hired a young lady to keep the new house and tend her chickens. This house, once abandoned by the Irvins, must have served as a sort of servant's quarters. I assume this arrangement worked beautifully for several years, until the girl abruptly left and was replaced by a Miss Marie Freeman. (In the wall between what is now my bedroom and the livingroom, we found birthday cards and letters addressed to Mrs. Ella's husband, Richard. All are signed by "the girl who tends chickens". Wonder if that is among the reasons for the girl's hasty departure?)

Miss Freeman, I've learned, loved three things: flowers, food, and this house. (Sometimes, when I put out flowers... like these... I wonder about all the blooms this house must have seen.) After a short and heartbreaking marriage, Miss Freeman took a job at the Blue Moon Cafe downtown. She worked there until the 1940s, when Mrs. Ella decided to add on to the back of the old home and divide it into three living areas. Miss Freeman talked herself into the job of managing the property in exchange for room and board, and worked in that capacity until Mrs. Ella's death in the 1960s. Although the two women had an agreement that Miss Freeman would get the old house when Mrs. Ella died, it was either forgotten or intentionally left out of Mrs. Ella's 200-page probate.

The days that followed were interesting. Miss Freeman quietly stayed in the house until forced out, and then through a bit of trickery, bought the house from Mrs. Ella's decendants. Miss Freeman lived, gardened, and cooked here until the late 1980s, when she was moved to a nursing home. The property changed hands one final time before my name appeared on the deed.

As I've gone through this house, inside and out, I've often wondered about all the women who roomed here... lived here... laughed, cried, danced, cleaned, slept, wished, loved and prayed here. Some of them left things behind in the house. Others, apparently, left things behind on the grounds....

After my pet cemetery experience yesterday afternoon, I wandered over to the rock buried at the foot of the magnolia tree. I've often sat on that rock - it's smooth and wide enough for a tired bottom! - and wondered if a child once rolled it there to sit and think. Or read. Or boost herself into the tree. Only now I find myself wondering if an animal friend was buried beneath, and the rock remains as a marker of the grave.

Whatever it is, I think I'll leave it alone. The rock, the bulbs that bloom each spring, Miss Freeman's House... it's all comforting to me. They serve as a reminder that while some things change, others never do. Hebrews 13:8 says, "Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, forever." Until He decides otherwise, I suppose the splendor in the grass and the glory of the flowers will continue.

As for the ones who've gone before me: they have their story, and I'll have mine. I'll continue to uncover what I can while making memories of my own. And someday, when I've left Freeman House, maybe another woman will be a careful observer and caretaker of God's immutability. Of God's immutability and what remains behind....


Anonymous said...

The house seems so romantic when you write about it that way. What a neat history. Im sure you'll have many happy memories there. When will you invite me over? a

Sixteen Chickens said...

Free man. Or free woman in this case. So aptly named, Freeman House.

I live in my great-grandparents home. I still find treasures here... and there... is a family story that Grandpa hid the tax money somewhere to keep it safe. It's still safely hid to this day, maybe just a stones turn away.