A ROSE AND A NAIL - The Road Back Home
78 to Birmingham
A Rose and a Rusty Nail
Familiar landmarks along highway 78 drew me closer to Birmingham, my home town. I stopped at a roadside fruit stand and asked the lady if the old Barrett house was still standing. “Yes,” she said. “Mr. Miller owns that land now. He farms it, but the house is still there. He says he plans to do some repairs on it and rent it out.” I had been years away from home and my job in sales brought me through Alabama. Like a homing pigeon, I wanted to return, to see the roots of my beginnings.
Turning off the highway onto the gravel road, I caught the aroma of honeysuckle along the banks and rolled my windows down. Driving slowly, taking in the familiar landscape, I am surprised that nothing much has changed. It is still tranquil, still strong, and still very much a part of my being.
The Hickory Tree
Stopping at the edge of the overgrown driveway, I sat in the car for a few minutes listening to the small voices of memory, the story tellers, the songs, and laughter that came easy. Then I opened the car door and walked with careful steps through a maze of grass and weeds.
'There’s the old hickory tree', standing tall as ever. The big limb that once held a long rope and tire swing, was still strong, ladened with nuts. I reached down and picked up a couple and tried cracking them with my bare hand with no result, dropping them to the ground.
'And there’s where mama’s rose garden was', right by the kitchen window. Part of the brick border was missing and it was covered with weeds and broken glass. Walking closer, I noticed a spot of color among the tangled mess and reached for a stick to poke around. A smile came across my face and a rush of joy filled my heart. It was a rose bud! Red, and reaching up to the light. It was as if mama was welcoming me back home.
Sense enough to come in out of the rain
A big raindrop hit my head and my shoulder. It was one of those threatening little summer showers that didn’t last long. A thin gray cloud hovering still with luminous edges and the sun from behind threw out silver beams like a star. Farmers wouldn’t ever take cover for one of these, but honoring the old cliché, (having sense enough to come in out of the rain), I jumped upon the porch. I watched the sun-filled silver drops of water spread over the open fields that gave manna to a family of 5 boys and 3 girls.
John Dawson and Carlotta Barrett, my parents, were childhood sweethearts. Papa inherited the 60 acres of farm land and the house, built by Grandpa Barrett with his own two hands. Papa loved every inch of dirt and every living thing on that farm. Although there was not a show of affection between John and Carlotta, they treated each other kindly, gentle and respectful.
Growing up, we were not coddled. We were expected to do our fair share of work. We learned to swim in a warm pond of tea colored water. We had fist fights that left bruises which appeared and disappeared. Always, but always, I knew a brother had my back in times of need.
The rain fell soft as I edged the swollen front door open enough to squeeze through. The living room was in pretty good shape. The fire place was boarded up and the glass chandelier yellowed by time. My steps echoed as I walked across the empty room into a bedroom. This was Betty Jane’s room. She loved the teal green color on the walls and she absolutely had the coolest room in the house. I will never forget the day I was sick and stayed home from school and Mama let me take a nap on her bed by the window. I fell asleep listening to the distant drone of Papa’s John Deere tractor and Betty Janes's sheer curtains billowing in and out brushing against my hand.
A white blanket of dust covered the kitchen counters and spider webs clung to the cabinets. A wasp had built a nest on the ceiling and was bumping his nose against a window pane trying to get out. But in my mind was a scene from happy times, bursting joys of life. Cake baking, birthday parties and Sunday dinners. My favorite piece of furniture was in this kitchen. Grandpa Barrett built a huge oak table with long benches to match. We sat four on one side and four on the other. This was the family therapy center. We complained about too much homework, talked about our problems, shared school projects, and held hands and ask for grace. Then there was mama’s soul filling pies. Mmmm, mmm.
A last look
The sun is shining now and the rain is gone. I closed the door to the house that built me, and paused to take a last look around. I laid my hand on the side of the house and patted it, saying out loud, “Good job old house. Your walls hold children's laughter, cries of newborns, and prayers lifted up to God. Well done.” Under my hand was a nail. A rusted square head nail. Grandpa had touched that very nail, I was sure. It was loose, so I wedged it back and forth, pulled it out and put it in my shirt pocket.
Feeling a sense of wholeness, I turned the car key and backed out to leave, but I stopped. Leaning across the seat, I scrambled around in the car pocket for something sharp, something that would cut. A pair of nail clippers would do. I rolled my pant legs up to my knees and stepped high over the wet grass and cut that rose bud. Now, I was ready to go.
Turning left on the highway, I heard the gears shift up to 55 mph, leaving behind a lifetime of images. On my dashboard, a rose and a rusty nail to remind me of all I have loved.
Family pictures below.