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walking among ghosts
Remembering The Farm & Double Branches
Saturday, March 28, the day before we laid Mom to rest, was busy. People bringing food, funeral service details, and other matters kept us on the go. Later, as things settled down, I felt the need to spend time alone and the best place to do that was in Double Branches on Aunt Vivian’s farm. It was a beautiful day, the sky a deep blue. As I drove to Double Branches, wonderful childhood memories returned. As a boy, I spent many a day there fishing in the ponds, exploring the pastures and woods, riding an old mule, and playing baseball with childhood friends Jabe, Joe Boy, and Sweetie Boy.
Growing up, I always enjoyed the views along Double Branches Road. Beautiful farmland and the old Holloway and Price’s stores were welcome sights. Things have changed though. My memory is anchored to the past so when I drive past the Rocky Branch Golf Course I still see ponds, fences, and cattle standing about, what Granddad Poland referred to as whiteface cattle. I don’t see men swinging at little white balls nor do I see a clubhouse. As I drive past Price’s Store, I see old men wearing felt hats and real coveralls sitting on the benches flanking the door. That’s where I got, as I’ve written before, the coldest Coca Cola ever bottled. It had been resting at the bottom of a red cooler beneath a flotilla of dense chunks of ice.
Across the road, to me, is the most beautiful home in Lincoln County, what I knew as the Miss Nina Price House. Just beyond it past some pastureland is Grandmother Poland’s home, the site of many a Christmas dinner. I haven’t been in that home in twenty years, maybe more. Someday I hope to go inside it again. As a boy I stood at the end of her dirt driveway and using an axe handle batted gravel over the highway in a game of homerun derby. If the gravel made it over the powerline, it was a homerun.
I drove past Poland Road and the Poland home place with the massive magnolia to the left of the porch. The home looks fully restored from the road but is missing the magnolias that stood at the right of the porch. As I headed toward Double Branches Baptist Church, I looked to the right for an old barn tucked back in the woods. Couldn’t find it. Without doubt, Mother Earth has reclaimed it. At that barn, for the first and only time, I watched Granddad Poland and Roosevelt Elam slaughter a head of beef. It wasn’t pretty. I watched the entire process. (Many years later in Green Bay, Wisconsin, I saw a mass mechanized system for butchering cattle, and I had rather have been that head of beef down in Georgia than a trucked-in head of cattle any day of the year.) I recall, too, that close by that long-gone barn grew a huge pear tree heavy with delicious pears. Again, I would love to see that tree but so much change has transpired I just couldn’t locate the site of the old barn.
At Double Branches Church I walked the grounds, noting the lovely covered bridge that spans a stream. I walked through the cemetery reading the tombstones of relatives, two of whom had names similar to mine: Thomas Antone Poland, my great grandfather and great uncle Thomas Carey Poland who died before his father by eight years, six months, and nineteen days. In my family archives exists a photograph of me as a two-year old boy. I am standing on Thomas Antone Poland’s flat stone the day of his service, March 21, 1951. I have no memory of him.
I drove to Poland Road and rode through Pleasant View Estates. Somewhere near the estates my sister, Brenda, and I long ago planted pine seedlings for Aunt Vivian, work for hire. No doubt, the pines were timbered but through dense vines and woods on a hill I saw orderly ranks of tall pines. Did we plant those?
I parked at a gate near Aunt Vivian’s old barn. I climbed over the metal gate and went to photograph the barn. I painted that barn fire engine red when I was 16 or 17. It took me two weeks and Aunt Vivian paid me with one of her cocker spaniel puppies, which I gave to my first girlfriend, Kathy Kennedy. Half a century of sunlight had bleached the paint out of the wood but you can still see red paint in places where sunlight can’t reach the wood and in the cement blocks, which soaked up paint like a sponge. That spaniel is long dead. The puppy love faded but the barn, though missing tin and boards, still stands. All that was a lifetime ago.
I walked the farm marveling at its beauty and came across one of Uncle Joe’s projects, an old schoolbus he had stored hay in. Both Granddad Poland and Uncle Joe would park old vehicles in the pastures creating a sort of museum. I plan to go back and make a photo journal about these old vehicles. When I got back to my Honda CRV, a man in a pickup truck was waiting on me, Mr. Stanton Tankersley. We talked and I told him I was a Poland.
“You look like a Poland,” he said, adding, “When I saw that car with South Carolina plates I thought someone was up to no good. But when I saw that UGA wheel cover, I thought, ‘Well, he can’t be all bad.’” We shared some memories and moved on.
I stopped near the pond where I caught my first bass. Grandmom Poland (I called her “Bama) taught me to fish there and that pond holds a sacred place in my memories. On the dam she told me it was good luck to have a dragonfly land on your cork. Good luck, too, to spit on the hook. Later, I graduated from a cane pole to a Zebco reel and rod and caught many a bass there using black rubber worms that smelled like licorice. I recall, too, an old wooden boat Granddad Poland had made that always had a water moccasin beneath it.
I relived boyhood days at the farm as I walked among ghosts. Of all the adults who gathered at Granddad’s old farmhouse for holiday meals when I was a boy, only Aunt Vivian remains. That must be an intense loneliness for her, to be a sole survivor. Gone are Granddad and “Bama” Poland, Nona (Nanny) Hogan, Pola and Lang Steed, Uncle Joe, and dad and mom. It’s lonely knowing all of them are gone, a feeling akin to being lost at sea. Well, lost at sea I am.
I hope to go back to the old farmhouse one day and study the doorframe to its bath. There, Bama Poland used a Phoenix Oil pencil to mark a line gauging our height as we grew. I have no doubt all those marks lie beneath layers of paint, but I want to stand there again straight as an arrow and draw a line. It will be the last line drawn. The end of an era.
- Images: All the photos are by the author, Tom Poland