Home Fires


I feel like this entry needs some kind of set-up or introduction. May it suffice to say that my fellow Ranger, Connie, and I discovered something that may not mean much to some people, but we thought it was a treasure…in a way.

The lake is very low; lower than I’ve seen it since I’ve been here at the park. It has been lower a few times since it was built, but not much lower, and not many times. Connie and I were taking advantage of the low lake level to explore the new shoreline and see if we could find anything of interest.

We were on foot; walking along the new shoreline approximately 50 yards off the usual shoreline of what we refer to as “Hippie Point”. Hippie Point got its name in the 1960’s and 1970’s, before that particular piece of land was state park owned, and is another story altogether.

After a bit, I found an odd looking piece of glass. Though it was large enough and detailed enough to be intriguing, there was no way to know what it had been before it was cast to the waters. Then we started finding more bits of glass, and some shards of pottery that immediately brought images of an old butter churn to mind.

By and by, I became convinced that we were in fact very near an old house place that was usually covered by water. At some point I decided to look in a broader sense at the ground on which we stood. I backed up to the water’s edge and looked back toward the usual shoreline, and there it was.

Strewn from the usual waterline to the present waterline, there was an old cast-iron wood-burning cook stove. Or rather, the remains of one. A little more examination of the site as a whole revealed what looked like the foundation site of an old house. It was far more eroded than the area immediately surrounding it; as anyone who has been in the crawl space of an old house can attest to, there’s nothing but dirt there. Without the roots of grass to hold it in place, it makes sense to me that it would have eroded more than the surrounding ground, which would have most likely been covered in grass.

At the time, I have to admit that I thought our little find was interesting – and not much more. Upon further reflection, I started to find it not only interesting, but a little creepy as well. You see, by all evidence, it would appear that Connie and I were standing in what used to be someone’s kitchen.

After even more thought, I finally settled on three emotions to take with me from that experience. I found it interesting, creepy, and sad.

If you’ve come this far with me, maybe you’re willing to go one step further?

Picture with me, if you will: a simple country family huddled around that old wood stove on the coldest night of the year, glad in its warmth; see and smell the Christmas dinners that were made in that kitchen; the special dinners made on that stove when the babies were born, and when the men came home from war.

Then the world moved on.

The water rose, inexorable as time itself, and stilled that stove in cool darkness.

Forty-odd years on, the waters withdrew and the sun shone again on this place of the past, this place that lie dreaming of days gone by.

We stood there on the bank, we two strangers to this place, and we stared at the bones of the life this place once knew, and we heard the echo of its memories.

And then we moved on, as must we all.

A view with the water at our back. The pieces of the old stove can be seen, strewn by wave action.

The pieces that go between the burner plates on an old cast iron stove.

An old piece of pottery found at the site; it looks like part of an old churn.

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2 Responses to Home Fires

  1. Susan Tillman says:

    This is a great article and I have enjoyed the other ones as well. There is an area that my friend Jan and I go to when we get to visit South Toledo Bend. I have found the remnants of a wood stove there too. One of the pieces, I look at every time we go there. The cast iron has a “waffle” like pattern and I have pondered about the workmanship that went in to that. I have found many pieces of earthenware dishes, some stamped from England and bits of crocks and a small blue bottle that once was sealed with a cork. I have found pieces of other old bottles as well. At first, I used to think it was an old home place but with the amount that we have found, I can almost envision a small general store. According to some maps I have looked at, a railroad track was in that vicinity. Whatever the real story is, I can hold those pieces in my hand and my mind wanders to who were the people that held them before me. Thanks Ranger Sidney for sharing.

    • Sidney says:

      Susan,

      Hi! Thanks for the comment, and thanks for the compliment!

      And special thanks for offering another view – I love it when I’m presented with a different way of looking at something. I’ve seen the railroad track that you’re talking about on at least one map as well, and I feel like there’s a good chance that you’re right.

      Mind if I talk about it for a minute? 🙂

      Forgive me if I put forth some things that seem overly simplistic to you; it’s just that I like to cover all my bases.

      (Edit: having just reread this response; let me apologize for its length. I hope it’s worth it.)

      You know…I think an old store could be even more…interesting? Poignant? Romantic? Something along those lines, at any rate.

      I owe my personal insight on things of this nature to former National Park Service Interpretive Ranger Alicia Fernbaugh, who actually did an interpretive program on the importance of these small country stores in days gone by. In the interest of full disclosure, I suppose I should mention that the aforementioned lady is my wife.

      Without stealing her whole program (but make no mistake it was a great one), the gist of it concerned how important the old time country store was to these people’s very way of life. It was much more than simply where these people bought goods.
      It was a place for exchange of information and ideas. It was a place where people from that community would meet and exchange local gossip; where they would meet and exchange news, both local and from parts distant. Different cultures even met at those old stores, and learned things about each other. In Ranger Fernbaugh’s program, I remember a particular idea that she put forth.
      Imagine with me, if you will, a rural farmer or farmer’s wife, and let us suppose it is the early 20th century. That person was probably born and raised within a short distance of the place they called home. Compared to our “modern” world of 24 hour news networks and the World Wide Web, the means of experiencing the world beyond one’s everyday borders was very limited. So that person goes into this little country store and they see the shelves of this store stocked with all manner of things. Most of the things on these shelves were everyday items, to be sure; but mingled in with the sacks of flour and the bolts of cloth and the tins of tobacco would be such uncommon treasures as oranges, and perfume, and store-bought clothes. Prominently displayed would be a mail-order catalog by Sears & Roebuck or some other company; the pages of this catalog, while certainly containing more items of everyday minutia, would contain things that would seem exotic and extravagant to the subsistence oriented mind of the rural early 20th century American.

      Okay, so I’ve stolen way more of her program than I intended too (seriously, it was really good), but I’ve added some of my own insights as well. Bear with me while I go just a bit further with it.

      Picture again that stove. That stove, in a country store setting, would have been a more than welcome sight to many a weary, half-frozen traveler. Picture those people, as I’ve said, swapping tall tales and news around that stove. Try to imagine the stories that stove heard. The meetings it was central to and the little bits of daily drama that build a local history that the old stove was witness to.

      And then, as I said…the world moved on.

      But even as the world moves on, it leaves tiny treasures for those of us willing to look for them and remember the worth of these reminders of days gone by.

      Thank you for sharing, and thank you for remembering.

      Sidney

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