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The Big White House

I’ve driven by the big white house a thousand times. And one day, I stopped. The owner, Gib Taylor, had issued an invitation. “So you finally got here to see your great-grandparents home place,” he said and smiled and offered his hand to shake mine.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t a good family history student when I could have asked my mother questions. Almost twenty years after Mom’s death I questioned her sister, Aunt Doris, about the white house close to my grandparents’ home. Aunt Doris said, “You mean Grandpa and Grandma Bertram’s house?” I frowned and her husband, Uncle Hugh, chuckled.

“That big white house? It’s the Sam Bertram house?” I asked. I’d heard stories about my great-grandparents’ house. “I thought the Sam Bertram house was gone. How could I not know that was the house?”

Uncle Hugh shook his head, laughed, and said, “You didn’t listen.” The truth hurt.

The house sits on Livingston Highway in Byrdstown, Tennessee, and was built in the early 1900s by my great-grandfather, Samuel Bertram and two of his sons, one my Papa. The road in front of it was dirt. Aunt Doris remembered the house as an enchanted place. There was a grape arbor on one side yard and rose bushes on the other. Behind the house was an old spring where moss grew.

Sam and Sarah Bertram’s home was a gathering place for their children and grandchildren. Family celebrations were held around the long table right beside the kitchen. After meals, the men swapped stories on the front porch, and the women washed dishes and then visited in the front parlor. And family pictures were made in front of the grape arbor.

According to Aunt Doris, the family gathered for special events, like watching the circus travel on the muddy road. Elephants walking in a line. Lions and tigers in big cages pulled by horses.

After my grandparents married, the newlyweds lived in this house. Upstairs in the biggest bedroom. So on my visit, I was eager to see the house, and Gib, who’d lived there since 2001, had planned my visit. He had mowed paths to the barn and water well.

“Here’s the barn. Probably been here since your great-grandpa kept horses in it,” Gib said. No picture could capture the smell of this century old barn. The feel of the animals that once slept in the stalls. The well where my great-grandparents lowered a bucket and brought it back up filled with water. The concrete box that held water in the 1930s.

Inside the house, Gib led me through each room. “You may not want to go upstairs. The steps are tricky.” I tiptoed on the narrow steps. The wide hallway is where my great-grandmother shelved books for a neighborhood lending library.

I found the biggest bedroom. “This is the room I wanted to see,” I said. “My grandparents’ room. My mother was born here in 1918.”

So now I drive by and am thankful for this house. Its stories. Its owner, who welcomed me.

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