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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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Beach Musings

DSC02633I pushed my beach chair directly under an umbrella so I could hide from the hot afternoon sun, and I sat down. I opened the book I’d saved to read during my beach vacation, but first I wanted to soak up the moment, which turned into more than moments, and I never read a single word.

How far to the horizon, where the bright blue sky meets the deep aqua colored water? A few people swam in the ocean; others strolled along the water’s edge; others, wearing ear buds and presumably listening to a favorite playlist, jogged; others sat two and three together. Children rode the gentle waves on boogie boards and ran after the sandpipers and dug holes in the sand that they filled with water. People all around, but it wasn’t the people that entertained me.

How can a sea gull stand on one leg for 5 minutes? His one black leg and webbed foot never wavered, even when the ocean breeze blew forcefully. He stood with frozen body as the feathers on his back ruffled and he turned his head from side to side. He lowered his leg, picked up the other, and stood even longer. After his rest, he flew, joining fellow gulls that soared over my umbrella.

How long do sea gulls live? Do they stay in the same general area throughout their lives? Do they have a particular place along the beach that is home? A place to sleep?

A lone dark gray and black pigeon thinks he’s a sea gull. He hopped, rather timidly, close to my chair and fluttered away when I threw sand toward him. Where’s his home? His flock? Did he get left behind?

Are the dolphins that swim from the west to east the same ones that swam in the opposite direction earlier in the day? How far do they travel each day? A small pod, five or six, must have discovered an early supper. They stirred the water, arching their sleek bodies above it. One dolphin thrilled all of us watching from the shore; he jumped high out of the water and danced on his tail.

A flock of pelicans flew overhead in a V formation. One line of the V was shorter than the other. When the leader at the vertex drops to the back of a line, will it find its place on the shorter side? If the same number of birds fly on each side, does the flock stay together better?

What possible purpose could small black flies have? One lit on my leg and before I could smack it, it bit me. How can something so small cause such an intense pain?

The dragonflies are gone. Not a single one in sight. Yet, two days ago, as the gray rain clouds gathered, dragonflies swarmed around the green shrubs and grass planted outside our rented condo. They lingered for twenty-four hours, some wandering to the beach. Why did they come out in full force when it rained? Where do they hide on warm, sunny days?

I close my eyes. Ah, the beach. A perfect place to nap.