Our pastor’s sermon centered on the importance of place. As often happens, my mind trailed off. Fortunately, it can multitask so I heard what he said (really, I did) while I followed a mental rabbit to a dogtrot house in Oktibbeha County, Mississippi.
My grandfather and our family referred to his small farm in Oktibbeha County, Mississippi as “The Place,” capitals heard even in the pronunciation. Papaw’s place was his section of the land that had originally belonged to his father and his grandfather before him. The homestead deed to William Hannah, signed by President Buchanan, lists the date as “the first day of October in the year of OUR LORD one thousand eight hundred and fifty-nine and of the Independence of the United States eighty fourth.” (They liked capital letters back in those days.) My picture of both the house and the deed are copies of the originals.
Papaw, the only grandparent I knew, began and ended his days belonging to this land at least as much as it belonged to him. Seldom did he travel farther than twenty-five miles from home. Dairy cows and “The Place” bound him to a daily routine.
His house, built when his oldest child – my mother – was a preschooler, used a fireplace and a wood stove in the kitchen for heat. He cut and stockpiled wood during lax times with his crops, anticipating winter days and nights when he rose from his rocker to add a log or stoke the fire. When grandchildren came, he raked the logs back to expose hot coals, shelled an ear of popcorn into his wire basket, and popped corn with a delicious smoky taste.
My sense of place goes back here. As the daughter of a Baptist preacher and wife of an Army husband, I’ve lived in 32 houses. My roots in a place have to go back a couple of generations.
The Hannah family sold The Place a few years ago with great sadness to the three generations following my grandfather. It was the only practical thing to do. None of us were ever going back there to live. Unlike Papaw, we wouldn’t have found joy in confinement to the schedules and routines of a farm.
I inherited the wire popcorn popper. For the first time, I live in a house where I plan to stay, and it has a fireplace! Unfortunately, I don’t grow popcorn, and the basket of the popper no longer works properly. Still, as I leave my nest on the couch to add another log or stoke the fire in my fireplace, I remember and know my pastor was right. In my mind, I travel back to my roots with Papaw and relish the sense of Place.