The Price House, built in 1795, is a historic site in Spartanburg County in South Carolina.
My great-grandparents owned the property. My parents as a young couple did much of their courting there.
My son, Michael, drove Carol and me there to celebrate the historical association’s Woodruff Days in the town of Woodruff – the town closest to the site and my hometown.
We had seven hours of car time to tell some of the old family stories and to check our versions with each other.
As a young boy, I accompanied my parents and sister as we gathered buckets of muscadine grapes that grew wild near the old house that was abandoned at the time.
These were wonderful outings. Sometimes, my aunts and uncles and their children would be with us. We children were much more interested in eating the grapes than picking them for later use.
Michael reminisced about his mother and how she loved the old house and sketched it and its surroundings. We wracked our brains to remember where those sketches might be.
Michael and his sister, Suzanne, enjoyed scampering up and down the steep embankment in those youthful days. The embankment is not nearly as daunting now as it was then.
Shortly after the historical association acquired the property, my mother asked the docent, “What did you do with the cellar?”
“There was no cellar in this house,” the docent replied.
“Oh, yes there is,” Mother said. “My grandparents kept milk, butter and eggs down there.”
It turned out that the non-existent cellar now houses the air conditioning unit. Mother enjoyed that little episode.
Mother talked about all of the parties that were held there, but I didn’t listen because it didn’t seem important at the time. Besides, my mother would always be around to tell me again, wouldn’t she?
“Dad,” Michael asked, “how did mama and pop [my parents] get the house where you grew up?”
“Mother and dad worked in the cotton mill until dad had to leave because he was allergic to the dust. During the Second World War, they bought government savings bonds through payroll deductions. They were proud to be a part of the war effort. Dad was also an air raid warden. When the war was over, they had $1,000 in bonds.
“They used this money for a down payment on the house and its five acres of land. That left a $2,000 mortgage. The payments were $20 per month. My dad worried that he would be unable to make those payments, but mother insisted that they buy the place. Of course, they paid the mortgage off years ahead of time.
“The property included a small peach orchard that produced really well. During the summers when mother and dad were at work, my sister and I sold peaches to customers who came by. We were allowed to keep the money from the peaches that we sold. Both of us were good at selling. Taking care of the peach orchard was a family affair. One tree was reserved just for our family. The peaches were wonderful, and the homemade peach ice cream was even better. Those were wonderful days.
“One of the best stories involved that family peach tree, which also contained a nest of yellow jackets. My dad told one of his friends that he could pick some peaches for free, but that he should not pick from the family tree. Does this story sound familiar? Shortly we heard all manner of yelling and screaming. We knew what had happened. My dad just laughed and continued eating his lunch.”
Michael, Carol and I don’t often get this much time together, but a long car trip often triggers an avalanche of family stories.
The Friday after Thanksgiving, better known as Black Friday, is also the National Day of Listening, a day to tell and record family stories. Think about your children and grandchildren. They will want to hear those stories long after you are not around to tell them.
I can only wish that I had recorded my mother’s stories or at least had listened more closely.
Mitch Carnell is a consultant specializing in interpersonal and organizational communication. He is the editor of “Christian Civility in an Uncivil World.” He and his wife are active lay members of First Baptist Church of Charleston, S.C. Mitch blogs at MitchCarnell.com.
A member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina, he is the author of “Our Father: Discovering Family.” His writings can also be found at MitchCarnell.com.