The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Old Buildings

By Craig Estes © 1992

Issue: July-August-September, 1992

Early morning fog make old buildings seem so mystical, so alive with the past. My grandfather's were like that. Each one had its own purpose, each affecting life in its own way. With beautiful tin roofs.

I remember watching heat devils dance on those roofs during the summer months, popping the thin metal from one side to the other. And the starlings trying to keep their footing in the rain, toe nails scratching, trying to dig in. Hail always reminded me of popcorn popping, but became deafening as it grew harder and the ice grew larger. But now a slow steady rain, it could be as soothing as a lullaby.

The wind would catch those tin roofs every now and again, and curl it up like a pig's tail. The small shed in the pasture down by the trees had that problem. They would usually put some large rocks up on it to try and slow the process, to slow the aging, but replacing the piece was usually the only solution. I watched that same shed for several years gradually be over taken by a green blanket of kudzu. The plant continued until the vines had completely covered it, creating the illusion they were actually what was supporting the building. Then they started out into the pasture, up the hill, toward the barn.

I remember the side boards of that barn. Dry, gray, ridged. The softer parts of the wood had worn away, creating lines, grooves. I loved to sit inside it and watch the dust dance in the sunlight that streamed through the cracks in the walls. Watch the tiny specks drift in and out of the light, watch what they settled on. Horse brushes, mule yokes, two man cross cut saws, 55 gallon drums of nothing in particular, large brown jugs with corn cobs stuck in their mouths. Some broken, some not. And the tiny four footed noise makers. Years of collecting, of saving, of life.

Another small shed next to the garden kept the lawn and garden tools, mower, tomato stakes, and a shower. Yes, a shower. In the morning, they would fill a 55 gallon drum on the roof with water, allowing the sun to warm it all day. Then in the evening we would step onto some old pallets and take a nice warm shower. Sun warmed water. Felt good.

Well, that shed started leaning. And it was really rather sad to see it that way. It finally got so bad they had to knock it on down. But even though it's gone and has since been grassed over, you can still see where the walls stood, a dirt raised square in the yard. You can still make out the inside pathways, and the shower depression. I guess it will take some time for the dirt to wear away, for the pathways to become level, the shower depression to fill in. And maybe, rightly so it should take some time. That shed made an impression on my grandparents' everyday life, on working the land, on me. Maybe it should take some time, time so that it might remind us of whatever it meant to each one of us.

If only we could be as strong as those old buildings. Strong enough to stand the weight of all the vines that creep and grow on us. To provide shelter for all the collections of life, man made and God given. To age gracefully. And then when we are gone, leave our impressions behind. Impressions that will take a while to wear away. And rightly so, good things are not made to forget.

Remember an old building. See the impression.

Building old buildings take time. Start today.