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Hand-Me-Downs

There is a great gray ghost of a farmhouse that sits amidst two hundred acres atop a mountain in a place called Forks Township, Sullivan County, Pennsylvania, where Dutch Corners and Shrimp Hill conjoin. My great-grandfather, Manessa, built it from trees he felled, cut, and planed at his mill. The timbers are hand-hewn and stout. It has a dug cellar, a laid-up field stone foundation built on a corner stone inscribed with his name, M. H. SAYMAN (the "S" is backwards), and the year 1872. It reaches skyward to the walk-up third floor attic that is as cavernous as the house below. The fact that the house still stands tall on the mountain where the winters are harsh and cruel biting winds howl is a testament to the builder.

From the time I can first remember, my parents and I used to Visit there. My great-grandfather had long since departed from his earthly form and the farm had been handed down to his oldest son, as was the custom; but, I loved every minute I spent there. There was always room in the house for three or four or ten people to visit and even stay overnight if they wanted. Of course, if people stayed, they had to work for their room and board. Rise and shine time was 3:30 a.m. Chores were done and breakfast, consisting of yesterday's leftovers with maybe a little extra cooked that morning, depending on the number of guests, was hot and on the table when you came in.

No matter the time of year, there was always a cook-fire Smoldering in the stove in the sittin' room and the tea "kittle" was always hot. Sweet water, so crisp and cold it made your head ache, could be had from the hand pump at the end of the porch; and there was a one-seater (outhouse) around the back corner of the house where you didn't linger too long, especially in cold weather. Guinea hens and chickens strutted around the year, clucking and pecking; and there was always a cow dog or two to chase around when they weren't working that liked to lick your bare feet when you got tired and sat down for a spell.

Wonderful smells from the kitchen always permeated the air; fresh pie made from apples or peaches picked in the orchard; candied sweet potatoes dug from the garden, simmering in home- made maple syrup; venison, slow roasting; fresh bread made from corn, wheat, or oats grown on the farm. From sun-up to sun-down there was always a hum of activity. It was a place of wonderment.

Our trips to the family homestead became less frequent and Finally stopped when I was about eight years old. I missed them very much, but by then we had our own farm to run. I remember looking through my mother's photograph albums every chance I got, recalling good people, good times, and wonderful childhood memories. I silently wondered why we never went there any more and wished we could.

Years after my father passed away, I surprised my mother on her birthday by just showing up on her doorstep. I told her we would go anywhere or do anything she wanted, my treat. Surprise of all surprises, she wanted to go down to visit my father's cousins who had inherited the homestead. She called to make sure they would be home and she almost beat me to the car because she was so excited and anxious to get there.

I was excited, too; but I was also filled with trepidation. Growing up, I had often heard a saying I didn't understand: "You can't go home again." Age and experience had taught me the meaning. Rarely is anything the same as you recall it from childhood. Perspectives change when you see remembered things through adult eyes. I wanted to keep everything about this place the same; I didn't want to be disappointed.

We wound our way up the mountain, following the roads as if I had been going there all of my life. How I remembered the way after 25 years I'll never understand, and neither will my mother. She argued with me about which roads to take and which way to turn.

I finally pulled off to the side of the dirt road across from The homestead. My mother bolted from the car and turned halfway to the house to ask if something was wrong. I stood in the middle of that mountain road with tears of joy streaming down my face. Except that the front porch had been enclosed and the guinea hens were missing from the yard, nothing had changed. It was exactly the same as I had always remembered it, exactly the same as the pictures in my mother's photograph albums. I felt like I was home.

We visited for hours. I explored the property and buildings again as I had in years gone by and then we lunched on a real home-grown, home-made meal cooked on the old sittin' room stove. The house was full of ancestral spirits that day. I could feel their presence and almost hear their voices.

By the end of the day, I realized why I had been so apprehensive about the trip to the homestead. I had been afraid the wonderful lessons learned at the knees of my ancestors would some how be diminished by my having grown up. This place was where I had learned about family, respect, love, sharing, and giving a fair day's work for a fair day's wage. Everyone was always welcome and everyone was treated the same, no matter their status in life. Nobody got special treatment and everybody shared the work and the fun. But I discovered something even more important that day: early lessons stay with you all your life, especially if they are taught with love and kindness. This place was where I had grown, not grown up. I returned to the homestead often from that day on to drink in the ambiance, replenish my spirit, and learn about my family by listening to my elders reminisce.

As far as I know, the great gray ghost still stands atop the mountain, a new family having been charged with its care. It passed, along with four generations' personal history and worldly belongings, to other hands at public auction years ago. Meanwhile, the lessons my ancestors handed down to me and by which they shaped my moral character live on, grow stronger each day, and are being handed down to the next generation.

� 1996 Mary P. Sayman

Published here with the author's permission.

Also published on the Sullivan County, PAGenWeb site

Also published in Missing Links, Vol. 7, No. 16, 21 April 2002

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