Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Plantation Pondering I

By their girth I wonder if the trees here may be old enough to remember.

Large low limbs stretch evenly with the sandy earth, innocently twined with a child's swing rope. I picture my generous hostess' grandchildren enjoying a warm southern breeze in July, swinging out toward Cowen's Creek, the slowly passing river only a few steps away.

This is a plantation home. Magnificent in its stature, and thoughtful in its design. I sit facing the river in a room surrounded by windows on three sides that extends beyond the house over a large room that holds a grand piano and a grander fireplace. I'm surrounded by the love of this family and the artifacts of their history and knowing that she purchased it in 1990, I know her ancestors took no part in the history here... But my history on my father's mother's side, and the history of my hostess and so many more, are never-the-less rooted in this sandy earth in the very deep south where, as a visitor, I can't help thoughtfully pondering the footsteps of those who walked the halls of this historic house more than a hundred years ago.

My father lives a few short miles away on an island with a golf course up against his lawn. I gazed out of the window yesterday, as I worked at his desk, and saw the pot bellied white haired golfers in their carts chasing their little ball from here to there and enjoying their sport. And I saw a gardener. The same age, but thin, stooped over, and laboring with equipment and fertilizers, the efforts working his ancient ebony skin punctuating a stark contrast to retirement's pleasures.

My father's grandfather may have enslaved his grandfather. I can never know. But everywhere I turn ghosts are here. Each large, low-limbed tree, each room in this large, spacious home, each view my eyes behold... is suspect.


Toward the end of my wonderful stay in that magnificent home I learned that this very house had become a monument to freedom and recovery from slavery. Known as the Penn School, the house had been one of the very earliest schools for freedmen in the south, founded by a group of women from Pennsylvania. You may learn more about it here:


The house has regular tours come through it because, even though it is a private residence, the owner is proud of its heritage and happy to support the memory of its history. The house may have held painful memories at one point, and probably did, but hopeful, even joyful changes in history followed them.

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