Built in 1914 by my grandparents, Joseph Thomas and Lilliebelle Brinn, this house was not only a home; it was a center of farm operations, and during my early years, Miss Belle, as she was known, was the CEO. My grandfather, whose middle name my brother Nate carries, died in 1934, leaving the farming operation to Miss Belle and two of their sons, my father and his brother. She died in 1955, and after the later passing of her immediate heirs, the farm and this house were sold to the town of Hertford.
The original house had a rear-attached kitchen with a wood-burning cook stove. I remember it being used to feed the folks who helped with the annual "hog killing", a multi-day event in January, back in the era of cold winters. Unfortunately, I don't know the fate of that lovely old stove. By the time I came along, another room in the main part of the house had been renovated as a kitchen - with electric appliances. The high-ceiling rooms were heated with large Duo-Therm kerosene burners that vented through the chimneys.
As with many other farms of the early-to-mid twentieth century there was a bell perched atop a 20-foot pole outside the old kitchen with a long rope attached to the porch. The bell rocked on a gimbal as the rope was pulled, swinging the clapper against the bell and signaling dinner time or Miss Belle's need of assistance. The bell, its ring dimmed by time and rust, was saved by my mother who passed it on to our cousin, Jean Carr and her husband Paul. They intended to attach it to an even older family home they were renovating in the Durant’s Neck area of Perquimans County; however, their plans changed, and they donated the bell to the Museum of the Albemarle where it now resides as a small bit of the region’s history.
Behind the house were a few peach trees, a former tool shop, a chicken house and pen, a smoke house, a storage building and a vehicle shelter. Miss Belle fed her chickens daily, carrying a bucket of feed in the crook of her frail arm well into her seventies. Amongst that brood of Dominickers and Rhode Island Reds she had one big rooster that would attack small boys! A truly evil bird! I recall the use of the smoke house with its permeating odor of salt-cured, smoked hams and shoulders. And there was lard/box lye soap in the storage building. Real soap, not your present-day smell-good body wash concoctions in last-until-the-sun-explodes plastic containers. Stuff that left rings in the bath tub!
I spent a few summer hours in the front porch rocking chairs with my grandmother, "May" as I called her for now-unknown reasons, watching the song birds nest and raise their young in the adjacent shrubbery. Her beaten biscuits were a treat when we delivered the Sunday newspaper to her and she read the comics to me. During weekday afternoons she listened to Paul Harvey's news and soap operas on her radio in the room behind the right-side window in the photograph. I slept on a down mattress in that house, listening to rain falling on the metal roof. It's all gone now, the house probably being beyond repair if nothing has been done to it since I last saw it in 2015. So, while my memories are good ones, my regrets are few. Modernization and maintenance of such a structure would be beyond the means of most folks. Commercial office space perhaps but, again, renovation would be prohibitive for anyone's bottom line.
In the end we're left with the hard fact that time grinds inexorably onward, and everything, including this house, flits in and out, in and out. Generations and their memories come and go, serve and leave, like the momentary lantern flashes of the evening fireflies in the grass around this once-magnificent old home. So, as Mr. Burns, cigar in hand, famously said to Ms. Burns, "Say 'Goodnight', Gracie!"