Some folks will tell you that nothing lasts forever. They’ll remind you, without knowing for certain themselves, that everything that is will soon enough be what was. That dead men tell no tales, and ashes to ashes, and all those other warnings of ends. Those folks cannot see beyond the darkness of their finite assumptions.
I endeavor to know and see that everything lasts forever. Everything. Me, you, those fabled ashes, all fallen down as they may be. And as for the dead not telling more tales? Oh, yes they do. You just have to know how to listen properly, and see with the right eyes.
And beyond such bold notions of everlasting everything, I am here to tell you one more tale too wild to be true, but is: some houses have souls.
Hearts, too. As broken as yours, and thrice as big, capable of entrapping memories and moments in its very walls. Some houses remember your name and the sound of your voice and the fall of your footsteps. Some recall you as a child, and perhaps, your Mama and Daddy as children, too. It’s the old houses that have the oldest souls and the densest of memory laden walls.
I think of an old house in particular as I ponder these things. The Christmas tree would be up by now in the living room, a fresh Fraser fir from the mountain, cut and covered in silver tinsel, and popcorn on an endless mile of thread, precisely and carefully needled through and strung on the aromatic branches by three or four of us grandkids, the red and green lights reflected off shiny glass orbs in our fascinated eyes, and soaking into the walls of the soulful house.
And the presents! Oh, they were stacked as high as my knees and upward, and the oranges tasted sweeter than any ordinary summer orange. Nobody could have ever convinced us we were just poor hill folk. No, sir. We were royalty on those bright nights, new socks and coats and all.
Mamaw is in the kitchen baking buttermilk pies and basting the fattest turkey you’ve ever heard tale of and reminding us kids to not run our fingers through with her best sewing needle. And Mama says if we do, she’s a’ gonna bust our tails good for us and we’ll all get coal in our stockings. She doesn’t mean a word of it, we know. Daddy plays Elvis on the record player and cousin Tommy dances a jig right up in the middle of the living room, and Mamaw swears to God he’s a heathen for such an awful display. The aunts and uncles and Mama and Daddy are at the dinette playing cards, and Mamaw praises the Lord and warns them good and proper that they’ll go to Hell for gambling, and it’s a good thing they were playing for popcorn instead of money, otherwise they’d have to do it out on the porch and out of her house.
They would laugh and say “oh, mother,” and carry on like there was no tomorrow. But there was a tomorrow, and we all knew it even then. And a yesterday. Papaw thought of those yesterdays as Elvis sang “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” and he would sit in his rocking chair and cry silent tears for the home in a distant Kentucky that remembered the worn out old man he was as a child, a home that stood dark and still somewhere up in a forgotten holler. But he remembered it. And perhaps that old place remembered him, too.
Yes, there is a tomorrow. It’s here. It’s now. Papaw has been long gone into the hereafter, and Mamaw has joined him. And so has Daddy and all the uncles. All of the children have grown up and scattered here and there. The cards have long ago been dealt and all the popcorn strung or eaten or thrown out to the winter birds.
And the house is now empty. It stands dark and silent against the backdrop of the faithful mountain where the Fraser firs grow forever green.
But the house has a soul. Oh, for certain it does. It has seen and heard and loved too much. It misses us. And on silent nights I imagine the echoes of heathen laughter and the faint nuances of Papaw’s tears still linger and seep from the walls and keep the old house warm and waiting.
We make other houses home now. And they have listening walls, too. But the oranges aren’t as sweet as I remember. And I am now the one with the silent tears.
Nothing lasts forever? Oh, yes it does. Everything lasts forever. Everything. And I’ll be home for Christmas, as I have always been. As they have always been. And always will be. They are still there, waiting for us.
You just have to know how to listen properly, and see with the right eyes.