I look nothing like Eddie Arnold and Linda Gail would not be caught dead in one of Eva Gabor’s chiffon outfits. She might be convinced to wear some of Eva’s jewelry but not her outfits. Linda leans more toward athletic wear or overalls. Yeah, a diamond neckless would look good accessorizing her overalls. Yet, despite this fact, as we stood at the front gate of a chain link fenced in yard, I was having a “Green Acres” moment gazing at the old farm house my wife had just fallen in love with. The chain link fence enclosed a yard filled with hemlock and black walnut trees. It was inhabited by the requisite canine, although this one looked more like a small bear. As it happens Bear was his actual name. Bear lay in the sun and gazed at us with wary eyes until he decided we were not a threat and went back to his mid-morning nap. I did notice that while his eyes were closed, his ears were at attention. I had no doubt should we attempt to breach the fence; he would be there to impede our passage.
Linda Gail and I had been out exploring, something we still do on occasion. Even after thirty years we seem to always find some new, or at least forgotten, pig trail to travel down. We saw the for sale sign as we drove by and Linda Gail forced me to turn around and go back. We were sort of house hunting, looking for a home to fix up with five or so acres of land. We had to do something; we were living in a condo with three Boykin Spaniel mixes who were about to poop us out of house and, if not home, a small backyard. This old farmhouse appeared, at least on the outside, to fit the bill. With the heavily wooded yard and surroundings, white clapboard siding and a tin roof, it certainly had the ambience! The problem was that no one was home.
A phone call to the realtor deflated my wife’s euphoria like a “nickel balloon.” The house had a contract written and signed on it with a closing date just around the corner. The realtor told us that when he spoke to Mr. James Copeland, the owner, about our wanting to see the house, Mr. Copeland had said “Sure, if we wanted to come out and look the place over. He would love to show it to us.” Odd I thought. If you are days away from closing why would someone want to show it? Odder still was Linda’s response, “We’ll be right there!” Knowing better than to question her, I decided to go along for the ride.
A very gregarious and personable Mr. Copeland met us at the front gate and led us inside. Seventy-seven years young, Mr. Copeland was a retired Methodist minister who had purchased the home in 1956 and, with his first wife, had begun to renovate. The home, empty for the past “many” years, had no electricity, indoor plumbing or heat, other than its five fireplaces. The original outhouse was and still is on the property but is now used for storage instead of its original purpose. There was an original chicken coop built from slabs milled from the forest surrounding the home. The house itself was supported on its field stone foundation by hand-hewn oak timbers. With help from his “good Baptist brethren”, heating, electricity and plumbing were added to the home which had been originally built in the late eighteen-eighties or early eighteen-nineties. All of the electrical outlets were put in waist high on the wall to accommodate his first wife who was blind.
South Carolina Highway 11, built around 1922, actually cut through the original two-hundred-acre tract of land, separating the home from its barn which still stands on the wrong side of Highway 11. The beautiful old barn does give me an opportunity to break a commandment every day when I walk outside and look across the road. It is the commandment against coveting…a barn, not my neighbor’s wife.
After a tour of the home and a history lesson, the very spry and physically fit Mr. Copeland decided we should go on a hike to see the land surrounding the house. While we had been looking for five or so acres, this particular parcel of gently rolling forest land was eighty-seven acres. If you are looking to purchase land and see the description “gently rolling” don’t believe it any more than you should believe a doctor who says, “This might sting” or a dentist who says, “You might feel a pinch.” Gently rolling means up and down a lot. With seven streams cutting through ravines, dense hardwoods and vines obstructing our path, along with both a humidity and temperature over ninety, it was a tough three-hour hike for a guy who thought he was in shape. Mr. Copeland hardly puffed at all. Instead, he simply “walked us into the ground” despite being over twice our age.
We enjoyed our time with Mr. Copeland but left with a “day late and a dollar” short feeling. The closing was at hand and it appeared there was nothing to do but keep looking for our little piece of heaven. Sometimes fact can be stranger than fiction or maybe prayers are truly answered. We received a phone call from the realtor asking if we still wanted the place. Mr. Copeland had backed out of his original contract. His reasoning was, “He liked us better.” After thirty years, eight puppies, seven cats, eight goats, thirty chickens, a Vietnamese pot belly pig and a whole lot of stories involving possums, raccoons, snakes, and rats, I really don’t know whether to thank him or curse him.
This is an excerpt from the book “THROUGH THE FRONT GATE.” It is a book about thirty years of memories, thirty years of celebration and thirty years of love. We celebrate our thirty anniversary of a place we call home. “Through the Front Gate” maybe purchased and downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf