Highway 18

When my mama was a little girl, her parents built a house on some farmland in south Mississippi. For over forty years they grew all kinds of vegetables, tended cows, raised chickens, and, more than anything else, created a haven for their children and grandchildren. As one of those grandchildren, I can tell you without hesitation that there isn’t any place on earth that holds sweeter memories for me.

I was in the sixth grade, I think, when Mamaw and Papaw decided to sell the farm. It was becoming more than they could manage, so they bought a house “in town” (if you consider a community with three stop signs a town, that is). We all missed the farm like crazy, and we grieved when their old farmhouse burned down several years later. I was just a teenager when it happened, and even though Mamaw and Papaw didn’t live there anymore, it felt like the end of an era.

It’s no secret that I’ve never been much of a dreamer; I’ve never made a bucket list, and I don’t think a whole lot about what I’d like to do down the line because I’m way too fascinated by what’s going on in the here and now. But there’s not a single week that passes when I don’t talk about wanting to buy a tiny little piece of what used to be my grandparents’ farmland. I can’t really explain it, but my soul craves that place. My sister and my cousin Paige feel the same way.

So yesterday morning, Mama, Alex, and I went on an impromptu family field trip. Alex and I were already in my hometown, so Mamaw and Papaw’s old place wasn’t that far away. For some reason I felt like I needed to see that land – and I wanted Alex to meet it for the first time.

Once we turned off the interstate, Mama narrated the next fifteen or so miles. She still remembers who lived where when she was a little girl, and she told us all about different houses, different families, different times. Once we got to Mamaw and Papaw’s road, it took me a few miles to get my bearings, but I finally found what used to be their driveway. Alex and I had to climb over a gate to get onto their old property, but since Mama can still name every single family who lives in that neck of the woods – and since no one actually lives on the land anymore – we felt like it was okay to do a tiny bit of trespassing.

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And I’m really glad that we did.

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When I was just about the age that Alex is now, I loved to play with the cleanout door on the fireplace. The fireplace was part of an addition to the house, and even though the cleanout door was relatively new, it squeaked like crazy. I didn’t expect to see it again yesterday, but it was an instant memory flashback as soon as I caught a glimpse of that little iron door.

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For some reason Mamaw’s cast iron kitchen sink was on top of the porch slab, and I might have been tempted to load it in the back of my car if there had been any way to move it. It’s pretty much attached to the spot where it sits – I couldn’t even budge it. But I can still picture her pots and pans on top of the drainage rack, and I remember how I was never strong enough to turn off the water all the way.

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The smokehouse was just behind the main house, and after Papaw quit using it as an official smokehouse, it became the place where he parked one of his tractors and stored his tools. There were mason jars and old coffee cans full of nails, bolts and screws underneath the windowsill, and I used to plunder around in there at least once a visit.

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The barn was a few hundred feet behind the house, and if I close my eyes real tight, I can still smell it. Paige and I used to climb up in the hayloft and play for hours. It was an allergy sufferer’s nightmare and hotter than fire in the summertime, but we didn’t care. It was a big ole playhouse as far as we were concerned.

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When Paige and I would stay at Mamaw and Papaw’s in the summer, we loved to jump across the cattle grates and walk through the chicken houses. Papaw built them back in who-knows-when, and even though I used to be scared out of my mind that one of those chickens was going to peck me to my certain death, I didn’t want my older cousins to think that I was a baby (and make no mistake: I was such a baby). We’d run from one end of the chicken houses to the other, and I tried my best to act way braver than I really was. Usually, though, my nerves would win, and I’d find some reason to go back to the house and let Mamaw fix me some sweet tea.

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After Alex and I finished walking around yesterday, we climbed back over the gate, hopped back in the car, rode around some more, and eventually made our way back to my parents’ house. And even as we drove back to Birmingham late yesterday afternoon, I kept thinking about how surreal it was to see that those buildings Papaw built were still standing after all this time.

But they were. They are.

And if you look really closely, you can see that the front steps are still there, too.

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Something about that feels just right.

I hadn’t set foot on that land in over twenty years.

But somehow it still feels like home.

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Comments

  1. Oh Boo Mama, this is Martha’s Mama here – and do I ever know what you mean! I can still smell and feel what my grandmother’s kitchen was like on a cold winter morning when the windows fogged over with condensation. It was cold outside but warm inside where she churned the butter and made the biscuits in the big iron skillet.

    My other grandparents had this big old field that you had to cross a creek to get to! My Mama taught my sister and I how to pick cotton using an old pillow case for a pick sack. We got tired really quickly and went to the cotton wagon where we proceeded to form “furniture” from the raw cotton and build a playhouse.

    Martha has led a wonderful, charmed, happy life – but – it makes me sad that she will never know what life was like in those MUCH simpler times!

    Thanks for all your lovely writing! I look forward to reading and hearing from you every day!

    Martha’s Mama

  2. So sweet. I can totally relate. My Nana and PawPaw had a lake house we called The Cabin. Tiny, rustic and bought before I was born, it was where we spent summers and holidays. My Nana held onto it as long as she could. But, due to her age and the fact that all of her family had busy schedules, she had to sell. It was the right decision at the time, but I think about that place every day. I have a framed black and white picture of The Cabin hanging close to some of Nana’s mason jars she gave me. And right now, my phone is on an old green table that came from there, too. Goodness…I’m getting teary-eyed over here! Precious memories for sure. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Melissa H says:

    What a sweet post. It stirred up some longings in my own heart.

  4. I, too, saw our family farm sold not many years ago. There isn’t a day that doesn’t pass by that I don’t think of it. I always thought that I would live there someday. I love it and it will always be close in my heart. Hope, Indiana is my place. Thank you for sharing. I always will hang on to Hope.

  5. I loved this post, Sophie. My grandparents farm was in Mineral Wells, Texas, where they raised their family and lived until the day they died. The last time I was there was 15 years ago to bury my mama in the family cemetery. I parked in what was the old driveway, and gazed over the fence at the foundation where the house once stood. I closed my eyes and took in a deep breath. It all came back to me. The old barn and chicken houses were still there, off in the distance. And it still smelled like home.

  6. Love sweet memories like these! My grandparents had chicken houses in Smith county, and I lived on a farm in Lincoln county. I am so glad you were able to go back and take Alex. Thank you for sharing and recreating special moments.

  7. This post made me smile … right up until the moment the lump in my throat freed itself and the tears came, flowed and stayed.

  8. Well. This is beautiful. And that sink. Oh, that sink. My great-grandmother lived in a house in a tiny town right outside of Lexington. My great-grandfather was the town judge, and they had a big, drafty house with a ghost on the stair landing and a kitchen with a sink just like that. And a store-room off the back that stayed cold when it was hotter than fire outside. There was a big vegetable garden by the barn and Granny regularly killed snakes with a pitch fork. She kept them in a bucket. This post helped me remember all of that. Beautiful.

  9. I loved your post. I am from Mississippi and my Mamaw and Papaw lived in south Mississippi. They had a ton of land complete with chicken house, cattle, streams, gardens that went for miles full of corn, potatoes, green beans, peas, okra, etc. Thanks for helping me relive some great memories with my family.

  10. What a great story. I can’t wait to read your book. I hope that land can be a part of your life again some day.

  11. My grandparents lived in SW Mississippi (Woodville), and I loved going to see where my grandmother grew up…her house had burned, but my mom could still show us the tree she climbed, where they played, where the driveway was, etc. Great post, I felt like I was there!

    BTW, I’m from MS, too…friends with Stephanie Buckley now here in AR!

    Love,
    Amanda

  12. How beautiful would it be if you had a family picture made on that property with the barn in the background. I love rustic old barns in pictures, and with the memories and love attached to this one? That would be a precious family picture of you three to blow up to 20×30. Or keep as a 4×6 tucked in the back of your Bible. Either way.

    Beautiful post, Sophie. xoxo

  13. I can still remember doing the same thing at my Great-grandpa’s house (we called him “Pop”, and I still have my “Pop Bunny” he gave me as a wee thing) back in Little Rock, AR several years ago. He had `8 kids, and the joke of the family was that Pop an Mamaw would buy 10 acres more, and then Mamaw would have to get pregnant so Pop had someone else to help work the land. Every kid in that family (and a few grandkids) knew the exact property lines of the land that they were ‘born into”. And grew up workin’ along Pop.

    It is long since sold off in parcels by the family when the last few kids were just too old to take care of it anymore. But I still have some dirt in a mason jar that my Great Uncle Gene used as a tobacco spitton (ewwwwww!) to remind me of where I come from.

    Thank you for sharing those memories with me.

    ♥u

  14. Love this so much.

  15. DO it!! Buy some of it!! This post makes me cry & gives me chills that you got to go there!! I want to do the same with land in Arkansas that my family owned, but they don’t own it anymore!

  16. This was absolutely lovely! Thank you for sharing this!!

  17. Vicki Esh says:

    I am all choked up after reading this. I have similar feelings when I visit the farm where I grew up. That piece of land will always be my real home. Thanks so much for sharing.

  18. There is NOTHING like memories of your grandparents, is there? Mine have been gone a long time, but I still miss them and think of them OFTEN. I can put myself right back in grandma’s kitchen and feel the love! I want to be that kind of grandma for my own grandkids. Thanks, Sophie!

  19. Meg Ragland Wood says:

    My grandparents had a farm, too, and this just brought back so many memories. I loved the pictures and all the memories you shared!! What this makes me realize is how much we really do leave a legacy to our children and grandchildren. Something to really think about!

  20. Oh, I can relate to this. My grands had a place in Kansas I love like crazy. I was disappointed when my mom and her brothers sold it to a local farmer after my grandparents had been gone awhile. Even though we had no earthly use for it, it was home. A working wheat/cattle place, we kids had really great adventures there. When I am back home in Kansas, I like to steal an hour and climb the fence and wander around. We too had the scary chicken house, and the old barn loft was a wonder for imagination. The four of us learned to drive in Grandpa’s old pickup out in the south pasture. Thanks for reminding me of my great Sunflower heritage! Great memories!

  21. Lauren Kelly says:

    Oh, Sophie, I just LOVE everything about this post!! Absolutely beautiful!!!!!

  22. Tears in my eyes. I just went ‘home’ to CT for the 1st time in 13 years last week and I can tell you, I felt the same. I was there for my grandpa’s funeral (who is so much better off in heaven – so no sad tears). I went by my old house as well, and remembered sitting on the front steps with him and listening to him tell me story after story. Can’t wait to see him again. Thanks for letting us walk down your Memory Lane.

  23. Add me to the list of people who cried reading this post. I drive by my grandparents’ old house every time I am back home and wonder if the people who live there now treat it well. My granddaddy was born blind and he built that carport by hand. I miss them so.

  24. My husband and I currently live on his family’s 125+ year old farm in west central MN. Last week, my in-laws announced that they sold it to the family down the road and at the end of the summer, the farm will no longer be “in the family.” There are two houses on the property, the original home built almost 100 years ago, and the home my husband grew up in (it was moved onto the property in the early 70′s). We rent the home my husband grew up in and the new owners are more than happy to let us stay there as long as we want. My husband is sad that the family farm is no longer “in the family”. He too has memories of playing in the hay loft, chasing pigs, plowing fields, and everything in between. We knew this day was coming, so for the last 2 years I’ve been taking photos, saving small odds and ends (like the 12×12 door for an old barn window) so that we can have those in our new home. Anything I can do to pull a little bit of the farm with us, I’ll do it!

  25. Loved this so much, and those pictures could have been taken on my great-grandparents old farm in Leake County. Sweet memories!

  26. Beautiful. Just beautiful. I was smiling and crying all at the same time. Our Fahter was so sweet to orchestrate the collision of your past and your present (and a piece of your future, too!)

  27. Beautiful story! It’s so wonderful that you were able to share that with your son. My grandparents lived in a house on a small lake east of Cincinnati until the summer I had my daughter. I have a pretty big family (I’m the 2nd oldest of 17 grandkids) so, it was the perfect setting for family events. I loved to go there & stay with them. I wish my kids could have seen that house & played around the lake like I did as a kid.

  28. Victoria C. says:

    “Land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.” -Gerald O’Hara. My dad says this to me all the time. You find a way to get a piece of that land, Sophie. I doubt you will ever regret it.

  29. So good, Sophie. I’m fortunate enough that the homeplaces on both sides of my family are still in the family. And it’s funny how vivid those childhood memories are in those places, even when it’s been many years between visits.

  30. I am about to ugly cry here….I miss my grandmother so much – I think I’ll go get her iron skillet that sits deep in the back of my pan cabinet and fry up some chicken or cook some cornbread…thanks for sharing your sweet memories.

  31. Who says you can’t go home again? Beautiful post.

  32. Oh thank you for this post! My dad grew up just off of Hwy 18 in Jasper County in a little community called Fouke, close to Paulding. Would your grandparents’ farm happen to be close to there? Being there with my grandmother was my favorite place on earth. How I miss those days! I just lost my dad 3 weeks ago, so I’m like Allison…about to ugly cry.

  33. The song ‘The House That Built Me’ by Miranda Lambert has stolen my heart and this post made the tunes turn up really loud in my head. Lovely post. And as I sit here in South MS, I smile and think about how nice it is to live here in ‘the country’.

    Thanks!

  34. My grandparents’ home place was recently bought by the state for a road widening project. The old house was moved and the old outbuildings torn down. Even with a construction trailer sitting on it now, I can still see the red brick house with the breezeway whenever I drive by. I can smell the tobacco fields in the summer, and taste my Grandma’s sweet tea!! What great memories! Thanks for helping me relive them today, Sophie.

  35. How often I’ve said to my husband, “We need some family land.” Hope you get to have a little piece of yours back one day soon. It is lovely.

  36. Becky in 'Bama says:

    Hmmm my grandparents had the same set up. Likewise, the farm has been sold and now just sits as a parcel of ground scraped off and an unfriendly fence around all of it. All the buildings are gone and most of the trees cut. I just wish I had some sweet memories. Most of what I recall about my grandmother was her locking me in the cellar when I misbehaved or forcing me to sleep alone in the front bedroom in total darkness. It’s a shame all grandparent stories aren’t warm and fuzzy. She’s gone and I forgave her a long time ago. But these days and times she’d likely be arrested or at least strongly ostracized. Oh well, I survived.

  37. Lynnette R says:

    I have a place too. It’s over near Knoxville. My Granny died at the age of 92 back in 2009. Everything changed that day but in my mind it’s all still the same. Thank you for sharing. I might have shed a tear. Or two.

  38. i love this post. i love that you took A to the farm and walked around. i love, LOVE that you took the photographs. what a wonderful adventure!
    blessings!!

  39. That is so cool! I can jut imagine all the memories you felt. How I would love something like this to happen to me.

  40. Kimberly/OKC says:

    Soo glad you got to go back…bittersweet? But it sounds mostly sweet from you. I remember a time when I went back to my grandma’s old house. She hadn’t lived there for years but when you go back it is amazing what things come back to your mind! I saw those bushes down by the drive and remembered those were our border. If we got past the bushes, she came out with a switch and switched us straight back up the yard and into the house! I remembered the clothesline where she’d hang clothes out all the time. She even made me a smaller version of the pocketed apron she wore so I could have my own clothespins in it, though I couldn’t reach the line to hang clothes yet. I remembered the old water pump where we’d wash the potatoes we dug up and put in the porcelain covered tin bowl. I still have that bowl and I still put my taters in it. Mostly I remembered sitting in the covered porch night after night watching the cars pass on the highway. Wonder what our grandkids will remember? There’s no way my house is as cool as my granny’s was though!!

  41. This made me so homesick. Happy days… Thanks for stirring up my memories!

  42. Looks an idilic place and you have some great memories
    place and memory are often so connected, you go somewhere that holds special memories and bam, you are instantly taken back 20 years!
    http://dadwithtwokids.wordpress.com/

  43. I can relate to this so much. About 10 years ago my grandfather had to sell some land that had been in our family since 1850. It had a creek running through it, and I used to go exploring there all the time as a child, just as my great-grandfather did when he was a kid. If I ever win the lottery, first thing I’m doing is getting that land back.

  44. This reminds me of our family family in Central MS. I feel the need to go out there & plunder every time I “go home.” It makes me feel close to my dad who worked so hard there & loved that land so much. We are blessed with a wonderful heritage, aren’t we?

  45. Thank you for such a great connection to the past. We are knee deep in the history of Joshua and those chosen people of the Promised Land… we just talked about building those altars in life so we can look back and remember how the faithfulness of God is everpresent. Those stairs, sink and firplace remind me of those altars. Build it and they will come, sorry I think I just channeled Ree with that movie quote!

  46. I can totally relate! My grandparents house was demolished, but the land brings back so many memories. I rarely get to see it unless I am in Indiana visiting family. Living in the Peach State I still long for the “soft grass” I used to lay on imagining my future, the cardinals landing on the old fence, visiting with the nieghbor and picking chestnuts to roast, my grandma and papa’s garden and our “normal to us” lunches of hot dogs and raw green peppers, sweet tea and Velveeta Cheese and bologna sandwiches… So many memories. They are both gone now, but the memories are vivid and alive. Hope your day is wonderful!

  47. Sophie,
    thank you so much for sharing that story with us. I feel like I experienced a walk down your memory lane, which was precious. Those of us who hold fond memories of our grandparents’ homes during our childhood were led down our own memory lane. Thank you for leading us. I needed that today and I didn’t even know it! Beautiful.

  48. My grandparents lived in LA, you know, Lower Alabama. I could have sworn the house was much further away from the road. Grandma would save us the bread wrappers, they were waxed then,. We would walk up to the school and use them to slide down the huge slide. It’s not as tall as it once was but it’s still pretty high. Did anyone else swing so high that the chains ‘broke’ at the top? We had Alabama red clay bottoms all summer.

  49. Mary Kat's Mom says:

    What a great and VERY SWEET story! I loved it and it makes me long to go to my grandparents’ houses and just see them and think back on the years when they would have cooked me anything just to get me to eat. Not that way any more! Thanks for this!

  50. Home and family. In the South those are deep roots, aren’t they. I envy you that and I aspire to it with my own. Thank you for sharing.

  51. Loved this post! Though my placement was quite different (the Caribbean), so heartwarming to realize that the childhood sensations and activities are so similar. When I returned after 26 years a few years ago, Miranda Lambert’s song – The House That Built Me had just come out and was so perfect. Your post reminded me of it again. 1) yes, you need to buy a piece of that land and 2) you must figure out how to get that sink home! :)

  52. You should totally come home, Sophie. This is a great place to raise kids. My Crew loves it here so much. <3

  53. Loved this, Boomama! I have places of the heart like this, too. Great story!

  54. what a great story and adventure.

  55. Gosh, this is absolutely beautiful. I have so many special memories with my grandparents at their house. They have long-since moved from the place where I used to visit them and play in the tree house my grandpa built, or go for turtle hunts in the woods, but the memories are still so vivid. I would love to go back to that home and visit. Love this post, and so glad you were able to go back to that land with your son!

  56. I live in Mississippi and drive highway 18 quite frequently to visit my parents. It is such a beautiful stretch of land. I love seeing all the old barns and houses, and imagining what they must have been like in their glory. Such a great post. I am glad I found your blog.

  57. My husband and I have some old family land on ms hwy 18… I wonder if they’re close to each other. It would be neat-o if we ended up being farm neighbors one day!

  58. What a wonderful post, and it hits home with me in so many ways! My maw maw and pawpaws farmhouse, one of the oldest in the county, burned to the ground when I was in my early twenties. Pawpaw was still alive, but mawmaw had went to heaven 6 years earlier, and I was glad she wasn’t there to see it. Pawpaw built a new brick house on the same spot, and my aunt lives there now. But the barn and corn crib are still there. They tore down the smoke house before it fell down, and the chicken coop as well. Pawpaw raised cotton, and in the fall after picking all day he would park the wagons underneath the loft window at the barn and me and all the cousins would jump out over and over and pack the cotton. Mawmaw would let me make teacakes every time I came to her house, and by let me I mean she did all the work and I ate raw cookie dough. Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

  59. What a beautiful post…….brought back so many memories of going to my grandparents’ house in Okolona, AR (and most people always thought I meant Oklahoma because who ever heard of Okolona?). There was the farm house, the big barn that I loved to play hide and seek with my cousins in, the morning walks to the outhouse (so scared the cows were going to get me!), the smokehouse (where, yes, I got my hand rolled into the old wringer-washer by my older cousin!) and the wonderful fields to run and play in. I remember so many meals there with all my aunts and uncles and cousins, sitting on the porch laughing and talking together and waking up on freezing cold mornings under a huge pile of quilts in a very cold house. And there was always my grandmother’s delicious banana cake for breakfast (the only place I ever got to eat cake for breakfast!:)).

    What I wouldn’t give to be able to go back to that place to relive those memories. Thanks, Sophie, for helping me remember those wonderful times!

  60. A beautiful post, as always :) I’m so glad you could take Alex with you.