Chris and I, as we often do - turned north and targeted lightly traveled roads. It’s most often on these “back road” journeys that we find the beauty of nature, the telltale signs of times past, and infrequently those things that tell us, “perhaps the life here didn’t end in the embrace of peace or joy.” We often see business’ long gone, pastures no longer being “farmed”, and many homes boarded up and unoccupied, all signs of the times for small business and the middle-class.
It was mid morning this past Sunday and we found ourselves driving north of Auburn on highway 413. We soon found ourselves surrounded by forests of pine, frequently interrupted by farmland past - obvious by the number of decaying barns, partially caved in out-buildings, and as we found this day - chimney’s standing alone. As this day progressed within our journey of love and peace we passed many chimneys standing alone and silent.
A decaying barn seldom tells a complete story, for we’ve passed many in our life that still function and fulfill their intent, crumbled out-buildings are often ignored because they no longer are capable of fulfilling their purpose or have been replaced by new buildings. However, a chimney standing alone most often tells a story of fire and destruction - always causing me to ponder - “did life once living in the shadow of this chimney end in sorrow?”
I’ve only know two families in my short life that were affected by the devastation of losing their homes to fire - in both cases the families survived - but what was lost was lost forever.
I was 12, Bobby was 13 - it was May 1956 very early in the morning. Bobby’s mom burst into his bedroom and woke him with a jerk. She screamed at him, “Bobby get up; the house is on fire we must get out now.” They did, but everything not on their back was lost.
Four months past Bobby’s Dad died - what was left for Bobby was his Dad’s hat and coat, and several pictures, portraits of his smile which were a reminder of his laughter - now they were lost. Perhaps chimneys standing alone will always be true to words embraced by country music start Conway Twitty, “Love is where you find it - When you find no love at home - And there’s nothing cold as ashes - After the fire is gone.” Ashes always sing the tale of things past and now gone.
Chris and I passed four standing chimneys on our journey Sunday, our journey lasted hours. As each passed, I wondered about the families that gathered around them for warmth - wished I could hear their laughter, share the joys of birth and the embrace of love. Most on my mind was this, did they survive and did they embrace the opportunity to love, from the simplicity of holding hands to the joy of knowing they were one. It was within the moments of these thoughts that I looked over at Chris, reached out to touch her hand and realized how much love has surrounded me for over seventy-years. I hope love surrounds you.
Thomas H. Hunkele of Troup County is a certified fitness trainer and president of Lakeside Fitness.