An important address for me personally is: 307 East Second Street.
But the house number has changed in Ayden, North Carolina, now. And there is no longer an “East” or “West” to Second Street. The house at that location belongs to a new family. I hope that they love that house as much as my family did. We made memories for four generations. Sweet memories, memories tied to the church just around the corner, Ayden Free Will Baptist Church.
What is it about a location that draws us back to our roots? This house does that for me. I was born there, in the front downstairs bedroom on a late summer night in September, 1946. For a while after my birth, all four generations lived in this house. They were my great-grandmother, Celia, whose husband had built the house in 1907; my grandparents, Ed and Anna; my parents, Ed and Joyce; and the eagerly awaited new baby, Celia.
Ed, Joyce, and Celia would soon move 65 miles away, but the house never failed to beckon for summer vacations, all holidays, and many weekends. The primary residents, though, were the elder Celia, the elder Ed, and Anna. Celia lived there from 1907 until her death in 1977. Ed lived there once he had married Anna in 1918 until his death in 1982. Anna lived there from 1907 to 1982, moving away only because she didn’t want to live alone after Ed died.
Longevity doesn’t make a house a home, though. Only love does that. And there was plenty of love at 307 East Second Street. I remember the family room in the house, always called the “back porch,” because it was an enclosed sun porch. When Celia was getting older, into her nineties, her farm manager and nephew Leslie declared in a visit one day that she had a “gold mine” in that room. He meant not to imply wealth, but to say that she had a room filled with peace, a quiet room, where she sat by the Siegler heater, on one side, radiating warmth, and a window, on the other, also radiating warmth. She herself was radiating warmth in the form of love for all her many visitors.
Sunday afternoon was the preferred time for calling on Celia and her family. There were many nephews and nieces who visited, for Celia had come from a large family. This is where I heard family stories that delighted me. Kirby, one nephew who lived just two houses away, told such hilarious tales of the escapades of him and his brothers as children that my grandmother Anna would constantly exclaim, “Kirby, you just must write all this down!”
Celia’s younger daughter, Cora Lee, her husband Harry Lee, and their children and grandchildren visited often also, though Cora Lee came most often not on Sunday but after one of her frequent trips to Greenville. In the summer, on one of my childhood visits, I would often be delighted to look out and see Aunt Cora Lee coming in with her granddaughter Gladys, just my age and a delightful playmate.
The current pastor at the Ayden Free Will Baptist Church, twice the Rev. C. H. Overman, often visited as well. And Dr. Burkette Raper and his wife Rose of Mount Olive College came. There was never any hint that Celia’s final years were lonely. She encouraged visits by the gentle spirit of love that she emanated.
This is the way it ought to be, in my estimation. We live too lonely and isolated lives, separated as we are frequently by distance as well as inclination. We are too caught up in self-imposed isolation to just “go calling,” as it was known. And we think that we need to phone first. Nobody thought of phoning Anna before showing up at her back door. And she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
In our isolation, we often don’t feel loved. Oh, we know that God loves us, but sometimes he seems distant as well (for we often become distant from Him, not talking to Him in prayer nearly often enough to keep up the communication). Younger generations are trapped by computers, and keeping in touch by email and texting—sometimes almost constantly. Technology takes its toll.
Sometimes we need to take a break. Almost none of us would give up our gadgets, but we need to be sure that we rule them, not the reverse. And we need more afternoons of friendly visiting, in a house where we are welcomed.
The house at 307 East Second Street now belongs to another, whom I have heard loves the house also. Time marches on. We can’t live in memory, but memory can sustain us in isolated moments, harkening us back to a simpler world—where Kirby told stories of an even earlier time. The mind is its own place, and it can make a place of love when treated gently and given resources of companionship to draw upon.
That is my hope for you today, that you will make the house you live in a place of love, a welcoming place for you and your family, as well as friends who might stop by just to say “hello.”