My life began among the pines and hemlocks on a steep mountainside in southeastern Kentucky. Today they call that area the Big South Fork, back when I was born, in the 19th century it was mostly just wilderness. I grew up there on that mountain. I lived in peace, growing to maturity, straight and tall. Then, sometime around the turn of the 20th Century, I began to hear rumblings down in the valley. A man named Justice Stearns had moved in. He had a large coal and lumber company and he was going to change my life. In 1902, he built the first electric powered sawmill in the country down there in the valley in a town that bore his last name. He purchased vast tracts of land all around the area, including my home. He began to send men into the forest to cut down the trees that would make the best lumber. It was only a matter of time until they got to me.
It took some time, but eventually, during the period people call the Great Depression, I fell to the saws of some of Mr. Stearns’ men. They loaded me onto a carrier with some of my fallen brethren and hauled us down the mountain into town and Mr. Stearns’ sawmill.
It was there I first met Mr. McCartt, another man who would change my life. He was a carpenter for the Stearns company. Once I was sawed and planed into lumber, Mr. McCartt selected me for a very special project. I was to be used to make a home for his family. I was loaded onto another wagon and hauled a short distance, out to the edge of town along a lovely strip of woods. I liked being back among the trees again. It felt more like home. It was soon to feel even more like home. Mr. McCartt took great care with me. He went to a great deal of trouble to hone my edges in a manner he called “shiplap”.
This, I heard him say, would allow me to fit tightly and also would hide the nails he would use to fasten me together. It was easy to see that Mr. McCartt cared a lot about me and wanted me to be my best. I could feel the love flowing through his hands as he handled me, piece by piece. He was building a home for his family. I felt like I was now a part of that family. I didn’t miss my own home nearly as much now–perhaps this was my purpose, after all. It didn’t feel that long to me before my new form was completed. I had been transformed into a small house–a home for Mr. McCartt’s family. Soon, I gave shelter to his immediate and extended families.
Mr. and Mrs. McCartt were proud of me. And I was proud of them. They built a picket fence to frame me and soon, I was being visited by family from all over.
I loved having the McCartts’ grandchildren come and play. They’d scamper around inside and out without a care in the world. It seemed like it would go on forever–but the times, they change.
Over the years as I watched the McCartts get older, I should have foreseen that my happy days wouldn’t last forever. One day, they were gone. I was empty and cold. A new, modern brick home was built just a few yards away from me. I could see other changes all around me. When I was first put here, it was a quiet little rural spot. But over the years, that began to change. The woods began to shrink, a big highway came through, suddenly the soft sounds of wind rustling the leaves and bird songs were harder to hear over the harsh noise of automobiles zooming past. A school was built just up the road, bringing even more traffic past me.
Sitting empty, I began to deteriorate. The love that had sustained me for years had left me and I sat and waited to die.
Then, in 2003, after I had long since given up hope, a surprise gift of love rekindled my life spark.
I watched one day as two men pulled up into my driveway in a pickup truck. I heard the older man tell the younger one that his grandfather had built me. Could this man be one of those children who used to play here? The two men walked around me, the older telling the younger stories of Mr. McCartt and the Stearns Lumber and Coal Company. He told of how he grew up just near here and spent many joyful hours in me. Sure enough, this was one of my kids I’d loved so many years before!
Then I saw the man who had built the brick home beside me come out to talk to the two men who’d driven up in the truck. Mr. McCartt’s grandson introduced himself as Mr. Wright. He introduced his younger companion as his son in law, Mr. Phipps. Mr. Wright told the man from the brick house the story of his history with me. He asked the man what plans he had for me. I heard the man from the brick house say that I had become an eyesore and a potential danger and that he had plans to have the fire department come and burn me down. My heart sank. Then I heard Mr. Wright say, “Oh no, please don’t do that!” He went on to say that he, his son, and Mr. Phipps had recently purchased some mountain land nearby and were planning to build a cabin. They had already ordered the required lumber from a local sawmill. Then he said the words that would change–no, save–my life. He asked the man from the brick house if he could have me so that he could save me and take me apart to use me again to build a new cabin on his mountain property. After thinking it over a while, the man from the brick house agreed and Mr. Wright purchased me for one dollar–“Just to make it legal”, he laughed.
Over the next days. Mr. Wright, his son, Mr. Phipps, and some other family helpers set about the task of carefully and lovingly taking me apart, piece by piece. All the while, I felt the love flowing through their hands as they carefully and tenderly separated each shiplapped board one from another. It was tedious work because it was so easy to damage pieces of me if they weren’t extremely delicate with the task. Mr. Wright was very proud of the obvious skill shown in his grandfather’s work. As he guided the younger men in how to salvage as much of me as possible, I heard him remark that, “They don’t build houses like this anymore. This house is so tight that if a tornado hit it, it would just roll down the road in one piece.” I could feel the pride and love flowing through Mr. Wright’s hands every time he saved another piece of me.
After untold hours of meticulous work, Mr. Wright and his crew of family had completely disassembled me and taken me, load by load, twelve miles away to their clearing in the mountains. This place brought the memories of my early life flooding back to me. It felt so good to be back in the mountains where I had been born more than a century before. Though I was, for now, just a pile of boards in waiting, I was loved once again–no longer destined for destruction by fire.
I had a future.
Over the following weeks, I began to take my current shape. I would be a house again, but not a standard house as I once was, now I would be a cabin–a new shape, a new purpose, and a new lease on a life filled once again with love.
Mr. McCartt must have taught his grandson well. Mr. Wright was skilled in the way he planned for every use of me, wasting almost nothing. It was easy to see that Mr. Wright cared a lot about me and wanted me to be my best. I could feel the love flowing through his hands as he handled me, piece by piece. He was building a home away from home for his family. I felt like I was now a part of that family. Now I could feel I had a new purpose–and it felt good.
It didn’t feel that long to me until my new form was complete. I loved my new setting among the pines and hemlocks on the steep mountainside.
I will live out my days here in peace and happiness. Mr. Wright has many grandchildren and great grandchildren who come to me to play. They bring me great joy. Their love flows through me as my sap once did, sustaining me, filling me with warmth and renewing my purpose.
I have come full circle and the love flows through me, still.