Behind the home my dad grew up in, and lives in today, my grandfather built a smokehouse around 78 years ago. Every winter, when the weather got extremely cold, my grandparents, my dad and his siblings, and their farm hands would kill 10-12 hogs – 3-4 at a time. I’ll spare you the details (you can thank me later).
My grandmother’s job was to smoke the meat. After the meat had been salted down for 21 days, she would take it out, dip it into warm water to get the salt out of it, then hang it in the smokehouse on poles. She would smoke the meat really slowly for two weeks, keeping the green wood barely smoldering. She wouldn’t let the fire blaze up or have any heat to it. She kept it going just enough to cure the meat and give it that good smoked flavor.
Here’s how she described life with the smokehouse:
It was real good when you could just go out in the smokehouse and slice off some of that side meat bacon, have hot biscuits for supper with syrup on them that you had made on the farm, and butter that you’d churned at home. We had our own milk and butter. It was also good to slice up some ham and have that good “red-eye” gravy with grits. We sure had plenty to eat during those times.
Over the years, life changed, along with the family’s needs. Around 1950, Grandaddy converted the smokehouse into a workshop. He mixed cement for the floors, and hand-built a workbench, storage cabinets and bins, and racks that would hold the various axes, posthole diggers, and shovels. It was a model of efficiency and space usage.
If Grandmother’s kitchen was the center of life in the house, the shop was the center of life outside the house, as far as I was concerned. Of course, there were frequent trips to the barn, the pumphouse, the tractor shed, the pond or pasture, and, in my childhood, the outhouse (a very fine two-holer, best I can remember).
But the shop was the nerve center of the farm. It was here that the maintenance was done. It was here that Granddaddy built exquisitely-detailed bird houses for the hundreds of purple martins that sailed around there in the summertime. It was here that grandmother would help him paint flower boxes, gourds for birdhouses, or some of his martin houses. It was here that as kids, we would take the scraps from his latest project and nail them together to make a clumsy-looking truck or car. It was here that we would get my uncle’s old bag of golf balls and go out into the pasture and whack them with a baseball bat. It was here that two different mother cats named Frieda, as well as a few others, decided to have their kittens. Obliging, Granddaddy cut a square hole in the bottom corner of the door for them to come and go.
Over the years, life continued to change, along with the family’s needs. Granddaddy died in 1986; Grandmother in 1992. My parents now live there, in their own retirement. The house has been completely remodeled and expanded since then. The barn has a new roof, courtesy of Hurricane Katrina. Daddy has completely rebuilt the tractor shed and a new shop of his own off the back of the garage/pump house.
But the smokehouse – Granddaddy’s shop – still stands, pretty much as it always has. Termites have waged an impressive battle against it, but they’re gone and the shop lives on. Inside, while it stores a lot of my parents’ stuff, it is the best remaining vestige of my grandfather’s work. The nails in the wall over the workbench still have his penciled outlines of the tools that were supposed to hang there. Many of the axes, hammers, and other tools in there were his – including his favorite hammer, which he bought in 1925. His U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hard hat and sign are still hanging in the rafters.
So when I learned that the assignment on this trip back to the farm was to restore and repaint this old building, so central to three generations, and so inviting to two more, I didn’t mind at all. Over the last couple of days, we’ve rebuilt and replaced the door, replaced the worst of the rotted board and batten siding, and started repainting. I have a gen-u-wine Alabama redneck sunbun – and a lot of stirred memories – to show for it.
I can never duplicate the craftsmanship and attention to detail that have been so true of both my father and grandfather. But I can look for ways to give back. All that stuff that Scarlet said about Tara? I get it, in a Twenty-first-century kind of way.
It’s all about soul roots, and this place holds many of mine. Wherever yours are, it helps to return there from time to time. People in the Bible did it, including Jacob, David, and Paul. I absolutely must do it from time to time. I would encourage you to do it as well.
Soul root places are the places where your identity has been forged, your relationships have had their greatest experiences, and your spiritual life has been nurtured. It’s good to return to those places to reconnect with memories, dreams, and ideals forged in the crucible of faith and life. It doesn’t have to be a cross-country journey for you. I have places in Lubbock that are meaningful to me as well. But it is important to remember. Remembering helps you dream. Remembering helps you figure today out. Remembering can help you heal.
When David described the Lord as his Shepherd, he described Him as the One who “restores his soul.” It’s easy to forget that for a career shepherd, this was spoken in the language of place. The Lord took David to soul-restoring places or memories.
I believe He can do the same for you. If it’s been too long since you returned to some soul roots, what are you waiting for? Your soul needs restoring, and the Shepherd is calling.