The past means much. As family property goes, however, no one or anything remains from my childhood. Fires, real estate deals, and a bitter sibling feud took away every home and acre I recall as family property.
Just one homeplace possibly exists, a house across the line from my native Georgia. That kept it out of harm’s way. If I could find it, it’d give me a much-needed family connection for my mother and father’s people are dead. Circumstances made an orphan of me. The past? It doesn’t exist anymore.
But did the house exist? No, my great-great-granddaddy’s farmhouse in Mount Carmel, South Carolina, burned long ago. A woman whose grandmother married my great granddad told me so, but that didn’t stop my quest. She sent me a photograph and I made many trips to Mount Carmel, hoping some vacant grassy lot would speak. “Here’s where it stood.”
I just knew a vibe would pull me to the site where namesake Thomas Antone Poland gave up the ghost, for his obituary said he died in 1951 in his Mount Carmel home. Like some door-to-door salesman, I went from home to home searching. No luck.
Finally, the thing to do was to find the land where it had stood. A friend in the McCormick County courthouse sent me a plat. On a hot, humid Sunday I found the tract and there stood a house. I photographed it and compared it to the old photo. It was his, an old farmhouse with a tin roof, rock piers, hand-hewn joists, and two fireplaces.
I got my hand on deeds and records. For $1,007.25 he bought the house and nine acres October 7, 1946, a Monday it so happens. At one time the place was known as the Leslie N. Miller place if I’ve deciphered the receipt’s handwriting.
A week later I ventured into the building. A baby buzzard hissed at me. No one had lived there since great-granddad died. How do I know? Because an old farming magazine published in 1951 lay on the floor. Because the rooms held tattered, battered Victorian furniture. No one had been looking for a place to live.
I walked room to room looking at ruined furniture, six-on-six windows, and the detritus of people long gone. Naked light bulbs hung like Jack McCall who shot Wild Bill Hickok in the back of the head in Deadwood, South Dakota. Amid the ruination, I felt a connection.
I walked the vine-tangled grounds where I spied a tombstone only it wasn’t. It’s an old granite milepost with “21” engraved into it. From here was it 21 miles to the Edgefield County line? The old Anderson County line? Lincolnton, Georgia, where great-granddad had moved from? I aim to find out.
One final note. A young lawyer born in Greenwood but practicing in McCormick signed off on great-granddad’s executrix Eva B. Brown’s Petition to Prove Will. Counselor was just 24 years old but he would achieve fame as Richard Nixon’s Special White House Counsel for Watergate Matters. His name? J. Fred Buzhardt. From baby buzzards to presidential infamy.
I’ll have more to say about this tin-roofed repository of memories for I’m going back and when I do I hope the old dwelling will give up a few more secrets. But of this much I am certain, more stories about old Thomas Antone’s home are sure to come, and when they do, you’ll hear ’em.