The old Nethers’ place here in Flint Hill is being “flipped.” I guess most of you have watched enough fix-it-up TV to know what I’m talking about. It has been a rental for a number of years, now someone has bought it to fix up and sell. It had fallen into some disrepair the last few years, so this may not be a bad thing.
It is the only house I ever knew that my Uncle Robert Nethers and Aunt Fannie ever lived in. I am told that Uncle Robert and Granddaddy Lillard built the house in about 1923. Robert Nethers was my uncle because he married my mother’s sister, Fannie.
I walked down there the other day. The house is just across the road from where I live. A couple of people were carrying out stuff and putting it in a big rollback dumpster. When I walked in the kitchen door, the memories just came flooding back.
They had taken out the refrigerator. Someone hadn’t bothered to move it the last time they painted. The nice folks there were working for the people who had purchased the property. I introduced myself and told them I was a neighbor and my connection to the house. The first thing I told them was that I had seen my first moving pictures in that kitchen. Uncle Robert had some kind of little reel projector, and he set it up on the kitchen table and used the front of the refrigerator as a screen.
The black and white cartoons featured Mickey Mouse, or his forerunner, and, I think, a sailor or another character that looked like Popeye. At that point in my life we didn’t have a TV set. Most people didn’t. And I guess that is why that memory stuck with me.
One of the stories I have heard from different people was that money was very tight, and Granddaddy and Uncle Robert initially built a two room house. Later they added a kitchen, and a little room above it where my grandfather stayed in his later years. Still later, they built on two more rooms on the other side, with a bathroom in between them.
One of those rooms, in my lifetime, was their TV room. My aunt dearly loved to watch a wrestling show that came on one night during the week. I have been told that she once threw her shoe at the TV, when one of the “bad” wrestlers was doing something not allowed to one of the “good” wrestlers. I remember some of the wrestlers’ names, like Haystacks Calhoun, who was a huge man who wrestled in overalls. And there was Argentina Rocky, a fellow who could do more with his feet than most could do with their hands.
Some years ago on a business trip to Florida, I had the privilege to play a few tunes with a fellow named Larry Rice. Larry was from a family of noted musicians, and many of them played professionally. Larry was not only a performer, but a fine writer of songs, as well. I tell you that because one of his songs, This Old House, fits so well with what is going on at the Nethers place.
The song is not the tune they used to play on Lawrence Welk and other popular music shows about an old house that “trembles in the darkness when the lights go out at night.” Larry’s song was written from the perspective of the house, as if the house had a soul and a memory. It speaks to all the events the old house remembers from the family who had lived there many years, and the old house is sad to see the people leave. One of the more poignant passages goes:
I’ve been strong and I’ve been sturdy. I’ve weathered every storm.
I’ve always kept your family safe and warm.
Now, you’re packing up the laughter, and sweeping out the tears.
If this old house were built on memories, I’d stand a thousand years.
A few months ago, we were having a discussion in church about saints. I think it was about the time of Halloween and All Saints’ Eve. Bud Corder, who is the grandson of Robert and Fannie Nethers, said his grandfather was about as close to a saint as anyone he ever knew. I seconded that motion.
Uncle Robert was the very definition of a good man. He worked hard to support his family. For many years he worked for the highway department, riding the old snow plow trucks with no heat and, often, opening roads by hand. Later, he worked at the Viscose plant in Front Royal. He was a quiet man. I never heard him say anything approaching a bad word, and never heard him speak ill of anybody.
The old house across from me will be getting some much needed attention. There will be fresh paint and spit and polish applied everywhere else. But I can’t help but think that the old house will well remember the good people who built it and made a life there. Who took their children to church every Sunday, taught them right from wrong and made this old house a home.