There is a dirt road off of a dirt road, a sort of country cul-de-sac, and to the South side of the road are two old farmhouses, very, very, small but tidy. Two parts of the small family live here, and the same family has owned this land forever. There’s a rock at the end of the road, a piece of granite taken from a bridge site, and it marks the spot where ground gives way to a fen that eventually leads to the creek. When a tire hits the rock they know they’ve reached the point where any further they’ll get stuck in the fen, and I know this too. I love that sort of thing, you know, and I am not sure if there is a word for localized geography helpers. Yard Braille? I like that term.
The house to the east, the one closest to the fen sits on limestone rocks hauled up from the river a century ago. The rocks were used to support a much larger, much nice house that was up the hill a ways , but it burned down and after a particularly bad back in 1946, they went up to the ruins and stole the limestone rocks to prop up the two houses on the country cul-de-sac. They managed to lever the house on the east side, closest to the fen, up high enough to get two rocks under each corner, and because the people who built house one hundred years ago were damn good at almost everything they did, the rocks were about the same size. But that left just one rock for the corner of the house to the west and now it sits just slightly lower. When they installed plumbing in the houses they used just one septic tank, and because the water well is sitting on the highest ground they have out there they had to put the tank low, so the waste pipes run from the east house to the west house then back again east like a low snake, and the water pipes just run from west to east. A third set of pipes for grey water, that water from the sinks and the washing machines, and the tubs runs into the fen.
The flood of 1946 saw the water rise to the very bottom of the houses but because everyone was still poor there wasn’t a lot to be saved. Clothes, bedding, furniture, but no televisions or electronics were hauled to high ground. They threw hay out of a hay barn near the ruins of the big house to save their stuff, and because South Georgia has always been this sort of place, the owner of the barn helped. They say that Betty, the near feral cat named after Betty Grable, used the flood to kill the rats living under the house. She swam between two pieces of tin used as underpinning and killed the rats flushed from their holes. The rats Betty didn’t get the kids killed with sticks, and this was back in the day when flood water was still fairly clean. Betty came out from under the house a dozen times with the limp body of a rat in her mouth, cat paddling her way to the porch, still earning her keep even in disaster. Betty died in 1949, and they buried her in a wooden box in the cemetery near the old woman who took her in when Betty just showed up one day.
The space between the two houses is not more than a dozen feet, and the windows match up evenly with the others between, except the east side house is higher. Back before the house was electrified one legged Tom Barksdale saved the west house from burning when two kids that were having a pine cone fight from one house to the other busted a kerosene lantern. Tom walked in from the living room and turned the bed over on the fire, smothering it with the mattress. Barksdale was one of those people bless with good luck after the bad he had with his leg. They say he was toss from a horse and as he tried to land upright one of his feet slid down into a gopher hole and a rattlesnake bit him. Tom didn’t realize he had been bit until the leg began to swell, and the doctor had to take it a week later. But they say after that Tom never had a bad day in his life, except his leg hurt like hell right before a storm.
Water, wires, and modern roofing transformed the two houses, and someone had the bright idea of putting siding on them a few years back. A satellite dish is shared, as is most things. The old cypress logs, with the limb stump still attached were replaced on the porch by store bought four by fours, and they’re still talking about jacking both houses up and bricking them underneath in case of another flood. There are few enough places like this left in South Georgia, and every year someone improves some building that has stood for over a hundred years, or they tear out part of it, or they remuddle it, or time simply wears it down. Each year there are more and more cookie cutter houses, more subdivisions, and less craftsmanship in building. The two houses on the country cul-de-sac are dinosaurs living in a lost valley, peacefully housing their families, yet unaware they will one day face the extinction we all do.
This place doesn’t exist. I’ve dreamed about it a half dozen times, and each time there seems to be something new I know about it. It is so real I have reached for my camera to go take some photos of the houses, and as my hand closes around the case, I realized it isn’t real. But very clearly I can see the houses, and very clearly I can see the road, and very clearly, I wish this place was real.