I saw the old church up in a field of broomsedge—or broom straw as we called it when I was a girl. I wanted to go inside, explore the abandoned building that once had been so alive– maybe a hundred years ago. When I walked to the edge of the property, there was a fence with a prominent “No Trespassing” sign. Looking about the overgrown churchyard, I could imagine ‘dinner on the grounds’ like we had at Grandma Smith’s church with makeshift tables of sawhorses with large pieces of plywood placed across the top to hold the plentiful home-cooked food.
The unpainted church reminded me of dark buildings that dotted the countryside many years before, harkening to a different era or economy where costly paint was an extravagance. It reminded me of how my mother had taken us back to her first home, that her family always called ‘the old place,’ her house that had long been emptied, unpainted and sitting back in a field of broomsedge like the church.
Seeing the sun shining on golden broom straw always gives me a feeling of being settled, grounded, whether it’s an entire field or growing by a country road. It comes from childhood when I spent days playing in a field of broom straw on our farm. Some of my best memories are of Saturdays spent tramping down the sedge to form playhouse rooms then hiding down beneath the tall grass. Thinking about that, I can breathe in the fresh air and smell the sweet smoke of fall leaves burning at a neighboring farm.
When I ride through the country now I’m reminded of how these remaining vestiges of an earlier time and way of life are disappearing. When we hiked through the woods to Mama’s home deep in the country, I remember thinking we’d surely come back and visit, maybe when we had more time to explore. But not long after that, the land was purchased by a new owner and we no longer had access. I wish we’d carried a camera with us that day.
I think now that I should be more intentional about paying attention to the places in my path– the natural environment as well as the buildings that have special meaning. My Grandma Smith’s small Presbyterian church was one of those places that I thought would be there forever. But while I was away, sometime between college and moving out of state, the church membership dwindled to such a small number that the church folded. For years, I drove past the property trying to envision the dinners on the grounds and our youth group playing volleyball over a net strung between two water oaks.
Now when looking at an old, abandoned building, I imagine the way it looked when it was alive with people and purpose. I wonder about their stories from the memories of the community gathered in those places whether a family, a congregation of faith or workers making their living.
Realizing that things don’t last forever, I have the opportunity to be present to all the places in my path. I can step back and see what is unique and special about the land and the buildings that are important in my life. Now I know that some places that seem so everyday, deserve a photograph. I wish I had one of Mama’s ‘old place’ and Grandma’s church.
And when I feel that yearning to go back to the way things were, I can find a new crop of broomsedge and sit down in it, with the sun shining on me, remembering a Saturday morning being held in that place.
How about you?
What places in your path are significant for you?
What are ways you can return there?