All around this farmhouse, there are field stones – some have been circled into a sort of patio at the east side of the house and some – that I witnessed for the first time yesterday – circle the pergola and terra cotta style picnic area on the west side, just near the ruin of the slave quarter.

Slave Quarter Ruins

A chimney from a slave quarter on a Central VA Plantation

I expect they once formed the chimneys that sat against all the houses here and have now, in the repurposing spirit that has always lived on small farms, they are landscaping.

The stones, though, were first laid into place by the hands of enslaved people.  Likely gathered from the surrounding fields, they were hefted via wheelbarrow into piles so that one man – always a man – could climb the rickety, hand-made scaffolding and craft two chimneys – one that ran right outside the window of the room where I now sit and one across the house.

The tailings, the remnants that did not fit the master’s chimneys on the house or the kitchen (which is what I suspect my future office was originally) would be carried back to the edge of the farmyard and put into the chimney for the small slave cabin.  Unless of course some wise man hid some of the best stones back for his own residence.

Soon, we will be shifting some of these stones down to our new firepit. P will muscle them into a wheelbarrow again and roll them down into what was then (and is now) the pasture.  Then, he will ring them out, a circlette to guide the feet around the flame.  They will hold heat and fire once again. Somehow, this return vibrates in the air.

When we light our first bonfire, I will study the faces of my friends gathered round. I will gaze at the sockets of their eyes and the soft flesh just below their jawbones, and I will look for the ghosts of those people who gathered not only the stones but also made the fire that kept this farm going for so long.  I hope they will join us, sit a spell near the flaming logs and rest – welcome, remembered, home for as long as they wish it to be.

But the stones around the picnic area, those we will lift back to their home, not as a chimney but as a foundation, to outline the old slave quarter, to shore up the base of our memory so we never forget.

What family artifacts have you carried into now with you? What architectural features would you most like to see if you could return to your family’s home place?