By Nancy Darby
I see them everywhere, so often it sometimes doesn’t even register that I am seeing our history flash before my eyes. A lone chimney, hiding in the woods or maybe in the middle of field. A lone sentinel of times past. But each one with their own story. Similar to a cemetery, these markers of time hold monument to a house, a home, a family.
Many of the lonesome chimneys date back to the Civil War when Sherman burned his way to the sea. I can’t even imagine the horror and heartache that the women of the time faced. Watching their home burn to the ground. With it, their furniture, quilts and clothes. Wondering how they will ever survive the elements without the basic necessity of shelter. Wondering how they will take care of their children. I think of the men coming home from the war and all they want is to walk up their steps, see their wives or mothers and have that first home-cooked meal. Instead all they find is a chimney. Nothing else. They have lost a war, walked for 400 miles or more to see some weeds and a chimney.
But even if the chimney doesn’t date back to the Civil War, it still has a story to tell. Before the house around it burnt to the ground, it was a home. Children played on the hearth. Women cooked dinner in its coals. Men read the Bible at the end of a hard day working the fields. Every chimney has a story. A house, a home, as much life as the family that centered its life around it. The fireplace always was the heart of the home. Providing heat, light, and comfort for a family. As much as that chimney supported its family, many times that chimney was also the reason for the house’s demise. Some sparks, some ash, something coming up the chimney too hot to handle. Landing on the roof. Roofs generally made from wooden shingles and, poof, a story comes to a close. The house is gone, and only the chimney left to mark where life and love and family existed.
It is so surprising that these monuments of the past still stand. Many were built with rocks and mud chinked between the rocks. Most were built by the man of the house. Not a mason builder, just a man wanting to provide for his family. The heat solidified the mud into concrete between the rocks. No one thought about the history they were building. They just wanted a safe, secure home for the ones they loved. So the next time you are driving and you see a lone chimney standing, don’t just fly by. Think about the stories that the chimney could tell you, the home that surrounded that chimney. Think of the families that lived, loved and lost at the base of that chimney. The lone sentinel marking a different time. A silent soldier of the past.