06 April, 2013

Annescroft

Annescroft
This house is hard to find.  It rests beyond the end of a twisting, narrow country road in Olney, Maryland.  The modern paved road through the neighborhood runs by the back of the house, so that the front entrance isn't obvious from the road.  Massive trees that once lent a statuesque grandeur to the approach are now literally falling down, some branches chopped off and others held up by supporting straps.  Four "dead" cars with flat tires sit in the driveway next to two that appear functional.  The present owners don't seem to have invested very much effort into the house's facade; I can only hope that the interior has seen better care.  There is no sign to distinguish it from any of the other farmhouses in the surrounding area, but I know its name.  My family keeps its name alive because we are part of its story as it is part of ours.  My great-grandfather built this house.


The view from the road
It sits on acres of farmland that, over later decades, were parceled out as Olney expanded.  In the 1920s, though, the green ridges were ours and this house stood tall on one of them, a bright white haven.  My great-grandfather built it for his brother, who had been shell-shocked in World War I and needed a peaceful place to rehabilitate.  He lived here year-round, and my great-grandfather and his family would join him during the summers.  The farm was named Annescroft for my grandmother, Elizabeth Anne, just a small girl then.

Nearly a year ago I returned to my favorite childhood home and was reminded that I don't need to go halfway around the world to chase my roots.  Yes, the more I want to know, the farther I must travel, because those roots burrow centuries-deep into Britain and Germany and France -- but they start here.  Finding Annescroft was another valuable piece of the puzzle I'm trying to put together.  The names on my family tree represent real people who lived and breathed and loved -- In great-grandfather Wheater's case, love looked like building someone else a home in a place that would bind up a broken spirit with the bandages of beauty and rest.  He and his brother are gone now, but the house stands as a testament to their relationship.  That spirit of gracious hospitality and service also stands, living on in my grandmother and her daughters.  On my birthday a few years ago my mother gave me an antique serving tray.  It has a sturdy wicker base and handles, and a pane of glass in the bed of the tray presses wildflowers and butterflies gathered around Annescroft.  They were gathered in the 1920s by my great-grandmother (maybe with my Grandma's help?) and retained to remind her of the beauty.  Nearly a century later, they are still vibrant and I love to look at them and imagine my great-grandmother roaming the sunny fields around the farm.  I'm so thankful for things like old houses and wicker trays, the tangible things, the conduits for the characteristics my ancestors possessed and the lives they dreamed for their descendants.

When I knocked at the door today to ask the owner's permission to take a few photos, he shook my hand warmly and asked my name.  He seemed kind, and that made me glad despite the disappointment of the house's ramshackle appearance.  After all, it's kindness that lasts.

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