Placeholders of History

My Mama told me to stop harshin’ on other peoples’ hometowns.  So I really try.  Let’s just say that people don’t have to live in all that snow stuff ifyouknowwhatimeanandithinkyoudo.

My hometown has lots of southern plantations.  Lots of them.  Some more grandiose than others and you really don’t want to live in them.  But they are beautiful and historic.

The Butler family owned one of them.  I say family, but it was an awfully small family.  Mr Butler was long dead and that left Mrs Butler and their one son, Pierce.  We called him Piercy.  I guess some of our family were friends with the Butlers because I recall attending a birthday party there when I was young.

The thing I recall about the Butler family is the whispers.  Mostly that Mrs Butler was a drunk recluse.  I never saw her.  At the birthday party they said she was drunk in her bedroom.  Who knows if it was true.  But I do know she called her help “servants”.  I really don’t know why I was invited to the party because I don’t recall Piercy either.

The main house was not the Greek Revival style common to many plantation homes.  And I can’t tell you much about the house except that it had a big courtyard and was 2 or 3 stories.  It was big and lavishly furnished, at least what a kid thinks is lavishly furnished.

Plantation houses did not have kitchens in the house.  Kitchens have fire.  Fire is hot.  Fires burn down houses.  The kitchen was one of the “out buildings” on the plantation.  The carriage house, wash house and slave quarters were also out buildings.  I don’t recall much about the out buildings except what we called the dungeon.  Walls about a foot thick.  Only about 3 feet high.  A slit in the wall about an inch high for air.  It is where rogue slaves were punished.  That was seared in my memory.

I also recall the road to the plantation house.  One lane.  Huge oaks overhanging the road with Spanish moss that hung low.  About 3 miles long with a picturesque bridge.  Its still that way today.

The road is still that way because no one is allowed on the property.  The main house burned down.  Completely to the ground.  The top two rumors were that Mrs Butler burned it down in a drunken stupor or the servants stole the house contents while Mrs Butler was drunk and burned the house down.  Either way, she died in the fire.  There is a caretaker that lives on property in an out building but Piercy is long gone.

When I was probably about 18, a guy came up and introduced himself to me.  It was Piercy.  Don’t know why or how he knew who I was.  But I recall a pleasant few minutes of conversation with him reminiscing about family.  He looked like a street bum.  When he left, he got in a VW van that had (I am not shitting you here) a wood burning stove in it.  I told my aunt and she said she heard the rumor that he was living in and tooling around the country in a beatup van.  She had no contact with him for years.

Like many southern fortunes, the Butler fortune had dwindled over the decades.  But Piercy was far, far from destitute.

For decades I thought about that plantation.  It is eerily romantic and picturesque.  I always wanted that drive to my home.  But most of all I recall the chapel on the property.

The chapel is small.  Someone said its 25 by 65 feet.  It was built in 1837 by slaves for the family and slaves to worship in.  It was “consecrated” or some Episcopalian thing.  I remember a little more about it because my Aunt was married in the chapel before Mrs Butler died.  I recall my Mom and other family members decorating the altar area with magnolias.  I also recall the marble floor because people were buried under it! As a kid, that sticks out in your memory.

The chapel is not near the main house.  Piercy has the caretakers oversee periodic maintenance on the chapel but it is pretty much the way it was built.

How ’bout that Katrina.  It scattered all them Coonasses far and wide.  And two of them wanted to buy the house and property that adjoins my Mom’s.  The owner is a dear friend of our family and her failing health caused her to move in with her son.  Her son wanted my Mom to meet the Coonasses that wanted to buy the house.

The Coonasses wanted to buy the house because theirs was destroyed by Katrina.  Their life plan was to retire on some property nearby and build a house.  Katrina advanced that plan.  Now these were not the “HEP ME JAWGE BUSH” Coonasses sitting on their rooftop with a sign that read “GIMME FRE SHIT”.  He was a judge and she was a bigtime lawyer in Nawlins.  Which in Louisiana politics equals a comfortable degree of money because of the corruption.  They made a handsome offer for the house.

My Mom became friends with the Coonasses and I met them while visiting her.  They called to invite her to dinner and kindly agreed to include me when told I was visiting.  Must have been uneventful but I recall they picked up the check for the entire group at the dinner.

It was probably curiosity about the freak son that had the Coonasses asking my Mom about me.  So on another visit I offered to return the dinner invitation.  This time the lady sat next to me and I can well imagine my Mom was worried about what I would say in response to the Coonass questions.  And there were tons of questions.

When I found an opening, I thought I would turn the conversation to the house they were going to build.  The only thing I like better than building houses is Tab.  Third in line is talking about building houses.

When I asked about where they were building, she told me on some land she inherited adjacent to the Butler’s plantation.  Which really piqued my curiosity.  As it turned out, the Coonasses were somehow distantly related to the Butlers.  She knew Pierce.  He was still alive and living in New York.

The next thing I wanted to say was “Hook me up with a meeting with Piercy because I want to buy that plantation.”  Which got said in a more delicate way.  They knew Piercy but no one really knew Piercy.  My Aunt had no way to contact him but now I had an in.

I’d like to say Piercy is an eccentric southern gentleman but fact is he is just weird.  Half paranoid about money and half apologetic about money.  And very skeptical of people because he seems to think his only value as a friend is to fund the good times.  That is, if he had a friend.

Everyone seems to be afraid of Piercy.  Maybe they think he will leave them some money if they stay quiet enough.  He has no wife or children and if you met him, you’d understand why.  I doubt he has much money but one thing is for sure.  If he does, he does not care about it.  New money can drastically change people’s lives and that might explain it if the money he has was new.  I didn’t expend too much energy dwelling on the why.  I suspect Prozac couldn’t hurt though.

I did get to meet him.  The Coonasses were reluctant to contact him but they did.  They insisted on telling him why.  Which was all good by me.  I just wanted a yes or no.  They thought when he heard the why, he would not agree to meet me.  They were wrong.

They were kinda wrong.  When I went to New York, he failed to show up to meet me.  OK.  I took that as a no and went home.  Pissed.  Pissed was probably part of his plan or some mind game he wanted to play.  I resolved not to play his game and forget the whole thing.

Months later while visiting my Mom, the Coonasses told me Piercy was coming the next day to see me.  My first thought was to leave or refuse to meet him.  Its not like the Coonasses talked with Piercy even once a year so I don’t know how he knew I was there.  I suspect the Coonasses called him again so snubbing him would probably show disrespect toward the Coonasses.  He wanted me to meet him on the property.

I had no idea where the property is.  My Mom knew the general area but she was clueless on how to get there.  So I called my Aunt.  She thought she could get us there and agreed to go with us.

The drive is just the way I remembered it.  Still one lane and pretty enough to make you vomit.  The road is not in the best shape and I was glad we drove my soccer mom SUV instead of my Mom’s car.  Not that we needed 4 wheel drive but the extra road clearance came in handy.  My Mom barked orders from the back about dodging holes as my Aunt and I cackled as we bounced along.  She was excited about seeing the place again.  I was too.

Everyone told me to call him Pierce.  Which meant I had to call him Piercy.  Even though he corrected me when we shook hands.  He probably thought it was some kinda power play but my intention was to remind him that he does have a past and he does have people that remember Piercy.  He has lived his entire life isolating himself from people and while I have no desire to be his BFF, I do want him to know that his act does not intimidate me.  I accept Piercy as Piercy but not there to kiss his royal butt.

In any event, someone did an extreme makeover on him.  Not his weirdass personality but his outside.  He looked normal.  Once he learned that I was not buying into his intimidation game, we almost had a normal conversation.  I thought his concern would be about my plans for the property.  Turns out he wanted to talk about my motivation for wanting to buy the property.

I never did get a feel for his financial state.  Not that it was important.  Guess I wanted to know his motivation for considering my offer.  Seems his aversion to all things “normal” did not extend to avoiding taxes.  He had the place designated a historical landmark.  Which adds conditions and limitations.  But it also saves a shitload on taxes.  Seems even old hippies hate paying taxes and willing to compromise on their hippie oath to save the money.

Maybe he needed to save the money.  Maybe he had changed.  I really did not care.  I wanted a yes or no and tiring of the game.  So I just asked for a number and an answer.  Which did not lead to an answer but it did move the game along to talking money.  Kinda.  I talked about the appraisal and the market value then gave him a generous offer.

Nothing is simple with old hippies trying to hang on to their dream of playing anti establishment.  “Its not about the money.”  Right.  Time to fish or cut bait.  Call his bluff.  I offered to place the money in trust and let him name the trustees.  Use it for any cause he wanted to support.

That got some stammering.  And it was tempting to push the idea and make him squirm.  But that would not get me to yes.  So I asked him what he had in mind.  His number was lower.  And after some face saving muttering, he wanted the money.  Old hippies have a price and sometimes it works to your advantage to support them when they are trying to justify selling out their principles.

I gave him his money and created a Butler family trust with the difference in our offers.  He asked that I keep on the caretaker (I was anyway) and that I continue to open the chapel once a year to the black churches (I was planning to).  Nothing binding.

I asked if he wanted to be buried with his family in the plot behind the chapel.  He said he never thought about it and had no one to claim his body when he died.  How sad id that.  He has clung to his isolation all his life and though probably not destitute, does not even have a friend on the planet to notify when he dies.  Maybe its all he knew.  Maybe there is a reason for it.  I just find it sad.

No last will and testament either.  I told him to have “If found dead, please call…” tattooed on himself and I would get him in the ground and pee on his grave.  Who knows.  The guy might just do it.  I did ask him to put something with his important papers to notify me when he died.  We had the lawyers that handled the sale set up his will.

Once in a blue moon, I get a call from Piercy that always starts with “I’m not dead yet.”  I just say “What’s the holdup?”  We have a little superficial conversation but we keep each other at arms length.  I think both of us like it that way.

I have not done much since acquiring the property.  The caretaker is still there and oversees the same 3 old men that work there.  She needs constant reassurance that she is part of whatever might change.  So far the change has been limited to new underground utility service, a gatehouse and new fencing.  Which might not sound like much but considering that every fart needs approval from the historic society bitches, its a huge feat.

Rumor was that after his Mother passed away, Piercy set up his own commune on the property.  Today, the caretaker and 3 old men live in various out buildings.

Yes, that is a casket in the picture below.

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5 Responses to Placeholders of History

  1. sloop says:

    sent to me

    …the first rector, in 1842, reported his chief work to be visiting through the week, the servants on the estates. In the same year, 118 colored persons were baptized.

  2. sloop says:

    …was built with brick made by slave labor

  3. sloop says:

    I do not know who designed the building , but the builder of the Chapel was a competent, and very eccentric, carpenter and contractor.

    It is a brick building, stucco covered, about fifty by twenty-five feet, with a Gothic spire capped with an iron cross. The window frames and all the woodwork are beautifully made and the tall, pointed windows filled with glass of excellent quality, the one at the back over the chancel being an oriel window about four feet in diameter, of lovely stained glass.

    The floor is of tessellated black and white marble squares about a foot in size, and in the chancel stand white marble statues and tablets. There is an alabaster christening font, standing on a lofty pedestal, about two and a half feet in diameter.

    There are no pews, but a congregation of possibly one hundred might be seated in wooden chairs, some of them of a fine Dutch make, with rush bottoms. At the back there were two rows of wooden benches.

    The chancel floor, of dark wood with a heavy carved railing separating the nave, is raised about eighteen inches above the common level of the nave, and under the chancel is a brick vault in which the bodies of the family have been placed.

  4. Annie says:

    amazing building! so glad you are taking care of it. it is a treasure.

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