My oldest daughter has started asking me about my childhood and the area where we both grew up. She spent a lot of time with my parents as a child and has memories with questions attached.

I received an email from her asking if I remembered an “old slave hut” on the property behind her Uncle’s home. She remembered walking past the site with her grandmother and being told that a slave house had been there. Was it true? What did I remember? Was she imagining things? She wanted to know.

Memories swirled around me as I read her words. Memories of a building still standing for  the most part. Old and worn, falling in in spots, the old house stood on the crest of the hill just behind my brother’s home, along the remaining vestiges of an old roadbed. Overgrown with vines and other vegetation, it beckoned we children to come in and explore.

“Now be careful, there’s an old well over there under that lumber, don’t get too close.”  I heard my mother’s voice. “No, you can’t go inside. The floor boards have rotted and you may fall through and get hurt.”

There underneath ancient oaks, the old house stood. Walls that had never seen paint were weathered to a dark, silky gray. The tin roof that was more rust than tin and the holes that had long let water through to ruin the interior. A porch across the front that in other times had most certainly been the gathering site for a family on hot summer evenings.

Before the Civil War, my great-grandfather had owned one slave family. His land holdings were large enough to make  slaves “necessary”. Plus, in the up-state back country of South Carolina, owning a slave was a status symbol. The slave’s name was Sam. The home my grandfather built for him and his family came to be called the Sam House.

The story goes that when the slaves were freed, Sam came to my great-grandfather and told him he didn’t want to leave. He had nowhere to go, and that my great-grandfather’s family was his family. The story goes that from that day forward, Sam and his family continued to live in the house on the hill top and worked for my great-grandfather in exchange for rent and wages.

My Grandfather grew up with Sam’s children. He sat with the family when Sam passed away. In those days it was the custom to sit up all night with the deceased the night before the funeral. Men would take turns sitting in the room with the body from dusk until daylight.

Sam’s children continued to live in the house and work for my family or at other jobs for many years. Eventually they moved on. Without a family to keep it alive, the old house slowly died. When it became apparent that I and my brother’s children were determined to explore the dilapidated structure, my brother tore it down. Soon nothing remained but the chimney. Nature began to take back the site.

By the time my mother took my little girl on her walks, retracing the steps she had taken with me by her side, there was probably nothing left to see at all. I’m sure by then that even the chimney had fallen. But, as she had with me, Mama told my daughter the story of the house, a story my daughter had all but forgotten.

But I remember the Sam House when it still existed. I remember watching it being torn down, nearly a hundred years after it was built. I remember bits and pieces of Daddy’s stories about Sam and his children, passed down by his father, and Sam’s grandchildren, who grew up with my father.

I’m glad my daughter asked me about the house. I hadn’t thought about it for many years. My nephew and I spent many happy summer days playing beneath those ancient oaks that in their younger years had shaded little slave children at play.

Someday, a stranger will wander across that hilltop and find the remains of that old fallen chimney and wonder about the old homestead. Soon all memories of the Sam House will be gone, like the institution whose existence caused it to be built, all those long years ago.

But tonight, the image of the old house, long deserted and falling to the ground, will play through my mind. The cool shade and the sound of wind in the oaks will again delight the senses, as I go to sleep and dream of my childhood and the Sam House.