The Hoyle house still lives in my memories
Shortly after I went to work for the Eastern Band of Cherokees back in the 1980s, my wife got employment at the Sylva Herald and so we did the logical thing. We decided to build a house. Since my grandfather had adopted me as his son, I received a beautiful piece of land in the old pasture, so we got a local builder to build a modest house with celestory windows in the roof and a wrap-around deck. It had two stories with one bedroom on the second floor and another on the first. I loved it from the start and some of my most pleasant memories are of lying on the floor on Sunday night and listening to my favorite program, “Hearts of Space.” I could see the night sky through those celestory windows as I listened to Vangelis or Hank Snow.
For a decade, I was truly happy. I was delighted with my three acres and spent a great deal of time exploring the dense woods that surrounded me. There were still pheasants and quail in the woods, and when I hiked all the way to “King’s Mountain” (there are dozens of mountains that have that name), I often found my way across the mountain and into a little cove that came to be known as “Smart Carter Cove.” (There is a story associated with this little cove and the man who once lived there, solitary and happy.)
It was a long time before I ventured down through the laurel thickets into the hillside that ended up in a section of Jackson County called “Love’s Field.” It was there, as I made my way through a large thicket, that I found the Hoyle house. Perhaps it is necessary to be “raised Appalachian” to understand my reaction to this rustic little house. It was a tightly constructed cottage that emerged from that hillside. There was a clean, well-kept spring and the backyard, with a tin dipper hanging on a hook, and when I drank, the water had the same taste as my grandfather’s spring. (Yes, good water does have a distinct taste.)
I peeped through a back window and saw rows on rows of canned goods: corn, pickled beans, tomatoes, okra, etc. However, it was becoming increasingly obvious that no one was living in this house. There was a little chicken lot, but an absence of clucks and cackles. I mounted the front steps, knocked and then tried the front door, and it opened!
It was a neatly kept home. There were two bedrooms, covered with colorful quilts; a “Warm Morning” heater in the living, and a little cook stove in the kitchen. There was a little kitchen table complete with salt and pepper shakers .... It all looked as though it was waiting for someone to settle into a chair. I saw a few personal items — photographs, a calendar and a little Philco radio. But I was becoming nervous. I had no business prowling through this house!
Perhaps the people living here had simple gone to buy groceries or visit relatives. I gently closed the front door and climbed back through the laurel thickets to my own home. I immediately contacted a neighbor and asked about the little house. “Yes, that is the Hoyle house,” he said. “I guess there is no one living there, now. For years, there were two sisters and a handicapped brother, but the brother died recently. The two sisters are probably in a nursing home.”
Wow! That stunned me. My mind was immediately filled with images of those three people, living in that house, sitting before that fireplace, eating those canned goods at that table, feeding those chickens. I sensed love and comfort, and I wondered if they listened to the “Grand Ole Opry” and “Renfro Valley.” I called my neighbor back and asked him what was going to become of that house?
“Well, someone should contact a relative, and I’m not sure that there are any.”
He called me back later.
“There is a Hoyle that lives at the head of the holler here. Not a very social fellow, I’m afraid.”
So, I decided to find the Hoyle at the head of the holler. I made one of my trips into the few houses beyond Rhodes Cove and one solitary man, chopping wood in his front yard, gave me some vague information. At last, I struggled through a lot of undergrowth to find an isolated cabin. As I got closer, I found myself in a yard full of barking dogs.
When I saw the woman on the porch, I asked if I had reached the Hoyle house. She shut the dogs up and came to the end of the porch and stared at me. It was not a friendly stare. Finally, she said, “Come up here on this porch and my boys and me will cut your hair.” The enmity in her voice was almost tangible. ‘“You one of them hippies, I guess.”
“No, ma’m,” I managed to say. “I am looking for relatives of the Hoyle sisters who used to live near me.” Silence prevailed. The woman continued to stare.
“They have moved out of their house and it is vacant,” I said. More silence. Then, two large young men materialized behind the woman.
“I thought you should know,” I added lamely. “The two sisters are in a nursing home.”
The woman turned and spoke to the two men, and I felt that they must be relatives. I retreated into the dense woods, hoping that my trip had been a success. I was a bit upset by the reception that I had received, but I later learned that this family had a reputation for being “unsociable.”
A week later, I visited the Hoyle place again. Long before I arrived, I became anxious. Something was wrong. I discovered that the front door had been torn away and I entered to find all the furnishings gone. The bed ticks had been carried into the woods and gutted and they were scattered through the undergrowth. Both stoves were gone and the walls were stripped of everything, including photographs. The house now had a forlorn quality that was only deepened when I found that the canned goods were smashed and the spring was full of broken Mason jars, beans, corn and tomatoes.
The vandalized Hoyle house was my first experience with the fate that awaits all things that could no longer defend themselves. I suppose that the mattresses had been gutted in the hope that they might contain hidden money. But why destroy canned goods? Why not take them home? I had been raised to respect and honor fading traditions. There is a darkness here that is at odds with my experience .... something that seeks to bum and destroy the very things that nurtured our lives.
I only returned to the Hoyle house once more, dreading what I would find. I had the feeling that the house was disappearing now, gently sinking into oblivion. The windows were all broken and the barren walls seem to lean inward. The floor was littered with tom clothes and the skins of animals. In one bedroom, I found one small, feral dog and a litter of pups. The room bore witness to her struggle to survive and the remains of rabbits and small animals were everywhere. She rose on trembling legs, prepared to drive me from the house, and her undernourished state was painfully evident in the outline of her ribs.
What to do? I choose to do what I had done with the sullen woman who offered to cut my hair. I retreated. Out of the house .... back through the laurels, back to a safe place that had warmth and food and possibly the illusion of safety.
I did not return. I did not need to see the rest of that sad decline. I am sure that there is nothing there now that would speak for the honor due that quiet house and its residents that once lived there in harmony with the natural world. I am sure that “progress” has arrived .... streetlights, pavement and city water. Ah, but the Hoyle house still exists in my memory: that little spring, those Mason jars and the waning warmth of that little kitchen.
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Gary, thank you for your wonderful stories! I enjoy them all. I was born in Cherokee and grew up across the mountain on Laurel Branch Rd, then married TH Queens son Edwin. After he passed from cancer, I landed on Kitchens Branch Rd in the old Sellers house, keep the stories coming.