“Sweet as wood dove’s note when calling
To her mate as night draws on,
Soft as snow flake lightly falling
Come the voices that are gone.”
— Stephen Foster, “The Voices That Are Gone”
The art of decay. That’s what autumn is to me– a grand finale, the last act. We see it other ways, too. As we age, we develop wrinkles, and our hair greys. Building foundations crack and crumble over the years. There’s something lovely about the decline of things. That said, I went on a search yesterday to find some aging beauties. As I wandered along, the voices that are gone emerged from the woodwork and shattered glass.
This is what I heard.
The gymnasium. This was the hangout, the place people came to play, to see friends and to release their youthful energy. Shrieking laughter once filled this building. Jump ropes smacked on the wooden floors, basketballs bounced on the court. Cool Kids smoked cigs and made out in the parking lot. Now it exists in a state of continued decay and rank squalor, a home to squatters.
The front porch. Once painted pristine white, with strong floorboards and a swinging bench. In rocking chairs, over glasses of tea, conversations were had about the weather, the war, and faith. What would life look like after the gunpowder settled? What if the North won? What would come of the farm, of the city, of the South? Now, footfalls kick up dust from the creaky floorboards. On the walls, cracked paint flutters in the breeze.
The slave quarters. Where battered, aching bodies came to rest. Their wounds burned and tinged throughout the night, their hungry bellies groaned for more than meager rations, and their hearts ached for freedom from bondage.
Quiet yet strong voices elevated in a mournful song:
Oh, Jesus, my Saviour, on Thee I’ll depend
When troubles are near me you’ll be my true friend
I’m troubled in mind
If Jesus don’t help me
I surely will die
When ladened with troubles and burdened with grief
To Jesus in secret I’ll go for relief
In dark days of bondage to Jesus I prayed
To help me to bear it, and He gave me His aid
These quarters are now preserved as a historical landmark, visited by people like me and you who want to learn and understand.
All of these places – the gymnasium, the plantation home, the slave quarters – all house voices that are gone. When you go to places such as these, where there are stories to be heard and lessons to be learned, listen. And believe that only the physical things of this world truly go to rot and ruin.
“So when life’s bright sun is setting
And ist day is well nigh done,
May there be no vain regretting
Over memories I would shun;
But when death is o’er, to meet me…
may some much-lov’d forms come on,
And the first sounds that shall greet me
Be the voices that were gone!”
(All photos used in this post are the property of Africa Schaumann and may not be used without permission.)