The Old White House on the Hill

My mother’s parents, Maude and Clifton Palmer, lived about twenty miles from us in a white house on a hill near Elk Park on the Tennessee / North Carolina border. I enjoyed going there a great deal as a child. They had two enormous boxwoods near the steps leading from the dirt road up to the house, and chickens that ran wild in the yard. There was a little closed hut with a rooster in it, and I sometimes asked my Granddad why the rooster was in the hut. He said it was because he had misbehaved and had to be put in jail.

My grandfather Clifton, who seemed very ancient and didn’t say much, had a thatched head of gray hair, and I recall hearing that the barber had a hard time cutting it because it was so thick.

Close by the house was a whetstone where Granddad sharpened his tools, and I liked spinning it for fun. Nearby were a woodhouse, a little shop, and another small storage building that was locked. And there was another little hut I had to visit from time to time–the outhouse. I remember how excited we were the day my grandparents finally installed indoor plumbing.

I liked the old house. It seemed large to me, with a striking clock on the wall, and with French doors with glass doorknobs between the living room and dining room. (I realize now that why I put French doors with glass doorknobs in my own house between the living room and the kitchen, and a striking clock on the wall).

The large front porch looked down over a steep hill at highway 19-E at the state line, and gave a bird’s eye view of cars and trucks as they wended through the valley. My grandparents sat in the porch swing for hours, saying nothing, reading nothing, just watching the occasional car the appeared at the lower end of the valley and, a in less than a minute, disappeared around the curve at the upper end.

Clifton and Maude had married young. I don’t know their exact ages, but evidently my grandmother was 15 or 16 when Clifton came on his horse to fetch her for marriage. They were going to slip away and elope, and Maude had made herself a special dress for the occasion. But while crossing the river, she fell off the horse and drenched her dress; so Clifton took her home and the wedding was postponed for a week.

I wish I’d known Clifton better. I think he was a good man, but by the time I came along he was austere. I recall his seeming irritated with me, and once I think he threatened to whip me, which didn’t do much for our relationship. One lamentable day he even cut down my favorite swinging grapevine over the gorge.

Still, my memories are generally good–and I think it’s important to instill good memories into one’s grandchildren. One psychologist wrote that the grandparent / grandchild relationship is the most uncomplicated relationship in life. It’s just pure love and joy.

That’s why the adjective is “grand.” The Bible says, “Children’s children are a crown to the aged” (Proverbs 17:6). I’m thankful for my grandparents, and for my grandchildren!

PS – For my sermon, “The Grandest People of All,” visit