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Memories from a Big House

The telephone rang all day. No one answered. It was getting late and her family was getting worried.

They began to call each other, hoping, praying, wishing that someone had spoken to her since the night before.

No one had.

Soon, a small caravan of puzzled faces arrived at the old family house to find a padlocked gate. Before long, a police officer had cut the lock, and a spare key to the front door opened the pathway to answers.

She was in the kitchen.

Lying flat on her back.

Wearing a nightgown and shoes.


My mother called me at work less than an hour later.

“Well …,” she said, “they just went over to Stella’s house and found her dead in the kitchen. Call your brother and let him know.”

Estella Suggs Tate — the youngest of 17 children (who lived beyond childhood) born to my great-grandparents. Widowed. No children of her own.

Who is going to live in the “Big House” now?

The home has been in my family for generations. The only photograph ever taken of my great-grandmother shows her smiling on the front porch of the Big House. My mother was born inside that house. Some of the best pecans I’ve ever eaten were picked from a tree in that yard.

Family reunions, funerals, first birthdays. The Big House saw it all.

It sits along an old main roadway in Ocala, in a historic area. We call it the Big House because — well, it’s a big house. There are two front entrances, one on the right and one on the left side of the front porch. Entering each leads into mirror image identical apartments that are connected in the middle by a huge door.

Growing up, my mother said she and other children would run back and forth between both sides of the house. When her grandmother tired of the commotion, she closed the door, blocking out the noise from the side of the house she was in and locking in the children on the side she wasn’t.

I remember the weekend visits I took there as a child with my grandmother. Aunt Stella would give me frozen popsicles — usually frostbitten — and I’d push my toy cars around on the slanted porch or jump off it into the bushes, pretending to be a super hero.

Inevitably, I’d land on the concrete stairs, scrape my knees and get a spanking.

Sometimes cousins my age would be there, too. We’d crawl under the porch and play in the dirt. A few days later, we’d all be treated to a capful of bleach for our ringworms.

The city restored the Big House a few years ago, closing off the connecting door and officially giving each apartment its own address. The crumbling white paint is now eggshell white. The porch that once dared small children to jump from it now has guard rails, but it’s still the Big House.

Maybe it doesn’t matter who moves in next. To some of my family members, I’m sure it will. I hope it stays in the family, but no one knows if Aunt Stella, the last legal resident of the home, left a last will and testament.

I’ll go home for her funeral this weekend. We’ll likely line up for the processional at the Big House. I hope it’s not the last family gathering the house ever sees.

Even if it is, I guess there’s comfort in knowing that going home doesn’t always have to mean going to a geographic location or even a family house. Going home can be as simple as closing your eyes and remembering. Good times.

Kevin Graham is a former Oracle Editor in