Effie Osborne died this week at the age of 83. People who read this blog probably don't know who Miss Effie was, but her passing marks the end of a generations-old way of life in Williamson County.
Effie and her late husband Howland owned a substantial tract of land up the road from us in Leiper's Fork and lived, by choice, in a dilapidated hand-built shack without running water and with only a single electric light. And there were large sections of the exterior walls missing, so you could look right into the house as you drove past at night. Effie and Howland weren't poor people, and they certainly weren't ignorant, they just liked to live the way they had grown up, when Williamson County was still Depression-era rural.
Their land became quite valuable over the years (it adjoins a 19th century mansion recently purchased by Tim and Faith) and local land barons tried for decades to convince the Osbornes to sell. They offered ungodly amounts of money and other enticements, but Howland and Effie refused all offers. They felt it was home, and they didn't want to part with it.
The land was famous for having some world-class junk strewn over the hills and pastures-- at least 39 trucks, cars, buses, and farm equipment by my count, along with many things which were simply unidentifiable. It was also home to countless animals—pigs, goats, horses, a donkey, chickens, ducks, and mules. It was not unusual to drive around the curve in front of their house and be stopped by a pig standing in the middle of Bailey Road.
Goats were a big part of the ambience of the place. Effie and Howland probably never knew how many goats they had, since they ran free range up and down the valley. The goats would often break through the fences of a large neighboring horse farm and cause so much trouble that the landowner would round them up and threaten to sell them. The Osbornes would then sue him for what they saw as theft of their livestock and would take great pleasure in "lawing" with him. When the old Osborne barn finally collapsed and sank into the mud several years ago, the goats began using the crest of the ruined roof as their roosting and (honestly) breeding place. When the goats struck their poses on the roof the scene resembled a ramshackle replica of the Parthenon frieze.
Not long before their deaths Effie and Howland moved in with one of their children—they had 15 of them—and the old home place was cleaned up some and the road improved. The shack is still there, though, and enough of the old junk remains to give you a feel for the way it used to be.
The family burial plot lies right outside the door of the shack—literally within spitting distance, if someone were so inclined. Howland and many of the Osborne family members are buried there and, today, Effie was laid to rest there too. It's said that Howland wanted to be buried twelve feet deep instead of six so the devil couldn't get to him (it's not clear whether he was) and Effie asked that her grave be dug by hand—no backhoes for her.
These were unique people, highly intelligent and easy to love, and the stories about them are legion. But they're gone now, and an era has passed.