On most weekends you’ll find Larry Estes rocking in a chair, spinning stories about growing up in a historic house with no water or electricity and just a few feet from the Eno River.
Almost every Saturday and Sunday and some weekdays, Estes will set up a large picture on a easel to show people visiting the Eno River State Park Few’s Ford access what the old house looked like in the 1970s.
As he sits on the porch, he’s armed with a bag of candy, which helps the kids to hold still as he tells their parents old stories through his Southern drawl, using black and white photos of his aunts and uncles, mama and daddy and grandparents to illustrate his points.
He even sends visitors away with a 11-by-17-inch drawing of the old house.
“I bet I have given away 2,000, 3,000,” said Estes, 73, now of Semora, a community near Roxboro.
The first part of the Piper-Cox house was built in 1820 by the Piper family. Members of the Piper family owned it until it was sold at auction to the Cox family, which built the front of the house in 1873, according to information posted on the property.
The Langley family, which was Estes’ family, bought the house in 1908. Estes’ great-grandparents and grandparents moved in.
“My mama was born here and her brothers and sisters,” he said.
Estes said the Cox family sold the house, which once was a grist mill, because the river flooded.
His aunt, Vesta Langley, abandoned the house in 1968, and it is now part of the state park.
“Everybody got old,” Estes said. “Aunt Vesta done got old. She got up into the 70s, 80s. Nobody could tend the land for her.”
Still, for about 20 years, Estes has been returning to the front porch, slow talking visitors and mixing in a little lie here and there to keep people on their toes.
Every chance I get, I just come down here and enjoy the old times. And tell people about the old times.
“Every chance I get, I just come down here and enjoy the old times,” he said. “And tell people about the old times.”
Estes lived in the house from 1943 to 1961, when he left at 17 to join the U.S. Air Force. He also lived there after he returned from the Vietnam War. Growing up, he lived there with his parents and his three sisters.
“My mamma had three girls and a blessing,” he said.
But at times his grandparents, his aunt and others lived there, as well.
“Back then times were hard,” he said. “When people would be out of work, the kids and all would come down here and stay.”
The state park driveway and parking lot was open land when he lived there.
“There was the main garden, and the hog pen was right over there, and the chicken lot was right over there,” he said. They grew corn in a nearby field.
His chores included keeping weeds out of the garden, and feeding the chickens and the cows.
The house didn’t have water or electricity, so he walked water up the steep hill from the spring and brought wood to heat the house. He also made candles by dipping a wick in wax again and again.
“We didn’t have electricity – we would have to watch TV by candlelight,” he said. “That’s what I tell people anyway.”
He spent his days playing in the river, fishing and hunting squirrels and going to town whenever he could.
When showing the old photos, he explains when and how everyone died.
“This is Aunt Vesta,” he said. “She died at 95 giving birth.
“People say, ‘No, no,” he said, “I say, ‘No, you are right. She was 94.’ ”