Saturday, April 5, 2008

Time Warp

The bro and I went home... sort of.
We both ended up at the farm visiting biggest bro and decided one rainy afternoon to go to the house in which we grew up.
It was a bit surrealistic. I lived there from the age of 7 to 14. When I think of "home" that is the place that always comes to mind. I have lived in many houses in my life, but that is the one in which I know every detail, can remember every room, every piece of furniture; that I dream of, that I could draw a floor plan in a moment's notice...
Somehow it shrunk.
And its slowly falling down: the windows are broken out, the doors are hanging open, the porch is rotting and collapsing. The yard is overgrown with saplings and weeds.
It is a ghost house now.
We pulled up and parked across the road and just looked at it in amazement. It used to be such a pretty house. When we lived there it was painted white and had 3 or 4 large maple trees stretching across the front of the yard. There was a porch swing on the porch and rocking chairs. My mamma planted geraniums in these large concrete pots that sat at the end of the steps leading up to the front porch. There was always flowers blooming somewhere in the summer and spring.
We made our way cautiously up the steps and jumped across the gaping holes in the porch. The glass was broken out of the carved wooden doors and they sat open inviting us in...
We stepped into the house. Trash was ankle deep. Clothes lay scattered everywhere. Bottles and books, broken furniture, sections of collapsed ceiling, sheet rock, all piled up in mountains in every room. We shook our heads in dismay.
In what had been our living room, Paul asked "When did it get so small?" I remember it being huge. We had a green behemoth of a couch that sat across the 3 windows, a platform rocker, daddy's big red recliner, the matching chair for the sofa, a TV and a "Warm Morning" gas heater plus there was still tons of floor space to spread out games and books and toys... now the room was so tiny I don't see how we could have fit half that in there.
The dining room had also shrunk. Where there used to be a large round oak table with 8 chairs and a Victorian buffet, china cabinet, whatnot shelf and occasionally a baby bed for the grandchildren, there was absolutely not enough space for all those things and our family to have fit in the room we were standing in.
Looking up I saw someone had taken the brass chandelier too. It had held 5 bulbs in uplifted arms and it always made me think of blooming flowers of light when it was turned on...
Paul was trying to rip up a section of the kitchen floor. He remembered when Mamma and Daddy were putting down the new floor that he and I had written a note and sealed it in a bottle; "Help we are being held prisoners..." He wanted to see if it was still there, but in spite of the damp and rot, the floor still held its secrets.
We walked through what had been the bedrooms with me pointing out where the furniture had sat. My bedroom had had the walls rebuilt, the door was in the wrong place. The closet, my wonderful magic closet was filled with broken shelves and the door was barely hanging on... when I was really little, I would sit in the bottom of my closet, curled against the chimney wall for warmth and read for hours. It felt safe and even now I often dream of that tiny space, painted white in a lavender room, sitting underneath the hanging clothes, knees tucked up, a book on my lap, reading by the light filtering in the window just to the left of me...
We headed upstairs on the sad remains of what had been a once lovely staircase. It was dark walnut, carved and filigreed, now covered in dust but still sturdy. Just much much smaller...The railing I used to slide down, the post that sharply stopped my descent still held firm.
Upstairs we poked around, trying to see in the secret space in the closet where we found old newspapers and magazines from the 1800's one day... we went into Paul's old bedroom, his "Prevent Forest Fires" sticker was still stuck above the door 34 years later... He remembered how in the winter he would wake up and scratch his name into the frost that covered his windows every winter morning... I couldn't find the floor vent where we used to hide to spy on the adults as they talked in the living room below...
We went back downstairs out onto the porch, remembering where the water bucket and dipper had sat, the cistern pump was gone and the well house had collapsed...(did I mention we had no running water in the house growing up? That we used outhouses and pumped water for drinking from the well for a long time? And then finally we got a bathroom- but never did get a kitchen sink. We still used dishpans and heated the water on the stove...)
Out side the out buildings had weathered grey. I laughed remembering what trouble I had gotten into the day Martha Barlow and I had made mud balls and thrown them against the front of the smokehouse trying to make it polka dotted.
Paul remembered where the pawpaw tree had stood, now long gone. I walked along the remnants of the garden fence line where countless pets had been buried, my animal grave yard. The fruit trees Daddy had planted were no where to be seen. A lot of the trees were gone. Most of the buildings and barns were following their lead.
The outhouse was toppled over, leaning crazily to the right, the concrete commode section cracked and disintegrating. I remembered how Paul had told me that poison spiders loved outhouses, living under the seats waiting to bite people on the butt... thus instilling a phobia of spiders in me at the tender age of 7 that took me 30 plus years to overcome.
Before leaving we walked through the house one more time, looking for souvenirs. We managed to wrestle two door knobs out of a couple of the doors laying on the floors. Paul ended up breaking the plank holding one by sticking it between the posts of the stairs and cracking the plank until the door knob just fell off. The stairway still held up. I think the house will fall down before it does.
We left then, with me holding the door knobs that I had turned countless times in my youth, somehow it didn't feel like stealing, they felt like they were mine; that they had been and still were as if they had been waiting for me to come back and get them.
I know we walked through that house. I saw the decay, the destruction and the ruin. But that isn't the home that still exists in my heart. That house, the one from 30 plus years ago is safe. Rot will never touch it. The windows still gleam whole and unbroken in the sun. The porch is intact, with rockers and swing waiting for the evening when the whole family stops work and sits down in the cool of the night. Dinky the dog still runs in a game of tag beneath the maples. My bedroom is still the safe haven with my books and puzzles. The trees still stand tall and proud and the geraniums planted so lovingly by my mamma bloom as boldly red...
That house still stands, preserved forever by love.


Pennsy said...

My God, but you are a great writer...


Alykat said...

I second that! :)

Will you tell us about the ghosts next, story teller Martha?

TimmyB said...

What happened to the house? Who owns it now? Why is this treasure in such ill repair?

Since my grandpa passed away last fall his house will be sold at auction in May. It's the house I will probably always think of as "home." Whatever that means. It has glass doorknobs. And I scratched my name on the back of one door in the house. It's still there even though I scratched it there in something like 1973.

Thanks for your beautiful musings, Ms. Martha. I enjoy reading your blog.

Anonymous said...

I had been anxiously awaiting your blog on the old home visit, and I wasn't disappointed. While we explored the old house, I knew that memories were coursing through your head where they had been tucked away for years. The same was occurring for me. When we walked into the front hall I was suddenly transported back 34 years to one night when I arrived home real late. As I tried to creep up the stairs unheard by mama and daddy sleeping in the next room, I overheard a conversation. Daddy said, “He is eighteen years old now, and that makes him a man. He is responsible for what he does or doesn’t do. We can’t worry about him anymore.” That one inadvertently overheard comment probably created a sense of responsibility and helped me toward adulthood more than all the lectures in the world could have. But every step deeper into the house brought forth a vivid memory and increasing sense of sadness. How could anyone let such a grand old house go to ruin? As I looked out at what we called the apple orchard where I learned to drive the old pickup and where a house trailer now resides. I think about what it says about human nature when someone would move a house trailer, which are cheaply built and symbolizes a fast but temporary home, next to a house that has survived for so many years. Couldn’t the house have been fixed up, the price of a mobile home would have gone a long way toward making needed repairs and maintaining the house. Considering a house trailers short life, I would still put my money on the house to still be standing when the trailer is a pile of rubble and rusted metal. Also, there are tornados, and everyone knows how tornados are attracted to mobile homes. Enough of the philosophizing on old houses and house trailers it’s time to walk on down memory lane. As we moved thru the house the memories came flooding in, such as how we would close off the living room and dining room in the winter and only open them up when company came and at Christmas time. Of how daddy would put plastic over the windows as winter approached, something I do now on some of our older cabin windows. And in the summer time all the meals we had on the screened in porch with fresh garden vegetables and country ham from our own smoke house. I believe it is a human trait to recall the good memories and repress the bad ones, and sometimes how the bad ones can be re-remembered as funny ones. Like the one I think I related to you where I said I wished I was a black boy so I could go play with the Barlow boys that lived down the road. And mama threatened to “beat me half-to-death” if I ever said that again. What is a funny memory now helps cover the fact that I was lonely and had no one to play with way back then. And how the house has shrunk, as if the leaky roof had caused the rooms below to shrink and become smaller. As we move on into the adult world and our experiences grow so must our memories from child hood. How else could our old home which seemed so large way back then actually appear so small to us now.