Cold October rain pelted down from a leaden sky. Leaves, pretty only a week or two before, were now brown and sodden. Thursday and Friday were teacher’s conference days and I refused to allow rain to spoil days off from school.
After lunch I started making rounds to all my favorite places on the farm. Sadly, the haymow felt cold and empty without a nest of kittens in it. The barn wasn’t interesting because Daddy wasn’t there milking cows at this time of the day.
On rainy summer afternoons, Daddy liked to take naps in the garage attic sometimes. I often kept him company and played with old toys and a crank phonograph next to the horsehair davenport where he slept. Today, he wouldn’t be napping. Negotiating the ladder and trap door to the attic didn’t feel worth my time to find it felt cold and empty, like the haymow.
One place was left. Climbing the Old House’s porch steps, I pushed the door open and stepped inside. Although the kitchen was cold and silent, I knew I’d found what I was looking for, connection.
Being in fourth grade, I knew certain words have to be capitalized, such as names. The words, “old house” are not usually given this honor. But in my mind this house deserved the same nod of respect as did places like Davel’s Grocery Store, Allington and Van Ryzen’s, Schultz Motors and Klemme’s.
The Old House was where Daddy had grown up. It was Mom and Daddy’s bridal home and the place where they brought six children into this world. My family told me happy memories of living there, the depression make-it-do era, the war rationing experiences and having Grandpa live with them. The absence of indoor plumbing and the sounds of mice in the walls at night hadn’t tarnished their memories.
My family moved into our new house, built across the yard from Old House, one year to the day before my birth. A few years later Daddy began to use Old House as a granary. Each fall when the oats ripened, he hired our neighbor, Mark Wagner, to combine the fields. The golden straw was stored in the barn’s straw mow, while the oat seeds were blown through one of Old House’s south windows into the living room and downstairs bedroom. Daddy had put boards across the living room door to keep the seeds from spilling into the kitchen.
Despite the coldness of the day, there was a residual warmth in the huge pile of oat seeds. When I bumped over a board Daddy had removed from the doorway and leaned against the wall, it fell to the floor with a clatter, sending up a cloud of oat dust.
Climbing over the remaining doorway boards, I waded into the oat-filled living room. Standing still and looking around, I tried to imagine what it was like to live in this house. The few pictures we had of the family when they lived here, looked cozy. In them, I recognized pictures on the wall that were now hanging in the new house.
The eerie sound of cooing doves echoed through the house. Turning, I waded towards the stairway. My brother Casper had turned the upstairs bedroom into a dove cote. A door kept the doves restricted to the bedroom, but small openings in the windows allowed them to fly out and about the farmyard when they wanted. So graceful in the air, the birds looked odd and awkward in the dove cote, walking jerkily and staring with their strange, round eyes. After taking only one peek, I wrinkled my nose and backed away. Dove dung covered the room.
Returning to the kitchen, I thought about how few windows Old House had, only nine. Our new house had more than double that. Old House had only two bedrooms, while the new house had five. Instead of a backyard outhouse and a chamber pot for bad weather, the new house had two flushing toilets.
It had stopped raining while I was exploring Old House. Brushing dust off myself, I walked slowly across the yard towards the new house. Snooping around in Old House had been like a history lesson. But instead of thinking about strangers, I learned about my very own parents’ and grand-parents’ lives, looking at and touching the same walls they had long ago.