Digging Ditches

The logs I had put in the furnace several hours earlier were now just a pile of ash with a small bed of red coal glowing beneath. Grabbing wood from a nearby pile, I loaded the firebox until no more would fit. Small tongues of orange flame licked the raw edges of the bottom pieces. The fire was beautiful and smelled wonderfully. Taking a deep breath, I stood silently, not moving, just listening. The fire crackled. I heard my two daughters talking in the living room above. Flicker, my tuxedo cat, meowed and rubbed against my leg. The stress of my busy day disappeared. Feeling refreshed, I closed the furnace door and sprinted up the stairway.

 My house is very old. I suspect part of it was built during the 1890’s. My history-loving daughter Tammie and I enjoyed some of the house’s quirky signs of previous inhabitants. We particularly liked the permanent kitty footprints in the basement. I’ve always pictured the farmer who had built the house, getting mad at the cat for messing up his wet cement.

In the mid 1990’s, I came home from work one day to discover my husband Arnie had ripped the back porch off our house. He was using a rented backhoe. When I asked what he was doing, he said he was digging a basement for the large entryway he planned to build in place of the porch.  

Once Arnie’s building project was done, there were two new, nice-sized rooms on the backside of my house. I called dibs on one of the rooms, turning it into my office. Although I couldn’t understand why we needed a bigger basement, I quickly came to appreciate it. I moved an old refrigerator into it and put up a dart board on the original fieldstone basement wall that separated the new basement from the old.

Throwing darts with my daughter Tammie was always interesting. She was born with a birth defect that made her arms elbow length long. Because her hands are turned in at an angle, she often threw wildly. After night after playing, we discovered one of her darts was missing. We searched the rafters and in every corner of that basement room. We couldn’t find it.

Tammie loved history so much that she decided she wanted to become an archeologist while in high school. Never thinking about what was required of an archeologist, I flippantly responded, “It’s a good thing that you plan on going to college. I don’t think you’d be able to make a living digging ditches.”

It wasn’t until Tammie toured the college she eventually attended that she and I realized that digging ditches was exactly what archeologists did when they weren’t showing off what they had dug up. My daughter exclaimed, “I don’t want to do that. My short arms would make that kind of work very difficult!”

This past summer, fifteen years after Tammie earned her master’s degree and has worked as a librarian, I decided that I wanted to turn a part of the entry way into a laundry room. The men I hired needed an opening between the new and old basement rooms for plumbing pipes, so they removed some of the top fieldstones and ancient cement holding them in place.

When the men left for the day, I went to the basement and found a pile of field stones and old cement crumbled on the basement floor. Sticking out of the mound of rubble was a red dart. Was that really what I thought it was? Stepping closer for a better look, I laughed and pulled the cell phone out of my pocket, exclaiming to Jerry, one of my white and black kittens, “I can’t wait to tell Tammie the dart she lost over twenty years ago has finally been found!”

Tammie did laugh but protested when I told her I planned to toss the rocks on a stone pile next to the Little Eau Pleine River. She sputtered, “Those are special rocks. You should display them in a flowerbed.”

I smiled and assured her, “All rocks are special to an archeologist. These are just average, run-of-the-mill rocks. The only thing that makes them special is they were used in the construction of your childhood home.”

After my phone call ended, I glanced around at the friendly walls in my old farmhouse basement and thought about the farmer who built the basement walls. He’d obviously taken pride in his work. The walls were thick and the basement was dry. Each stone he selected was placed in just the right spot with the right amount of cement. I watched my two white and black kittens chase a ball across the basement floor. I fondly told them, “It’s a good thing the men didn’t have to use fresh cement for their work today, because you two would have surely been all over it and left paw prints!”


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