Archive for October, 2011

My brother Richard took up farming in Maple Hill, Kansas in the mid 70’s.  He bought land, but to make ends meet rented a very old (circa 1885) farm house from Francis.

Francis, well into his 80’s at the time, and his wife Verna lived a long life in this old farm house and reluctantly moved out to a newer, more practical, home when Francis could no longer chop the endless supply of wood to stoke the “octopus” furnace.  Verna and Francis raised a large family here.  Along the way, their daughter Louise was hit by a train as the tracks cross Vera Road, less than half a mile from their front door.  Louise was only eleven years old at the time of her death.  Clearly never over this, they stored her toys and clothes in the attic and never touched them again – even as they moved out decades later.

The old house was eternally dusty from farm trucks stirring up the gravel road as they raced toward town. It seemed to wheeze and cough from time to time and exhibit numerous other signs of being worn out from a long life.  As soon as Richard and his family moved in they noticed all manner of odd goings-on. Benevolent, yet odd.

The first week, painters came to slap a new coat of whitewash on the outside.  They tilted out the screens to paint the window frames.  My sister-in-law Claudette was somewhat miffed that they had left these unlatched on the inside when they left for the day.  An hour later, after a quick trip to the market, she arrived home alone.  She noticed they had been latched.  No one fessed up to the credit or the blame.

As the months passed the creaky noises began to develop a bit of a pattern.  Most nights, from the upstairs bedrooms, you could hear what sounded like a rocking chair making a slow comforting rhythm from the main floor.  Claudette enjoyed the thought of a “special guest” and would attempt small talk when she came down to the kitchen late at night.

Many summer nights, exhausted from bailing hay all day, I would lie awake, in Louise’s old room, with the entrance to the attic and her 50 year-old belongings feet away, trying to convince myself that nothing strange was happening.  Countless “odd noises” and “misplacements” ensued.  Each  became more difficult to explain.  Contributing to my concern, the bunk bed I slept in was so rickety that the rhythm of my breathing would literally elicit a creeking noise with each exhale.  Yet, I resisted the notion of anything supernatural, and elucidation came in many forms – usually blaming the age of the old house and it’s new epoch with the Spain’s.  the open attic cover, most mornings, could be explained by the bellows effect of the huffing and puffing old house.

One fall evening, around sunset, my nephew Ron (more like a slightly younger brother) and I drove home past the Maple Hill Cemetery, with it’s glowing tombstones.  Then we took the left down Vera Road and over the tracks where Louise lost her life, and swung into the driveway and parked around back to run inside and grab a jacket with plans to head out for a High School basketball game.

As we walked into the kitchen together, we heard the door to the 1940’s bathroom, under the stairs to the right, slam shut with impetus.  We walked through the kitchen and into the dining room to see who was in such a rush.  There seemed to be no one home.

Retracing our steps back through the kitchen, we heard a young someone run up the stairs – clomp, clomp, clomp with a matching “Jackie, Jackie, Jackie” joining each step.  Eyes locked, Ron and I simultaneously asked each other, “is Jackie home?”  (Jackie is the name of Ron’s younger sister and my niece)

We followed up the stairs and looked carefully through the first bedroom, not speaking a word.  No one was there.  Peering into the master bedroom together, we saw that the curtains were blowing away from the window as if a Kansas tornado had arrived.  As we searched the room, we noticed that the windows were closed.  A quicker glance into our bedroom revealed that the attic hatchway was open again.

That was it.  Without a word we both bailed, flying down the stairs and out the back door, we couldn’t get in the car and the hell out of there fast enough.  It was miles down the road before we could speak and each detailed the same story.

Never again did we arrive home to an empty house, without offering Louise ample time to clear out of the way.

Soon after Richard built a modest new house and moved his family out of the old farm house.  The next resident lasted just a few months before being forced to move to a psychiatric hospital.  Once again empty, the house was burned to the ground.  I would forever drive 4 or 5 miles out of my way to avoid that section of Vera Road.

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The World Would Be A Better Place, If…

  • What tastes good was also good for you
  • We could all have “that one moment” when it all goes perfectly
  • The politicians figured out that the vast majority of us live in the middle, not the fringe
  • You could always drink just enough and still feel great in the morning
  • Teachers and administrators were paid well and in return they treated every kid as a young human, worth the investment
  • You found something you’re good at and used it to make a real difference
  • You knew when not to ask that question
  • Your “friends” would stop saying stupid shit
  • Dating was less painful
  • We could be happy for each other
  • Pain killers worked
  • Do-overs were possible
  • Awkwardness wasn’t
  • We could Be Here Now
  • We lived for the moment
  • We made money doing what we love
  • Green was easier
  • The work week was two days and the weekends were five
  • We understood that I am me and you are you
  • You could accept that Not Everyone’s Gonna Like Ya
  • History is just that: New Man New River
  • You could turn off your mind and accept what you have done and focus on what you will do
  • You could travel and still sleep at home
  • The most amazing person you ever met said “YES” – oh wait, SHE DID!!!