The Old Farmhouse2:30 AM
While recently reflecting about my childhood days spent at our old Farmhouse in Monticello, I was overwhelmed with memories and impressions about the place. Too much to fit into a post on my children and Bible school, but thoughts that might stand on their own.
Too much about the past lies forgotten and unspoken. Including, perhaps, the Old Farmhouse. Perched resolutely on the crest of the hill just as you reach the end of the dirt and gravel road leading up to our property, the house greets you in silence and with remarkable dignity.
Remarkable given that its presence, the fact that it's standing at all, is rather a mystery and feat of superior purpose. As though the house just feels its day has not yet passed. The Old Farmhouse is well over a hundred years old and was once the family home of my mother's grandparents. It didn't always hold happy memories for her, however, as it was a place she and her sister visited on a weekly basis whether they wanted to or not, and there were certainly not nearly as many of the happy memories associated with it that my siblings and I share.
Instead, there was tension and expectations and the burden of perfect manners and holding your tongue and being seen but not heard. The house's days of being filled with laughter and the shrieks and pounding feet of happy little children had yet to come. But the house waited patiently.
As you drive up to the Old Farmhouse, the road curves lazily to the left, giving the House a wide berth and then circling back under hundred year old live oaks whose sweeping branches give you more of a welcome than its occupants might have once given. Although the house had a formal front entrance, I feel pretty confident that most who entered did so through the back door, right up the wooden plank steps onto the wooden porch that led you into the kitchen.
The formal front entrance once had three concrete steps leading up to it. For some odd reason, those steps have since been removed from the house and now sit all by themselves about 50 yards away, marching up into nothingness. They occasionally serve as a platform for photographs.
The roof is sheets of tin, rusted into a deep crimson, that flap up in the face of a big storm wind. Occasionally, a strip would get blown off and require replacement which resulted in a patched look. The roof also made for a din of noise when it rained. It became a soothing sound after awhile.
If you walk up the back steps to the Old Farmhouse's small porch, you found yourself facing two doors. A screen door leading into into a galley kitchen and off, to your right, a more substantial door leading into the house's single bathroom. Handy for having to quickly dash into the bathroom for a playing child who puts off going just that fraction of a second too long.
The kitchen had a counter that started to your left and wrapped around to contain a sink, a little counter space for preparing food, and an ancient stove that I'm pretty sure I would not have a clue how to operate today. There were a few closed shelves and some open shelving and the mysterious bowels under the kitchen sink were hidden from view by a little piece of curtain. It was still enough to ward off curious kids who just might find themselves with a hand in a mousetrap if they weren't careful. Because, yes, there were definitely mice in residence. We all knew that. You only had to spend one night there to hear their scuttling little paws running around the ceiling, floors or between the walls.
For as long as I can remember, the silverware was always kept in a wooden box on the countertop just to the left of the kitchen entrance. When it came time for meals, one had to open the box, count out the required pieces of flatware and make sure they were safely returned after dishes had been washed. There was something magical to me about getting your silverware from the wooden box lined with green felt. It was more special than just a wooden drawer.
The dining room was to the right of the kitchen and housed a square wooden table that could be extended if necessary. If I'm not mistaken, it had always been extended by the time my family showed up. Behind the table was a floor to ceiling built-in cabinet with simple wooden doors, papered over in a flowered wall-paper, to contain all the house's dishes and serving ware. I am proud to say I inherited several pieces of that serving ware and it is worth some money today. But at the time, it was just old dishes that we kids were completely unappreciative of, aside from their capacity to hold a heaping portion of steaming hot, buttered mashed potatoes.
The refrigerator sat off to the corner of the dining room, a fact I found rather odd and somewhat whimsical. The simple fact was that there was no room for it in the kitchen, but as a kid, I found it entertaining that to access the butter, all you had to do was lean back in your chair and grab the fridge door. Saved so much time that way!
The dining room also had a big window that looked out behind the house onto the porch.
It also had a doorway leading into one of the house's two bedrooms. I have no idea to whom this bedroom belonged, but it also served as a pathway to the one bathroom. And it had carpet, whereas the other rooms did not.
That bedroom was darker and more mysterious. I'm quite sure there were untold secrets and exciting contraband to be discovered in the drawers and shelves of the dressers within, but I rarely had the courage or opportunity to truly snoop. I spent many a summer night sweating to sleep in this room that I frequently shared with my cousin, Sarah, who also came down for Bible school. She and I were co-sleep kickers, and would often wake up blaming the other for mysterious bruises we'd received in the night.
We also discovered a tiny hole in the wallpaper that if you poked your finger through, would emerge into the other bedroom. This made for lots of fun with our younger siblings.
The other door leading off the dining room led to the formal living room, a room I spent precious little time in. It consisted of two couches, one mildly comfortable, the other horribly unwelcoming. It also contained a furnace, a rug, and two club chairs in a red velour pattern that matched one of the couches. The other couch, if I recall correctly, was some sort of fake leather that stuck to your bare, sweaty legs in the heat of summer. Which it always seemed to be.
Who had time for formal living room sitting anyway, when there was a whole world of pure country and forests awaiting outside for us city kids.
The remaining room in the tiny Old Farmhouse was the second bedroom which housed two beds and a threadbare rug on its floor. The beds were old and squeaky and one of them we aptly named the Taco Bed. It was a tall bed requiring a bit of a jump to get on it. And for the first 10 minutes, you might believe you had found the most comfortable bed ever. But after those 10 minutes of clever deception, the mattress would get hungry and slowly fold in half as though to devour its occupants. You would soon find yourself cleverly jack-knifed by the softness of the mattress and if you weren't careful, unable to extricate yourself. Usually, the lowest kid on the pecking order got to sleep in that bed.
And this, in a nutshell, is the Old Farmhouse. Was, the Old Farmhouse.
As time has passed and my family outgrew it, my Great Grandmother died and the appliances in the Old Farmhouse quickly followed suit, my parents purchased my Uncle Joe's one room cabin and eventually transformed it into the current version of the Farmhouse.
There were times when we thought the old house would be torn down. It's certainly fallen apart over the years. Whole walls are missing. I'm fairly sure every piece of wood is rotten or termite-infested. And the main occupants of the house are the red wasps which have always favored it. The tin roof stubbornly hangs on. The pieces of furniture worth salvaging have been. A few armchairs stubbornly remain in the formal (and only) living room. I often wonder if animals lounge around in them in our absence.
The front entrance has fallen apart and what was once landscaping and shrubs are now wild bushes and thorns. The house has always had a huge fig tree growing beside it, and that fig tree continues to flourish. In fact, I checked this week, and there are baby figs growing on it right now.
The Farm is a place of memories galore. Fried chicken, fried okra, mashed potatoes and white gravy. Green beans with bacon and grease. Ice cold sweet tea drank in unspeakable quantities from sweating Carnival-ware. Home-made ice cream hand-churned on the wood porch. A complete lack of air conditioning and lots of little tiny, blue-bladed oscillating fans. Nighttime sounds of critters and crickets. Owls and coyotes. Ticks and chiggers and mosquito bites. Mulberries and games of Annie-Annie-Over across the small tin shed.
Family arguments. Laughter and tears. Rides in the back bucket of my Grandpa's tractor. A motorcycle that I never saw get ridden. The wooden barn that was later replaced with a yellow tin barn, large enough to house a boat, several tractors and all our 4 wheelers.
Endless trails through the woods that I've explored either on foot or on a 4 wheeler. Summers spent exploring, Thanksgivings spent stuffing our bellies with turkey and giblet gravy. Memories of relatives long gone, faces we were supposed to know, but at the tender age of childhood, only gave the required polite attention. It's a place so deeply rooted in my past and present that it amazes me that not everyone has a Farm. And everyone should. It's a great thing, our Farm. Even the Old Farmhouse, which I haven't forgotten and never really will