Good Times at the farm
This house smelled of greasy wood fire from a fireplace that could no longer be used. The chimney was old and full of creosote so my father was afraid to use it any more. Even with the heat cranked up for his old, failing body, I was never warm without the fire. I would stand in front of it, even as it rested, crumbling and full of old, cold ash with bits of half burned cardboard trash still visible.
There were cobwebs in corners and dried flowers my mother had decorated with ten years ago. Car magazines were piled next to my father's chair, covered with printed recipes from Epicurious and pens and notepads. The candles on the dining table, sitting next to the starry lit sky had started to crack.
But after I kissed my father good night and listened for him to creek safely up the stairs to his lonely bedroom, the farm's ghosts came out and play in my memories.
Of Happy Days
There had been days of innocent barefoot kids running though the house, slamming the screened doors, spilling "bug juice" sticky on the floor, getting hollered at. Grownups with gin soaked paper cups chatting the afternoon away while we kids played in the icy brook, tag on the vast lawn, bad mitten and croquet with paint peeled rackets and mallets.
The eagles were gold on the wallpaper and black above the front door while the sun streamed in the ancient windows, covering the yellow corduroy couch with childhood.
I hear the tongs, on the screen-porch, as my father put things on and took things off of the charcoal grill. We balanced food on flimsy paper plates and spray-painted TV trays and spilled drinks from sweating paper cups. Everything tasted of pepper and bug repellent.
The ghosts lead me through winter nights so cold my breath breathed heavy in the air where I laid on the old bed, nights so deep the stars were ice, and I watched the fading firelight on the ceiling, flickering from the kitchen. Nights so long I broke from dozing to hear my father, barefoot and in his skivvies, padding around the house to feed the fires. And sneak snacks.
And if I dug deep in my memories, the nights were so cold, I had had to sleep with my parents, in their warm bed, imagining shapes and creating stories from the cracks in the old plaster ceiling.
The Good, The Bad, The Glittering
The ghosts let me listen to endless laughter from friends and my mother serving up food and glittering evenings, impressing everyone with her talents and hospitality.
And then the screaming and tantrum-ing and throwing and swearing. I heard this too.
I remember my bawling when we left my father behind, when my mother grabbed me and drove away. It took four hours, after she’d turned around, to drive the mile and a half back to the farm, where we’d found my father enjoying a beer and a cigar in the hammock.
I hear the hushed voices of my mysterious brother and his wife with my parents in the kitchen, the door latched, light flickering beneath the uneven door.
I feel the crowd of fourteen of us crammed into the four rooms, all long underwear and crackling fires and buckets of water lining the hearth. There was no running water and one precariously balanced, pail-flushed toilet and fire-heated hot water dish washing and skis and snowmobiles littering the lawn.
The ghosts lead me up Twitchel brook to the swimming hole and to my little pools and under the "echo...echo" bridge. I hear the gurgling of water under deep ice, watch the cold, black water rush over rocks four feet down a hole. I listen to the silence of the woods as I lay in the snow, cushioning, warming me, so glad to be away from "them."
Time Marches On
So much of these visions feel like dreams now. The laughter, the crying, the bloody bug bites, and the noise of the brook on a hot July afternoon. Now, the cobwebs and unused fireplace make me want to weep.
The distance is so far now that even the ghosts are exhausted and I can only wish for just one more day...