|back of the kitchen house|
Today is Memorial Day. To my knowledge I have no immediate blood relatives who have died while serving in the armed forces. I do, however, have a father and many uncles who served during times of combat. A friend of my father’s family knows my husband, and she told him that my grandmother once said of her four boys that she had “three under the gun and one at the gates of hell.” I have no way of proving she actually made that statement (my father said she did NOT), but it could be true considering she had three sons serving across the globe during WWII ,and one younger one still at home.
I thought about this family yesterday when I went on a reconnaissance mission to their old homestead to strategize how to move the handmade sandstone front steps from their house to my house. There’s a certain feeling I get when I step across the property line onto the soil where my father lived the first thirty some-odd years of his life, Army service aside. It is a feeling of being very small and curious. It is like being in a time warp where time stands still and nothing ever changes. Everything feels the same today as it did when I was a child. The dirt looks the same, the grass looks the same. The landscape has changed dramatically, but the essence is still the same.
The farm was not a place I knew where family gathered to visit grandparents and uncles and cousins. In my lifetime it was more like a museum, a home that had been left intact as if the owner would return at any moment and take up where she left off before she went to town to run a quick errand. It is a place rich with stories of hauntings and the supernatural. My own mother swore she saw the ghost of my grandfather, a baker by trade, standing in the field baking cookies. My mother never lied. Nor did she ever get out of the car if she went out there after that day.
Many of my young childhood Saturdays were spent on the farm sitting on the front porch with my grandmother while my father and brothers mowed around the house to keep it clean for the owner who would never return. I was not allowed to spend any time in the house. My grandmother would go inside to get the broom to sweep up and pull out her rocking chair. After her sweep she would sit in her chair waving a fan and rocking while I would lie on the wood planks of the porch, or explore the front steps for the imprint of the chicken feet that walked across them when the cement was still wet. Sometimes I would venture to the barnyard (my own Secret Garden) or to where the plum trees grew to search for ripe fruit.
|inside the kitchen today|
If I was allowed in the house it was under strict supervision.. "Do not kustass” or “ne kutas” was the phrase I heard most often there and at home, the Hungarian way of saying “do not pilfer”. Nothing could be touched, moved or looked through. In the separate kitchen house there were pots on the stove, dishes in the cupboards, and Mason jars full of preserves on the shelves. The calendar on the wall was perpetually stuck in 1959. My strongest memory of the house comes from that kitchen. I remember standing next to my father while he lied under the kitchen sink, repairing something. Why, I don’t know, because no one was there to use it. When he came out from under the sink he brought with him a long, papery snake skin. Something was living there, afterall.
Other than the memories of the kitchen I only remember a clock under a glass dome, and a picture of two of my sisters hanging on the wall. I add this house to my list of things to remember if I am ever hypnotized.
Today the farm is a sad place of ruin. Everything worth anything was stolen from the house almost forty years ago. That’s about the same time the Saturdays on the porch stopped. I’ve spent hours digging through the wreckage and pillaging letters, bottles, broken handmade furniture, and other trinkets I felt worth saving. Now even that is no longer possible because the house has fallen under the weight of neglect, storm damage, and a tree limb the size of a tree that has crashed into the roof. The outer walls are falling away from the house, the front porch where I sat with my grandmother has fallen in, and the attic is now home to a nest of buzzards. I think eventually the house will just shrink away until one day there are only splinters left lying under a pile of rusted tin and a brick chimney pointing to heaven.
As I walked around the property checking on the caved in out-buildings I called on the ghosts of the former tenants to be with me. “Grandpa” I whispered, “are you here?” “Daddy, are you here?” “Grandma?” I wanted them to walk with me and tell me things about their lives on those 60 acres.
On my way out I found a wooden post with rusted nails hammered into it that was once a piece of a shed, or maybe a fence. I wanted to take it, even though I could hear “ne kutas” ringing in my ears. I took it anyway. My husband heaved it over his shoulder and carried that old weathered piece of worthless wood home because he knows to me it is a treasure. I turned and waved good-bye to my Grandpa, like I always do, just in case he’s out there in the field, baking cookies like the specter my mother saw so many years ago.