Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Old Ghosts

Recently I went on another road trip to Wisconsin and if you follow me on Twitter @bobford you know it's always a joy of a ride. (Insert sarcasm font here).

After Kelli arrived at her parents, we slipped into a coma for a bit then just hung out for a while. But while we were there for the weekend we visited an estate sale (that one has its own story which you can read about here and I got a tour of the neighborhood, seeing her parents former homes and a childhood home of Kelli's that was, to say the least, extremely influential in becoming the woman she is today.

Like any childhood home, it had its mix of memories, good and bad, and held its share of magic and mystery and all sorts of those individual moments that make childhood what it is.

Except... the house she remembered was no longer there. It had been torn down to bare dirt.

This stung for her in ways I don't think she could have ever predicted. She'd spent time there... laughed there, cried there. There were old ghosts she had expected to get the chance to say good bye to.

I told her that sometimes old ghosts are done with you before you're done with them.

I could see her chewing on it the rest of the weekend and during the drive back she would randomly throw out "They tore my house down."

I know exactly what she's going through.

As I've mentioned in previous blogs, the farm I grew up on in Maryland was nestled in a wide rolling valley of 55 acres. As an only child, I got to know every square inch of that land.

I knew where the sweetest honeysuckle grew and where the red raspberries clustered together along the edges of the cornfields. The streams and our pond filled with spring peepers that would lull me to sleep with their high-pitched frog whistles at night. I'd spend hours in my barn taking in the sweet scent of freshly cut hay while the dust settled through the slats of the walls in golden beams.

I used to sit by myself and capture crawdads in the icy waters of the stream - back when you could still drink it fresh without worry of chemical run off somewhere.

On the hills surrounding the farm house and barn there were scattered rubbish piles from the farmer who had lived there before us. I knew them all.

Old medicine bottles and tin cans. Coca Cola and RC bottles discarded among damp postcards, old catalogs... all of them treasures for a young boy to sort through on a summer day.

My farm was a place of magic.

Once, after I graduated college, I drove back to the farm by myself. My parents had rented the place when I was a kid and the landlord had passed away. It was caught up in probate court while his daughters argued about what to do and was unoccupied at the time.

I drove into the dirt driveway and looked at how everything had grown up. The ferns had gone wild along the creek bed. Wild roses bloomed with their furious scent and bright magenta bursts.

With the absence of people, wild life had discarded fear. A doe walked by and glanced at me, then pranced off into the glen where I used to play. Rabbits were everywhere.

It was eerie coming back as an adult. I lifted a window and snuck inside the house and was flooded with memories.

The couch used to be there. Mom's bookshelf used to be behind the door. I remember sitting in the living room and playing Atari until Megamania stopped playing.

My parents bedroom... that was the night I was sick and they pulled me into bed with them. The same night the chimney caught on fire and my father climbed up a ladder with five-gallon buckets of water to pour down the chimney.

The Spiderman my mother painted on my bedroom wall as a surprise was still there. My grandfather's bedroom, small and quiet and a little sad, was empty, save for a wooden headboard and some fallen plaster dust from the ceiling.

And the attic. My attic. I crept up the creaky wooden stairs and sat cross-legged beneath the rippled tin roof, letting old ghosts haunt my mind. The sound of warm summer rain sifting down from the deep dark sky, making its own songs.

I walked outside and made my way around the property.

I stepped into the barn and still smelled the faintest odor of turpentine and axel grease. Part of the building was falling down, but I still saw remnants in the corn crib where I used to play. The hay mow I used to climb out on and leap into the air, falling down like Icarus into a soft mound.

There's the driveway where I learned to ride a bike. I used to sift through the sand with a magnet and pull iron ore free from it's binds. There's where I helped bury my favorite dog. I hid marbles and fake jewels in that rock wall as a kid.

Up there is a grove of Mulberry trees that I used to sit in and read. Beyond is a meadow where my father buried his favorite hounds.

I closed my eyes and let the sun beat down and breathed in the scents of my childhood. They had lost none of the sweetness, none of the feeling I held so dearly when I was young.

When I walked back to my truck and left, I realized I didn't want to say good bye. I loved my childhood, lonely as it was sometimes. I loved all the memories. I enjoyed the ghosts. Hell, I revisit them often.

A few years later I drove back.

The valley had been wiped clean. Property sold off to (wait for it) a doctor and a lawyer, who had split the property and built enormous homes high on the hilltop, away from view.

It hurt to see. A piece of my childhood gone forever. A house over a hundred years old destroyed for good. I left that day with a heavy heart and deep thoughts on the way home.

I guess life is sometimes like the place I grew up on. Things change. That's inevitable. But I can keep the memories. I can hold onto them. I still know where the treasures are on that land even though the people who live there probably don't.

I got a chance to say good bye before everything had been destroyed. I got the opportunity to breathe everything in one last time and hold it tighter to my heart.

I know where the treasures are in my life right now. I hold them close and keep them secret and know when I go to mine them, I'm still surprised.

The ghosts however... mine have never said good bye on their own. I don't think they're done with me but that's okay. I'm not done with them yet either. It's time to use them for fodder. I've been keeping them close all these years for a reason. Time to use their cold little whispers for a reason.

Take a look around and find your own treasures today. Appreciate them for what they are. Mine them for what they're worth.

You never know when you'll visit the place you thought you left them and find nothing but bare ground.

2 Comments:

Blogger Kelli said...

great post... last line about killed me. i think next time we're over there i'll bring you back to the haunted house. i'll use a stick in the dirt and draw the floor plans. i'll sit above that creepy room and stand where the attic should have been. i've decided it's not gone. it's just invisible to everyone else and i have to describe it that much more =)

4:23 PM  
Blogger Libertarian said...

Absolutely beautiful. I often revisit the farm where I grew up and shared the same thoughts, though not articulated. Thanks for putting it into words.

3:27 PM  

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