Just two doors up the hill from the post office, next to the funeral home, was an old gray farmhouse, its farming days in the distant past. But now it had a crop of children that it shielded from the elements by sturdy walls of wood, but mortared by the love of family.
The house had peculiarities, idiosyncrasies in fact, that gave life on cold winter days when the furnace woke with a fit and the pipes clanked the welcoming sound of warmth as the heat spread through its arteries and veins.
The deadening claws of winter scratched at her resolute outside walls, but to those within, the only evidence of the fight was the ice that thickly frosted the windows like cataracts on the eyes of a great gray old lady.
The expansive basement floor was dry dirt that was easily stirred when traversed and the single lightbulb did nothing to illuminate the foreboding dark recesses below.
Kids are a mixture of unwitting fears and unrelenting curiosity. Despite their fears, they explored.
Far from the dangling light,
The heart of the house does beat.
It roars to life with fire and heat,
To warm the house at our feet.
Behind the furnace against the far wall, were two large trunks, one black one brown, they would be fun to climb into and play except they were filled with junk. What was junk to an eight-year-old, would be a treasure to an adult. Inside these trunks was a bounty of books that smelled of ages of wisdom, including an Atlas that actually described the central part of Africa as ‘Unknown’. Imagine its worth today. There were numerous fragile pictures of people, dressed proudly and proper from the past. And still more things packed both chests full of the ‘unknown’, that somehow cataloged the history of forgotten people from the same place that we called home.
On the opposite side of the basement, far from the rickety stairs, was the door leading to the ‘root cellar’. This root cellar, was separated from the basement proper, by a large heavy door, inside that room, it was always colder. So cold that on a winter’s day you might still see your breath and in the summer’s heat you would be cool. This place, like a mausoleum, had a large box taller than two coffins but not quite as long. A kid would have to jump up and rest his chest on the side to reach into the cold sand and dig to find the carrots and potatoes his mother requested for dinner.
As the kids grew and changed this basement blossomed too. A thick layer of cement was placed to cover the dirt floor, decreasing the already low clearance of the ceiling. Sheetrock was added between the darkly aged timbers that like a skeleton supported the house above. And long fluorescent tubes of light chased away all the dark recesses, and with them the mysteries of the house.
A sad fact of age is that many mysteries are answered, and I believe that mysteries are the spark of the imagination. But looking back at my old home, with all the mysteries answered, I still find the magic that persists today, in the walls built of my family's ongoing love and care.