“This ole house was home and comfort
As we fought the storms of life . . . “
Our family moved into this old house in the spring of ’63, just before my only brother was born. It sat on a 50-acre farm that also included a barn with an earthen ramp to allow hay to be stored in the loft. There was a well with a stingy supply of water.
We had the freedom to explore, to ramble through its fields, pluck berries from the bushes near fence rows. The pond was fringed with fuzzy bulrushes. Over time we adopted a menagerie of animals.
The house had very steep stairs down to a tiny, damp cellar. It also had a steep staircase which led to the second floor with an open room to the right. To the left was a room that actually had a door. There was also an attic of sorts on that floor, an unfinished, unused space that would surely have been useful – we were, after all, a family of five children. No attempt at major interior renovations were made; in those days the farm had the first claim to any financial investment.
In 2006, after a new house was constructed just behind and over to the left of the old house, a demolition company was tasked with taking the old house down. The friend assigned to videotaping this accidentally took his finger off the recording button at the moment of explosion, so that the film only shows the standing house and then the pile of rubble. This pile was bulldozed into the old cellar along with earthen fill. Today all that remains in a faint tracing on the lawn above.
I lived in that house from age 8 till I married and left at age 19. It was a brief span of time in the scope of things, but when I think about the hardships we experienced in the time we lived there, it seems as if we were battered by more than gales. As if there were forces bent on its emotional downfall far earlier than its actual destruction date.
On July 15, 1968, when the policeman first appeared at the door asking for my father, we sent him on to an uncle with a similar name, known for his speeding ticket escapades.
Only a short respite.
The devastating reality struck with the arrival of our minister. My sister had drowned at Long Point on Lake Erie, where she had been vacationing with relatives. The house shook with the grief, as in a violent storm. Like the survivors of an earthquake, we were never the same. The Sunday School stories of resurrection appeared to be nothing but a cruel hoax.
Life goes on, as it must, the living tending to the business of living, jobs, marriages, children. But now that I am older, I think often about what it would be like to have another sister to share life with. While my grief appeared secondary to the grief of a parent, there is also much loss when you lose a sibling. She would have been someone to share life with, who would have had her own family and community to flourish in. An entire world of possibilities disappeared in an instant, a trauma so deep it couldn’t really be accurately recorded.
Like the old house, so many memories have been buried from that time. All kinds of emotions could be hidden underground: grief, regret, loss, guilt. They are hard to excavate, though you can still trace them on the surface far above.
There seems to be no earthly good that would be worth this sacrifice, not that we can understand this side of heaven. But we have learned something, small as it is, about mourning with those who mourn. And that our time, even if we live to old age, is really short.
Living fully in the moment, appreciating the lives of those around you, being awake and aware of the glory of the creation all around. They call out gratitude. This is the inheritance my sister left as a result of the short space of her lifetime. They continue to be her gifts to us who remain, who must go on.