I visited my grandparents’ old place today. I have to admit, it just wasn’t the same. Now that the two of them have passed, things sure have changed. The house where I remember them most belongs to a stranger now, and I don’t feel welcome there. The old fence my grandfather painstakingly built from longers (To word guys like Archon, ‘longers’ are long, thin lengths of trees used mostly for fences) he carried on his back from the woods is but a memory; a few lengths of the wood remain but most are rotted.
The storehouse that he built over the cellar barely stands, but if you look closely, you can still see the red ochre paint that he used to add color to the trim. My dad remembers when his dad built the storehouse. “He spent a week digging a hole because mom expressed that she needed a place to store her fresh vegetables. Dad went out with pick and shovel and began digging. In no time, mom sent us to help him. With eleven kids digging, it didn’t take as long as we figured to dig a hole that measured 8 x 10 and over fifteen feet deep. We were lucky that the land was as rich as it was. We barely hit any rocks.”
My dad went on to explain how my grandfather built a foundation around the hole, and then covered the hole with a floor of solid pine. Back then, pine grew abundantly on the island, and although it was a heavy timber, my grandfather used quite a lot of the stuff. “He would cut it with his bucksaw, stand it up in spring, and by summer he carried it home.” my father added. After the floor was built, my grandfather cut a hole in the middle and made a trap door so that the cold air stayed low. He built shelves in the shed to hold tools and other things that he wanted to keep away from his children.
“He made us paint the thing. One thing about your grandfather, he never wasted a cent. He didn’t have the money to waste. The paint brushes, the bristles were so short that if you didn’t pay attention, you ended up applying paint with your hands. Bad for splinters!” my dad said. I still love it when my dad reminisces about the ‘old days’.
The shed stood for quite some time. My dad remembers when his mom complained that there was something stirring in the cellar, eating on the carrots. She asked if my grandfather could do something about it. His first plan was to shoot the thing, but seeing how it was pitch black down there, he feared that he would just shoot holes in the potatoes and carrots. His next idea was one that my dad still laughs about.
“There was this stray cat. A big mean sucker. Ears half bit off, teeth missing. He was a bruiser. Dad used to be crazy because the damn thing used to piss on the house. That’s when the plan hit him. Catch the cat, toss him into the cellar, he eats the rat, problem solved. The cat had other ideas.”
Dad went on. “I remember that day as plain as it was yesterday. Dad had no problem catching the cat. He dangled a piece of trout on a string and the foolish animal almost jumped in his arms. With that, dad carried the cat with him to the shed while the hungry animal fed on the fish. When dad tried to drop the cat into the hole, he panicked and the cat clung to him. Seeing how this wasn’t going to work, he got me to hold the cat while he climbed down the ladder. When he was so far down, I was supposed to pass him the cat and he would put him down gently in the cellar. Being a teenager at the time, I had better things to do than fool around with a sharp clawed savage, so rather than passing the cat to my dad, I dropped him past the open arms of my dad and into the hole. Being a cat, the old devil was fast. He caught the first thing he could on his way down and climbed up, claws out full force. The thing he clung to was my dad’s leg. Using my now very angry father as a ladder, he drove each claw into my dad, and scratched and clawed his way up to the top of the hole and ran away. My dad, bleeding and yelling his lungs out, wasn’t impressed. At the end of the day, he ended up going to town and buying some rat poison. On the bright side, the cat didn’t piss on the house anymore. We never seen the damn thing again.” My father laughed as he told the story.
The roof on the old shed sags now, another winter will be the last. There are plans on bulldozing all my grandfather’s old buildings, including the storehouse. What good are those old rotten buildings to the new owners, people who don’t have the memories of the kindly old couple who sat on their creaky old front step sipping tea and greeting guests with their love and happiness? Of course I have the memories of the place, I will always have that.