This old farm house, now abandoned, falling apart from the mistreatment of the previous occupants, is a ghost. I recall there was so much life in this house. It was the home of a family — a father, mother, and three girls. Now it is only an empty shell.
As far as I know, the Deans built it in the first half of the 20th Century. I seem to remember a mark somewhere on the concrete with a name and a date. But that memory has long departed. The father and mother bought the house and surrounding farm sometime in the 1950’s.
There they raised three girls, one of whom became my wife. I had no idea when I first met them. Neither did they… I was just a boy from California.
One morning, not long after we moved to the place just west from them, the two younger girls walked up past our place. Dad and I were headed out to work on fence on the tractor. At 15-years old, I was not (yet) much interested in girls, so I paid little mind.
But Dad would not let it go. He nudged me with his elbow, “What do you think, son?” he asked with a nod towards the two girls, a smile on his face and a gleam in his eye.
“They sure grow them big back here,” was my terse response. Dad laughed and laughed as we rolled down the road on that old Case tractor.
I do not recall exactly how my relationship with that family first developed. I know I eventually met them and the oldest became the object of my affection. I started helping Wife’s dad in the hayfield the best I could, given I was not a big boy. But I could help load the bottom tier of hay and I could drive a tractor. I could help pitch bales off the wagons and trailer. And I did.
I spent a lot of time in that house. Moreso as I became part of the family.
After Wife and I married, we spent a lot of time in that house. She loved her family, as did I. When I was at university in Rolla, during hay season I would head out to the farm after my university obligations were finished and start in the hayfield. I learned to rake hay into windrows so Dad could run the bailer. Once he started bailing, I would get the other tractor and a wagon or trailer and start picking up the bails. We left the outer row for after Dad finished bailing because those bails were always extra heavy and took two men to lift them to the trailer.
The youngest of the three sisters sometimes drove the tractor. It was better if Wife did not.
I sure enjoyed the meals and fellowship of that time. Mom was such a great cook and Dad and I shared a lot of laughs while we ate supper and rested for a few minutes before heading back to the field to finish the job.
I recall watching the women cleaning up after supper one evening, all with the backs turned to us. “I can sure see the family resemblence,” I mentioned to Dad. He said nothing, but howled with laughter, slapping his knee as he sometimes did.
Somehow I survived. Perhaps they did not hear me.
After our first child was born, we spent a week or two with Mom and Dad so Mom could help with Daughter. Wife was recovering from her C-section and we had no idea of what we were doing.
I was convinced that I would never sleep again. We were up every couple of hours dealing with a colicky baby.
One night Wife checked Daughter and then headed for the lavatory. Of course, Daughter began screaming as soon as Wife departed. I sat on the edge of the bed, doing my best to comfort Daughter, knowing she wanted to be fed.
Mom stepped to the door and exclaimed “Oh, David!” noticing me sitting there in the tighty-whities. Exhausted and never having been very modest, I turned to her and said “I’m covered and I don’t care. I’m just not sure what Daughter needs…” The thought occurred to me that it was not like Mom had never seen a man before. She came over and retrieved Daughter to check her, comfort her, and walk the floor a bit. I think I fell back asleep.
After our initial foray into parenthood, we returned to our apartment. When Wife had to return to work, Mom spent part of her days at our apartment and we took Daughter out to the farm on other days. Daughter spent a lot of time with her grandma and grandpa and I still think that was a good thing.
Soon came graduate school and Older Son. My mom and dad moved from the farmhouse up the road to Kansas City where Dad worked. So we moved into the farmhouse while I worked on a Master’s degree.
We spent a lot of time with Mom and Dad. Dad and I worked the hayfields in the summer and cut heating wood in the fall and winter. We hunted and fished whenever possible.
My in-laws were the most supportive people I have ever known. They were, and are, just as much family as my blood.
Soon university ended and it came time to work, so we moved to where the work was. But we were always drawn back to that old farmhouse where the family lived. Holidays were almost always spent there. I made sure that Wife and kids got plenty of time there with the family every summer. I would take a couple of days, drive them all there, visit as long as I could, then return home to work.
There was so much life and love in that old house.
Later, Mom and Dad decided to put a manufactured house on a basement just up the road from the old farmhouse. They wanted a little more modern place and they loved the spot next to the pond. So they rented out the old farmhouse. The new place became the gathering point for family and friends and served just as well.
But I still loved that old farmhouse. I loved the view of the field across the county road.
As Mom and Dad grew older, it came time to move to town where there was not so much work. Eventually, they needed more care and that involved another move.
Now Mom is gone. She lived her life on her terms and we all love her and miss her. I expect Dad will follow soon enough, missing his beloved as much as he does. When he goes, a great hole will be left in the world as the two of them lived their faith; they did not talk about it.
As I stood at gate to the yard of that old farmhouse, I saw the derelict it is and the vital home it was superposed in my mind. I made the image as a testament to the family that lived and grew there. But the old house is no longer that vital place; it is only a ghost that contains all those memories.