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April 30, 2004 - Friday, 11:36 a.m.

Ghosts of Memories Past

My mother flies out to North Dakota tomorrow. That day has finally come, the day to clean out the farmhouse on the homestead. My grandma has been in the nursing home for about 5 years now. She'd gone into the hospital for something and fell and broke her hip while in there. She's never really recovered from it. She never did much of the rehabilitation that they had that would have gotten her back on her feet. So she doesn't really walk any more, but goes from place to place in a wheel chair. I don't think I ever really thought much about a time when grandma would not be living on the farm. I think I always hoped that she would be able to stay on the farm until she passed on.

It is very sad to think about never being able to go back to the farm. For 40 years I have walked up the back stairs and into the house every time I went to visit. Really, it never changed. That green and gold patterned indoor/outdoor carpeting. The mint green cupboards in the kitchen and avocado green frig. The round oak table in the kitchen, everything still as I can remember it always being. Grandma always busy doing something, baking buns, weeding the garden, mowing the lawn, running into town to do the wash, hanging clothes on the line to dry. Always a morning walk around the house and barn along the trees where she’d point out every bird’s nest. She’d always do this walk to see if the birds from the year before had returned to their nests to lay their eggs, and then she’d walk around with us and show us the nests with the small bird eggs in them, and then eventually with small baby birds. We’d walked down a pick raspberries that had grown up around an old water tank that could be pulled on wheels. The wheel is all I can envision. We’d pick all we could and she’d clean them and sprinkle sugar on them for eating later.

Camille and I spent many, many summers there. Always she was up way before we crawled out of bed. We had to make the beds and eat some breakfast and then we were off weeding flowerbeds or hoeing potatoes. I can recall trips to the Laundromat. Granville must have had the only Laundromat in the early 70’s where you had to run the clothes through a ringer. We’d basket up the rung out clothes and take them back to the farm to hang on the line. Grandma would point out all the fields as we went by and we learned that alfalfa has the prettiest blue flowers when it blooms. We’d see the wheat fields or oats… she’d point them all out to us. As we’d pass by clumps of trees out in fields she’d tell us how so n so used to live there, or who homesteaded it. She’d point out farms where she’d lived or known people. She told us so many stories that I cannot recall them all.

The ‘yellow room’ was Marvin and Wayne’s room growing up, the ‘green room’ belonged to Mom and Beverly, and the ‘pink room’ was Peggy’s. (Though once Peggy got married and left home, Mom got the ‘pink room’ and Beverly kept the ‘green room’). I remember how on the wall in the ‘yellow room’ there were pictures of the Kennedy assassination on the wall, the four or five frames that show him being shot going backwards and then slumping forward. I remember looking at them and not even really fully realizing how shocking that had been to America. The stairs going upstairs were very steep and I can remember going down them very slowly and looking at the pictures on the wall, mostly family photos though one scenery one at the bottom of the stairs that I often stared at, and as I recall Camille has the same memory. And then there is the picture of the lamb lying on the ground with a dog howling in the background hanging near the back door. I remember looking at both of those pictures a lot and trying to imagine being in those places.

All the Christmas’s with a table full of goodies on Christmas Eve, that wonderful gumdrop tree, and Santa arriving with sleigh bells ringing. There are a thousand memories that I hold dear to my heart.

However for my mother, she has nearly 70 years of memories in that house. Having to clean dust bunnies out from under her bed every morning, dusting the stairs, her shoes frozen to the floor on winter mornings. All of her memories of her father, so many, many memories. I cannot imagine that heartache of the task she is embarking on. It’s like having to disassemble all of her memories and place them into boxes. How hard to think about never being able to go home again. To not be able to walk in the places where there are so many crisp memories of her loved ones… her father, grandparents, brothers, sisters…

Perhaps for a society that is nearly nomadic in comparison to our ancestors only a few generations ago it may be hard to imagine. But for me, and I know for my mother, there is this intense comfort to be found in the familiar. Even in my house, where I have only lived 15 years, the imagines of my boys as children forever will run through the house, almost like ghosts. As I walk through the rooms I am flooded with memories of so many things, and there is such a contented feeling to be where the ghosts of the past always remain. To touch a counter top and think, “My dad did this for me” or “see that stain on the counter, we did that painting ceramics”. Everything in my house echoes to me so very much…and really … only 15 years I’ve been there. How much more in a house that has been occupied by family for over 100 years? How many precious memories of my grandpa’s did he pass on to my mother? How often does she walk through that house and almost hear her dad talking to her?

Gah!! What a hard task she and Peggy have before them. I hope she is right and one of her cousin’s kids buys the farmhouse. It will be easier to know that the memories still echo and the ghosts shimmer by and someone smiles that remembers the stories.

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