I was born in Illinois not too far from St. Louis but rarely visited the State. My Father was in the Air Force and so we never stayed anywhere for more than a couple of years. However my Grandparents and my Mother’s family lived there so we’d go visiting from time to time as I was growing up. I always considered their house as our home base. Somewhere we could always go back to.
My Grandparent’s house was made of wood and covered in tar paper shingles. Originally it must have just been a three room affair, originally being somewhere back in the late eighteen hundreds. From a square box there’d been added my Grandparent’s bedroom just off the kitchen, then a long “covered back porch” which didn’t look like a porch at all but a long dark corridor and a screened front porch where the toy box was kept that looked on the street just off the stoop.
The walls were covered in century old wall paper, undulated by humidity and layer upon layer of older wallpaper. The floors were undulated too, obviously made of wood covered in old cracked linoleum.
When I was little, there was no bathroom. There was a night pot for evening “business” and the out house – a horribly stinking affair made of grey weathered wood – for daytime “business”. There was a tin tub that Grandma filled up with hot water on the back porch for adults to take a bath. We kids usually got washed in the huge kitchen sink. Two iron pot-belly stoves heated the house in winter.
At night, I never got out of bed when I went to visit Grandma. And I always wanted a night-light. I was sure that the place was haunted. It was surely infested with cockroaches – which Grandma called “harmless water-bugs” who covered the floors once the lights were turned-off.
The house stood on its own piece of land and had a small yard with a big tree. Vegetable gardens were out back near the out house and a ramshackle affair known as the garage stood not far from the back door. I say known as, it was a garage of course, but it was so full of old things Grandpa had a time parking his car in it. Right outside the back-door was the sandbox, where I spent hours preparing delicious cakes.
Not two hundred meters away passed the train, which once rolled into the paper mill just on the other side of the tracks, when the mill was still open. Later it just rolled by periodically, shaking the house to its foundations, rumbling like a huge dragon. Since there was also a street next to Grandma’s place, just outside the front porch, there was a railroad crossing, so the locomotive inevitably blew its piercing whistle.
That old place … it’s still here in my mind. It was just a tar-papered shack, like so many others that had been built back in the ages when people came to settle, in our case from Germany. I realize now that it was little more that a shanty, but it had been home to more than a couple of generations of kids, including me. I never would have imagined that there would be a time when that old house wouldn’t be there to greet me.
When my Grandparents died, my Uncle sold the house and the land. The old house was torn down. They tell me that the cockroaches flowed like water out of the place. I believed them.
old tar-papered shack
filled with memories and love
Linked to Ligo Haibun Childhood – deluded