Saturday, March 14, 2015

This old house

This post is part of a log of phone conversations between me and my mother who has dementia. We are reminiscing and catching up. Mom is 90 and moved from the family farmhouse to a sort of assisted living apartment in upstate New York. I live in Florida. We have not had much contact for several years until I started calling her every few days, in August. My goal is to reconnect with her, be someone who will listen to her and share memories. These posts include parts of our conversations I feel important to write about such as events and things she wants to discuss from her life, her family and growing old. She so enjoys our phone calls. Her memory comes and goes. It seems like she has more alert days since I started calling, but that may be my wishful thinking. I am learning a lot about her status in life and how it's changed over the years from being the strong maternal figure to an elderly person who at times feels forgotten as well as forgetful.

I haven't talked to mom since my last post, but decided to update with words about the family farmhouse in upstate New York. It is an ongoing and sad subject that mom brings up every time I call her. She keeps getting it in her head that the house has collapsed, She says a neighbor told her there was nothing left, just a pile of dust. As you will see in the following photos, it needs work, but is still standing along with one of the 100-year-old maple trees.

Luckily there are neighbors on an adjacent farm that keep watch for trespassers and my brother Dennis checks on the property on a regular basis. The farm's driveway is the end of the street. I remember going past two houses, then a swamp on both sides of the road, two more homes then across the railroad tracks and I was home. The farm isn't visible until you go over the knoll and cross the tracks.

A little refresher: After dad died, mom was living in this very large house, by herself and her dogs, until it became too much for her and she was moved into the apartment where she now lives. After WWII she and dad took the farm over from his parents. His parents held a mortgage, but only paid on the interest, so mom and dad actually bought the place and gave his folks a life lease.

The farm turned out to be a life-long improvement project for mom and dad. When they married, there wasn't any running water, no electricity or heat and of course no bathroom. I am not clear when the electric was installed or plumbing for water. But, I remember clearly the day the big Sears truck pulled up and unloaded a bathroom. Turned out mom was tired of waiting for a bathroom, so she went shopping and bought the pieces -- tub, sink and toilet. It was a surprise for dad, but he got the message and we soon had indoor plumbing. I was no more than 3 years old.

All of mom's favorite memories are of her home where she grew up and the farm where she raised a family. She and dad spent their lives making the farmhouse their dream home. It wasn't easy. They weren't poor nor were they rich. Just hard working folks.

So, here are some photos, pictures and a drawing of our farmhouse. Too bad, I don't have any old photos to include and if anyone out there has photos to share, please do so.

Our dear friend Chuck Meyers passed three gems along and I am posting a picture I drew from memories of the house and what it looked like to me when I was a youngster.

First is a house portrait painted by artist Marilyn Reynolds in 1987. A lot had been done to the house, including closing in the two-story porches. I think this was done when the house was just as mom wanted. As you look at the picture, the tree on the left is a maple tree that is the last of four still standing and I believe it is over 100 years old. Right next to the left front of the house was a beautiful lilac bush, but is was gone by the time this picture was drawn. On the right is a butternut tree. For some reason we never ate the butternuts. We dried them for something.

Painting by Watercolor Artist Marilyn Reynolds

Second is a photo taken last spring by Chuck. I think the house was empty for two year when this photo was taken. Looking shabby. The butternut tree is just a stump. In front of the stump where the daffodils are growing was a long-lived blueberry bush. I don't think many pies were made from those berries. The birds and we children snacked daily on them, straight from the bush.

Still standing.
Third photo is taken by Chuck Meyers on Friday, March 13, 2015. He went along to the farm to check on things with Dennis and his wife, Vicki. Still lots of snow and some deterioration. That maple is amazing. We always had a rope swing tied to the front branch and a tire swing on the other side. Dad had to use a ladder to hang the swing. He would wrap tar paper around the limb to protect is from the friction of the rope. You could go really high on that swing.

The snow covers the weeds.
Fourth is my memory drawing, done two weeks ago. I haven't seen the house in 30 years or any pictures to jar my memory. I know, I got the dormers all wrong and have too many windows, but this is what the house looked like to me when I was a youngster. I loved it best in the summer, mom's favorite time of the year. Everywhere was lush with color and the air was fragrant, other than the usual farm smells. In the back were pastures and fields of hay. Further behind was the woods, an amazing, wonderful place for wandering and discovering.

This drawing is of the house long before the front porches were enclosed. We sat on summer evenings on the downstairs porch to watch the rain and lightning. One summer was perfect according to dad. It was sunny and hot all day and by evening the rain watered the crops and brought cooler air in time for sleeping. The upstairs porch was a sleeping porch. Sometimes some of use would sleep out there to catch a cool breeze and we didn't have to worry about bugs, because they didn't seem to fly that high in the air.

Besides, the blueberry bush, there was an apple orchard and some grapevines as pictured along the right side of the house. The grapes never made jelly, because like the berries, children and birds ate the fruit as soon as it was ripe.We had gardens and so much fresh food. But the little eating areas in the yard were special.

My drawing of the farmhouse when I loved it best.
I didn't understand why mom was always making changes to the house. It seemed like she couldn't stop.  I liked it the way it was. But, now I get it. She put so much of her life into this house, her home. It is hard to let it be.

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