Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Last Trip Home: Part 2

I think I'm showing my age. I took a few pictures of the old homestead and, for my own amusement, decided to post them on my website along with a few memories of the place. Tell me I'm too young to sit around and reminisce about the good old days.

Being essentially empty, the place has a not lived in look to it, which, if left unchecked, will turn into an abandoned look, soon to be followed by a crack house look, and then a condemned but maybe worth fixing up look.  The last time I stayed here, Tuesday night (7/25/17) I noted that there was a definite lack of light pollution.  No streetlights, no garage lights, nothing.  It was dark, almost pitch black.  There was also a lack of noise pollution.  No traffic, no boom cars, no noisy neighbors having a domestic at 3:00 AM and getting the cops involved - which always, always increases the racket from the domestic disturbance.  There is, for certain sure, no Shaniqua Theater going on either.  Instead, I can hear some little varmint (likely a possum) hunting for his dinner under my bedroom windows.  There's a hoot owl in the distance, and he changes position from time to time.  We used to have whippoorwills, but civilization encroached and they left.  I used to hear them until I managed to fall asleep, and they'd make quite a racket all night.  I'm glad that I can remember those whippoorwills, as I don't think many people have ever heard them.

This is the kitchen, which Mom had remodeled to suit two people rather than a family of four.  My best memories are of the holidays; Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Easter didn't get much play after my brother was born - I think the old whiskey man was convinced that the Lord had it in for him, and so cursed him with a mule-headed, contumacious, cacophonous little brat that by the Divine Grace grew up to become my younger brother.  The old boy would get up every morning with his nerves shot to hell from too much happy hour the night before (for all I know he was having the DTs), and then just about the time that breakfast was on the table the little changeling would begin shrieking about the world not conforming to Himself's expectations.  Mom coped.  I did my best to ignore the racket, and one morning the old boy actually spilled his coffee.

Thanksgiving and Christmas were different.  Snot nose was on his very best behavior, which around my house meant making yourself invisible unless your services were required for manual labor, such as shoveling the walk, chopping firewood, feeding the horses, repairing something out at the barn... the list was endless.  But the company was always excellent, and we enjoyed magnificent meals.  My mother was an accomplished hash slinger, and various other guests always contributed to the meal.  My Ellen and her three daughters were real culinarians, and Mike's mother always brought homemade mincemeat pie.  This was the real deal, and still is some of the best pie I ever ate.  All this activity made both the table and the kitchen a bit crowded.

During holidays, we'd put three tables together in order to get everyone seated.  The first year this happened, Mom failed to count noses and seats, so Bob and I had to go out and find a store that was open, then buy a half-dozen folding chairs and a card table.  We were still sitting pretty tight with each other, and you had to keep your wings pulled in so as to avoid offending the people next to you.  I vividly remember Mike trying to make himself smaller, and having a very limited success.

As time passed, the holidays became a bit much for Mom to handle, and one year the ladies were more than fashionably late with the desert.  When grumbling turned to complaints from the Head of the Household, it was delicately stated that if we, the men seated at the table, felt that we could do any better, we were certainly welcome to try (like that was ever going to happen!  Giggle-giggle.)  Being bull headed and somewhat full of holiday cheer, my younger brother snapped at the lure and swallowed it, hook, line, and sinker was unable to resist a challenge, and stated that on the next high holiday the men would serve desert and clean up.  This was followed by a roar of alcoholic approval from everyone at the table, save for my father who wisely remained silent on the matter.

I think the next holiday was Christmas, but no matter.  Bob, Mike, Dave, and I performed as promised.  We had desert and coffee served in a very timely manner, and then cleaned the kitchen and packed up the leftovers.  Mike served as chief cook and bottle washer, for which I will always be thankful, and the kitchen was actually cleaner and neater than it was before dinner was started.  Mom was impressed and grateful, as she had the opportunity to relax and visit with our guests.  We continued this tradition until the final holiday meal in 2013.

Living Room
The front door, where I remember everyone coming in.  The original front door was a real beast, and when I was a child my mother taught me to close the door.  It took everything I had to get the front door closed.  The door never did fit the frame correctly, and it wasn't until my parents remodeled the house that we got a front door you could close without slamming the thing hard enough to rattle the windows.

Front Door
The stone wall and the fireplace are a real asset.  In the bad old days, the house was heated by an oil furnace.  We'd have Mr. Bruning deliver the fuel oil into a tank in the garage.  He was our furnace man, and I liked him; he was always friendly to me.

Living Room
The oil furnace was somewhat unreliable.  In the middle of winter at around 2:30 in the AM, when the temperature outside was a solid 10° below zero, the furnace would quietly go out.  This would be discovered at 6:00 AM by my parents when they got up to take care of the horses and fix breakfast - and discovered that it was maybe 40° inside and dropping.  I think it was a bit colder, as I can remember being able to see my breath when I got up.

We often had a fire in the fireplace at night, and Dad would rekindle it first thing.  He was a bit worried about the pipes freezing, I think.  Once he got the fire started, the stone wall would warm up and you could actually heat most of the house with just the fireplace.  When we built on to the house and added the family room, it also had a fireplace, and the house would be quite comfortable with heat from the two fireplaces.

When the old oil furnace went out, we'd call Mr. Bruning and he'd come right out and fix the furnace, which really entailed cleaning it and starting it up.  Years later we got access to gas, thanks mainly to Skip Ward who's TV news show, Watch with Ward, was sponsored by Columbia Gas.

Mr. Bruning retired and closed his business.  Years later when he passed away it was discovered that there were some shenanigans going on with the heating oil business.  It seems that good old Mr. Bruning was charging his clients (us included) for a higher grade of oil than was being delivered.  As a result, the oil furnace would get full of soot and refuse to work, hence the middle of the night furnace failures, the calls to Mr. Bruning, and so forth.  Dad just laughed about it, but I think Mom was more than a little miffed at being cheated all those years.

I remember quite vividly that Mr. Bruning told me never to be a furnace man when I grew up.  He was serious about it, and I was a little mystified, as it seemed like a good job to me.  Evidently the profit to work ratio wasn't conducive to a good retirement and a winter home in Florida.

Below is the front yard, as seen from the garage.  It's quite a nice expanse, but it takes a bit of work to keep it up.  I used to have to mow it, and had nothing but a push mower.  I'm allergic to pollen and have exercise induced bronchial asthma.  I was around eight years old at the time, and the lawn mower weighed more than I did.  None of that bothered my father, though, who insisted I mow the yard.  About the only thing I can say is that I lived through it.  The last time the yard was mowed, raked, and cleared of dead oak tree branches, it took Frank and his brother John four hours to complete the job, and both men are hard workers.

Front Yard
As I got older, I planted a small flower garden in the corner of the yard.  The trees were smaller then, and it was the only space in the yard that wasn't shaded.  The oak trees provided a good deal of shade, but they are also generous providers of leaves and acorns in the fall.  The acorns attract deer, and we get a local herd that passes through on a regular basis.  Mom enjoyed putting out food for the birds so she could watch them from the kitchen.  We'd get quite a variety, including a few rare birds.  I've seen a red headed woodpecker and a scarlet tanager.  We'd also see hummingbirds at the hummingbird feeder.

Front Yard
The birds enjoyed the bird bath (on the right side of the picture), but the deer liked it as well.  The little fauns would come up and play in the water, and at night the raccoons would attempt to help themselves to the water.  That didn't work out well, as the bowl isn't attached to the pedestal and the weight of one raccoon is enough to tip the whole business over.  After a half-dozen attempts, the 'coons gave it up as a bad deal and contented themselves with the cat's water dish in the garage.  They'd also get into the cat food unless I weighed the lid of the drum down sufficiently to make it impossible to move or chew through.  When the critter population got to be too much, Mom used a live animal trap to catch the little bandits, and we'd release them up in Michigan near Section Road in Ottawa Lake.  There a nice stream for them there, and they are removed from temptation.

Here is a photo of the house as seen from the driveway.  This is what visitors see when they arrive.  In the past, the drive was used often enough so that grass wouldn't grow in the center.  The lack of traffic is slowly obscuring the driveway.

I always enjoyed the trees, and when I initially left home I discovered that I did not like living in a house where there was no green space.  Trees, shrubbery, and grass all contribute to a bucolic environment.  Freedom from traffic and especially boom cars completes the picture.

The House
The scenery is encroaching on the driveway to the point where something will have to be done soon.  Given that I'm selling the place (actually, have sold it and we're waiting to close as of this writing), someone else will have to trim the bushes back.

The Driveway
The drive is about 1000 feet long, and as you can see from the photo you can't see Flanders Road from the house.  The reverse is also true; you can't see the house from the road.  In my mind this is a real benefit, but not everyone sees it that way.  I remember visitors remarking nervously that we were well off the beaten track, and all on our own.  What would we ever do if something... happened?  Well, you deal with it. There was one memorable occasion when I called the Sylvania Township Police because of a violent, drunken female that was loose on the premises.  45 minutes later they called back to say that they couldn't find the place.  Good job, guys.

I'll give 'em credit, though.  They finally did show up, contained the drunk, and carted her off to wherever.  I think they felt a little foolish, and one cop refused to enter the back yard.  "It's dark back there!"  This cop was a buffed up twenty-something carrying a Glock 9 with three extra magazines, and he had a Mag-Lite, a taser, a baton, pepper spray, and presumably unarmed combat experience.  What a coward.

So that's the place.  It requires a lot of work to keep up, and clearly we're a bit behind the work schedule.  The old whisky man would be having a cow over the condition of the driveway.  Happily, that's no longer any concern of mine.


  1. Beautiful setting! Well described, thanks for the tour.

  2. Love your stories! Many memories for one family at this beautiful residence will now become a place where new memories are made for another family. Perhaps, the new family will benefit from the seeds planted by you and yours! :-) Happy seeds,,,

    1. Thank you, Ruth. I hope they'll be happy in this tranquil setting.

  3. Aw. Great story and wonderful place. Felt like I was walking around with you.

    1. Thanks Fargo. Did we remember to switch off the lights on the way out?