Not only did the family farmhouses of old have character themselves, they sometimes also had a band of characters fondly associated with them. These characters and their personalities brought with them features, much like your home would, except as I remember them a much more colorful and experiential zest for life we can’t always find these days. Much like the featured image (also posted below) I started this post with, my grandparents’ farm had characters of all sizes, shapes, ages and real-life experiences. That’s me in the picture with the exhausting smile on my face that seemed to come over me every time there was a tractor involved in anything I was doing.
You will notice the smile on my grandpa’s face is similar to mine but the decades spent riding around on a tractor may have dampened his enthusiasm somewhat. It also could have been a sign of mild exhaustion that often came about from having a gaggle of grandkids around for the weekend (actually he really didn’t seem to mind!). My brother Mark is the one riding on the gas tank and wearing denim coveralls and rubber boots. While I can’t comment on his fashion sense I can say his somewhat reserved smile could be a sign that he is enjoying his day or just holding on for dear life. My brother Tim (sitting on my grandpa’s lap) appears serious and is possibly thinking that Mark shouldn’t be sitting where he is, but also understanding tractors are fun and can’t hurt you. My cousin Don who is closest to the tire has a look on his face that seems to threaten the photographer not to take this picture. I am not sure who was the holder of the camera but I can tell you that every time I look at this picture I get flooded with great memories and not only wish we could go back to those times but also share them with the kids we all have now…..if only! My sister Sue is missing from this picture as is my cousin Rebecca. Likely they were in the house at the time gossiping about how stupid boys were for liking tractors and such (eyes rolling).
When we built our home in the Okanagan we built a pool shed to house some of the pool equipment and pool toys. We needed to keep it under a certain amount of square feet otherwise it would be designated an accessory building and fall under a mountain of bylaws and regulations. In the background of my featured image you can see several other “accessory” buildings. They had colorful names associated with them like the “white shack”, the “granary”, and the “tractor shed”. The names made sense to us because their names told us what they looked like or did. The white shack was white, the granary had grain in it and the tractor shed had tractors stored in it. (Actually, I’m not really sure about the name of the tractor shed, but since I can’t remember for sure, that seems fitting.) I have a butler pantry in my current home now and while it does hold pantry-like goods it most certainly does not have a butler in it. Boy things were less complicated when I was a kid. If you were able to see past me in the tractor picture, behind the large fuel tank, I can tell you with a great deal of confidence that was where the most important building of them all was located. Yes, that is where the “outhouse” sat. Close enough to the house to get to on a cold night and yet far enough away to dissipate any of mother nature’s odors!
While we all enjoy our conveniences of today like indoor plumbing and running water, I believe some of the speed I had running and skating came from my years of going out to the outhouse late in the evening. This was not something as a young kid you looked forward to but a bladder is only so big and even when it is “pitch black” outside a person can only wait so long. Waiting for the sun to come up just wasn’t a viable option. From the farmhouse (west veranda) you walked down a slight hill to the outhouse. There was a light on inside that gave it a warm and inviting glow…lol. We turned the light on at the house so we could at least point ourselves in the right direction. Now as a kid who spent time around a farm when we grew up, we knew about coyotes. Not the ones who play NHL hockey in the deserts of Arizona but the ones who roam freely at night in search of chickens and kids with small bladders forced into the dark abyss by their parents. The trip down to the outhouse wasn’t the problem, it was the return trip. You looked up to see the farmhouse at the top of the hill and then saw infinite darkness directly behind you. I am sure it was safe, but as a kid we knew the darkness held hundreds of coyotes and other assorted monsters our parents never told us about. This made it necessary to run like a madman back to the farmhouse before something could catch and kill us. In the summer it wasn’t bad but in the winter it seemed I was never able to make it all the way without falling or losing a boot in the snow…..ugh. All in all a very terrifying ordeal to take care of something that mother nature would describe as natural. As you read on you will learn that coyotes weren’t the only things going “bump in the night” that I remember.
Sometimes the characters and personalities we came across in old farmhouses were not the people living in or visiting them. They were the ones we can’t see, touch or hold on to. My grandparents’ farmhouse had many of these characters inside its walls although, depending on who you talk to, our individual recollections may vary ….but my memory is better than theirs so you can believe me! I mentioned in my last post the possessed stove that sat in the corner of the kitchen. If you were making soup with the burner turned on while stirring the pot with a metal spoon and then you leaned against the stove you got a heck of an electrical shock. Ouch! My dad said the stove likely had a short in it somewhere, which is scary enough, but maybe there was some other “not of this world” explanation? Hold that thought while I continue. The farmhouse had an old set of stairs that took you from the main level to the upstairs. The second level had two bedrooms similar in size with one corner closet and a window at either end. My grandpa slept in one of the rooms. I was told that when my grandma was still alive and getting on in years, she slept in the second bedroom ( a pretty common thing back then). Well, in the winter the farmhouse would get quite cold and rather than going out and buying carpet for the floor my grandparents would put newsprint down on the floor to walk on. My grandma sometimes used to sit in bed at night and read, casually flipping through pages of magazines before going to sleep. I can recall times when I visited my grandpa in the summer, laying awake in bed at night and hearing shuffling footsteps on paper-covered floors above me or the sound of magazine pages flipping. In both cases the sounds came from rooms that only held furniture. Yikes. I also recall one specific summer visit when I would hear a tap at the window around the same time every night. This went on for several evenings and I made mental note of it. On the weekend when my parents and family joined me at the farm I shared my story of the late night tapping with them and they found it hilarious. They took turns sneaking outside and tapping on the same window just to p*** me off. Much to my disappointment the tap never did happen again that night but after I had fallen asleep the blinds on the window beside me flew up to the top with a crash and literally had me jump out of bed……it scared the crap out of me.! I’m sure my cousins would be able to share similar stories with you and while it was somewhat unnerving/frightening as a kid, my grandpa would tell us it was just grandma visiting. As an adult I can relate to such a belief and take comfort in knowing that was probably the case. As a kid though, it made for some nerve rattling evenings …lol.
There are two other things that stand out in my mind about the character of the old farmhouse. When I went to visit my grandpa every summer for a couple of weeks, I stayed on the main floor in the living room and slept on the hide-a-bed. The stairs that led to the upstairs were very creaky and squeaked with every step you took whether you were young or old. Us kids we used to slide down them on our butts as the treads had worn smooth as glass over the years. Sliding down these stairs was risky at best because if you failed to stop yourself at the bottom you ended up either slamming into the ringer washer that greeted you or sometimes you impaled yourself on one of it’s control handles. Then there was the furnace. When it kicked in it made the most unusual sound, almost like a plane engine warming up. The smells that would come out of the floor vents then were like a cross between a dusty musty smell, burning oil, and every other smell that celebrated and marked the passing of time. Even today on the rare occasion my nose will pick out a scent when I am out and about that I can’t quite pin down but reminds me of the old farmhouse furnace.
Well this post could go on for another 1500 words or so, but may end up being too much of a good thing. Looking back at all these old pictures has brought a flood of memories/emotions back to me and I have enjoyed sharing them with all of you. So having said that, I can’t guarantee that this is the end of them!
Please share with me any thoughts, feedback or stories you might have. I am always open to suggestions and a helpful critique of my writing.