The call had come two weeks prior in the middle of the night. All her Mother had needed to say was, ”It’s over.” Our family had long ago become adept at a type of verbal shorthand, the shorter the sentence, the longer the history. The call capped off the miserable life of my Grandfather, Francis. Widowed 30 years prior, he maintained a basic existence, plagued by poor health and a bad attitude. My Mother, Alice, relieved of any daughterly duties, could finally complete the transactions necessary to bury the bastard and move on with her manicured life. Her Father, an inconvenient fact of parentage, never meshed with her superficial country club existence. His last request was to be buried next to his wife, Annie, at the local cemetery. There would be no official service, his son Henry long ago stopped visiting and to my Mother, her Father was just a line in her checkbook. The local sexton mailed a notice of internment after he put him in the ground.
For most of my childhood, my parents cast me out to boarding schools in Maine, summer camp in the Adirondacks and winter ski vacations in Utah. These adventures produced a person neither understands or appreciates. I am a foreigner to them with my love of nature and nostalgia born out of backpacking trips and summers searching for folk art treasures. Ultimately, this paved the way for my career in antiquities, appraisals and retro treasure hunting. Although we live only miles apart, the distance between us is light years. We brunch monthly for the sake of appearances, but the river we travel is not deep.
Since tennis matches and charity events rule Mother’s life, she couldn’t be bothered with the physical work of emptying her parent’s farm which she referred to as “the country house.” Since I dealt in antiques and all things “shabby chic” as she put it, the task of closing the house was laid at my feet. The only direction given was “take what you want and sell or burn the rest.”
It had been years since I had been to the farm. Faint echoes from childhood existed layers beneath the recent history. The memories came in flashes, bright flowers, fresh linens on the line, quiet singing. Most of these memories now viewed through a filter of darkness and anger born when my Grandmother, Annie, died in 1967. He was never the same, it was as if an earthquake had shaken the family and only silent, ruined rubble remained. I was 7 when she died. The details of her death were lost to the family shorthand years ago. At one time I heard it referred to as the “unfortunate accident” but other than that, there were no details, she was dead. My Mother, the selfish bitch that she is, failed to recognize the value of Annie in life, so only obliged her memory by placing one appropriate photograph of her mixed among many “beautiful people” on the grand piano at our lake house. During the countless hours I was forced to practice my scales, I would often stare into Annie’s distant eyes. Most times, I felt nothing, but there were several rare occasions I swear that I heard a faint unrecognizable whisper in my ear and the overwhelming smell of fragrant spring peonies.
The 4 hour drive from my shop in Chicago took 10 hours. Relishing the time alone, I wandered up the coast of Lake Michigan before heading inland to the farm. Sleepy little beach towns were awakening after a long winters nap. The charm of outdoor cafés, boutique shops, and flowers in full bloom dancing in the sun, all took the edge off of the task at hand.
The drive inland from the lakeshore was effortless. About half an hour out from the farm, the flat farm lands disappear, replaced with gentle rolling hills, lakes around every bend and lazy country roads. The roadside occasionally dotted with “Garage Sale” signs, old country schools, and farms. The best hill in the county was a half mile before the farm. The view from the top always took my breath away. Spring had painted the landscape in all shades of greens. I could see all the way to the farm, knowing that the poppies had visited and were gone but the peonies were soon to arrive.
Turning in the gravel driveway, it was obvious that weather and time had taken its toll on the “country house” and property. The once immaculate farm was dingy and dying its own slow death. The barn still stood, but its sagging roof and broken doors would soon lead to its demise. The chicken coop had long ago collapsed and had been reclaimed by the tall grasses. The ancient perennials were still holding their own in the flower beds, but they had many unsavory companions.
Having spent many nights camping in tents and in youth hostels across Europe, I opted to stay at the farm house. After all, it was still furnished, how bad could it be?
To be continued…..