June 7, 2017

The Mouse in The Attic

The faint click of tiny nails, the rapid patter of small feet, woke me up. It was probably the middle of the night, though with no bedside clock there was no way to know. I recognized the sound, a field mouse most likely, running in the attic over my head. The sound no longer scared me, in fact it was kind of comforting since I heard it most every night.
It reaffirmed I was in a favorite place for our family vacation: my grandparents' summer place, a rural farmhouse, out buildings, and 36 acres of fields and trees north of Pittsburgh, a few miles from  the small town of Butler. Hearing nothing more, both the mouse and I relaxed back to sleep.
My dad would work the day before we left on our annual trip, then drive all night to arrive the next morning in this magical place. While mom sat next to him during the long, dark, drive to keep him awake, the three boys were in the "back-back," the rear of the station wagon, sleeping on blankets and pillows. An occasional stop at a gas station somewhere on the Pennsylvania turnpike might wake us up for a few minutes, but mostly we slept as dad drove so we could arrive by early morning.
Each day of vacation began the same way: coffee for the adults was made on a large, blue-speckled, enameled pot, on a fireplace a dozen yards from the place where we slept. Granddad made it the old fashioned way: grounds dumped into boiling water to produce a powerful, hot sludge. Bacon was cooked over the same stove, as Gran and my mom cooked eggs on the large, propane stove in the huge country kitchen.
During the day, the adults sat on chairs under a huge tree, talking and dozing. The three boys and my uncle explored the woods, cutting paths through all those acres of empty land, and finding plenty to stay busy all day.
 Nights were spent around the wood-burning pot bellied stove, kerosene lanterns providing enough light for board games and reading. Bedtime was determined by when the sun set, and wake up time when the sun rose.



4th of July saluting the flag with mom
Isn't it funny how powerful and long-lasting some of our childhood memories can be. We called this special place, The Farm. My grandparents, mom's brother, my parents, two brothers and I would spent two weeks here every summer until the property became too much for Gran and Grandad to maintain.

What it lacked in conveniences was more than compensated by the  feelings of freedom and exploration. With no electricity, heat, running water, or inside toilet, the Farm was worlds away from our suburban home 300 miles back down the road in suburban Philadelphia.

One of the reasons Betty and I bought a small cabin in the woods two hours north of Phoenix while our daughters were young, was to recreate that special feeling that I felt at The Farm. When the girls became teenagers, it was time to sell the property. But, the memories they have of our time together in that small home in the woods will last forever.

I hope that you had some place or something that you did when you were young that still brings back positive emotions and feelings like the Farm does for me. I can still smell that bacon......


13 comments:

  1. Our family had a beach house in San Clemente, CA. My uncle designed and built what is now a classic mid-centery house (then just "modern"), but my grandparents took it over at some point and the whole extended family used it, especially our family because we lived the closest, just a little over an hour away. We spent summers there, and often drove down on the weekends.

    The house was just a short distance from the beach, so every morning at around 10:00 we all walked down (it was downhill to the beach, uphill coming back), and then returned at noon for an hour or so for lunch and a siesta. Then by back to the beach for a couple of hours in the afternoon - Mom would give each of us a nickel, enough for a Look or Big Hunk from the snack bar. If we saved our nickels for two days we could get a soft ice cream cone, or a frozen lemonade bar. We'd have early dinner, and then every evening my mom would drive us back down and we would go "beachcombing," walking from the overpass that crossed over the Santa Fe tracks down to the beach to the San Clemente pier, up and down the pier and then back. We found lots of lost stuff, especially beach towels which my mom would wash and then put away for a season before breaking them out for us. On the last day of summer Mom bought us burgers from the snack bar - no burger since has ever compared to the one we got there.

    The house was simply furnished, but had everything we needed to be comfortable. No TV was allowed, but we had cards to use the San Clemente library, and my mom brought along a small transistor radio and we listened to Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett call Dodger games when they played at home. Evening by the ocean were always cool, so we always had a big fire in the fireplace every evening. Many evenings we worked on a jigsaw puzzle - we could check them out from the library. Every year Mom bought each of us a box of crayons, some pencils and a roll of butcher paper - we were expected to entertain ourselves, and we did, and I don't remember ever being bored. For many years my grandparents also owned the vacant lot next door - we had a huge garden a few years and also played croquet there. We sometimes went fishing on the pier (which I hated), and attended other activities around town, and friends and their families often joined us for a weekend or up to a week.

    It was a magical place. My strongest memory though is of my Grandfather dying in that house. He had driven my grandmother and me down to San Clemente for the day, but suffered a massive heart attack shortly after we arrived. My grandmother's calm demeanor and attention kept this very frightened 7 year-old soothed until my parents arrived that night to pick me up. My grandmother refused to sell the house for many years, but finally let it go in 1970. The house is still there, and the people who bought the house from my grandmother still live in the house.

    If you have ever seen the Clint Eastwood movie, "Heartbreak Ridge," our beach house was used as Marsha Mason's home in the movie!

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    1. What a perfect story of everlasting childhood memories. Obviously the time spent at that house was very important to you. I have seen that Clint Eastwood movie, next time I will be on the lookout for your grandparent's house! Betty and I have been to San Clemente to spend some time with friends who had rented a condo overlooking the beach and the pier. That must have been pretty close to your place.

      Your big event was getting hamburgers on the last day, ours was our walk to Mars. The little community of Mars, PA was about 5 miles down some dusty country roads from the Farm. Each year my mom and dad, uncle, my brothers and I would try to walk all the way. After an hour, gran and grandad would come along in their car, pick us up, and drive us into town for ice cream.

      Each year we managed to cover more of the distance until the very last year the Farm was our regular summer place, we walked the full 5 miles for the ice cream. We did gratefully accept a ride back, however!

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  2. It's so funny the places we both have lived or worked in. Dave's parents lived in Butler when we were married. We lived in Greensburg, a little further south when our son was born. I don't have many fun memories like that but, I know Dave does.
    b

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    1. Yes, Butler was just a handful of miles farther away from Mars. He may have been to that ice cream place in Mars at some point!

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  3. My aunt and uncle kept the old homested where my mom and her seven siblings grew up in the Ozarks of Missouri. We called it the farm, and all us cousins at one time or another were shipped off to the farm to hang out with the cows and chickens. It was also a place of family reunions. Too many wonderful memories to recount. My cousin now has the place. It is a link for many generations of our family.

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    1. That was one thing my version of the Farm did not have: animals. My grandparents only used it during the summer months so the only wild life were the mice in the attic and various creatures in the woods.

      Sometimes I wonder what happened to the property after my grandparents sold it.

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  4. I worked with a very spacey midwife in the 80's. She was always a little "head in the clouds." Then one day we were chatting about where we came from.She said "I'm from Mars." I was not surprised. I didn't really realize it was a real place!!!!!

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    1. Ha. Yep, about 35 miles north of Pittsburgh. And, you can walk to it.

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  5. I grew up in Butler. Our "summer place" was 10 acres of Christmas trees up north near Seagel, PA.

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    1. Such a small world. And, such a beautiful area.

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  6. You described your Farm day memory so vividly that it brought be to our (childhood)cabin at Lake Mille Lacs, MN. Different people making and eating the SAME breakfast that you smelled and ate. Thanks, that was fun.

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    1. Good! I'm happy my story triggered some nice memories for you.

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  7. We did not have a summer place, but went on car camping expeditions (with a tent) every summer. I have so many great memories of those family camping trips. Frost on the tent at Francois Lake! Almost stepping on a rattlesnake in Kamloops! Camping beside the ocean with cousins and eating oysters! Later in my childhood, our family bought a ski cabin which we retreated to in both winter and summer. Strangely, I was just recalling that cabin in my latest post!

    Jude

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