In the little village of East Concord, at the bottom of a steep hill on the corner of perhaps the loneliest road in the state of New York, there exists a large two-story home in desperate need of paint. At first glance, the house and its surroundings would seem unremarkable. The passer-byes on the way to the nearest town twenty miles away drove on without giving it a second glance. However, if one would have stopped in those times, they would have found the place to be very remarkable, indeed. Upon turning off the paved road and onto the gravel driveway, one is greeted by a massive pine tree that towers above everything else in the yard. It is so huge that one could easily miss the walkway leading up to a high cement porch. When the owner of the house saw the state of the original porch when he purchased it, he remarked how it bared an uncanny resemblance to something seen in a John Steinbeck novel. So he destroyed that porch, and constructed a new one. The stairs of this porch led to a screen door that slammed no matter how softly one shut it. Opening this door and going in, the first noticeable thing about the house were all the tools hung neatly on little hooks attached to the kitchen wall. The owner of this house was once a worker at Bethlehem Steel, and farmed on his own time to earn extra money. That time had long passed however, and he comfortably enjoyed his retirement, though he continued to work with his hands all his life. It was a cozy little kitchen, with dark brown cabinets, clean linoleum floors, a sink that perpetually reeked of iron due to the nature of the well water, and an ancient wood-stove that had outlived its usefulness many years ago. It was a bright room. The glow of the morning sun poured through the windows on the left side of the room, which overlooked the immaculate garden in the backyard (the ex-farmer's wife was very fond of flowers). There were no hallways in this house. Each room flowed into the next in such a way that the home had an air of closeness; and yet, a sense of love was about it, permeating every pore of its oak walls. The couple that lived there knew what it meant to love and to be loved, and gave theirs freely. It was in this setting that an impressionable young boy became a man. He would return to this place every summer and every fall. It was a second home, a school, a playground, and a sanctuary. His visits changed his entire outlook on life, and his sense of self forever. I know this man very well. He's me. The house was my grandparent's home. And although its location was isolated, the events that occurred within its confines set in motion wheels that are still turning.
Taking a right turn in the kitchen that I just described would lead one to a large, expansive living room that dominated the entire bottom floor of the house. It had a main lounge area in the front, with a staircase on the left side. These stairs were old. Even the quietest feet caused a racket on them, and there was always one squeaky floorboard that threatened to wake up the house when one came down late at night to use the bathroom. Going up these stairs would take a person to the bedrooms. There were four, one being converted from just an ordinary space into a makeshift bedroom that served as my mother's as a child. As a kid from a very tiny home, I always thought Grandpa's house was
enormous and ideal for exploration. So during rainy days, my sister and I would do just that. Grandpa had a habit of never throwing anything out that could be used again, so all of the older things no longer in use were stored upstairs in these bedrooms. My sister and I would sift through these items endlessly. Old tax returns, Bibles, articles of clothing, we didn't care, and we even found some things that were truly astounding. However, the most memorable objects discovered came when my sister and I found a plethora of old photographs of people we didn't know tucked away in a drawer, seemingly forgotten by all in the house. Naturally, being inquisitive children, we brought them down to Mom and Grandpa and immediately asked who these people were. They told us to sit down in the kitchen chairs, and they began a process that took several hours. They were pictures of family members long since dead. Mom and Grandpa told us story after story after story, until we came to understand. I will never be sure, but in that house on that day, something inside me clicked, and I began to take a keen interest in history. I wanted to know more. I wanted to know how these people lived, in what way they got along with each other, and what things were like for them when they were around. Mom, being a genealogist, was more than eager to tell me all about it. I never met any of the people that she described. But thanks to what happened in the house that day so long ago, those people are so real and vivid to me that it seems like I've known them for years. So now, they are no longer visages of figures in yellowing photographs decaying and lost to the slow march of time. In my memory, they live on.
In Mom's old bedroom, two doorways came to two different rooms. From the stairwell, the doorway straight ahead led to Grandma's old room. On the left of that, there was another room. It was small, but comfortable, with pale green walls and a bed that sank so low when one lied on it, that over time I began to call it the hammock. This was my room when I came to visit. Being in the middle of nowhere, there was never much to do. So it was with much trepidation that my fourteen-year old self came to the home. Unlike most summers however, where I would stay for only two weeks before returning home to West Virginia, I would be staying the entire summer. We were having our entire bathroom gutted, so this extended visit was necessary to stay out of the workers' way. I didn't take kindly to this proposition. Where once had been the wide-eyed wonder of a child, there was now the hard, brooding, cynical nature of a middle-schooler. I knew there would be nothing to do there. They didn't even have a video game system! So begrudgingly, I took the trip. At first, my predictions were correct, and I was bored out of my skull. There was nothing there for me to do. Nothing that is, except read the many books I had brought with me. I had never really discovered the true joys of reading.
However, with nothing to do, I began to read. As the weeks wore on, I became more and more enamored with the books I was reading. Punctual night time rituals turned into late nights that became all nighters. I dearly loved what I was reading, and as time wore on, and the summer became long in the tooth, I came to fall in love with the house that had enchanted me as a kid all over again. More importantly however, what I read spurred me on and inspired me to write on my own. It's been a long, arduous process, but I would like to think that I have become a decent writer. If it weren't for the solitude brought on by the house and the silent reflections I had staying up into the wee hours of those summer nights, I would never have grown into the great reader and critical thinker I am now.
Many years after the bathroom was repaired, last year, in fact, I awoke in a cold sweat in the hammock at around three o'clock in the morning. It was one of the coldest Aprils that I had ever experienced, so I was truly surprised when I woke up to the sound of thunder and lightning crashing along the dark night sky. It was once again like the summer where I became a heavy reader. During that entire vacation, there was horrible thunderstorm after horrible thunderstorm that shook the house and threatened to bring it down upon our ears. They terrified me. One night, when the roar of the maelstrom was directly over my head, I pleaded with God, begging him to spare me from these storms if I promised to follow the straight- and-narrow. It was from the storms I weathered in this house that I cultivated a fear of nature. However, it was my grandpa that instilled in me a love and respect for it, as well. Going from the house and turning right, the gravel driveway goes a ways until it reaches a large stately barn, painted red, though slowly fading to brown. Upon entering, the senses are assaulted with the musty smell of years combined with the sweet, pungent scent of cows. Farming instruments lay strewn about the hard, cold floor, contrasting with strict, uniform upkeep of Grandpa's vast tractor collection. Going past the pens and stables where the livestock were once kept, the barn opened up to a gargantuan hayfield that seemed to stretch infinitely in all directions. In this field, grandpa would take me and my sister on walks and tractor rides. We would talk about everything and nothing as the landscape rolled on all around us. It was during these times of quiet and relaxation that I connected with the earth. Grandpa taught me that since we all come from the earth and will eventually return to it, we must treat the land with respect. I continue to enjoy walking with nature and being a part of nature. I owe it all to this short, old, weathered, wonderful man who taught me more than school ever will.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. My grandpa died in 2011, and as such we had to sell that magnificent place. Last year, I journeyed there one last time; not to stay, but to clean. All the family items that had fascinated and brought me so much joy as a child were stored in boxes and sent away in a dumpster to the junk yard. The hay field that was so meticulously looked after was overgrown with weeds and briar, and the barn had become infested with termites. I went home that summer, the last I'd ever spend in my place, with a heavy heart. But as I look back, I realize now that the house is never really gone, nor are the people that lived there. They live on forever in my head and in my heart, and if I close my eyes, I can always find them. The summers spent there have altered me permanently, and the ramifications of the visits will affect me for all time.