Friday, March 18, 2011

Prompt Blog 6

During my high school years and throughout my undergraduate years, my grandparents’ farmhouse became a place of sanctuary. I lived there for about six and a half years. It was the typical two-story, 200-year-old white house that happened to be situated on a potato farm in the Butler County countryside. The foundation bowed, the house was heated by hot water pipes that banged and creaked every night, there were two doors (we rarely used the nicer front-facing one adjacent to a busy route, opting inside for the smaller mudroom entrance beside the driveway), its well water smelled like rotten eggs, its paint peeled, and it was slightly haunted.  During high school, my sanctuary started in a large room my grandparents designated for me on the second floor above a long set of steep stairs. Friends and family experiencing the stairs for the first time would look up in wonder and slight fear, and I’d always remember the first feeling I got when going up those stairs: slight panic that I would tip backwards and fall to my doom.
In that room, I could curl up, secure in the knowledge that I was away from my home troubles, that my grandparents respected me (what a novel concept) enough to knock and wait for permission to enter because they knew that space was mine, and that I was trusted to be on the computer as late as I wanted and not download porn or viruses. They let me sleep in as late as I wanted without yelling at me or making me feel guilty. Winter always came with a natural guilt when I’d sleep til 2 p.m. and only have two hours of daylight remaining. The room became a place of significant paranormal activity. I saw many things while there: shadowy men, red electric faeries, orbs, demons, animals, ect. They always traveled diagonally from the corner of my room past the tv toward the head of my bed. For a long time I thought the house was situation on a pathway, and it wasn't until I moved in with my best friend in New Castle and still experienced oddities that I began to consider that maybe it wasn't the house that was haunted, so much as me. The activity that happens now only occurs in my room. But my grandparents experienced a number of situations at the farmhouse: shadowy, hooded figures like grim reapers that watched from corners; a wafting scent of peanutbutter toast at 2 a.m.; and cigar and cigarette smoke when none of us smoked. Even if I'm haunted, there were still presences in that house.
A unique marker of the place was its Y-shaped driveway--a paved U-driveway with a curving tail. That tail was a miniature valley, and even the farmer landlord didn’t mind that I rollerbladed along it during every visit. Rollerblading there was like the walks I would take at home. I put on headphones that covered my ears, and--rain or snow or shine--I would fall into my own world as I surged up and down along the cracked pavement, swerving out of the way to avoid incoming cars or farming equipment and stepping to the side when people needed the driveway. There was an unspoken boundary and etiquette on that driveway. As long as I stayed out of the way, and got out of the way, I was free to come and go.
The driveway was flanked by a single-car garage, next to which was an equipment garage with rolling doors in the front and back. From the tail’s connection point was a steep offshoot that lead to a white barn. Cattycorner from the house was the large red shed and office. I could never understand why it was called a storage shed because it stretched the length of the house, two garages and barn combined, including all the spaces between. Everything else was farmland, from the small field/back yard beside the house and shed, to the rolling fields of hay  (or straw, still haven’t learned which it was) and potatoes. Behind the barn and clearly visible from the tail, like looking out a floor-to-ceiling wall of windows, was a small pond with two giant trees beside it. I ended up painting a winter scene of that for my senior project.
I experienced many weather conditions on that driveway and, between it and walking around my home’s neighborhood, I learned to gauge when a storm would break or the incremental strength of the rain. I would stand in my rollerblades with my back to the wind and let it push me around the driveway or give helpful boosts to make me go faster. I also learned about black ice there, and willingly shoveled when my legs screamed to rollerblade. Back with my parents, I couldn’t stand to shovel, but had no problem doing it at my grandparents’ house.
I moved in with them halfway through my senior year of high school. Finally my sanctuary was complete because I didn’t have to leave it anymore. It steadily became the closest thing I’ve had to a home. I was welcome there, because the farm was so open to nature that I could marvel at it from the side yards or driveway. I could walk around the equipment garage, away from the light pole, and see the sky open above me. A few times, we saw satellites floating past on very clear nights. For a couple years, my best friend and I would take fresh fruit, fresh bread, and sparkling grape juice during our walks along the fields in order to celebrate Midsummer. And every night, my grandfather would take his cocker spaniel for a walk in the same area, and I would watch them from where I stood on the driveway in my rollerblades—watching his stride, watching the dog’s energy or lack thereof, watching him stumble or pause to regard something or wait for his dog. It still felt slightly voyeuristic even in such an open place.
My grandfather taught me how to drive along those fields. He took me back to the picnic area behind a line of trees in order to teach me about parallel parking, how to make three-point turns, and how to anticipate and adjust to shifting terrains. He also asked me to mow the side field for him when he was too tired. When he returned from work every day, he was usually too tired to mow the lawn, let alone mow it and the small field next to it. And I wasn’t doing any chores during the day (an agreement my grandparents suggested), so I had the time. A filial duty was awakened in me then and I wanted to help, so I would don my bathing suit during the summer and ride around in rectangular patterns until the lines overlapped and I went in circles.
From watching him, feeling the acceptance from my grandmother, and being able to stand on the driveway with open nature in full force all around me, I matured, gained a sense of decency and responsibility that my parents could never teach me by forcing it upon me and screaming at me when I did something wrong. My grandparents and their house provided a quiet support system, first to help me heal, and then to guide me. Thinking about various places along the farm pulls forth different memories and all the emotions that went with those times. And now that I’m away from it, my heart twinges with each memory. The side field is gilded with a summer glitter, the pond is steeped in the deep blue of midnight with a silvery sheen from the moon. The rolling fields are auburn from the setting sun, pink from the rising sun, and waving green during late spring. I never had to worry about working in the suburbs or being indoors at school all the time, because I could come home to nature and loving grandparents.


  1. I like how you connect the relationship with your grandparents to the house itself. You recall the details very vividly. I especially enjoy your descriptions of the driveway. That's an area of a home that is often overlooked. For you, obviously, it held incredible significance.

  2. This post has so many themes in it: home, parenting, nature, maturing. I am most interested in the description of the place through these emotional lenses. I am also curious about the idea of "sanctuary"...did it change at all for you once the farmhouse went from your place to get away from everything to your day-to-day living situation? I have an obsession with farms...I want to live on one for a season and see what its like. Great details!

  3. It didn't, actually. It went from a sanctuary I could only visit and would have to leave after a few days, to one I could rely upon and enjoy every day. It's very comforting knowing you can just stay in the area that makes you feel safe.

  4. I know I'm behind in getting back to your email Nicole, but this post says to me that your instincts about writing about this place for your project are right - very evocative and emotional.

  5. I feel like if I were to write about it, I'd have to write about my problems at home and how I would go for walks to escape them, because the rollerblading was much the same thing. But whereas my walking route provided a sense of security, if not the actual thing, the farmhouse provided complete security that spanned the entire estate (for lack of a better word. I guess it would more be about my family troubles and how I turned to nature to escape them, and the changes I encountered living with my grandparents. Would that be okay? I could easily fill 15 pages doing that.

  6. Sorry I'm just now getting back to this Nicole. I expect that you've already gotten some of this into your final piece by now. But those ideas sound great!