Saturday, January 31, 2009

Attempting to Go Home Again

Last summer Alex and I spent some time travelling in the midwest and included a stop at my childhood home. Since our last visit eight years ago, someone has repaired at least part of the damage to the attic that occured during a tornado, although the repair was not done well. When I was growing up, the house was just a lovely four-square with porches on four sides. My mother thought it was a huge house, but I believe that was because she grew up with so many siblings (13) in tenant farmhouses in Kansas. The walls of the home are lathe and plaster, and all the floors and woodwork are oak. When I was growing up the house was surrounded by tall elms, maples, and pine trees, multiple gardens, and a huge apple tree. The fencing is gone, the gardens and antique roses are gone, most of the trees are gone. When we stopped there a few years ago, the renter invited us into the house, and we noted the poor remodeling jobs that had been done in the kitchen and bathroom. I'd love to have the cast iron bathtub and sinks they removed. The original kitchen cabinets and cupboards they removed are exactly what people want for restoration of older homes.
Here's the corn crib as it looked last summer--actually it was storage for both corn and oats. During the years I lived there, it was painted iron oxide red and then white. I had forgotten all about the green shingled cupola on top--years before I was born the outbuildings had been painted green. The cupola was used when an elevator from the outside carried corn still on the cobs up to storage.
For our cat Fuzz, the crib was a very happy hunting ground, until at the age of 13 he lost a battle with a rat.

This photo shows the footprint I squeamishly placed in the concrete foundation for an additional wire storage area poured when I was a small child. I hated the feel of the wet cement, hating getting it off my foot, and never dreamed the print would still be there decades later.

These two pictures are heartbreaking. This is the original barn, built sometime between 1915 and 1920. The lower portion to the left was added in the 1950's.
The barn was built on a cement foundation. Over the years I've often wished I could have wood of that quality to build a new home. The floors in the hayloft were buffed and polished by decades of moving bales of hay and straw across them. As the straw and hay were used and space became available in the hayloft each year, we children would go up there and engage in all sorts of imaginative play--homesteading, building homes, putting on plays and having songfests.

Here on the east face of the barn is evidence of even more tornado damage. Typical of tornadoes, this one took much of the end of the barn but left the pulley used to raise and lower the bales of hay.
My grandfather bred and raised Belgian draft horses which he used for farming until Post-Word War II prosperity led my father to purchase gasoline driven farm equipment. Grandpa sold his last draft horse in the early 1950's, although he continued to take horses to the Illinois State Fair for several years for Ray Schlagel, who had purchased the last of his Belgians.
The barn was also used for milking cows and for birthing Black Angus as well as for fattening the steer being readied for slaughter for meat for our family.

Here's Alexandra, standing on the foundation of a 60' x 100' laminated rafter building my father had erected for equipment storage and a workshop, using money my mother had inherited.
The only remaining outbuildings are the barn, crib, and a stone silo. Other outbuildings included a chicken house, hen house, feed storage building, a hog house, another large equipment building, and a portable feed storage building as well as a cobhouse and a two bay garage and workshop. All are gone. I'm sure the current owner collected insurance money for the damage to the existing outbuildings and the home. I'm grateful to see that the home was repaired, however, shoddily, but it's sad that the owner didn't let someone salvage the wood in the other buildings that he clearly will never again be using. Maybe the difficult economic times ahead will encourage him to let someone have the wood that still remains usable. While there are still lightening rods on those buildings, I don't know how long they can be expected to work when those buildings just seem to arise out of the prairie with nothing else around them.
This area was a five-acre orchard filled with apple, cherry, pear, peach, and crabapple trees, grape arbors, and strawberries.
Alexandra said that when she's an attorney, she'll buy the farm back for me. As sad as it was to see the deterioration, I had to explain to her that that's just not one of my dreams. When we were growing up, we went without a lot because the needs/wants of the farm and my father came ahead of family needs. I don't know if there ever has been a time when I wanted to live there again, or to own the property, although occasionally I'll still have dreams like I had when I was a child that I'm frantically trying to phone for emergency help and the little local phone company has been sold and all the phone numbers changed and the freight train has leaped the tracks 3/4 mile south of us and is barrelling north on a path of destruction. Not sure where that dream comes from, but the noise of a tornado is often similar to that of a train.
I do miss the culture in which I grew up, but I'm sure that's significantly different now too, although I do hope that it's still safe enough for kids to walk around town like we did.


1 comment:

sanda1101 said...

Dora, so enjoyed reading this and looking at the pictures. The house in Huntley where I lived from 3 yrs. old to age 11 has been torn down. The grade school, middle school and High School (all one big long building) which I attended were also demolished a few years ago, even though they were built in the mid 50's. It is so strange to see your childhood bulldozed when you aren't all that old! Sanda

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