BY DEBORAH LEAN
Deborah Lean is a mixed media artist and writer living near Cobourg, ON. Copyright is held by the author.
THE OLD FARMHOUSE had an air of sadness about it, like an old woman, tired and worn-out from years of hard work, who now had nothing to do. The windows were grimy, the dirt, the dust, the disrepair were all evidence of a lack of caring, of attention. It was full of emptiness, as strangers wandered through the house, their footsteps echoing, their voices sounding sharp and unfriendly.
All the furniture was removed, the mishmash of personal memorabilia boxed up and carted out, until the walls were all that remained to hold on to the lingering memories. The grounds displayed their neglect; the gardens gone to weed, the empty flower boxes, and the lawn in need of mowing.
Like the house, the barn, too, was empty. The farm implements were strewn over the near field in a mocking display, for there were no chores needing to be done that day. Once, there had been cows and horses grazing in the field, and crops growing green and ripe in the fields.
The feeling of abandonment prevailed despite the fact the yard was covered with parked cars and people were wandering about. The “for sale” sign on the front lawn announced the farm was sold and the large electronic advertisement announced that today was the day of the farm auction.
Old Joe was gone and all that he owned, all his belongings, were spread out across the yard, crowded together on tables and carelessly thrown in boxes. How sad…to have your life put on view, to have all your personal possessions picked over by strangers.
I remembered how it had once been as I wandered about the yard. The gardens, resplendent in full bloom, had been Ida’s joy, the one corner of the farm she could call her own. There had always been flowers on her table, or a shared bouquet for a neighbour in times of trouble or need. Ida had been gone for many years and her gardens showed more than just a recent neglect.
I could hear the auctioneer, his booming voice carrying over the murmur of the crowds, calling everyone’s attention to some of the farm tools and implements piled near the barn. “Do I have a bid?” he calls out and starts off the bidding, his continuous, sing-song banter aimed to keep the crowd revved and in a spending mood.
On one table I found a pair of baby shoes with a note saying “never worn.” The shoes had once been white but the leather was yellowed and cracked with age. They were the old style shoes all infants used to wear, which gave kids solid support when they first learned to walk.
These shoes would have belonged to young Joe, and I wasn’t surprised they had never been worn. From the day he could walk young Joe wore boots, barn boots, just like his Dad.
Memories flashed through my mind of the father and son working and walking the land that had been in the family for generations. And now they were gone, both father and son.
Old Joe may have died only weeks ago, but I knew his spirit had died years before, on a rainy night 30 years ago. A night of celebration that ended in tragedy for a couple of 18 year old boys graduating high school and starting summer vacation.
Over the years I had watched as Joe worked the farm less and less, until the barns were empty and the fields worked by those who leased the land. And once his wife, Ida, was gone, the house and gardens fell even further to old Joe’s neglect.
The old house had served the family well and didn’t deserve to be left to ruin, but maybe it was an accurate reflection of the family that had lived there. Hopefully the new owners would bring it back, fill it with love and joy and new family traditions.
I bought that pair of baby shoes, in memory of young Joe, the boy who had been my son Billy’s best friend. And I would keep those shoes, in memory of old Joe’s son, who died on that rainy night those many years ago, that rainy night when Joe’s son died and my Billy lived.