Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A New Day Yesterday, An Old Day Tomorrow

OK, my blogger friends. I have hinted here & there in my blogs about the time-travel story I am writing. I'd like to present the first chapter here just to get your opinions.
The basic storyline:
Unbeknown to my modern 21st century family and I, we have just awakened on January 1, 1863, about five miles outside of Gettysburg. Using my real family, I tried to use our own personalities as close as I could and as best as my imagination would allow, given the circumstance we found ourselves in. This is how our reaction could be if it ever truly happened.
Just so you know, I write for myself - as you will see, I am not a professional writer. I just enjoy writing.
I guess what I am looking for is...does it hold your interest?...wanting more? Does it make sense, realistic, like it's actually happening? Is it clear - understandable? Is it readable?
I'm really not looking for editing - unless there is blatantly in your face mistakes - -
Thanks!



Even before opening my eyes, the feeling that something was not quite right overwhelmed me. The bed felt different; the pillowcases had an uncomfortable roughness, and the sheets much more coarse than what I was used to; my normally stiff mattress gave way to one softer, yet filled with lumps and bumps, and the covers were quite a bit thicker and not as form-fitting. Even my sense of smell told me that I was in unfamiliar territory. And, it was cold – very cold. But, my eyes would not open – I don’t mean that I couldn’t open them; the lids were just so heavy, as if I were coming off general anesthesia – I was aware but too tired to care. And then, like a charge of electricity, I bolted up, almost in a panic. This was not my room! Where was I? A dizzying surge of anxiety raced through my brain, the light-headedness causing me to nearly pass out. I looked to my left and – thank God! – lying next to me, out like a light, was Patty. Glancing every which way throughout the room I saw nothing familiar. We were not in our bedroom! The furnishings here didn’t belong to us, not even the bed; this bed was smaller than our queen-size, just a little bigger than a single. The furniture and accessories in this two-windowed room were antiquated in style, similar to what one might see in a historic home museum, although the pieces here did not look aged; candle holders, pitchers and bowls, toiletries, all atop marble-top dressers and small tables that encircled the room. Our sole heat source, it seemed, was a mantled fireplace across from the foot of the bed - glowing embers barely giving off any warmth at all.

This was definitely not a scene of the 21st century.

I gave my wife a nudge. Nothing. I gave her a shove and spoke her name. Little movement. “Patty!” I said sternly, a note of concern in my voice. With her long, light brown hair covering her face, she stirred, murmured, “hmmm,” and then, just as I, popped up suddenly.

“What’s going on?” she inquired, not sure if she was dreaming or if this was reality. “Where are we?”

“You tell me,” was my wry reply. Someone must have been playing a joke. Patty - and everyone else - knew that I had a passion for history. I absolutely love the subject, so maybe this was all a big joke, and Patty was in on it.

After seeing the expression of wonder and confusion on her face, though, I knew that if this was a stunt of some sort, then she was not aware of it.

“This looks like a room from one of the homes in Greenfield Village,” she thought aloud, remembering our visits to the Henry Ford’s open-air museum. She then looked fearfully at me. “Kenny, where are we? How did we get here?”

I got up out of bed without answering, setting my stocking feet – I never wear stockings to bed! - upon the small rag rug, and tiptoed across the cold hard wood floor to the window. I was wearing a white two-buttoned long-sleeve nightgown that reached to my ankles with separate ankle-length four-buttoned underwear. How did I get in these? I then noticed the garment my wife was wearing was also old-fashioned-looking women’s sleepwear. She looked down at herself and realized that she did not go to bed the night before wearing what she now had on - a thick, white-cottoned, ribbon-laced gown. She faced me once again with a look of trepidation. I turned and focused out the beveled glass window, scraping the icy frost from the inside. I could see my breath.

“Patty, come here.”

She moved to where I was standing and looked out into the daylight. We were on the second floor of the structure and could see quite a distance…well, except for Patty. My wife squinted her eyes – she was near-sighted and was having difficulty focusing with any kind of clarity. Dreary, thick clouds hovered in the skies, and a fresh layer of snow covered the land…lots of land…farmland…with a distant house here and there trailing down what could be a road. Bare trees surrounded us. Very rural. Were we still in Michigan? My first thought was that we could be in the vicinity of the local villages of Holly or Romeo, or even near Lexington, located off southern Lake Huron. But, how could that have happened without us knowing? Neither of us would have slept so soundly as to not be awakened during such a journey - a journey that included, of all things, a change of clothing. Had we been drugged?

Patty and I were silent, staring, wondering…

“Oh my God! The kids!” Patty exclaimed as she lifted her skirts to run out the door, with me following close behind. We ran into the room directly across from the one we were in – thank God! Twelve year old Miles’ blonde hair peeked out from under the covers, and Rosalia, my little seven year old, who had hair like her mother, was in a second bed, both very sound asleep. A sigh of relief from the two of us. I then heard a mumbled “mom?” coming from a third room, adjacent to this one. Peering in, we saw that the rest of our clan – our two teenaged children, Tom and Robert, were with us as well. Tom was still out like a light, but Robert was in the groggy twilight awakening stage.

“Where are we?” Rob questioned. Patty and I just stared at each other, with her giving me the ‘find out what is going on’ look. I just shrugged my shoulders and glanced out the door into the small hallway. These were the only three rooms up here, with an open banister staircase leading down. The landing on this second floor had enough room for a small love seat and a couple of chairs. Once again, antiquated in style, but not truly aged.

“I’m going to investigate,” I told Patty. “Just stay here for a few minutes while I check things out.” I thought for a moment. “Maybe this is a bed and breakfast.”

“Do you want me to get Tommy up to go with you?” she asked me.

“I’ll be fine,” I told her. “If someone was going to hurt us, I don’t think they would have let us sleep through the night.”

“I didn’t mean that…”

“I know. I’ll be fine.”

I followed the steps to the first floor to do some exploring. Upon reaching the landing I gave a couple shouts of “Hello!” with no reply. I could feel the coldness of the floor through my socks. I then realized I was still in my gown – I hoped if this were a bed and breakfast that the others staying here would be asleep. It would certainly be embarrassing to be seen dressed in this way.

From the bottom of the stairs I could see that the house was divided into two, split only by the staircase. That’s not to say that the house was constructed for two families; it was just a division that I knew was quite common in older homes. Facing the back of the house from the front door, a hall that ran the depth of the house to the left of the stairs, with side entrances into separate rooms at the front and back. Numerous head gear for men and women – hats and bonnets – hung on pegs along the wall. Hats and bonnets? Victorian decor, I was sure; Victoriana was very popular at bed and breakfast establishments. I stepped through the first entrance and found a front parlor decorated in the same 19th century manner: the furniture continued to remind me of the kind seen in museums; a small center table, chairs lining a wall, a hutch…and even a fireplace with a clock on the mantel greeted me as I entered. On the table sat a miniature statue of a colonial era man and woman on top. The treatments on the windows consisted of two separate burgundy-with-gold-trim draperies that hung to the bottom of the sill.

Truly Victoriana at its finest.

This front parlor gave way to a back parlor, separated only by a large drapery of the same cloth and style as the window treatments. This covering could be pulled across the opening for, I presumed, privacy.

“Hello?” I inquired again, to no avail as I moved into this next room.

More 19th century decor unveiled itself as I looked about this back parlor. There was a black cushioned sofa and chair, both with deep wood inlays, an old-time rocker, a couple of wood shelving units including a book shelf and corner shelf, and even what could be a small piano – or maybe it was an organ - as well as a secretary desk and chair; all gave the impression that this was not a 21st century room. A fireplace that was adjacent to the other in the front parlor stood in the corner to my right. The lamps in both rooms were oil-based.

Out the hall entrance with another “hello” and I found myself in the connecting passageway leading past a pantry filled with glass jars, bowls of crockery, and many different types and sizes of what looked to me to be kitchen utensils. There were also candle holders, kerosene lanterns, and large wood and brass tubs. Ancient stuff.

Even the kitchen, once again gave the impression of being in a museum.

“Anybody here?” I said loudly. The only response was the squeaks and thumps of the footsteps of my family moving about upstairs. I glanced at what lay before me: the cast-iron stove was obviously not from the 21st century - I don’t think it was even from the 20th century, as it was a wood-burning stove, one that took up much of the half-wall on which it was located. The other half of that wall had a wood bin filled to the brim with thinly chopped wood, large and small. A small square wood table sat between a window and a back door opposite the stove, a wood butter churn tucked underneath.

Cupboards, and a sink – a sink with no faucets or a drain.

A real historic kitchen.

I was in awe that whoever owned this house went to such extremes in authenticity. I looked forward to watching the proprietor make us breakfast, if this truly was, as I suspected, a bed and breakfast.

Turning to my right, another Victorian scene unveiled itself before my eyes, this one I figured to be the dining/living area, and it ran the length from the kitchen to the front of the house – the largest single room I had seen thus far. Another fireplace – and a very large one at that (was there not a gas furnace in this house?) - and it had burning embers still glowing warmly. Had someone been here recently? None of us, I was certain, had started a fire. That was a good sign, I had hoped, for it meant the ownership was near. The mantle clock let me know, just like the others I had spied throughout, that the time was nearing eight o’clock. A beautifully carved hutch that held dishes and glasses sat at the front wall, and a large drop-leaf table – big enough for a sizable family like ours – took up the center of the floor. The front of this room lead me back to where I began my tour.

Every stick of furniture that lay before me was of high quality that must have cost someone quite a bundle to purchase; prices for reproductions many times are more expensive than the originals. There were hardwood floors throughout with a rag rug here and there, and I, even with stockings on, felt the winter chill on the bottoms of my feet. It was as I walked through this definitely museum house that I realized there were no heating vents or electrical switches or outlets of any kind, just plenty of candles with holders and oil lamps, including one that hung from the ceiling in the large living room. And, of course, the ever-present fireplaces.

“Something strange is going on,” I said aloud to myself.

Back up the stairs I went and, by this time, all four of our kids had awakened.

“What did you find?” Patty asked. “Is there anybody down there?”

“This has got to be a bed & breakfast,” I said. I was certain of this. Maybe it was a surprise Christmas gift given to us – a night in a historic home. But how did we get here? This was our baffling question.

I shook my head then turned to my two eldest sons and sternly asked them, “Do either of you have any idea whatsoever of how we got here?” The boys just shook their heads, looking just as confused as Patty and I.

“I’m wearing a nightgown!” Tom exclaimed. And he was, just as I.“I usually sleep in my underwear. I don’t know how I got in this. I can’t even find my I.D. or my cell phone.”

“Me, too!” Rob echoed.

A flicker of panic came over me as I realized I had no identification either, but I squelched the feeling by moving about in quick steps to keep pace with my adrenaline and heart rate, going into and out of each of the three bedrooms. All were of the same genre as the rest of the abode, including small fireplaces in each.

“OK!” I exclaimed. “Everyone follow me downstairs.”

And they did, like a mother duck – make that a father duck - leading his ducklings.

If someone was watching us from a hidden camera to see the reactions on the faces of my family as we snooped about the house, well, I’m sure they had a good laugh. The “ooh’s” and “ah’s” turned to “is this for real?” Robbie, like me, noticed that the furniture, although in an old-time style, was actually not old at all.

“Good eye, Rob,” I told him. “High-quality reproductions, I’m sure.”

Tommy seemed apprehensive, almost aggravated, and looked to me for an answer. I had no idea how to respond, except to tell him, “Like I said, either this is a bed & breakfast or someone must be playing some sort of a joke on us.”

But, if this were a joke, who would go to this extreme? Who could or would set up such an elaborate scheme? And if this was a bed & breakfast, who gave this ‘gift’ to us and how did we arrive here, wherever “here” is? The worst of it was that not one of us remembered anything from the time we went to bed the previous night to the moment we awoke this morning.

I glanced out the wavy front parlor window. The front approach leading up to the door was “naturally” shoveled – that is, the snow was smashed down from boot prints. The street, or possibly a road - it’s hard to say because of the snow - was tree-lined, giving it a country lane feel. This was definitely a rural area, but I sensed that we weren’t too far from a town or village. Which town or village I couldn’t tell.

“Maybe we’re in an Amish area,” Tom suggested. “That kind of makes sense.”

“At this point, Tom,” I replied, “I’m not discounting anything.”

“I’m cold!” Rosalia chattered. And no wonder – when we spoke, puffs of steam came from our mouths. Looking at the main fireplace, the once glowing embers were dying with little heat emanating from them. I grabbed a few pieces of the kindling from the kitchen woodbin and stirred in the ashes of the fireplace, attempting to find a glow.

Success!

Blowing lightly into that spark, I was able to catch a thin piece of wood on fire. I then gently fed the flame, slowly building it up.

“Patty, keep adding to this from the wood in the kitchen. Tommy, Robbie, come with me,” I said. To the upstairs bedrooms the three of us went. “There must be clothing in these trunks.” I opened up a wooden chest at the foot of the bed Rob slept in and Tom did the same with his. As I suspected, clothing close to their size was neatly folded inside.

I then headed across to the room where Patty and I awakened this morning and saw two trunks at the foot of ‘our’ bed - sort of his-and-her trunks. Also, hanging from pegs on the wall was a blue dress as well as a rather large caged crinoline. Next to those items was the male clothing – a pair of pants, shirt, vest, and suspenders, all in gray or black. I tried them on and, except for the pant waist being a bit too large (that’s what suspenders are for, right?), everything fit as if they were specifically for me. Under the bed were four pairs of shoes; two were men’s and two were women’s. All were very similar to the style we wore for Civil War re-enacting, and all seemed like they were recently purchased as I could see they had not been worn yet. And, yes, in trying on a pair, they fit fairly well.

“Should we put this stuff on?” Tom asked from across the hall.

“Do you see our clothes anywhere?” I responded. “Put ‘em on.”

Then it hit me – Connor Prairie, the open-air living history museum in Indiana, where one can spend a weekend ‘in the past,’ living the pioneer life for a couple of days. Could we be there? I didn’t think they went to this extreme. But, maybe this was where we were.

Upon the dresser I saw a pocket watch, wound and ticking and set to the same time as the clocks. I clipped the silver chain to the top part of my vest and slipped the watch into the vest pocket. I assumed it was OK – it was there and no one was around to tell me I couldn’t. I then stepped into the boys’ room.

“They got my size right,” Tom stated as he and Rob stepped out of their room. “Even my shoes fit.”

“Mine, too,” Robbie echoed.

Whoever did this didn’t miss a trick!” I exclaimed louder than necessary. “Who would go to such an extreme to do this to us?” I asked this more to myself than to anyone else, but both boys gave me blank stares. “If either of you know just what the heck is going on and you’re not telling me…”

“Dad,” Tom seemed agitated at my accusation. “I really don’t know.”

In the closet under the stairs (it’s good to pay attention at museums) were wool coats – one for each of us, or so it seemed. Patty’s concern grew as she saw us dressed in the period clothing. I suggested she take our two youngest upstairs and find clothing for them to wear to help stave off the cold. The rest of us slipped out the back door to look for some fireplace logs. There had to be a woodpile around. The pile in the kitchen would burn too quick – they were just too thin for a sustained fire.

Biting cold air greeted us as we stepped into the country snow. We stopped to survey the area. It looked like any other rural setting one might find away from the city lights: a good-sized barn about fifty yards back to our right, a large three-story wooden structure off a distance to the left, and nothing but farm land throughout the center – a nice chunk of land, but not quite as large as most modern farms I’d seen – my estimated guess would be around 75 to 100 acres. Was the owner of this property a farmer by trade? There was plenty of land to grow their yield. Or was the available farmland used to grow food that would sustain the family living here, but not to use in a sale or trade? That could be a reason for the smaller size. Survivalists, maybe. Many thoughts zipped through my mind as I scanned the countryside. The smell of burning wood permeated the air, and no wonder – every house we could see had smoke pouring out of its chimney. There was a hand pump for water in between the barn and the house. I assumed it was their old-fashioned source for water. This pump was next to a small shed-like structure of which I would investigate later.

The three of us moved together to the barn where we saw rows of wood – not just a stack, but a pile like I’d never seen, all neatly propped atop one another. It must have been ten cords. Unfortunately, the logs were about four feet in length so some chopping had to be done – at this point, I had little care what the owner of this place might think of our taking on this chore without permission – I had a family to look after and it was mighty cold inside the house without a gas furnace. Better to be ready, as I wasn’t sure how quickly we would go through the wood that was in the kitchen bin. Walking to the barn door, it opened easily enough. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard the loud whinny of not one but two horses, standing side-by-side munching on the hay in the stall.

“Horses!” Robbie yelped.

“And a cow,” Tom added, pointing towards the back where a cow stood. A small milking stool sat nearby.

“Look at this,” I said, as I moved to a four-wheeled enclosed carriage. With a black exterior and a red interior that included a front and rear bench seat, it had room inside to fit my whole family fairly comfortably. There were leather flaps on the outside to cover the glass windows. Curtains hung on the inside.

“Cool!” Both boys exclaimed in unison.

“Do you need a license to drive one of these?” Robbie asked excitedly.

“Rob!” Tom admonished him.

Right behind the enclosed carriage was an open flat-bed carriage.

Just staring at the inside of this barn reminded me of the old ones we saw at historical Greenfield Village, with many of the old hand tools hanging from brackets on the walls, and some piled together in the corner. That’s where Robbie found the axe.

“Why don’t you grab that, Tom, and we’ll get to chopping.”

“Are you sure we should be doing this, Dad?” Tom asked.

“Do you think I care at this point?” was my reply.

I held the logs as Tom swung the implement, creating perfect-sized firewood. I estimated he chopped enough to keep fires going in all of the fireplaces on both floors at least through tomorrow. I was certain the owner would appreciate our labor. I figured it was the least we could do, given the fact that we spent the night in his or her house, albeit, at someone else’s pretense. I had Robert haul the wood into the house and place numerous pieces near each of the hearths, as well as adding to the kitchen bin. I then went to each fireplace on the main floor and built a good-sized fire in each. Thank God for the embers from the dining room fireplace, as I had not seen any matches. I made big enough blazes so that one could easily feel the warmth emanating from across the room.

While this was taking place, Patty dressed Miles and Rosalia in clothing we assumed to be for their use. Patty found her clothes and proceeded to dress as well. She looked the picture of a Victorian woman as she came into the back parlor, wearing a tan work dress and round spectacles on her face.

“Where’d you get the glasses?” I asked.

“On the dresser. They help a little, but they’re not my prescription. I wish I knew where mine were.” She took a deep breath and let it out shakily. “I’m freaking.” I walked over and held her as she buried her face in my shoulder and sobbed.

“Patty, there’s no reason to cry.” I tried to comfort her. “There is a reasonable explanation for this. I really believe more and more that this is a bed & breakfast. Let me get this place warmed up – hopefully, whoever lives here won’t mind.” I lifted her chin to look at her eyes. “Look at them glasses!”

She smiled slightly. “At least I can see a little better with ‘em on.” Patty stepped back and composed herself. “Do you think whoever lives here would mind if I made breakfast?”

“Do I care if they care?” I said pointedly. “We got to eat and there’s not been anyone around for this whole hour we’ve been awake.”

“Maybe they went out to get us breakfast.”

“Then they should’ve left a note.”

Patty just stared at me, uncertain of whether she should cook or not. She gave in on her own accord and asked, “Will you help me get this stove started?”

I shrugged and nodded.

My wife walked to the stove and then shook her head as if to say ‘I don’t know what to do!’

We were startled out of our frustration by the bang of the door as Robbie came running in. “Dad! Dad! We have chickens! A bunch of them! In the wooden thing near the barn!”

I followed my son back outside to a chicken coop. He was right. There must have been thirty chickens in a inside.

“Can we eat eggs fresh from a chicken?” I wondered aloud.

“Yeah, you can,” Tom replied.

“How do you know?”

“Because I read about it.”

“OK, well, I guess there’s one way to find out.”

I prepared to snatch some eggs from the nest, mumbling to myself, “I guess now’s as good a time as any to give it a try. I’ve never done this before.” I opened up the wired gate to the coop. The squawking those birds made was enough to raise the dead.

“Do these things attack?” I asked my sons. They laughed.

I was serious.

The hens fought to get away from my hand so I was able to search one of the nests for our possible breakfast but, unfortunately, there were no eggs to be found. I tried the next nest, creating another stir amongst the birds – nothing. It must have been my fifth or sixth try before I came up with one egg, brown with a thin coating of wetness and bird poop. Feeling for more, I came to realize that this was it, the lone egg.

“I don’t know for sure, but maybe they don’t lay in the winter,” I guessed.

So, with the one “chicken embryo” (as Tom called it), we tromped into the kitchen, holding our prize high and carefully.

“You want me to cook it?” Patty asked.

“Might as well,” I smirked, “there’s no one here to stop us.”

“A single egg.”

“It’s all we got.”

My wife sighed.

Both Patty and I stared at the large back metal range, with its pipe jutting up from the center and jutting across the kitchen ceiling and connecting to the living room fireplace chimney. The stove itself wasn’t very wide. I wondered many people it could accommodate if this were a B&B.

“I think you put the wood in here,” Patty said, opening up a center grate. A very tiny hint of a smile crossed her face. “I paid attention at Greenfield Village, too.”

“That makes sense,” I agreed. “The fire in the middle would heat up the rest of the burners.” I wasn’t sure if they were called burners or not, but I did not know what else to call them.

Finding the black metal tongs, I snatched a burning piece of kindling from the living room fireplace, put it in the stove firebox and soon had a small blaze.

“It’s going to take a while to warm this up,” she mentioned. “And I know how you get when you’re hungry.”

“A single egg will not feed any one of us,” I replied.

“I have bread here that was in the cupboard,” Patty said. “I’ll warm it up. At least we’ll get some food in our bellies until we can find something else.”

“Hunger is the least of my worries right now – I gotta pee!” I glanced at my family. “I don’t recall seeing a bathroom in this place, do you?”

They all shook their heads.

I skimmed through the house another time, to make sure I did not miss the bathroom the first time around.

There was none to be found.

Back out once again into the cold I went, figuring there was always the side of the barn if nothing else. Fortunately (or unfortunately!) found an outhouse situated on the other end of the barn. Far enough away so the smell didn’t reach the house, I figured.

Doing my duty in a tiny, unheated shack was not to my liking. The split wood that constructed this privy allowed daylight and cold air to stream in; cobwebs hung useless from the corners, and dead bugs littered the bottom. Even with the winter freeze, an odor arose from the hole in which the frozen excrement lay. I was not looking forward to an eventual ‘number two’ in this loo.

As I returned to the kitchen, Patty held up a ceramic chamber pot.

“You were already through the door when I remembered seeing this,” she smiled.

“Well, at least I can tell people that I used a real country outhouse. Have the kids gone?”

Patty nodded. “Miles and Rosalia have.”

Tommy let us know that he “went on the side of the barn.”

“Tom!” Patty disapproved.

I wanna go on the side of the barn!” Robbie whined.

“No!” Patty exclaimed, then looked at Tommy. “See what you started? Here…” she gave Robert the chamber pot. “Take this upstairs to the bedroom and go. But, bring it back down carefully and dump it outside AWAY FROM THE HOUSE!” She yelled after him as he grabbed it to do as he was told.

I removed my coat and shoes and plopped down in front of the living room fireplace to warm myself. What could I do here, in this stranger’s home? I was feeling fidgety.

“I think I’m going to do some exploring after breakfast,” I announced. “Maybe I can find someone with a phone, or possibly even get a ride into town.”

Patty found a cast-iron pan amongst the array of cookware inside the cupboard and set it on the burners. Finding a cloth rag, she wiped the slime from the egg, cracked the shell, and then emptied the contents into the pan. Because of the uneven heat it took a while longer to fry the food, but eventually we were able to sit down for breakfast. The egg was split between our two youngest, so it was mainly a bread meal. My wife also boiled water drawn from the pump outside, as we were not quite sure how safe it was to drink. That, too, took quite a while.

I looked at the clock on the wall – a little after 10:00.

“I’m gonna walk around the area and try to find out what’s going on,” I said, grabbing my coat.

“Maybe you shouldn’t leave,” Patty mentioned. “What if the owner returns and you’re not here?”

“I was just going to go to that farm across the road. It’s the closest one that I can see.”

This ‘closest farm’ was still nearly a half-mile away due to the house’s location at the far end of the land.

“Please stay here.” Patty was still very frightened.

I let out a sigh. “Alright, we’ll explore around here instead.”

We all helped in clearing the table and I hauled the dirty water from washing our plates outside.

“This place needs a drain,” Patty said.

“This place needs indoor plumbing!” I heard Tom’s response.

“And a TV!” Rob threw in.

“How about electricity to run the TV?” I replied.

As Patty tidied up the kitchen I found her a coat in the same closet where mine was. In fact, there were coats for Miles and Rosalia as well so we all bundled up and trudged outdoors into the four-inch snow.

“Smell the fireplaces burning,” Patty said. “Mmmm…”

“Very ‘country,’ eh?” I said. My wife nodded. We both loved the feel and idea of country living.

Our first stop was the barn where my wife was able to see, first-hand, the carriages, tools, and the farm animals. Of course, Miles and Rosalia ran straight to the horses. Surprisingly, neither horse, one of which was brown in color and the other black, reacted in fright, but accepted the children’s excitement.

“I want to call this one Penny, like Felicity’s horse!” Rosalia exclaimed, referring to her American Girl doll.

“They probably already have names,” I mentioned.

“Yeah, but they can name them for now,” Patty said. “Miles, do you want to name the other horse?”

“Uh, yeah,” he said, “how ‘bout ‘Pete’?”

“Pete?” Tom responded as Robbie laughed. Miles grunted then changed his mind.

“This one is Blackie,” Miles told us. “Because he’s black.”

Who was I to argue?

“Maybe we should let the cows graze outside,” Patty suggested, noticing the cows beyond the horses.

“The ground is too snow-covered,” I said. “And, it’s not our home. The person who lives here will return soon to take care of his farm, I’m sure.” Instead, we gave each animal more hay, something that Miles and Rosalia loved doing.

At each turn of her head, Patty would say, “Wow!” or “Look at this!” I believe she felt, as did I, that we might as well enjoy this ‘living history’ while we could, because we were sure the time was coming for the perpetrators of this gag to reveal themselves shortly.

Outside the barn we plodded, heading toward the large three-story wooden structure I saw earlier. As we cut around to the front, the announcement that we were at CREIGHTON MILL was painted along the top in big black letters.

“I think it’s a gristmill,” I said, and Patty nodded.

The closer to the building we got, the louder the sound of trickling water became.

“A creek must be on the other side. I bet there’s a water wheel attached.” I quickened my pace. Sure enough, on the opposite side was a running stream, not yet frozen by the winter weather. The large wooden wheel stood still as the water pushed against it and curved off to the back of the owner’s land and out of sight in the white snow.

“WOW!” Patty exclaimed, once again. “This really is like being at Greenfield Village, but without the curbs and sidewalks.”

“It’d be cool to see this thing work,” Robbie stated, and the rest of us agreed.

“Look!” Miles said, pointing toward the road. “More horses!”

A horse and carriage carrying curious onlookers sledded on by with a snow-muffled clip-clop. I speak of their curiosity because we could see them peeping through the window opening, and they did not take their eyes off of us.

Patty put her hand in mine and squeezed, not a squeeze of happiness, but of nervousness.

Of concern.

The first sign of life we’d seen. I did expected to eventually see a car zip by, but definitely not a horse and buggy.

“What is going on?” Patty looked at me with those ‘please have an answer’ eyes. So much for relaxing.

“I bet we are in an Amish village,” Robbie piped, repeating what Tom had surmised earlier.

“I don’t know what to think,” I whispered. “I really want to go and find someone to talk to. I feel like I’m going nuts.”

We made our way back to the house, and everyone trudged on in, except Patty and me. I told Tom and Rob to have the two youngest remove their wet coats, shoes, and socks, and to sit by the living room fireplace. I told him to put a few more logs on the fire to build it up.

I noticed, as we walked back from the mill, a cellar door that one finds on the side of old homes. I led Patty to it and, with a wipe of the snow and a bit of a tug the doors creaked open. It was a cavernous root cellar with a dirt floor, brick walls, and lit only by the daylight from the opened door; we could only see what was directly in front of us. I ran back inside the house and grabbed a glass-enclosed candle lantern from the kitchen storage room, lit the candle with a small piece of wood from the fireplace, and headed back to the cellar. Inside we found this room to be decently large, bigger than the kitchen above it. The floor joists above our heads had metal hooks jutting out, some handling baskets and sacks, and a center hook dangling an unlit lantern. Upon the dirt floor below our feet were unlabeled crates, some stacked two and three high. The room as a whole was able to hold an ample amount of provisions; we found dozens of brown eggs, as well as cheese, dried fruit in jars, vegetables, sacks of different types of flour and cornmeal. There were also chunks of ham, beef, and other salted meat – this cellar was crammed!

“We take only what’s going to be cooked,” Patty instructed. “This has to last the owners all winter, I’m sure.”

“More Greenfield Village knowledge?” I asked her.

Patty just stared into my eyes. She was ready to explode, I could see.

With the house being colder than what we were used to, Tom, Rob, and I gathered and split more wood to keep a blazing fire going. We stacked piles of wood next to every wood-burning unit in the house. Furthermore, without electric lights, the fire would also allow us to have a bit more brightness, being that we were in the time of the year where daylight was at it’s shortest. The overcast sky didn’t help.

With Rosalia right by her side attempting to help out, Patty spent the rest of her morning preparing lunch. It was trying to keep Miles occupied that tried her patience.

“Mom! I want to watch TV!” he exclaimed.

“We don’t have a TV here,” was her response.

“I want to go home.”

“I know. So do we. We’ll be home soon,” she comforted.

“Can I listen to ‘I Am The Walrus’ when we get home?” This was Miles’ favorite Beatles song. He listened to it often.

“Yes, Miles. After we get home you can listen to ‘I Am The Walrus.’ ”

Miles ran into the back parlor where I had just got a nice flame going. “Dad! I get to listen to ‘I Am The Walrus’ after we get home! Mom said!”

“ ‘I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all to-geth-errrr…’ ” I began singing. “‘See how they run like pigs from a gun…’ ”

“Da-ad!” Miles interrupted.

“Maybe Tommy can play that small piano in there,” Patty suggested.

“Maybe I will.” Tommy finished setting wood onto the living room hearth. He stepped into the back parlor and sat at the instrument.

“This isn’t a piano, that’s for sure,” he said. “It’s like a small organ. I hope it’s tuned up.”

It took a little while to figure it out, finding he had to pump the large peddle at the bottom to get any sound. He struggled at first to pump and play simultaneously. “This is why I don’t play drums!” he said. “It’s hard for me to get my feet and hands to do different things at the same time!” Eventually, he began to play the instrument, finding that it indeed was in tune. He made a gallant attempt to play the instrumental break to The Beatles ‘In My Life.’ Not too shabby, and very unique-sounding.

“This almost sounds like home,” Patty said.

“Yeah, if the Beatles were around a hundred years earlier!” Tom laughed.

The lunch Patty was preparing of ham and applesauce with bread was fit for a king in comparison to our meager breakfast of just warmed up bread. The ham was very salty and tough, however, as it was preserved in a salt bin to make it last the winter months. Starving good.

The early part of the afternoon was spent exploring the house and studying some of the beautiful pieces of furniture and decorations. It all looked too new to be antiques, and if they weren’t, I would have bet my eye-teeth they were museum quality reproductions. I told my family to be extremely careful.

Upon the bookshelf lay written works by well-known 19th century authors, including a few by Charles Dickens, ‘Leaves of Grass’ by Walt Whitman, a couple by Nathaniel Hawthorne such as ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and ‘The House of Seven Gables,’ as well as some I was not familiar with.

Crawling on my hands and knees, I scoured the baseboards for an electrical outlet of any kind, but found nothing.

Patty inventoried the clothing in the rooms upstairs. Among the items in “her” trunk were two other dresses, including one that was obviously for special occasions, as well as one entirely made of black fabric.

In “my trunk” she found that I had multiple shirts, as well as a couple pairs of pants. Besides the gray pair I was wearing, there was one straight black and another black and gray plaid with a matching vest. All garments were relatively close to our sizes.

Not a sweatshirt, t-shirt, or a pair of jeans in the bunch.

“I really want to – no, I really need to walk over to the farmhouse across the road to see if anyone is around.” I was pleading with my wife to not be upset at me if I were to make the attempt to find another living human being The afternoon was wearing on and I was feeling antsy, borderline panicky. No one was showing up here - what happens after dark?

She gave in. “Well, maybe Tommy could go with you.”

Good.

On with the cold-weather gear and off we went, out the front door and across the road. Looking to my left, the road inclined slightly, and, to my right, it curved to the right. Looking down, shoes, horse’s hooves, and wheel tracks left their imprints upon the snow. We saw not a soul as we made our way over the open land toward the farmhouse. The cold wind blew at us and it stung like whipped sand. The wind caused the snow to drift, therefore the four inches became knee-deep in spots.

It seemed like forever but we finally clumped on up to the door of the beautiful old stone farmhouse. Turning back, the house we were staying in was nearly a speck. This was a bit farther of a walk than I anticipated.

I rapped on the wood door and waited. Nothing. Another pound. Quiet. Tom peeked in the windows but saw no movement.

“I don’t think anyone’s here,” he said. “Hey! They have old furniture, too!”

I took a peep as well and saw with my own eyes that my son was indeed correct. The rooms inside had similar Victorian d├ęcor as the house from which we came. This was getting very weird.

Stepping off the porch, I looked about to see how far the next nearest house might be. Unfortunately, it was quite a distance yet again, but I felt the need to get information. My anxiety was increasing – I had to find out…and soon.

In the direction of the curve we went, to another stone home. Our legs were not used to all of this walking in drifted snow, and our steps became slower the nearer we got to the house.

Someone had come to the door even before I made it to the porch. It was a woman – a woman who I couldn’t see because she hid herself behind the door. I could hear the barking of an angry dog from inside.

“State your business,” she snapped.

I stopped where I was.

“My name is Ken Adamo, and this is my son, Tom. We’re from Eastpointe. Can you tell me where we are?”

“Never heard of Eastpointe.” She didn’t mince words.

“It’s in Michigan,” I replied. “Where are we?”

“Did you walk all the way from Michigan?”

“No,” I said. “I don’t know how we got here. I don’t even know where ‘here’ is.”

She started to shut the door. “You best be going.”

“Wait!” I tried to catch her, but at the raising of my hands and voice, her dog’s barking increased. “We need help…my wife and---“

“There’s a church up the road a ways. You go there.” With that, she shut the door, the ferocious sounds of growling ever-present.

I turned to my son. “Is this like a high crime area?” I asked. “Wow. She wouldn’t even give me a chance.”

“I’m glad that dog didn’t get out,” Tom commented.

We turned toward the road and, once again, clomped through the snow. The next house was just as far away. I didn’t want to be traipsing about an area I was not familiar with in the dead of winter. I let out a sigh.

“Let’s go back.” I felt defeated. “Maybe the owner finally returned.”

I didn’t believe it.

Patty, wearing a green crochet shawl, was leaning out the front door as we dejectedly returned.

“Nobody home?” she asked.

I pointed to the first place we visited. “Not at that house. But, there’s some freaked out woman that lives way over in that other house.” I then explained our curt adventure with “Mrs. Happy,” as Tom called her.

Patty said nothing. I just shook my head. I felt that I could cry. What now? What do we do? Where do we go? My jittery nerves made my blood race. I could feel the panic rising. I was feeling trapped. I needed to scream – to get this distress and fear out of my system. ‘O Lord, help me through this,’ I prayed silently.

Patty, in making an attempt to block the uneasiness from her mind, found ways to keep herself occupied. One concern was for the animals in the barn that she felt needed to get some fresh air. It was now late in the afternoon and, with the owner of this place still having yet to return, she was certain that the cow and the horses needed to get out. Like I could care less about the animals – I wanted to go home! But, once again, I headed toward the back, asking Patty to send Rob out. Miles came along as well. At least it will help to keep my mind busy, if only for a little while.

The horses were especially restless, stomping and whinnying loudly. Patty was right – they needed to get out in to the fresh air. Tom found the bridles hanging from a peg on the wall. Never having done this before, it took me numerous tries to place the contraption upon Blackie’s face, making plenty of blunders. But, I was given excellent suggestions from my two oldest. Trial and error and even a few laughs. Fortunately, the horse was not resistant and patiently took in stride the mistakes I made, so when we put the other bridle on Penny, all went fairly smoothly.

“I am not going to attempt to saddle them,” I said to the boys. “We’ll try riding them bareback.”

“We’re going to ride them?” Tom asked excitedly.

“I’m going to try first, then you can try. And if the owner returns and gets mad, considering what we’ve been through, I could care less!”

“Can I ride one?” Rob asked.

“We’ll see. Let’s see how the horses handle being ridden first.”

My children have never been horseback riding, but, fortunately, my wife and I had many a time. We took riding lessons years earlier, before our children were born so, to us, riding a horse was like riding a bicycle – you never forget.

Penny was a tall horse and, without a saddle, it took me numerous tries to get on top. Once positioned on the bony back, however, I sauntered out slightly into the pasture. It was obvious to me that the animal was used to being ridden as it handled very well. I moved back to my sons. Tom imitated my moves and climbed on Blackie’s back. I demonstrated to him how to guide the horse by gently tugging on the reins right or left, or leaving them loosely in the center. I showed him that by hugging Blackie with his legs, by kicking the horse slightly with his shoe heel, and by pulling back smoothly on the reins, he could make his transportation speed up, slow down, and stop. It was after a few minutes of practice that we directed both animals out to the pasture, much to the delight of Robert and Miles. This was a good opportunity to explore the property without having to walk.

The snow-covered ground did not initially give out any information except that it was flat with a few trees encircling it and, as discovered earlier, a quick-running stream curving through. There must have been at least a couple of acres of land behind the house – enough dirt to raise crops to sustain a family comfortably.

“I would love to have land like this to plant my garden,” Tom mentioned. He used a portion of our tiny yard in Eastpointe to grow a variety of vegetables, and had spoken of one day having a goodly amount of property to create “the ultimate garden.” But, he was still in high school and he had college ahead of him before pursuing his farm fantasy.

We moved to the edge of the stream and saw that it became…a pond – a mill pond.

“Wow! This guy must have some bucks!” I exclaimed.

Yeah he does,” Tom agreed.

We followed the water’s edge a short ways, noticing the border of large trees that lined the back boundary. Land, trees, a trickling stream, a pond, a mill…what a beautiful spread. This would be someone’s dream property – our dream property. I looked forward to meeting the owner of this acreage, whenever he decided to return, as I would love to learn how he obtained it.

Tom and I decided to turn our attention to the front of the house. As we entered the front yard, a strange feeling, almost of comfort, came over me. I’d had the same feeling whenever I have visited historical places.

I shook it off and noticed for the first time that the exterior of the structure had the all-around 19th century look to it that I had seen in many old photographs, although it appeared much smaller than it actually was. The clapboard was painted off-white with navy blue trim, and a small, pillared porch covered the front entrance.

We rode up and down the road a short way and noted the other houses dotting the landscape in the distance. Many were wood-framed farmhouses, while others, like the houses we had just made the attempt to visit, were made of stone. All appeared to be Victorian in style. Most had land that spread out a much greater distance than the plot on which we were staying. I was tempted to trot further on down the road, to maybe visit another home for answers, but chose to stick close by our place. Although my hope was dissipating, I was still optimistic of the owner’s return.

Rob really wanted to take a horse out for a ride, but with the darkness beginning to cover the landscape, I felt it best to wait until another time, maybe when we could go to a riding stable. So, instead, I let him guide the cow out to the pasture. There wouldn’t be much for the beast to eat with the white stuff covering the ground, but at least we got it out of the barn.

“Let her stay out here for a bit and then we’ll get her back and give her hay or whatever she was eating around her stall,” I told him.

The four of us were frozen straight through by the time we stomped our way into the house, each of us carrying more wood for the fire. Patty had the kerosene lamp lit over the table to add more light than the fireplace allowed. She showed me how the lamp could be pulled down closer to the table, in the case that one was reading it would give more light. And, there was a chain attached to guide it back up. Ingenious.

As the darkness continued to fall over the sky, it became evident that whoever owned this property was not returning as we expected. I was heading toward panic mode. This was not good – I do not handle this type of situation very well. What prevented me from losing control was being with my wife and children; I didn’t want to embarrass myself - or them, for that matter - by going off the deep end. Tom sat at the organ and picked out the few numbers he knew, Rob took a nap in the living room, Miles played with wooden blocks that were found in the room he slept in, and Rosalia stayed close to her mother as she prepared another meal for us.

“This can get old real fast,” Patty said. “We’re having ham again because that’s what’s in here and I’m not going back out to the cellar today.”

“That’s fine,” I said to her. “I’m not going to complain. Whatever you make will be OK.” I could sense nerves and stress beginning to tighten. “Would you like me to boil some water?” I asked. I needed something to keep me busy.

“No, I have some here in this pot.”

“Well, if you need my help, just let me know.”

I paced from room to room, upstairs and down, studying intently the surroundings. If I was going to be stuck here over night with nothing but candle light, I wanted to get to know every inch of the place to help add to my comfort zone. Throughout the day, I’d had tiny panic attacks, but now that evening had set in – and no one was ‘fessing up to this extreme stunt – the attacks were growing. And that scared the daylights out of me.

Dinner was quiet – no one knew what to say. And dark. The gas lamp fixture overhead, the candle on the mantle, and the crackling fire in the fireplace were our only sources of light. Miles kept asking when we were to go home, and we had no answers for him. Tom and Rob could sense our concern and I’m sure it frightened them to see their parents in such a frustrated state. But, we could not help it.

“I should just get on one of the horses and ride until I find someone who can help us.” I said. “I mean, there’s got to be a phone around here somewhere. I’m sure we didn’t leave the country. There’s got to be some friendly neighbors down the road. Maybe I could…” I trailed off. It wasn’t a smart idea due to the evening darkness, I realized, but my stress level was in the extreme zone and I was about to go off screaming into the night.

Back to the sound of forks and knives hitting plates.

We all helped to clear and wipe the table and Patty rinsed the dishes and silverware while I did my part by dumping the water out the back door.

Now what? It was only early evening and the gray winter skies had darkened dramatically. Without electric lights – without electricity – dark shadows reigned inside as well, dancing in the flickering flames. There was very little we could do. And it was cold – the house never really warmed up. Patty had discovered a pen-and-ink set with paper in one of the desk drawers and offered it to the older boys. Tom wasn’t interested, but Robbie snatched it right up. He planned on keeping a journal.

“Hey, Dad!” he exclaimed. “Look at this paper!” He handed it to me. From what I could see in the dim light, the paper was lined and tan in color, a little thicker with a rougher texture than the paper we were used to seeing. An ink sketch of a Civil War soldier standing next to an American flag was top and center. Very patriotic.

“Pretty cool. Patty, where’d you get this paper from?”

“The drawer in the desk in the back parlor.”

The glow from the dying fire in the fireplace barely allowed me to find the desk, but upon opening the drawer I saw plenty of paper, all the same as what Robbie had shown. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could see there were also envelopes tucked to the back, constructed of the same quality with another patriotic ink sketch to match the letterhead.

I looked out the front window into the night and saw…nothing. Just natural lighting from the bright white snow reflecting off the gray sky. No street lights, no road reflectors, no headlights shining in the distance. No nothing. I opened the front door and stepped out. The winter chill was biting, but I didn’t care. I walked to the edge near the street and focused on “Mrs. Happy’s” farmhouse that I attempted to visit earlier. A very dim light came from one of the windows – just one. I turned and looked across the road to the empty farmhouse and saw virtually the same thing – a dull glow from a window. And, more of the same from another distant house to my left as well. Not even a porch light. And no sounds, either. No car noise from a distant highway. No low hum of an airplane overhead. No sirens. Deathly quiet – it was a very eerie sensation. I turned and went back inside where Patty was waiting for me at the door.

“Did you see anything?” she asked.

“No,” I took a deep breath and stared in her wondering eyes. “No I didn’t. I didn’t hear anything, either. Patty, something’s not right. Even in Amish country the sights and sounds of the modern world creep in.” I took an even deeper breath and exhaled shakily. “I don’t know.” I looked at the amount of wood next to the living room fireplace. “It’s going to be a long night for me, you know,” I said to her.

She rubbed my arm. “I know. I’m here.” I just sighed.

Our two youngest were asleep by eight o’clock, both upon the settee’. Patty said it was the fresh air. I said it was from boredom. And the other two of our brood were as frustrated as any teenagers could be. They, too, went up to bed and were both asleep before nine.

“You know,” I said to Patty. “You should get some sleep, too. If I need you I’ll wake you. But, if you don’t mind, would you sleep down here? I don’t want to go to the bedroom. I need to stay down here.”

“No, I don’t mind,” My wife yawned. “I’ll go up and put on my pajamas and be right back down.” She took a lantern with her to light her way. “I wish we had an indoor bathroom.”

She came down shortly after dressed for bed while carrying the nightclothes I awoke in.

“Just in case you want them.”

“No,” I told her. “I’m too jittery to change out of these clothes. I’ll just wear these tonight.”

“Yeah, but, these clothes are not wash-and-wear like yours are at home. They’ll look really sloppy.”

Another deep breath and then I succumbed and put the nightgown on. I had to admit, it was a bit more comfortable.

Patty then held the lantern as I carried our two youngest - first Miles, then Rosalia - up to the bedroom. It was very cold – I had forgotten to get a fire going in the heating stove of their room. I was very happy to see that Rob put a nice-sized pile of wood next to it. It took me a while but, by candlelight, I got the smaller pieces of kindling going. It wasn’t long before a blaze was flickering inside the grate. I checked the older boys’ room and saw that they lit their own heater – they must’ve used their candle light in the same way.

Back in the living room/dining area, Patty brought down the blankets from our bed and curled up into a ball on the settee to help ward off the cold. I sat at her feet, watching the fire burn and crackle. The rest of the house was dark as pitch and one could not move about safely without some form of hand-held lighting.

So there I sat, hour after hour, stoking the fire every-so-often, and adding wood when necessary. But, as the mantle clock tolled every sixty minutes, I would get off the couch, light the lantern, and move about the house, walking through every room. I added fuel to the bedroom furnaces as needed so my kids could sleep a warmer, sounder sleep. It was cold and spooky moving about without the brightness of normal lighting, but I had the feeling that I was the ghost. It’s hard to explain, just a strange feeling I had.

I would then make my way back to the settee and lay my head against the soft cushion in an attempt to sleep, but I would always snap awake with a start within a few minutes – just before the deep sleep would hit - and could feel panic coming on. Getting up and moving around helped quench the adrenaline rush that gave reason for the high anxiety. At least there was a clock in the room so I knew what time it was. But, I had always had a hard time sleeping in the pitch dark, so having the living room fireplace blazing along with the flame glowing in the lantern – the kerosene stunk up the house a bit – was my saving grace. My reality nightmare was that I didn’t know where we were, what day it was…nothing. My mind was spinning – I actually felt like I was going totally insane. A number of times I felt like I was having a heart attack – what if I actually was? What would we do? There was no phone, and none of us knew how to set up the horse and carriage. And where would we go anyhow? Which direction was town? And how far away was town? It was this type of thinking that I had to squelch; it was this type of thinking that would create a full-blown anxiety attack. The cold did not help. I couldn’t seem to get warm, which more than likely had to do with my nerves as much as the temperature. Of course, it would have helped to have a gas furnace to centrally heat the whole house. But, staring at the fire did relax me, and, I took it upon myself to begin my own journal to help keep my sanity during this…tribulation. I didn’t know what else to call it. I considered waking Patty for company, but just knowing she was there was a great comfort, so I let her be. I eventually fell asleep sitting up on the couch, my wife’s legs upon my lap, watching the fire, where my eyes just kept on getting heavier and heavier until sleep overcame me.

And that was my first night in the strange dream we had entered. At least it felt like a dream. By four a.m. I was dreaming…finally.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Where Did All The Farmland Go?

My grandfather bought a cottage up near Lexington, Michigan (right on the banks of Lake Huron) back in 1956. Since he died in 1972, the place was passed to his son (my father) and now my brother and his wife own it. It's still in the family and the rest of us are always welcome to go up, which is good because from my birth through just a few years ago I went up virtually every weekend from mid-May through early October.
The drive up I-94 was always one of my favorite parts of the whole cottage experience: the anticipation - knowing that the sunny day ahead would be great beach weather followed by an evening bonfire and nighttime walk; the music from the radio or tape player as we drove up - oldies were always fun, but country was always my favorite...it just seem to fit. Songs like Judy Rodman "Until I Met You," Gail Davies "Grandma's Song," Iris Dement "Our Town," and even John Denver's "Back Home Again." The reason why pure country music (yes, the twangy stuff) worked so well on the ride up was because of my favorite part of the experience: the city-to-country scenery. Once you past the City of Mt. Clemens, farmland ensued, and didn't end until you reached the edge of the city of Port Huron 40 miles later. In between was nothing but trees and farms. Every-so-often you would see a farmer out on his tractor or working the plow. Horses and cows were always grazing in the open. And, at night, it was beautiful to see the lights of the farmhouses peek out of the pitch-blackness that surrounded them. And it always amazed me the amount of land that the farmers worked. Just acres and acres until the next piece of property.

Anyhow, this morning, with the temps promising to reach 90 degrees, we decided to take a ride up to the cottage for swimming and visiting family members that I don't see too often. Now, I still travel up there a few times a year, just going through the motions that I've driven hundreds of times before. But today, for the first time in a long time, I noticed the scenery around me as I passed Mt. Clemens. OK. One mile. Two miles. Three. Four. Five miles out of the city and yet there was still no farms. I did, however, see new subdivisions, shopping plazas, individual stores, factories, sports bars...we were quite a ways north of Mt. Clemens and yet...where were "my" farms? Where once there were many, now we only saw two - maybe three - barns and homesteads. The city - this blight on country life - has encroached upon one of the few simple pleasures many of us unfortunate city dwellers look forward to seeing.
It has always been a dream of my wife and mine to live in a small town or out in the country. Patty has said repeatedly (and now, so does my daughter) that she wants to live on a farm. She reads some of the writings of my blogger friends (see Pastoral Symphony Farm for a fine example) and finds herself living vicariously through them.
Unfortunately, that life is not going to happen for us anytime in the near future. So, a drive out to the country would satisfy our want for a short while, much in the same way that Greenfield Village, Crossroads Village, and Civil War reenacting satisfies our want of 'time-traveling.'
And now, the urban jungle is taking over the farms that I enjoyed seeing so often.
Why? Did the owners lose their land? Did they get an offer they couldn't refuse? Did banks force them out?
I guess no matter the reason for the disapearance of these scenes of Americana, I am really bummed out about it. Even with all the garbage going on in this world with obama and terrorists etc., I'm still depressed about losing 'my' farms.
And I don't feel fine...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Our Recent Return Visit Back to Crossroads Village


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This is an update of an earlier blog, with additional photos and text - - - -

Welcome to
Crossroads Village
Please watch your step.
Walks, streets, and floors replicate those of the 1800’s and are uneven

The above is the "warning" one receives while entering the gates of historic Crossroads Village of Flint, Michigan.
The best part is...it's true!
We here in southeastern lower Michigan are blessed with having not one but two open-air museums. Most people know of Greenfield Village in Dearborn, of which I have dedicated a blog to (http://gfv1929.blogspot.com/). Because auto-magnet, Henry Ford, had the wealth he was able to create a village beyond compare anywhere else in the United States, and probably Canada, too. I love Greenfield Village immensely, but, unfortunately, they have changed it quite a bit from Mr. Ford's original vision, adding cemented curbs and sidewalks and removing buildings that should not have been removed (the cooper & cobbler shops, a number of mills including the sugar mill, and a few other structures are some that have been scrapped). There is a Disney feel to it now, with the constant flow of Model T's, and that has taken away the Victorian ambiance one would get as they strolled through the village streets. Fortunately, the majority of the houses remain intact and are more accurate in their presentations inside and out than ever before. They did their homework for this portion and it shows.

We returned to Crossroads Village the other day and I feel this fine representation of a mid-to-late 19th century village deserves another mention - free advertising, so-to-speak. On this visit, we took some friends who felt this was one of the finest they have ever visited. They could tell immediately that this not nearly as famous open-air museum gives off that Victorian feeling immediately as soon as they entered the gates. The whole look and feel of the place just takes one right back in time, as you can see from the picture above shown here. Yes, this is what one sees as they step through the wooden ticket booth.







As you move past the original cars of the 19th century railroad (of which you can take a ride on), the wood-plank sidewalks take you through the "town" part of the village, the main street, which looks exactly like you would expect a main street to look like. It has stores, an opera house, a barber shop, a dentist office, a hotel...

And then there's the tavern on the outskirts of town.

Of course, every town (even one without horses, unfortunately) needs a blacksmith shop. Here is where one can watch the smithy work his trade, just as in the old days.

And, as with a blacksmith, most period towns had a gristmill. It's here that one can watch as the giant stone wheels grind the grain into flower. It's here where one can hear (and feel) the roar of the water turning the belts that work the magnificent equipment and to turn the wheels. And, one can also purchase flour made right here at the Atlas Mill.

Without refrigeration, ice houses were a necessity in keeping ice available (heavily covered in sawdust) throughout the warm weather months. It amazes me that ice can last well into summer in one of these unrefrigerated buildings.

As you move out of town you'll enter the neighborhood and see the houses - mostly farm houses - of Crossroads. I swear you fill feel as if you had literally stepped through a time-travel portal.












The milk cow was as important as any livestock a farmer could own. It's great that they show how a cow is milked for those of us living in the city.





And, of course, the picturesque church. Many folks get married here in this church which is as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside. And, when they used to have reenactments here, a period church service would be held. It is quite a site to be there in the midst of the ladies in their Sunday bonnets and men in their fine suits. Quite a change from today's society where folks wear t-shirts and jeans to church instead of their Sunday best.

There is plenty more to see than what's pictured here - much more, including a broom maker and a wooden toy maker, honing their crafts the old-fashioned way. Yes, they sell their wares. And about the only couple of things I would change would be the addition of horses and carriages and probably a few more shops and houses - cooper, cobbler, etc. And, the addition of a cemetery (only the tombstones, of course) would be that touch of realism that no one else has.
A little photoshop-ing gives Rebecca an ethereal look while gazing in the mirror

I mentioned in the original blog that they needed more period accurate presenters. Well, after my recent visit the other day I'm here to say that there has been major improvements here, especially at the Salter Log cabin. We were pleasantly surprised.

My two children fetching water from the pump outside

They do have a carriage shop, barns, more houses, a lawyer's home, a doctor's office - all of the period.

Now, if only they would bring back the Civil War weekend!


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