The Old House – Transcript

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There was an abandoned house on the lot where the starving chickens had been penned. It set close to the sidewalk on the long walk. The outbuilding where the chickens had roosted was not visible from the walk or from the inside of the old house because of the tall weeds and undergrowth that covered the lot.

The timber of the old house was not showing a lot of warp and twist or other signs of disrepair. The bare boards gave no indication that paint had ever been applied on either interior or exterior. The roof had not leaked at the rate one would expect of such a neglected place, and no part of the floor was broken or gone.

There was an atmosphere of mystery about the place and a sort of mute appeal that was not easy to shake off. Villagers reported from time to time that the old house was haunted. Young fry avoided for the most part except when young Jim led the foray. It must be admitted that he feared neither gods or devils, or the quick or the dead. I on the other hand had many fears all of them confined to anxiety about young Jim’s safety and the safety of the animals of our family, and in the town where I have much like chickens and were dependent upon young Jim and I for guidance and assistance when in trouble just like children.

Upper most in my mind was the suspicion that transcents might be using the old house for a way station. They were numerous in The depth of depression and [also] the railroad tracks were close by, and switching was underway both day and night. My imaginings grew like the green bay tree, whispering: “You know how ‘tis with the lad. Wherever riddle or mystery is there he will be alive,” or “Beware! Among those knights of the road could be blood-letters, child molesters, kidnappers, all driven insane by the crucial economic stress of these times…,” Inspired by these whisperings, I could always [flag?] my exhausted flesh into pressing my investigation of any place or thing that might pose a threat to me and mine or any other person or (inserted: another any other living) thing.

I’d creep through the thicket often to check the old empty house from stem to stern, for signs of occupancy on and finding none — I would sit on my bottom on the floor, lean against the wall and envision all the folk who may have lived there, wondering if all houses miss all the folk it has sheltered and all those familiar voices that have drifted into the limbo of its past.

I was equally intrigued by all the privies set in the middle of pastures or hidden in dark ravines where homes had once stood

The most fascinating of these old privies I had encountered on a trip from Indiana to Renfro Valley in Kentucky some years later. Renfro was the birthplace of the old barn dance, folk music and home-spun humor like ol’ “Hee-Haw” now showing on T.V. I yelled at my lady friend who was my relief driver on that trip to halt the car and I lit out across that pasture with my camera hammering me in the back every leap I took. Cows along the way surveyed me questioningly and returned to their grazing.

A beautiful rose bush ladened with crimson bloom leaned against the old structure with its feelers rocking in the soft breeze as it reached for the roof. A cluster of roses was draped over the sagging door which stood open just enough to admit a person and to afford a good look at the Sears & Roebuck Catalogue, neatly placed beside the hole in the seat platform. The seat and the floor was immaculately clean and spang in the center of the floor a fat rattler was coiled. Dressed in his new skin, burnished and bright, it the snake did not even so much as shake its tail at me — nor did it stir when I clicked the camera. That picture was a masterpiece. I cherished it for years.

As I reluctantly turned to retrace my steps back to the car another rattler hurried toward me on the path. It surged aside to avoid my feet and disappeared through the sagging door of the old privy. I rejoined my friend in the car. After a few miles of silence she said: “All these years

I have known you and I’ve never really know[n], I reckon. So, what’s with the all privy? Something exciting like never happens to other people, I suppose.

“Maybe so. Maybe no,” I mumbled and let the matter rest there.

To return to the empty house along the long walk, from time to time a very old lady and a very young boy had appeared there. Young Jim had called on her and offered to get her groceries etc. He had said she had acted very stand offish as she had to me when I followed up his offer with another of my own. Neighbors said the boy (and the woman) always arrived at night and departed the same way. None knew by what means they had come or gone since no strangers had visited them or been seen around the place. (Inserted above the line: #new paragraph) In due course the neighbors also reported that the boy and the woman had been there some weeks before Jim had found the starving chickens but she had gone, they said in the same mysterious fashion as she had come. She never came again after that incidence and the speech I had prepared for her about such conduct with chickens was, therefore, never delivered.

It was little consolation to me that young Jim’s father was always in town where Jim could easily find him if in trouble. Big Jim was usually at the pool room trouncing his associates in games of chance and strangely it very seldom happened that he chanced to lose a game of chance but when he did he would fly into a towering rage that shook the town and bid fair to cause him to drop dead in his tracks Big Jim was far from well physically. Fortunately he was well liked and his eccentricities were sympathetically condoned by all.
It might be said, however, that his chance of keeping up with the activities of young Jim was just about less likely then would have been the case had he tried to stroke the top knot of a hummingbird. Furthermore Jim Babe would not enter the poolroom no matter what occurred for he had harbored a towering resentment of the place from infancy. “Grown men, ol’ blokes just a settin,” Jimbo would snort in his peaks of high drudgeon against the old poolroom–“Just-a-settin and a tittering and telling nasty jokes- old toothless, bald ones, trying to tease me,” he’d yell warming to his subject, “eyeing women like buzzards, making stupid remarks. Not enough sense among em’ to even do nothing well. “NO! Not even to spit off themselves.”
Following such quiet rages young Jim could be found sitting among the big rats behind the pool hall, instructing them: “You can do it boys . Just look at all these large piles of sawdust from the work of your teeth — little brothers. It cannot be long now until you have chewed the floor out from under them, but when you work on the front foundation be sure you work under the floors so the ol’ fools will not try to shoot or poison you. “Once as I came down the alley from the grocery at dusk, I heard the poolroom proprietor beckoning to his clientele. It was summer and the back doors of the old landmark was wide open to admit the west winds which blew intermittently offering small respite to the sweltering town folk. Said the proprietor, “Boys if these damn rats don’t clear out, then not a splinter will be standing come winter to mark the spot where this pool hall stood. (Inserted: # paragraph). I heard a musical tee-hee coming from a aging fence corner behind the old edifice. Squinting against the rapidly falling dusk – I crept closer and there sat young Jim – half naked – except for his shorts – sitting atop a corner fence post – which was weaving [illegible] and creaking under his weight. Hugging himself, he was chanting in a language foreign to me but judging from the animated tossing of the grasses in the lot I realized that the small workers below hadn’t missed a syllable of his jargon. I edged up a little closer peeping in the shadow of a big tree, trying to figure out how that fence post maintained 45% angle, doing a wide smooth circle as if moved by by some invisible mechanical device, whilst topped by the small naked nymph – gittering about and making joyful noises and yet riding the darn post as if it were a horse – expertly.

[I] often [inserted: crept up to] spy on young Jim when he was unaware just to admire the bronze of his sturdy body and note little rivulets of sweat coursing down, making pale paths through the dust he had gathered in his wanderings. And as always having finished his immediate involvement with happenstance he spoke without turning his head in my direction: “You needn’t be a cat-footing, mom. I always KNOW who is around.”

Grinning widely, I sauntered on down the alley toward home and the preparation of the evening meal. The air was balmy now. The soft breeze came more regularly. I was tempted to dilly dally in hope that young Jim would come along with me and relate the incidents of his day he didn’t. A stockman was driving a couple of head of cattle toward me there in the narrow alley. “Watch out for that bull, Mrs. Jones,” he squalled “He’s a mean one.” “That’s why,” said I grumpily. “What’cha mean?”, said he, suspiciously. “I mean you should never have owned an animal of any kind, Elmer. If he’s meant it’s because you never could see any good in him. All you can see is money Elmer,” I groaned as I rubbed noses with the bull and scratched his ears, encrusted with the blood from many fly bites. “Buy some spray for these cows! And spray ‘em. Do you hear me? And to hell with the cost of it. You can afford it.” I snapped angrily.

“Of course I hear ye. I aint deaf – whatever else – you think I am. I’ll spray ‘em in the morning.”

“Spray ‘em tonight,” I snapped. “They will be at ‘em again at daybreak unless ye do and I just hope I NEVER have to get as mad as I’m going to be – if that spray is not on these cows by daybreak.”

“How can you see fly bites when its almost dark,” he growled.

“With these fingers I feel ‘em, man,” I roared “and I can feel abuse of animals even if I was ten years dead. You know that! And don’t you tell yourself these cows are not fly bitten! Doncha dare! Hear me?” Said I.

“Of course I hear you, I’ve got no more ear trouble since you forced me to see a specialist. Cost me $100, the damn thief, he was for God’s sake. I’ll spray’em tonight.” He moaned.

“Your cows—Elmer—remember your cows not your ears.” I grinned and continued on my way.

He took off his battered hat, scratched (strikethrough)his head vigorously and remarked: “You get me as rattled, Mrs. Jones, I swear I don’t know if I’m plowing or disking – you are always after me about the way I do my beasties – I don’t know why I like you. I don’t know why anybody likes you – be damn if I do. I sure don’t know why me and all the rest does what you tell them to do every time?

“Wahl, Elmer,” I drawled in my most elongated southern accent. “twixt me and thee… ‘taint ’cause they like me. ‘Tis cause what I tell ‘em is solid… sound sense.. and having done what I say to do. They feel so much better inside more like they’ve befriended themselves ye’ know. And by the way, rub some salve on those bites before ye spray em. Do it just before daylight in the morning. Hear?“ said I. “Course dear… like I told you before. Okay I’ll do it,” snapped he.

“The cows, Elmer! Not your ears — mind you, now.” I chanted briskly and hurried past him, mindful, once more, of the many tasks awaiting me at home. Young Jim skipped past me — a sprite in the night. I was often caught up, rather sadly too, in the thought that he was not of this world and that neither world held mystery for him. Where learned churchmen expounded upon profundity his wisdom was so unusual, so apart from the reasoning of this world. At those times I would vow within myself to live forever to safeguard him from all harshness and harm at the hands of the unlearned.