Viewed from a distance, sitting on top of a small hill and surrounded by hemlock, poplars and black walnuts, our old farmhouse looks like it might be haunted and must be inhabited by all types of “haints”, poltergeists or spirits. This assumption is especially fitting when viewed during the darkness of night. Some of my students have even made comparisons of Casa de Miller to the “Bates’ Motel” of Alfred Hitchcock fame. So haunted it looks, in the thirty years we have lived here not one Halloween trick-or- treater has had the intestinal fortitude to come to our door despite the brightly burning outside light. I have to admit I have seen unexplained movements just inside of my vision’s periphery and have heard noises I just could not explain as the “creakings” of an old house. “I ain’t afraid of no ghost!”
Built in 1888, it sits on top of oak timbers milled from the land it was built upon. Although we did not know it at the time, our old home had beadboard walls and ceilings to go with pine flooring, wavy lead glass windows, and was covered by tin shingles. It also sat bathroom-less with no plumbing or electricity until 1956. My guess is that most of the winter functions “back in the day” took place in the small kitchen due to the heat produced by the cook stove and the close proximity to the path leading to the distant outhouse. The old house also had no insulation until 1956 when shredded paper insulation was blown into the walls. Sixty years later, my guess is the insulation has compressed just a wee bit. Mr. Copeland, Hemlock Hill’s previous owner, was a fount of information with a former minister’s well developed “sense of the spoken word.” In preparation for his retirement, he had purchased the house and land in the 1950’s after it had sat empty for several decades. Later it would be inhabited by human beings off and on until Mr. Copeland finally retired from “preachin’ the Gospel” in the late Seventies. I say “inhabited by human beings” only because it was and still is inhabited by more than just two-legged animals and their four-legged pets as we found out when removing the cheap paneling and ceiling tile covering our beadboard walls and ceilings.
While moving in we noticed the quilting room, complete with quilting racks and their supports, had no paneling or ceiling tile. Mr. Copeland had converted the quilting room into his study and informed us the whole house was done with the old-fashioned beadboard the study sported. He had put cheap quarter-inch paneling up to help insulate the house. Really? Quarter-inch? The next month or so “lifetime” was dedicated to the removal of the ceiling tile and paneling. We found out two things. Similar to his verbal skills, Mr. Copeland believed if one nail would do the job, four ought to be used…more if there happened to be a pine knot nearby. His philosophy seemed to be “Nothing done could be overdone.” The one-by-four-inch strips of wood that held the ceiling tile were almost impossible to get down because of the four ten-penny nails spaced every foot or so. Our second discovery was that Mr. Copeland had no issue about covering up dirt dauber nests or bird pooh. The same was true of the paneling but, at least, he used the small paneling nails…thousands of small paneling nails. There were also several large snakeskins found, not only in the attic but in other rooms as well. Okay…where there are snakeskins….
Old houses make noises. Creaks and groans make me wonder if there is a “life” existing inside of our old home. There were other noises that could not be explained away as just the “settling” of the old house. Some of the ghostly noises we heard emanated from the old attic and a downstairs…for lack of a better descriptor… “cubby hole” in the upstairs master bedroom. Thumps and squeaks with the pitter-patter of little feet led us to believe that there had to be a herd of mice in our downstairs “cubby hole.” There were also those periodic booming sounds as something traversed the metal roof during the darkest moments of the night that didn’t sound like a mouse. One night Linda and I decided to explore the “cubby hole” and its strange noises not really wanting to find a colony of mice. We didn’t. Instead, we found a colony of flying squirrels. It’s amazing what the width of a tail will do to your mood, especially when one of the “big eyed” rodents decided to make his getaway by gliding from a rafter to a small opening that led to the outside. “Rocket J. Squirrel” didn’t stay there. Later we would find colonies in unused chimneys, behind my books in the study. One “little gamester” would send our indoor cat “Minnie Muffin” into a “hissy fit” as it glided back and forth between the fireplace mantle and bookcase in the study. The booming noises on the roof? We still have no idea and just named it a “boomer.”
Typically, male, I came in from a morning of cutting and splitting wood, pulled off my boots and socks, stuffed the socks into the boots and left them in the hallway next to our staircase…for about two weeks. Linda finally took me to task, firstly, over leaving them for her to trip over and secondly, because, according to her highly developed sense of smell, they stank like something dead. I took offense to the idea that my boots stank until I took out a sock and found what I thought was a dead rat rolled up in it. Our simultaneous “GROSS!” exclamation changed to an “OH NOOOOO!” exclamation when it turned out to be a flying squirrel. From here our explanations of its unfortunate demise took two different paths. I said that death was due to it rolling up in the sock and becoming trapped. My love explained that it met the grim reaper after having breathed the stench of my boots.
We may have become too used to the creaks and groans that our home emits…or maybe to the ghosts, spirits or flying squirrels who decided that our home was just too crowded for them. I just don’t hear them anymore and it makes me feel just a bit sad. Those scratches made by the real mice? That’s another story or five for another day.
If you enjoyed this story, you might be interested in Don’s books which maybe downloaded on Kindle
Inspirational true stories in WINNING WAS NEVER THE ONLY THING $1.99 on Kindle at http://goo.gl/DiO1hcX
“STUPID MAN TRICKS” explained in Don Miller’s FLOPPY PARTS $.99 on Kindle http://goo.gl/Ot0KIu “Baby Boomer History” in Don Miller’s PATHWAYS $3.49 on Kindle http://goo.gl/ZFIu4V
All maybe purchased as paperbacks.