Even in the Garden of Eden….

Alert…this is not a religious post just a story about snakes.

I have a fear of snakes.  Not a phobia of snakes.  Just given the choice of petting a kitten or petting a snake I’m going to pick the kitten…every time!  While I don’t have a hatred of snakes I also don’t want to live with them.  We have ninety acres of woodlands, streams, hills, and valleys.  They need to stay out there where they belong.  Just after we moved into our little piece of heaven, we found snakeskins…loooooong snakeskins as in five feet plus and they weren’t out in the woodlands, streams, hills, and valleys.   We found them under the house, in the attic, and behind the cheap paneling cladding our beadboard walls.  The next spring, we would find out where some of those snakeskins came from.

It was a late May day when I first made the acquaintance of one of my black rat snakes.  Laying in the sun, he was not nearly as scared of me as I was of him…or her.  How does one tell?  How many steps do you run when you first see a snake lying next to your foot?  My escape was more of a combination hop and lunge followed by three rapid steps before my mind said, “Shut it down, it was a black snake and nothing poisonous.”  It was a huge reptile, as was its mate. They were a matching pair of near six-footers I saw together several days later.  Both had recently shed their skin and their black skin seemed to glisten in the bright sunshine.  I wish they would stay OUT in the bright sunshine.

Late one afternoon I saw my three puppies sitting outside the back door leading onto our combination back porch washroom which was adjacent to our kitchen.  As I continued past them I told them, “You can sit there and wait but your Mommy (Linda Gail) is not here.”  There was no reaction except for wagging tails and their attention seemed to focus on the back door which rarely closed on its own and was always slightly ajar.  My attention was also drawn to the door when I noticed a foot of rat snake tail peeking out from underneath.  Oh pooh!  I ran around and went in the front door, jogged to the kitchen and found the rat snake occupying the kitchen, back porch, AND steps leading to it…ALL AT THE SAME TIME!  I stepped toward Snakey hoping it would retreat.  It did, right under the dryer.  Crap!  Okay if I rock the dryer maybe I can entice it to move…but it might move right up my britches leg.  If I crawl on top of the dryer maybe, I can shake it enough to make Snakey move…on the dryer is just where Linda found me.  “What are you doing?”  She was not happy or impressed with my answer.  We decided to open the porch door, close the kitchen door and wait it out.  It must have worked…briefly.

Momentary digression…but there is a point coming.

Every time I watch NCIS reruns and the Mike Franks’ character is featured I remember my favorite of many favorite Mike Franks’ quotes,

“But the memories we make.

We fill the spaces we live in with them.

That’s why I’ve always tried to make sure that wherever I live,

the longer I live there

the spaces become filled with memories –

of naked women.”

 

My space is filled with memories, but of only one naked woman.  I was and am truly blessed.  I smiled at the vision of my bride sprinting nude from our old-fashioned bathroom.  Sprinting and yelling, “Snake, Snake, Snake!”  I imagined the snake, a five-foot-plus black rat snake, yelling in my head, “Naked Woman, Naked Woman, Naked Woman,” as it tried to climb the wall behind her.

We had returned late to our old non-air conditioned home.  The late July heat and humidity were still evident when Linda Gail retired to the bathroom to bathe.  Believing the bright overhead incandescent light bulb simply added to the heat, she entered the bathroom in the dark and after beginning to run her water, stripped, reached down and plugged in the small lamp that sat next to the lavatory.  As the light dimly flooded the small bathroom, she found herself staring face to “forked tongue” with a snake that was coiled below the short electrical cord.

Typically, male, my attention was drawn to the vision of a fit, well put together woman with fabulous…EYES, running naked through the house and not on the snake that was trying to escape in the other direction.  There is always a price to go with the vision I was enjoying, the snake had to be removed but first I had to find it.  “Here Snakey, Snakey, Snakey!”

From the book “Through the Front Gate”.   All of Don Miller’s books may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Don Miller writing as Lena Christenson may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07B6BDD19

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“Clearing Off Showers”

 

My beloved and I had what I call a “clearing off shower.”  Like most couples, we’ve had our ups and downs.  Luckily, more ups than downs, many more ups than downs.  Unfortunately, many more ups do not provide a soothing balm for the downs…neither did this “clearing off shower.”

We sometimes have violent thunderstorms rumbling and bouncing around in the hills and hollers of our little piece of heaven in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.  A lot of banging and flashing, wind bellowing and sometimes a lot “hunkering down” until they’re over.  When the storm is over the air is so fresh and the sky is so blue…until the air fills with humidity again, thunderheads forming to the northwest and we start the process over again….

My beloved and I are so different…well…in some ways.  I tend to ignore problems in hopes they will go away until they don’t.  She tends to obsess over the same problems I ignore.  She obsessed last night and was still obsessing this morning…and she had obsessed through the night, tossing and turning, allowing the “humidity” to build.

I awoke on the “wrong side of the bed” as did she.  A “clearing off shower” was inevitable.  The thunder rumbled, the lightning flashed, and storms raged far and wide.  The torrential downpour included issues not encompassing the original subject.  “Do you remember three months ago….”  Finally, the storm ebbed, the air was some clearer, the sky bluer…all before eight o’ clock in the morning.

Later as we drove to church she was quiet…unusual?  Sometimes.  I worried the humidity might be building and storm clouds might be gathering.  As luck would have it, the sermon was entitled “The Loving Marriage”, specifically Paul’s views on marriage from Ephesians 5: 22-25. (NIV)

“22: Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.

23: For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.

24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

My beloved is not a fan of Paul’s views on women or should I say, men’s interpretation of Paul’s views on women.  She believes, and I agree, Paul’s interpretations have led to the misogyny prevalent in certain circles in times past…or today.  When the minister used the term “brazen” describing what a wife shouldn’t be, I tapped her shoulder and leaned in to whisper, “I hope you are paying attention.”  Her genuine smile along with the elbow to the ribs told me that the humidity might have broken.

I didn’t fall in love with or marry a “submissive” woman.  Life might have been easier, but it certainly would not have been as interesting.  I fell in love with a “brazenly” bold woman who is unashamed to be who she is.  I love her for it and would not have her any other way…most of the time.

Returning from a lunch at our little hole in the wall in the mountains, I noticed the increased humidity, the stiffening breeze from the northwest.  Thunder rumbled, echoing in the valleys of the foothills of the Blue Ridge.  As the rain began to fall I gave a small prayer of thanks.  The storm was raging outside, not inside.

Don Miller tells stories.  For more go to https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Ghosts

I do believe in ghosts.  Why shouldn’t I?  A ghost, by definition, is the soul or spirit of a dead person or animal that can appear to the living.  Whether the appearance is a sound, like the creaking of my old house settling, reminding me of someone, now gone, treading on the old pine floors. A fleeting glimpse of some unknown something out of the corner of my eye, just beyond my periphery, triggering a long-forgotten memory.  The way certain shadows fall in the moonlight or an old song that conjures up a ghost from the past.  It’s a ghost even if their spirit resides only in my head.

My favorite quote about ghost was made by NCIS agent Mike Franks, a favorite reoccurring character on the long-running TV program NCIS.  In a conversation with Gibbs about ghosts, Franks allows that ghost were “But the memories we make. We fill the spaces we live in with them. That’s why I’ve always tried to make sure that wherever I live, the longer I live there the spaces become filled with memories of naked women.”  Well, there is only one memory in my living space of a naked woman and thankfully she is not a memory.

But there are other memories….

I arose early as is my infernal habit.  Standing in the dark, also an infernal habit, I looked through the broad window beyond my kitchen sink gazing into the bright moonlight dappling the flat between my home and my stream.  There was a huge full moon, rapidly setting just above the tall trees on the ridge above casting long shadows that danced in the open space below.

Just off to the side, away from the direction I was looking, I saw her in the mottled moonlight.  I saw her white and black markings…as I often do.  When I looked directly at her…she was gone.  She has been gone now for thirteen years…roaming somewhere on the hillside above us.  Ghostly in the way she continues to remind us of her, lost but not forgotten at all.  A ghost never to fear, only to remember and smile.

Sassy Marie came to us, not us to her.  She left the same way…on her terms.  Everything about Sassy Marie was to be savored on her terms.  If she wanted to be petted, she came to us.  If we wanted to pet, she ran away, leery of what our motivation might be.  If she wanted to come into the house, which was very rare until late in her life, she came in, with or without invitation.  Sassy Marie invited herself through the back gate of our hearts and stayed for sixteen years…until she decided it was time for her to leave.

She was a black and white, border collie mix, a discarded puppy or a runaway.  For several days she survived on the small lizards or road kill outside of our little piece of heaven.  If I tried to make friends…she ran away, only to return later in the day.  Linda Gail enticed her through the back gate with morsels of food and the then-unnamed Sassy Marie decided to stay.  I probably should tell that story differently.  Sassy Marie enticed Linda Gail to open the gate and give her food is a truer rendering of the story.

Sassy Marie was the most infuriating, contrary, disobliging, lovable, caring, wonderous paradox I have ever encountered…well…next to my bride.  She had the uncanny ability, a type of sixth sense, to know when we were talking about giving her a bath.  She would find a way to disappear into our small, fenced in yard until that bit of foolishness passed.  Put a leash on her?  Not on your life.  She would look at us as if to say, “I was born to be free of the shackles of life…and no I ain’t wearin’ no collar.”

She realized how well she had it.  No way she would ever walk out of an open gate, invited or not.  Even when we had to tear down a part of the fence during renovations she still refused to set foot outside of her kingdom…until she did.  Again, it was her idea…not ours.

We walked an old logging road and prowled over our kingdom.  Every ravine, every stream that cut it was an adventure.  After thirty plus years the adventures are still there.  Sassy Marie would wait patiently for our return, laying at the back gate, next to the torn down sections.  One day she decided to go with us…she decided and enticed Santana the stray, adopted cat to come with us too.  It was an odd caravan.  Santana yelling in cat, “Wait, wait on me,” until she got tired and laid down refusing to go one step further.  Sassy Marie would lead…until she grew tired or aggravated.  We would find ourselves alone and worry when there was no need.  We would return and find her laying at the gate…with Santana close by.

Sassy Marie had grown weary by her sixteenth year…her sixteenth year with us.  She was older, we just didn’t know how much older.  We knew she was not long for our world and so did she.  On the Christmas Day Linda Gail and I were to drive to visit family in Texas, she disappeared.  We got a late start.  We searched high and low, the ridges and the stream beds, as darkness and our feelings fell.  We knew but we hoped and called our house sitters almost hourly.  Sassy Marie had made her decision to leave us on her own terms…just as she joined us.

Flat rocks, cypress cedars, small clumps of daffodils and a birdhouse on a postmark resting places for our special, animal children.  Lovely goats, a one-legged rooster, bunny rabbits, black cats and a slew of puppy dogs rest in special places…around our grounds and in our hearts.

There is no special memorial for Sassy Marie, except in our hearts…and the marbled shadows of the moonlight or the green shaded leaves moved by the wind.  Her spirit moves along the ridges above our house, in the valleys along the stream beds and in the periphery of our vision and our hearts.

Ghost is a selection from Don Miller’s new release “Cornfields…in My Mind.”  It may be downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CBSV237

IF I WERE A POET….

I have never wanted to be a poet. I have never liked poetry but today I wish I could write a love sonnet or an ode. I would rhyme about my love, my life, my wife, my Linda Gail.

Should I write a sonnet? I would want to describe her hazel eyes. How they flash green when she is mad, or when she is joking around, or just when. When they flash green I worry…except when I don’t.

If I were a poet I would describe her smile as “impish” …and a little “catawampus.” It is almost a laugh, always welcomed and never seen enough.

She laughs with her whole body, from the tip of her toes to where her aura stops, somewhere near the fringes of the sun.

Scribble out an epic poem? I would chronical our first meeting, our first date, first kiss, first …. I would recount a trip to Charleston when we were not together but seemed as if we should have been.

If I understood iambic pentameter, I would use the rhythm of my heart to describe how I felt when I “SAW” Linda Gail for the first time and knew she was the one, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM.

With no ability to rhyme I would not know of a word that would correspond to Casablanca, the club, site of our first “date” and the movie by the same name.

In fifty years I might be able to compose a “non-sensical” haiku about whether or not “yes” popped out of her mouth before her brain had time to wrap itself around the question I had asked and chide myself for not asking it sooner.

A burlesque poem might describe a tale about a “Santa Claus” in a tuxedo and a drunken chase of a New Orleans’s street car despite knowing another would be by in a few minutes. She just wanted “that one!”

Snuggling all night while watching a Humphrey Bogart Marathon, including the movie Casablanca, on a snowy night with no school the next morning. What is a word that rhymes with snuggle…a romantic word that is?

I wish I could write a happy, tail wagging little doggerel, as humorous and badly written as possible about Bubba, Bogie, Brodie, Sassy Marie, Jackson, Goldie, Matilda Sue and Madeline Rue.

There would have to be many verses to include Little Miss Minny Muffin, Baby Sox, Skitty Skat, Santana and Boomer, all animals adopted by Linda Gail or was it the other way around.

Mostly I desire to wax poetic about thirty-one years of memories and my need to have thirty-one more.

From the love story that became a book, “Through the Front Gate.” Don Miller’s writings accessed, purchased or downloaded at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP

THIRTY YEARS AGO…WE CELEBRATE!

I look nothing like Eddie Arnold and Linda Gail would not be caught dead in one of Eva Gabor’s chiffon outfits. She might be convinced to wear some of Eva’s jewelry but not her outfits. Linda leans more toward athletic wear or overalls. Yeah, a diamond neckless would look good accessorizing her overalls. Yet, despite this fact, as we stood at the front gate of a chain link fenced in yard, I was having a “Green Acres” moment gazing at the old farm house my wife had just fallen in love with. The chain link fence enclosed a yard filled with hemlock and black walnut trees. It was inhabited by the requisite canine, although this one looked more like a small bear. As it happens Bear was his actual name. Bear lay in the sun and gazed at us with wary eyes until he decided we were not a threat and went back to his mid-morning nap. I did notice that while his eyes were closed, his ears were at attention. I had no doubt should we attempt to breach the fence; he would be there to impede our passage.

Linda Gail and I had been out exploring, something we still do on occasion. Even after thirty years we seem to always find some new, or at least forgotten, pig trail to travel down. We saw the for sale sign as we drove by and Linda Gail forced me to turn around and go back. We were sort of house hunting, looking for a home to fix up with five or so acres of land. We had to do something; we were living in a condo with three Boykin Spaniel mixes who were about to poop us out of house and, if not home, a small backyard. This old farmhouse appeared, at least on the outside, to fit the bill. With the heavily wooded yard and surroundings, white clapboard siding and a tin roof, it certainly had the ambience! The problem was that no one was home.

A phone call to the realtor deflated my wife’s euphoria like a “nickel balloon.” The house had a contract written and signed on it with a closing date just around the corner. The realtor told us that when he spoke to Mr. James Copeland, the owner, about our wanting to see the house, Mr. Copeland had said “Sure, if we wanted to come out and look the place over. He would love to show it to us.” Odd I thought. If you are days away from closing why would someone want to show it? Odder still was Linda’s response, “We’ll be right there!” Knowing better than to question her, I decided to go along for the ride.

A very gregarious and personable Mr. Copeland met us at the front gate and led us inside. Seventy-seven years young, Mr. Copeland was a retired Methodist minister who had purchased the home in 1956 and, with his first wife, had begun to renovate. The home, empty for the past “many” years, had no electricity, indoor plumbing or heat, other than its five fireplaces. The original outhouse was and still is on the property but is now used for storage instead of its original purpose. There was an original chicken coop built from slabs milled from the forest surrounding the home. The house itself was supported on its field stone foundation by hand-hewn oak timbers. With help from his “good Baptist brethren”, heating, electricity and plumbing were added to the home which had been originally built in the late eighteen-eighties or early eighteen-nineties. All of the electrical outlets were put in waist high on the wall to accommodate his first wife who was blind.

South Carolina Highway 11, built around 1922, actually cut through the original two-hundred-acre tract of land, separating the home from its barn which still stands on the wrong side of Highway 11. The beautiful old barn does give me an opportunity to break a commandment every day when I walk outside and look across the road. It is the commandment against coveting…a barn, not my neighbor’s wife.

After a tour of the home and a history lesson, the very spry and physically fit Mr. Copeland decided we should go on a hike to see the land surrounding the house. While we had been looking for five or so acres, this particular parcel of gently rolling forest land was eighty-seven acres. If you are looking to purchase land and see the description “gently rolling” don’t believe it any more than you should believe a doctor who says, “This might sting” or a dentist who says, “You might feel a pinch.” Gently rolling means up and down a lot. With seven streams cutting through ravines, dense hardwoods and vines obstructing our path, along with both a humidity and temperature over ninety, it was a tough three-hour hike for a guy who thought he was in shape. Mr. Copeland hardly puffed at all. Instead, he simply “walked us into the ground” despite being over twice our age.

We enjoyed our time with Mr. Copeland but left with a “day late and a dollar” short feeling. The closing was at hand and it appeared there was nothing to do but keep looking for our little piece of heaven. Sometimes fact can be stranger than fiction or maybe prayers are truly answered. We received a phone call from the realtor asking if we still wanted the place. Mr. Copeland had backed out of his original contract. His reasoning was, “He liked us better.” After thirty years, eight puppies, seven cats, eight goats, thirty chickens, a Vietnamese pot belly pig and a whole lot of stories involving possums, raccoons, snakes, and rats, I really don’t know whether to thank him or curse him.

This is an excerpt from the book “THROUGH THE FRONT GATE.” It is a book about thirty years of memories, thirty years of celebration and thirty years of love. We celebrate our thirty anniversary of a place we call home. “Through the Front Gate” maybe purchased and downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

A FLOOD OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS

We are fifteen feet or more above the closest water, a shallow stream, but we are drowning. I had an idea how the victims of sinking ships felt as they fought their way to the upper decks, in the dark as a river of water hit them in the face. According to legend, a ragtime band played “Nearer My God to Thee” as the Titanic went to her watery grave taking some fifteen hundred passengers and crew with her. The good news is that there were only two of us drowning. The bad? Linda Gail was singing hymns and one could have been “Nearer My God to Thee.” (Actually the band probably played “Autumn” but that doesn’t fit my story does it?)

Over our thirty years living at “Hemlock Hills” we’ve lived through bad weather and managed to dodge a few bullets…or tornadoes. Not long after we moved in a twister took down a huge pecan tree which in turn took down several black walnuts along with the power to the house. I had noted how green the clouds were and how calm, yet oppressive the air felt right before Linda Gail and I, along with three terrified puppies, made for the “perceived” safety of our hallway. The pecan landed close enough to the house that we just stood outside shaking our heads in disbelief. A few days later an ancient black walnut weakened by the storm fell into Highway 11 taking our power again before blocking the highway for several hours. We sold the downed trees for the cost of removal to a self-employed contractor friend who, a couple of years later, sold them back to us in the form of flooring, cabinets and countertops when he was hired to renovate. Funny, I remember paying a lot more for the wood we got back than he paid for the trees originally.

This is an excerpt from the story “A FLOOD OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS” found in my new book, THROUGH THE FRONT GATE. You may purchase in Kindle form at https://goo.gl/4rBPhW or in soft cover at https://goo.gl/Yu3vRm

THROUGH THE FRONT GATE

For nearly thirty years I have entered “Through the Front Gate” to a home that is much more than just a place to lay my head. For more times than I can possibly count I have entered a haven and a refuge, made so by the woman that lives here, my Linda Gail. When I repeat the Bible verse, “You are my refuge and strength” I am not talking to God, I am talking about the woman who is everything good about the world I live in…the world that you have created Linda Gail. Saying that I love you seems quite inadequate but it will have to do. “Linda Gail, I love you.” These are stories from thirty years of marriage and the unintended consequences of Linda Gail.

Cover photography is my “view through the front gate.”

Don Miller’s fourth book, THROUGH THE FRONT GATE, will launch August 12…MAYBE,

AN OLD FIG TREE

Twenty-five years ago I took a cutting from the old fig tree gracing my aunt’s and grandmother’s backyard. It is a “common” fig which needs no male plant to pollinate and for some reason sounds lonely to me. Later I planted another “younger” tree, grown from a cutting from my original tree, which makes it a grandchild of sorts. I seem to be rambling and a bit morose. I should reframe from drinking another adult beverage until I finish this.

My fig trees haven’t done well unless you consider having JUST survived to be doing well. It’s my home’s location and the weather’s timing. Sitting in the foothills of the Blue Ridge I live in the area known both as the “Dark Corner” and the “Thermal Belt.” The name Dark Corner has no bearing upon my fig trees but the Thermal Belt does. Generally, our weather is not as cool as the surrounding areas…except when it is. Every year the weather seems to throw us a curve just after my fig trees have put out their leaves and first fruit. The threat of frost or freezing temperatures sends fruit growers, along with me, into a frenzy of activity and prayer while we attempt to save our plants. Many years my fig trees have been killed all the way back to the roots. Weeks would pass as I checked them daily hoping to see a bit of green after calling family members to ask if they had grown a tree from the original’s cuttings. No one has an original fig tree “relative” but so far my figs have rewarded me with new growth from the roots every time they were killed back despite looking to be in sad shape.

In many ways my fig trees remind me of my grandmother as she battled through the gray months of winter. She only slightly tolerated the winter and only those days she could get outside. My “younger” grandmother attempted to find ways to stay busy on overly cold and gloomy days which were any day she could not get outside. On those sunless and dismal days, Nannie would write her thoughts on spiral bound notebooks and stare out her window or sew. Patchwork quilts seemed to be her preference although she would sometimes use a pattern and create dresses from repurposed “feed sacks.” To the untrained eye the prized cloth scraps making up her quilt seemed to be laid out in a disordered clutter. This was despite her having studied over the bright and irregular patches for hours before placing them just right…the way she wanted them. Many of those oddly matched patches were memories; a part of an old shirt Paw Paw had worn, a favorite dress, or possibly something worn by a child or a grandchild. I wish I had asked her about their meaning but stupid me I never did. In the late winter she would begin to perk up when the mail brought an almanac or a seed catalogue. At least she was planning for the spring.

Later in her life Nannie took up painting. Quite well I might add. A kind of Grandmother Moses, she painted fishing lakes, barns, landscapes, churches and flowers. Knowing my grandmother this choice of subject was not a surprise. Nannie found her new talent by completing a painting my mother had begun before she lost the ability to sit up and hold on to her brushes. In my family a supreme being seems to decree that if we have any talent it will not manifest itself until the “autumn years” of our life. As Nannie went into her winter years’ poor eyesight and arthritis made it harder for her to bounce back but bounce back she did. Just like my fig trees and her spring flowers Nannie always came alive in the spring…until she didn’t at the age of ninety-eight. She died in the cold of February, just short of spring.

I find myself saying things my grandmother might have said and doing things she might have done. These days I don’t tolerate winter any better than she did or my fig trees do. I have taken up writing but I am not sure it is a talent or a curse, especially for those who choose to read my stories. I spent this past winter suffering through sore knees and a bad back to the point of giving up running for nearly four months until spring came with its annual rebirth. It’s now late May and I am running slowly again; answering a Siren’s call I can’t quite ignore. I feel my spirits rising while my fig puts out new growth from its roots reminding me of my grandmother pulling weeds, hoeing between her rows of beans or fishing. Maybe I can keep winter from lasting quite as long or at least protect my fig trees from that last cold snap during early spring. I will also never complain about the heat and humidity of summer again and hope Indian Summer holds on even longer.

More nonfiction by Don Miller is available at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

THINGS GOING BUMP IN THE NIGHT

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.