Friday, May 26, 2017

The Chicken House - The Ricky Huening Stories

The Chicken House

Ricky paused before he opened the door. He knew the house wasn’t haunted. But there were spirits in there. The reason for his presence flitted through his mind. His aging grandparents were no longer able to care for this place and they were going to have a sale to auction off their belongings. They were moving to a retirement home. Gone would be his grandfather’s workshop and garden. Gone would be his grandmother’s canning pantry and home made cakes and cookies and everything else that was grandma’s.
His grandparent’s small house stood on the other side of the driveway. He turned. He could see his grandmother in the kitchen window, as she bustled about making something or cleaning something. She waved at him and he waved back. He turned back towards the door.
He went in. The front porch was loaded with stuff. His Dad had called it junk. But Ricky knew better. He walked through, past the steps that led down to the damp, dirt floored cellar. He opened the door and entered the kitchen. Here. Here is where the spirits were. He paused. The house always had its own smell. It was not a bad smell. It was a good smell. As Ricky breathed the air, he realized he was smelling time. This house was a microcosm of time. Time lent its fragrance to the air.
His great grandparents had lived in this house. The family called it the chicken house because it his grandfather built it to raise chickens. When his great grandparents sold their farm and retired, he converted the unused building to serve as an apartment for his parents. There were five rooms in the simple building. These included two bedrooms, a kitchen, living room and one end, closed off to the apartment, served as his grandfather’s workshop. A small bathroom bordered the kitchen and main bedroom.
He and his mother and father had lived in this house briefly, in 1963, when his father had sold the farm. They lived in the apartment from November until February when the contractor completed their new home. His family’s spirit was here, somewhere, flitting amongst the others.
To the left was a bedroom. A spirit called him and he went in. His great grandmother’s quilting frame was still set up. The quilt she had been working on when she died still stretched across it. The quilt awaited her hands, unfinished, in the thirty years it waited. Ricky could still see her sitting there, her fingers deftly working the needle through the fabric as she stitched the colorful scraps of fabric together into wondrous patterns.
A quilt, one of her creations, lay upon the bed next to the quilting frame. He ran his fingers over it. For extra income his great grandmother had sold these quilts, shipping them to customers in the forty eight contiguous states. When Hawaii and Alaska joined the Union, a family friend had arranged for someone in those two states to order a quilt from her. Before she died in 1961 she had completed and sold, at age 95, quilts for customers in all fifty states.
More spirits called to him. He turned. Pictures of his great grandparents stared down at him from a wall. They were large, charcoal portraits, lifelike and spooky in the silence. The other wall contained similar charcoal portraits of his grandparents, composed when they were quite young. Their youthful eyes followed him when he left the room.
To his right was the living room. A spirit stood in the doorway, beckoning him. Ricky smiled and entered the room.
More memories cluttered this room. A wooden table stood at its center. A library table, his grandfather had told him, purchased at auction form a library that was remodeling. Ricky felt the smooth, dark table. More spirits, this time of students reading or writing as they sat near it. The table was stacked with old books. Ricky picked one up. It was a German volume, brought along in a trunk, and packed amongst his great-great grandparent’s possessions as they voyaged from Germany to their new home in America. A phonograph stood on a stand by the table. It was a wind up model, which his grandfather assured him still worked.
He fingered a box of harmonicas. His grandfather played these when he was younger. His eye wandered. A broad axe stood in the corner. Ricky went to it and picked it up. The blade was rusty through years of disuse. His great-great grandfather had used this axe to cut the trees to clear his farm and shape the logs to build the log cabin they lived in until they could afford to build a larger, more comfortable frame house. He could feel the spirit of not only his great-great grandfather, but also of the trees that it felled and the logs it shaped.
He left this room and walked to the last one. Here was the room he slept in when they had lived here. The rickety bed stood on one wall. A huge display case with glass doors occupied the other wall. He opened one of the doors. There was a hookah pipe, purchased by his grandfather at a sale somewhere. Other items of interest lay scattered amongst its shelves. There were more books and old National Geographic Magazines. Three large glass jars on the bottom shelf attracted his curious fingers.
When farmers plowed with horses, they saw things that the plows unearthed. His grandfather and great grandfather filled these jars with Indian arrowheads which they picked up and pocketed as he plowed. Ricky picked an arrowhead from the jar and felt its flinty hardness. He could almost sense the Indian warrior on a hunting trip who lost this arrow, shot either at prey or at a warrior from another tribe during some nameless battle of long ago.
Ricky left the room, and walked out the door. He went to his grandfather’s workroom and opened the door. He stared into the dark interior. The blended fragrance of cedar and other woods flowed into his nose. His grandfather’s tools littered the wooden workbench. He could still hear the low rumble of the electric jointer and the powerful whine of the table saw. He glanced at the saw and marveled at his grandfather’s ingenuity, converting an old sewing machine to a table saw. The contraption worked very well under his grandfather’s practiced hands.
He could hear the crunch of gravel in the drive, then the clump of opening and closing car doors. His father and brother had arrived. The sale was tomorrow. Today they would clean out this old house, lining the items up for sale on planks placed on sawhorses. They would auction off his grandparent’s lives. Ricky wondered if the spirits would accompany the items to their new homes, or if they would wander, homeless, in the trackless canyons of his mind.

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