My husband and I are taking a trip back to Anderson County, Kansas. Clouds of dust whirl behind our green Ford Explorer as we travel too fast on the country road. “How much farther?” he grumbles.
“Just around the bend, dear,” I reply, stretching the truth a bit. I stare ahead for a glimpse of the house where Dr. Harris brought me into the world in 1928. Even then, the old house had seen better days. As far as we knew, no one lived in it after a hasty move to Kansas City so my father could take a job.
We round a curve and there it is! The drab gray of the ancient two-story frame house blends into a murky late-fall sky. The bare bones of the roof cling tenaciously to leaning walls, as if they know that all will be lost if they loosen their hold.
“You’re not going in there, are you?” my husband asks incredulously. But he reluctantly pulls to the side of the road. I push through the head-high jungle of dead weeds that covers the lane while a voice in my head whispers, “Snakes and spiders, snakes and spiders!”
After stepping through the crooked door, I wait for my eyes to adjust to the gloom. Scraps of flowered wallpaper still cling to the broken walls. Mother loved flowers, inside and out. When she had less food to put on the table during hard times, she balanced it out with bouquets of fresh flowers.
The floor creaks ominously with each step. This is risky business, but it’s my last chance to say goodbye to the place my brother and I grew up. It was a happy time. Our family worked together, played together and loved one another.
In the kitchen, I recall Mother’s Home Comfort range and the heavy oak table that filled the center of the room. That’s where we ate, worked and socialized—as a family. At threshing time, Mother would add leaves to the table and pile it high with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, cream gravy and fresh vegetables for a crew of hungry men.
Suddenly, I jump at the sound of a car horn. My husband is getting impatient. “Goodbye, old house. Thanks for waiting for me,” I say as I move slowly to the door. I wish I could take something with me, but there’s nothing left. Then my foot touches something in a pile of trash that goes clink. I plunge my hand into the dirt and my fingers close over a piece of metal.
When I see what it is, tears begin to run down my cheeks. Mother put aside a few cents from the egg money each month to save up for a belt buckle for my father’s birthday. My brother took it to a neighbor and had him engrave it, “Love, your family.” Father lost it when we moved.
Clutching the buckle and the strip of dried leather to my chest, I race back down the lane with my lost treasure. The snakes and spiders will have to watch out for themselves.
Story by Marie Fletcher, Leoti, Kansas