Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Rat House

I remember her so well. It is as thought part of me still lives within her walls. Her walls that are only a memory. In those days she not far off Hwy 27 just across from the old Hotel James. Behind her were the potato fields and the railroad tracks. Built in the late 1600 to early 1700's she held the memories of countless children. One of the proud Halsey Houses. As a large founding family they all worked together and built several identical homes scattered over the eastern tip of Long Island.
We were renters for a few short years. Maybe three? But she is my childhood home. We lived in I think 17 houses before my 18th birthday but the Rat House was 'home'.
This house with the thick walls and low ceiling was poorly insulated and we had to close off the stairway to the second floor and only occupy the first floor in the colder months.My mother occupied the 'borning room' complete with a antique cradle and a brass feather bed. The fireplaces at that point were non-functioning or maybe the landlord just didn't want us to use them. The house was cold. So cold that one winter we had to move out for a time when the pipes burst.
As alive as the house was with the memories of centuries of families and perhaps a visiting dignitary whose name may have been George Washington the walls were alive too. Rats who needed a warm place to winter found the thick walls and the close proximity to the potato fields to be the ideal place to weather the winter. At night their nocturnal adventures could be heard as they scampered just behind our heads separated only by the plaster walls. There was the one night that a rat feeling cold and bold made his way to my sister Janice's bed. As she pulled her blankets up in the night to warm herself she heard the tell-tale thud as the rat fell on the wide floor boards and scurried across the floor. I think Digger liked setting the traps and emptying them when they succeeded in their intended mission. When the traps were not enough the poison was placed...it worked. We spent many nights with the blankets held over our noses to buffer the putrid smell of the rats as they decomposed in the walls where they died.
While my mother worked my brother, sister and I found countless amusements. Digger unearthed a civil war cannon ball in the back yard when an old shed was torn down. An American Indian  witch doctor instrument covered with shark teeth and horse hair was unearthed in the old dumping ground behind the potato field. We would sneak into forbidden places in the house to check out the secret passage ways behind the chimney that we were told were used to hide from the Indians. When an old Elm tree was cut down in the front yard we found what was believed to be the remains of an American Indian dumping ground. We climbed trees and picked blackberries and wild grapes. We flattened pennies on the railroad track and played with the potato bugs from the fields and we made extravagant homes for the horse chestnut families.Sometimes we walked  to the Penny Candy Store and  sometimes we walked to my grandparents house. It was the happiest time of my childhood.
The Rat House gave me a curiosity about people and a desire to know history. The low ceilings and slanted floors, the exposed beans and beautiful fireplaces, the dutch oven and narrow half circular staircase gave me a love for antiques and a passion for charm. The hand hued nails gave me an appreciation for the hard work that went into building such a home.
Tonight I did an internet search on the Rat House. It has been more than 50 years since we last walked out her door.Sometimes I visit her in a dream. I am always excited to be there.
When I saw the pictures and read about her I almost cried.As I am writing this I am crying.


The Rat House is gone.
The people who bought the property last year had no desire to live in this 300+ year old home.It did not suit the needs of their family. They offered it for free to anyone who wanted to remove it but it had to be done quickly. When that didn't happen quick enough the Historical Society striped what they could before she was.....destroyed. It is even hard to type that.
With the complicated childhood that my brother, sister and I shared there was this one time in our lives when we had a home that suited us perfectly.We had room to run and we were home.
 I want to think that she remembered us too. I want to think that had we gone back she would have somehow found a way to greet us the long lost children that she had grieved for as much as we grieved for her. I want to think that as the walls came down that a worker found a long lost marble or a baseball card or penny candy wrapper wedged behind the dutch oven. I want to believe that they thought about the kids who lost it more than 50 years ago.
I want to go back just one time.
I want my mansion in heaven that Jesus promised is waiting to look just like The Rat House.No... I don't want it to look like it. I want it to be it. But the rats are not invited.
 Until then goodbye my childhood friend.