Crowbar in hand, my husband surveys the room.
“Let’s remove the paneling, install some drywall and make this a proper space,” he says.
“Couldn’t we just paint the paneling?” I say.
A decade of living in a 100-year-old farmhouse has made me cautious of what lurks behind walls, between floorboards, under the soil.
My husband senses my hesitation.
“I pulled back a corner. There is no brick wall,” he says, referring to last year’s remodeling task that tripled in cost when contractors found a brick wall behind drywall.
“I’m not afraid of brick walls,” I say. “I’m afraid of ghosts.”
I never know when I’ll be reminded of the forty-some people who at one time called this house home.
When planting bean seeds in the garden, I find a marble and see a little boy, frantically scanning the ground for the green glass orb, a gift from his grandfather. When my tiller claws up a broken tea cup, I imagine a girl in a dress sitting on a blanket with her dolls, enjoying a picnic. The almost empty bottle of laudanum, stashed in the back of the pantry, conjures images of a woman who couldn’t handle the pain and loneliness of farm life. When I find the letter, dated May 7, 1942 and beginning with, “Dear Alice, I pray that I leave Germany alive,” I see a young woman grieving the death of a soldier.
But the ghost that haunts me the most is captured in one of two photographs that we found when removing the living room baseboards a few years ago. The first shows five smiling children sitting on the stair steps. In the second photo, the children are taller, somber and only number four. I see that fifth child everywhere. He is in the yard, throwing a ball. He is in the hayloft, calling to his older siblings and telling them to look at him. He is in the house, hiding in a closet during a game of hide-n-seek.
My husband says I should control my imagination.
I say that is how I see the world.
My husband taps the paneling. “The paneling is so 1970s. I doubt we’ll find relics.”
When he pries the crowbar under a sheet of paneling, I turn and leave the room. I don’t want to see him uncovering ghosts.
I go outside and weed the garden. I toss blemished tomatoes to the chickens. I grill pork chops for dinner. Hours pass before I go back to the room to tell my husband that dinner is ready.
When I enter the room, he is tapping sheets of paneling back into place.
But he is not quick enough.
I see a baseball bat, a red striped shirt, a football that lost its air long ago. Between the paneling and wall is a shrine to the boy that once lived here. I step closer for a better view.
My husband doesn’t look at me. He picks up the final piece of paneling and taps it back into place.
“It might be easier to paint,” he says.
“How about a sage green?”
Living among ewes, chicks, and a llama — as well as horses, cats, Border collies and a very tolerant husband — provides plenty of writing ideas for Beth Sears. Her essays have appeared in EQUUS and Why We Ride: Women Writers on the Horses in Their Lives, and her short stories have won several contests. She blogs about farm life at www.ewechicksandallama.blogspot.com. After completing one novel, Beth is contemplating a second.