The animals and I (cats plus one bird), slept at the farm for the last time on the twenty-second of August.
My son and his two friends had moved all the belongings in a leaky U-Haul truck, during what could only be considered a monsoon (officially over 2 inches of rain that day), to our new apartment in the city where he remained to set up beds. I stayed behind to clean up and leave with the animals the next day.
After mopping up the moving-mess, and dragging the old cast iron chaise lounge in from the porch to sleep on downstairs in the Great Hall, I remembered I had managed to stash a quilt and a pillow in the car for that night, but not clean clothes. My mother was probably rolling over in her grave - "...and don't forget clean underwear, what if you're in a car accident..." I assumed my sister would take care of me on the 'roughing it' front and late that evening I took off my totally drenched sneakers, peeled off my sport socks, put the sneakers between the ancient, turned banisters, hung my socks on the railing, and got as comfortable as possible in damp clothes on the chaise.
It wasn't easy with cats sitting on most available stairs, glaring at me with what I originally thought were those "OK, what exactly is going on here, and where is all our stuff?" faces. I would learn in short order that the confusion of moving was not the source of their expressions.
I rolled up in the quilt in my damp clothes, said a little prayer to keep the beetles and bugs away - which didn't work, it was hideous and I refuse to revisit that aspect of this night - turned out the hallway light, and exhausted from the days work, hoped to fall into a deep slumber.
As soon as the light was out, Bunny had an anxiety attack. She sat on her chosen step meowing as if her life depended on it, until I turned on the light, fetched her off the step and brought her under the quilt with me. She would not settle. The next one to lose it was Edgar, who hopped up on my pillow and nosed his way under the quilt, Spot went to the window and started to whine, while Gatsby laid on the foot of the chaise with his eyes so wide open it looked like, well, it has to be said, like he had seen a ghost.
Fifteen minutes or so would pass, and then IT began. I heard distinct, muffled arguing. Definitely between two grown men. I listened to it for quite a while, until the tone became such it sounded as if the argument would become physical. I dislodged the cats, grabbed my flashlight and went outside to see what was going on by the road, for it was there this must be. The rain had ceased, leaving behind a foggy, humid, distorted stillness outside, the sort of air one can cut with a knife. The flashlight was doing me no good what-so-ever in the soup, so I listened for another minute, heard nothing, traipsed to the road, still hearing nothing I made my way back to the house.
The cats were all on the chaise, staring at me, the bird, normally in her tent, was flapping around her cage. I checked and there were no beetles in her cage. I raised her from the time she was an inch long. She does not like creepy crawlies in her cage, bird food is her nutrition of choice. But there were no beetles, nor carpenter ants in her cage. I talked to her in hopes she would settle and avoid an injury, so disturbed was she. It worked to a point, she got into her tent (which she needs, she cannot perch with only one foot), but she would not stop her agitated chirping.
I squished in between cats on the chaise and tried, once more, to sleep (perchance to dream....!). The arguing began again. This time I could almost make out words, but not quite. I raced out the front door sure I would find the source this time, so loud were the voices. Nothing. I had slammed the front door on my way out so I thought I'd just wait. It would start again and I would figure out just where on earth these two guys were that sounded ready , at this point, to kill each other. More of Nothing. Then a flash to my right, near the old pine trees next to the vegetable field that had not been planted this spring. Great, here stands a human lightening rod in the middle of the lawn, and why - for gauds sake - can she not remember what the characteristics of 'heat lightening' are? Crucial at this stage for someone with a family history like mine.
Then a muffled crack of pressure on a twig, leaves shuffle, and as the hair on my body began to stand on end (it really does this ya know, such sudden, severe constriction of muscle tissue, as in FEAR), Grandma came sauntering around the corner of the house, with her daughter in tow. Phew. Well, as long as I had escorts I'd do a little walkabout and see what I could hear. They walked with me, joined in the rear of the house by the Teenager and the gray. Naturally I heard nothing more. I sat for a while on the front porch talking to the farm cats I was forced to leave behind, then went back inside.
Where my cats were all nuts, the arguing was nearly deafening, and through my exhaustion I finally saw the situation for what it was. Yep. Spirits of some sort, and unhappy to say the least. I kept picking out a word here and there and wished I had a notebook. And a pen. I got down and put my ear to the floor, while my cats remained on the chaise, and listened for so long I knew I would recognize the voices if I ever heard them again. They did not stop. So I sat with the cats and wondered.
Was it the slaves that had originally inhabited the basement of the house back in the late 1700's. A creek runs through it and it was there they cooked, washed, and slept during their forced servitude. It was in that basement they lived out the small part of their lives not spent working for the 'master.'
I looked to the past for an explanation, if not an answer.
The farm was built in the mid 1700's, the original portion maintained by its great stone block foundation, original post and beam construction, as well as a good percentage of original wooden clapboards under the asbestos siding. Surely enough original construction to hold a bounty of unhappy souls.
In 1783 slavery was made illegal in Massachusetts. Were the men arguing over trying to make a break for it? The border is less than thirty miles away as the crow flies. In ancient diaries there are stories of slaves that were devoted to masters that treated them well. Did one man want ultimate freedom, while the other security for his family? The great-great-granddaughter (in her late sixties) of one of the original owners of the farm I chanced to meet was an incredibly pleasant woman, with still such a love for that farm she had not driven by it in fifteen years. Watching it's steady decline broke her heart. I have to believe her ancestors were of the same good heart as well.
Was it an argument over Abraham Lincoln's latest gaffe? In a widely published letter to Horace Greeley, dated August 22, 1862, Lincoln wrote [hold on to your hats please, this is a shocker], that if he "could save [the Union] without freeing a slave", he would. It wasn't until a month to the day later, September 22, 1862, Lincoln passed the Emancipation Proclamation which became effective January 1, 1863.
Or was this a product of something more recent, more sinister. Just last week the house in town that had been host to the town's first murder burnt to the ground. It had occurred more than fifty years ago. Not much else was said in the local newspaper regarding details of the murder. Such as, hey, did they ever catch the guy?
Needless to say, I did not sleep for the rest of the night. Those guys kept the cats, the bird, and me up with all night with their arguing.
I returned to the, now totally vacant, farm yesterday to refill the auto feeders for the cats. The only one around was the teenager. So I have not seen poor Grandma, nor her daughter or the gray, since my last night there, when she chose to disregard her safety and brave a coyote attack, to walk around the house with me, leave me at the front door, and sneak back to the hideout in the shed to the rear of the house where they stay at night.
I sat for a while on the front porch, shaded by trees old enough to have witnessed whatever may have taken place in the past. I listened, but heard nothing. The chaise is still in the Great Hall where I left it at 6 AM the morning of Aug 23rd.
And one day soon I will return to spend one last night in that Great Hall. I really need to know what those guys were trying to get across.