When I was four years old, I lived with my mom, dad, and brother in an old farmhouse.
I have small pieces of memory from the house, but few of them are happy memories. The upstairs bedrooms were cold and dark with tiny windows, and the place was filled with shadowy dreams. I probably shared a room with my brother because we were so close in age, and furnishings were limited. Farmyard chickens chased me and pecked my skinny legs. My brother was a terror with the outdoor garden hose. But my dad was resourceful and hard-working, and he and Mom wanted a house of their own. This was a big dream for two people with less than $100 in their pockets. Even in 1966, $100 didn’t go far enough to buy a house.
Dad worked the fields and orchards surrounding the old farmhouse and tended the animals in the barn. In doing so, making an extra $1 an hour beyond his small-engine repair day job, he managed to live rent-free, earn farm-fresh food, and gain the favor of his landlord. When plans for route 322 produced a collection of doomed houses in its pathway, my dad learned of a house for sale that was slated for demolition.
Dad mentioned his plan to go to the bank for a loan to Sam, the landlord, a board member of a competing bank. “Don’t you go there,” Sam said, “You go over to my bank and tell the bank president that I want him to put $5000 in an account for you.” And so, with the signing of a single sheet of paper, an account was created for buying the house on the highway’s path.
Dad and his friends worked late into the night that September to prepare the house for its moving day. They removed the furnace and water pump from the basement and tore down the cellar wall to allow a flatbed trailer to maneuver into the underground space. A framework of 4x4s was constructed to fit beneath each corner of the house, with four parallel I-beams to hold the weight of the structure on the trailer. Shims and wood planks helped level the house to prevent the plaster walls from cracking during the move. The brick chimney that went through the house’s interior was enclosed in a wooden framework to keep it intact.
As the Monday moving day came closer, my mom debated whether to go watch her house arrive at its new location. Moving a two-story house was not a common procedure, and there were many risks involved. Besides, she’d made daily visits to the structure, taking supper to Dad, who spent long days at the engine shop and long evenings where the highway would be built. We’d visited our house many times, and I’m sure she’d already planned the arrangement of a Formica-topped dinette set, the brown scratchy living room suite, the crib, and nursery items for the surprise my brother and I hadn’t anticipated. Watching her dreams and the financial gamble moving along old Route 322 behind a tractor-trailer would surely have her stomach in knots.
On the Friday before house-moving day, an inspector notified Dad that the wooden front and back porches would need to be torn off before traveling. Dad, his friends Ray, Bill, and our pastor worked through the night until Saturday noon to remove the porches. Even without Pastor Gene’s presence, working on Sunday would not have been acceptable.
On Monday, Mom and I stood in the field, far from the large hole where cellar walls would grow from the ground, and watched a lumbering form move around the corner beyond the stand of trees, fall into the dip in the road, and come to a slow crawl by the empty field. The house had taken a 30-minute ride on the old highway. As the tractor-trailer turned and pulled into the field, the house leaned precariously to the left, causing my mother a moment of panic. She didn’t know that the long I-beams stretching from under both sides of the house acted as sled runners to keep the trailer from tipping too far.
The truck pulled down the ramp onto the foundation, where the house was secured and held in place above jacks that would raise its heavy structure a foot at a time as layer after layer of cement blocks were added for the seven-foot cellar walls. Inside the house, the plaster walls had survived the journey intact except for a crack near the front door where someone had mislaid a wooden plank before the move.
Late in January, we relocated to the movable house. Steep stairs were built to the front, side, and back doors until porches could be reconstructed. The living room, bedroom suites, and a few wine-colored laminate end tables were loaded into another church friend’s milk truck, emptied of the round metal canisters of his trade. In time, the basement would become a playground for hordes of children, the front porch a place to wave at passing cars, the backyard a football field, the attic a secret holding place for Christmas gifts.
In May, my sister joined the family, much to my surprise. When asked if we wanted a new baby brother or sister or television, my brother and I both opted for the TV. That wouldn’t come for a few more years. In December of 1967, the house moved again, only three inches this time. A young man passing a vehicle on the icy road kissed the side of the house at high speed, causing minor stairway alignments, bloody injuries, and bloodstains on the floor of the living room.
A few years later, another house moved in next door, this one also hauled by a tractor-trailer and professional house-movers. In time, other houses would be built to complete the row that still guards Route 322. Trees and flower beds now cover the bare fields.
For a while, I dreamed of the old farmhouse and its dark shadows and pesky chickens, but now, even in my adult and seniors years, when I dream of home and closets and busy spaces, my dreams usually take place in the rooms of a house that moved down the old highway on the back of a tractor-trailer truck.