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Dearly departed (03/26/2006)
By Janet Lewis Burns

Often times, silence speaks the loudest.

Hollow echoes of footsteps levitate from hardwood floors, through sullen rooms. Heavy with age, velvet drapes sag across blank windows. Walls, stiff and cold, meet at corners hinged with spider webs. A rundown house is emptied of random things, where ledges and mantels yield to the disgrace of rodent intrusion.

Thus another era of occupancy is terminated. How many souls have graced one single plot of land? How many sets of hands have restored one dwelling, its distant newness unprecedented?

Someone's homestead unceremoniously rides in a heap on the back of a dump truck through a small town's deserted streets. New ownership has declared its corner lot destined for bigger and better things. So it is, in the name of moving on, in centuries-old farm communities...not only the material, aesthetic props of yesteryear are discarded, but services no longer needed, as well.

Years back, Harold Micheel was a welcomed sight on his tractor and plow, come spring. Folks all over town wanted their garden plots turned up for planting. Harold and Mildred are one of Lewiston's most senior couples. They live in the same house I remember as a child.

Childhood vanished so swiftly, as though I had dreamt it. Structures as recognizable as the back of a hand comprise a hometown setting, welcoming those who return for a visit and to reminisce.

Our neighbors to the south next to the 12-grade school, where a row of pines bordered their spooky, cluttered yard, the Hvorka sisters Mary and Frances and brother Ed were a curiosity and an oddity. With billowing, long dresses, heavily patched bib overalls, toothless cackling, and no vehicle, their reclusive and foreign mannerisms invoked some teasing and a great deal of guarded gawking.

In braver moments, we kids would peek through a lopsided shed door at Ed's glum, moon face, aglow at his work. He sharpened lawnmower and saw blades there, amid a hodgepodge of wood and scrap piles.

Poignant scents of dill and clove garlic wafted from a tattered screen door, where a rickety back porch met the ground on one corner. Neighborhood kids couldn't resist the temptation to snitch ground cherries from the far end of their garden during night games of "starlight-moonlight."

Katherine Duane lived on our street, across from St. Rose Catholic Church, where she cared for her mother. I recall that Miss Duane, a devout Catholic, was keeper of the church, the one with the church and parish hall keys and a sharp eye if things didn't look just right.

There was an operating dairy farm right in town, down a gravel road next to St. Rose Church and cemetery. The Bill and Sadie Beirne family resided there. As a teen Pat worked on the farm for them. Most of the outbuildings have since been torn down, where corn stalks flutter with forsaken secrets.

On strolls there in later life, I've discovered the most fetching patch of foxtail barley grass. Like pinkish sails they flaunt their liberation through ebb and flow of seasoned breezes. How many others have endowed their praises, envying as I have, such freedom of abandon?

In the fifties and sixties most adults either owned a business or took jobs right in Lewiston. A delightful place for kids with allowances burning holes in their pockets and the high school gang over noon, was Sim's "little store," on our side of the railroad tracks. Rosemary and Peggy Sim became good friends to Mary and me.

It was cool to hang out in a store with a huge, glass-front candy display, cold bottles of Pepsi and Orange Crush, and young people coming and going.

Dwelling places of our youth are safe, impermanent, "olden days" romanticized by things untold. There are those recollections that cannot be reduced to words.

Sometimes silence is golden. 


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