Buckets of Bats

(Edit: Trigger Warning. I apologize for not labeling this post as including Animal Death.)

Growing up in an 1850’s farmhouse in Massachusetts ignited my imagination like no place since. In the cellar, where I was sent to pull carrots from the sandbox in winter, I fantasized about the farmhouse being part of the Underground Railroad. See, there was this dark stone tunnel from the cellar to the outside. It had a huge wooden door that rolled back on a steel track and made me think of the stone rolling back off the tomb of Jesus.

The tunnel was how Babci entered the cellar to feed the hungry wood-burning furnace. She filled her apron two or three times to satisfy it’s yawning.

Leaving the cellar, I took the stairs to the first floor—swatting away the spider webs and watching in case something might reach through the open treads and grab me by an ankle. After that, I passed through the parlor, where no one—to my knowledge—has ever entertained guests. All I know is I’ve been told that when the last of the Browning family died, Mr. Browning was laid out there, and a horse and buggy carried him in his coffin down past the apple orchard and across the field of timothy grass to the Browning family cemetery.

Leaving the parlor, I stopped to handle the seashell that my father brought back from New Caledonia after World War II. Then I climbed to the second floor where Mummy might be waiting for me with a task or two.

When Mummy needed an onion or two from the attic, I had to take the first three steps in the pitch black, then grab the pull string hanging down from the single bare light bulb that lit the stairs. The steps were worn smooth as river rocks, and I always wondered about the girls who went before me. Did they wear petticoats and eyelet blouses—or dungarees and a t-shirt—like me? I liked to raise the lid on Babci’s steamer trunk. It had carried her church clothes, a wicker basket, and her featherbed—all the way from Poland to the port of Antwerp and across the Atlantic to Ellis Island. She told me how cold it was, riding in the open boats that ferried the travelers to the immigration desks.

The attic had a scary part too. My brother Dicky told me that Daddy enlisted him to help kill the bats that hung from the rafters during the day, minding their own business until dusk when they fled the attic in droves, gobbling up mosquitos all the way. Dick said Daddy gave him a bucket and a steel pipe, and they smacked those bats dead, filling buckets with the bodies of the furry little creatures.

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