Home Stead

It occurs to me that one of the icons of our lives is our home ground, our home stead, our point of origin, or perhaps the destination we’ve always yearned for.  Even so, that’s not a story until you describe how hard it was to either survive it or reach it.

Location is often the origin of story.  Where are you now?

12 responses to “Home Stead

  1. Isla Menores, Home of the Equanna People
    Copyright© 1952, The National Geographic Society

    Fifty leagues below the Tropic of Capricorn, and nearly twice that distance to the west of the crooked geometry that forms the International Date Line, lies the tiny atoll of Isla Menores. Formed unknown millennia ago by the cataclysmic eruption of Mount Wo, the island’s most notable feature, the proto Isla Menores soon became a rest stop for weary winged travelers who, having eaten their fill in the rich fishing grounds surrounding the island, needed to shed weight before the long flight back to whence it was they had come. The history of the first humans to settle on the island has been the source of no tangible speculation. It should suffice to say that early man, confused and quite possibly impaired, ventured out into the vast unknown, and having landed upon this tiny patch of brown and green, decided enough was enough and hunkered down.

    And so it was, for untold centuries, that the people of Isla Menores lived undisturbed. Until, in 1735, the Spanish ship-of-the-line El Tigre Madera came upon the island, charting it as a hazard to navigation. It would not be until 1844, when the Italian survey ship La Turbidita Egesta, using a poorly translated Spanish map, “rediscovered” the island, becoming the first shipwrecked westerners to encounter the Equanna people.

    Consistent with early accounts, the Equanna of today, isolated for untold generations, are a doltish, yet puerile people, whose diet consists almost entirely of carrion and seaweed. They steadfastly avoid the western side of the island where pools of molten sulphur and toxic gas vents make conditions difficult. This behavior, no doubt the result of centuries of hard won experience, is passed down from generation to generation in a “rite of passage” called the OOga or “stink death trek.”

    On the eastern side of the island, where conditions are more favorable, the primary vegetation is the inedible Pacific Dwarf Pine and a unique variety of thistle. The Equanna, having readily adapted to their environment, make their homes out of the island’s most abundant resource, guano. After centuries of life on Isla Menores, the Equanna have discovered that, by mixing guano with water, they can make a guano paste, which, when dried, readily reverts to plain guano. It is this knowledge that allowed their ancestors to produce the magnificent structures that, according to legend, once dotted the habitable portion of the island. Unfortunately, the effect of wind and water have reduced this proud expression of Equanna civilization to the large piles of guano that are found on the island today.

    While there are hardships, life on Isla Menores is made a bit brighter by the scant 1.2 inches of average rainfall the island experiences each year. Although there is no natural source of fresh water, the Equanna collect steam from volcanic vents and condense it on the leaves of specially treated Pacific Kelp. On Isla Menores, no resource, no matter how limited, goes unexploited.

    Too small for land based bombers, Isla Menores saw limited action during the second world war. At the conclusion of the war, the island, along with several other small islands in the Scataco Island Group, were made part of the US Pacific Island Trust. The year 1950 saw the completion of the island’s first post office. This marked the first use of non-native building materials in the island’s long history. It is the wish of the Equanna people that, given the recent ability to mail brochures and the new emergency landing strip promised for 1954, they will be able to establish a robust tourist business on the island. Until then, it will be only the Equanna who call Isla Menores “My home.”

  2. I laughed out loud six times while reading this. I especially liked Mount Wo, the guano paste that when dried out became guano, and the stink death trek. Talk about rites of passage! Ooga!

    • Thanks Ann. Glad you enjoyed it. This was one of those pieces where you get home from work and compulsively start pounding keys. I wish I understood the trigger for that. 🙂

  3. Okay, let’s see now. It’s kinda hard to place everything after all these years of not being allowed back, but I’d say the house was over there, and the pool in back of it, and the garage where my late Uncle Roy used to do all his inventing was pretty well right here where we’re standing. Looking at it now, I guess we were lucky we were at the movies that Saturday afternoon he finally perfected his atom-disintegrator.

    I purchased the 80 year old Johnson Bay Marina solely on the power of potential. It offered little else in its “As Is” condition. The store building was a mangy old nag with a sway back roof which had been repaired many times with a patchwork of tar paper. Pitted wood panels and rusty corrugated metal adorned the exterior walls as siding. A behemoth of a sliding barn door was the only entrance into a retail area which was lit by four anemic fluorescent fixtures that struggled to light the undulating grease stained concrete floor. A few single-pane windows were perma-coated with a grimy glaze that obscured the beautiful view of Lake Wawasee. If anyone dared to look up at the unfinished interior roof, their eyes would be met with a hand painted sign that read;
    “What the Hell are You Looking Up Here for Anyway?
    I have always been a pushover for strays and rejects, and I fell in love with the decrepit marina at first sight. My bleeding heart won the day over good sense, and I made the decision to purchase Johnson Bay Marina and restore her to her former usefulness.

    I realized that my newly acquired business was in desperate need of repairs and came with a painfully meager supply inventory. I was well aware of these facts, but I had no idea that when I took title to the property, I also took on the responsibility of hosting a cast of neighborhood characters that were accustomed to gathering on the marina front porch every morning just after dawn. Each day, this gaggle of crusty fishermen would gather on my veranda and swap fish stories as rapidly as speculators trade on Wall Street. Exaggeration and outright lies were the coins of this realm.

  5. You make us want to meet this gaggle. What a challenge you took on!

  6. I was Harbor Master for ten years and I grew to love all of my Fishing buddies. Mean Gene The Drink’in Machine was probably the most colorful. English was his second language, cursing was his first. He literally drank from sun up to sun down. and he talked so loud that when speaking, his volume caused ripples on the water. He was totally devoid of Social graces, but he was loyal to a fault.
    Tater was a WWII veteran who had a sever case of Shell Shock. Mostly he would repeat everything someone would say and then add his own ending to the sentence with saying “Oh sure.” Tater got his name from the fact that he loved potatoes. His brother, Bigger, gave him that nickname. Bigger was taller and heftier than Tater.

    Mad Max was a retired engineer for the rail road. He chewed cigars, loved to be right and verbally abused anyone that would dare disagree with him.

    Dixie was a rotund Southern Belle, who was a retired librarian. She was a “Heavy Walker”, and that combined with her weight made my porch floor groan in pain each morning as she took her perch as the only women in the gang.

    Each and every one of my gaggle had great stories and even greater hearts.

  7. It had been more than twenty-five years since the old Jerusalem Hill house had been inhabited but in 1963, for only forty dollars a month, thirty-six-year-old Emma Riley was determined to make it her own.
    Dressed for the balmiest of days, in a short-sleeved white blouse and a pair of pale blue pedal pushers that hugged her slim figure like rubber against asphalt, Emma climbed the front porch and kicked a dead pigeon from one of the steps. More birds, live ones, escaped from behind the eaves. Their wings fluttered wildly against the front porch walls, but Emma–fixed on reaching the front door–ducked her head and managed to insert the key into the rusty, old lock.
    Her hands, heavy with perspiration, were barely able to turn the key and her cat-eyed sunglasses repeatedly slipped down the bridge of her nose making it increasingly difficult to see. Nevertheless, as the late afternoon sun suddenly disappeared behind a large storm cloud, barely cooling the day, she turned the key hard to the right and with a snap the iron lock yielded and the door swung wide open.
    Emma looked inward, drew a deep breath and crossed the sun-dried threshold. Instantly, the stale, sickening sweet smell of decades-old dirt and neglect wafted up to her nose but she forced herself to take a few more steps inside to get a good look around.
    Ten-foot-high walls were covered with century-old wallpaper and riddled with holes the size of angry fists. Yellowed venetian blinds, chipped and broken, hung from each tall–and probably once-glorious–living room window, blocking the sun.
    Being careful not to step in the piles of mouse droppings lining the dark hardwood floors, she made her way past the dining room and into the kitchen where she discovered a bent and twisted pendent light swinging eerily above a badly stained farmhouse sink. Gaping holes in the ceiling above the stove begged for immediate attention and the cracked and dingy linoleum floors made her cringe.
    Suddenly, a long-overdue sigh escaped her lips.
    How could she bring herself and her six children to live in this place? However, now that Mac, her husband of eighteen years, had run off with another woman, how could she not? What kind of man runs off and leaves a woman behind with six children, anyway! She didn’t know, but she couldn’t allow herself to think of that, or him, right now; she needed to keep moving. She was due back to work within the hour.
    Emma climbed the back steps of the farmhouse, off the kitchen, where, upstairs, she discovered four bedrooms and one large bathroom. Guy, her oldest son, 18, could bunk with Neddy, 12, in the largest room while Dale and Doug, the twins, 15, could have their own room, which left Peter and Sarah, the baby, to share. Nine-year-old Peter wouldn’t mind bunking with his baby sister. He adored Sarah. Sarah was just three years old but before she came along the older boys picked on Peter until he could no longer stand being the youngest. One time, when Emma and Mac were at work, the older boys stuffed Peter into a trashcan and rolled him down a long dirt hill. Peter cried out into the night for months after that incident. Yes, Sarah was a welcomed relief for Peter, his little buddy.
    Emma stepped into the smallest bedroom, which she decided would be her own. She walked over to the window and pulled back the dusty and colorless drapes. The sun dipped once again behind a now monstrous gray storm cloud. From where she stood, she could see the city limits and, most notably, Dunn Field where the city’s AAA baseball team, the Elmira Pioneers, thrilled the city each week during the summer months with their impressive athletics. Emma’s boys loved sports, all sports, and they would certainly love this view.
    She looked away from the baseball field and followed the tree line that framed the property to the east, beyond the pasture. Between the pasture and the tree line there rested a large, murky pond. Something she would have to manage, she figured, because surely the boys would want to go fishing and possibly even swim in that dirty, old pond. They wouldn’t like it, but she would have to forbid them to do so.
    Emma stepped away from the window and glanced down at her worn-out saddle shoes. Taking this house would mean having to drive the children seven miles, each way, back and forth to Horseheads for school as she would not ask them to change districts. In addition, she would have to drive Neddy to his baseball games, three nights a week, and drive Guy to his part time job in Elmira Heights. Could it work?
    Satisfied she had seen enough, Emma walked out of the bedroom and down the front hallway steps and onto the front porch. Being careful to re-lock the solid oak door behind her, she quickened her pace as the storm clouds overhead finally opened up. Carefully, she made her way down the steep driveway in the mud. Before reaching her car, she caught a sideways glimpse of a sway-back horse with a swollen belly grazing in the neighboring pasture.
    Could this really be home?
    It would have to be, she told herself, she had no other choice.

  8. It is said that, “Home is where the heart is.” My home is anywhere I happen to be, and I find that life, like the universe surrounding us, is merely a series of collections. We humans love to collect things: Cups and glasses, odd and ends, thread spools, spoons from foreign lands, anecdotes, memories, some even love old buttons! Then, of course, there are the hoarders who simply love to collect; human-sized dust bunnies who gather everything around them and put it under their beds … on the floor surrounding the beds … on the beds … and in their closets … and on the stairs … and in their vehicles and garages and storage rooms … and aaaaaaaaaagh; EVERYWHERE!

    Me … I love to collect words, and phrases, and nifty cliches spoken in foreign languages like, “por qua” or “ipsa scientia potestas est”, and the like. “A picture is worth a thousand words!” Oh, is it really!? I don’t think so, Tim! Words can do so much more than pictures can ever do! Take, for instance, that picture of the dog looking into the horn of the Victrola record player … you remember that, don’t you? Well, look it up. You’ll see what I mean! It says a lot, true! But it certainly does not tell you what is playing, or what the dog is sensing, or whose dog it is or what other sounds will attract it, or if the entire scene was staged (which it more often that not is for the sake of advertising). No, no! Words can make pictures come to life, even the stillest of stills gain new meaning with description. We have to have words in one form or another; just ask people like Helen Keller, or any deaf person you know. They learn to “sign”, which is a modified form or speaking and can be very descriptive if you learn to understand it. My best-friend’s father could use very “loud” sign language when he was upset! Believe me!

    Anyway … there it is! Words … words … words! I’ve got a million them! Maybe more! But if you really want to know what I’m referring to, go to this web-page …


    Read this excerpt of Marcel Proust’s writing. When I first read Swan’s Way, I had no idea how famous this passage had become, but it did become, by far, the most loved section of anything I had read up to that time, and probably still is. When someone asks what I think writing is about, this is a constant point of reference in my mind. Marcel could make delicacies out of one thousand word sentences! And so it goes; in a word; write! Which I hope to do the remainder of my life.

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