The former icehouse his father moved from one part of the yard into the barnyard, set to house the bull. By the time I arrived, a bare shack caked in dry mud and manure, thin ladder inside to attic cubby. I would sit amid the pigeon-squat, some six, seven years old, and survey. From the back yard of the house pointed east, looking past the garage, underneath a small rainbow.
Two darkened tins, stuffed with envelopes, newspaper clippings, postcards, photographs. My mother’s mother’s parents, two lives boiled down to rust-crumbling paper.
Buried through the homestead like open graves, disappeared and robbed over a series of years. Upstairs hallway cracked linoleum floor replaced at one point, 1980s, underneath browned newspaper archive from the week originally installed, somewhere thirty years or more. Long done, long disappeared, forgotten. A house that if it spoke, so few have listened, recorded.
Grandma McLennan, who taught school in the one-room at Sandringham before she married, Ellen Elizabeth Campbell, born 1905, making seventy-nine years. Who later provided my daughter her middle name. Stained copy of George Eliot’s Silas Mariner (1920) with her script inside, “Ellen E. Campbell, M.C.S.” Whether I came from readers, certainly an array of predecessors who claimed ownership. Almost every book older than a couple of decades another family member writ their name, inscribed along the flyleaf. Mine.
Her husband, John Duncan, my grandfather, the youngest of six, not including a sibling that never survived infancy. Who barely left the property, it might seem. Youngest brother to John, the last McLennan line I could find named so in a stretch; two Johns, side by side; sons of Finley John who in turn, son of John, who in turn, son of John. My grandfather, who attended a one-room schoolhouse that sat on five acres, the corner of our hundred acre wood. Where a couple gnarled apple trees, the remains of the raspberry bushes. In the 1970s, what thorns caught our clothing, my sister and I red fingered, our bucket that never quite filled. Apple trees the result, my father once told, of the refuse from students. Cores tossed out the windows.
The difficulty of stories that can’t be proven. Vernacular. Highlighting that much further how history relates. History relates. This picture taken at Camp Keswick, my father tells me, a Bible camp his parents attended. In Port Carling, Ontario, in the Muskoka Lakes, directly north of Lake Simcoe, the Canadian Keswick Conference Centre, sitting just on Lake Rosseau. My grandparents are standing in front of what once was called Ferndale House, constructed in 1880, destroyed by fire in 1945, and rebuilt with stone, back when it was still centre to an interdenominational Bible Conference Centre. Apparently they went there on more than one occasion.
Would it matter much if I mentioned the centre fell into bankruptcy in 1976, or that the property now sits empty.
Port Carling, named after John Carling, son of the brewer. The Governor-General who also gave name to Carling Avenue, Ottawa, and invented our Experimental Farm, the only working farm situated inside the city limits of a world capital. When it was built, was well on its outskirts.
Back home, this red brick that held safely his boyhood possessions. Until we came along. His stuffed white lamb, his Meccano set, his Tales from the Green Forest, Thornton W. Burgess. From there, along came my Hardy Boys, my Dr. Seuss that passed to my sister, her Nancy Drew volumes. Our swaths of relative excess, of casual destruction. What had once kept to small.
The orange crate turned on its end and covered with fabric beside the years my father’s bedside table, holding books, hay flecks caught in pens, a notepad, collection of loose change, what I would occasionally wander up to collect. His reading lamp. The lower shelf the family bible, resting. Rested, a lineage. An archive, resting squarely against an absence. Isn’t this all writing is? Maps that shift, rotate, slower than the moon, or stars. A dream of starry skies. Escape, a loving detail.