As it happens, the sale of that ‘hoarder house’ was finalized on Thursday this last week. This was the house several doors from mine, built pretty much to the same plan, which had not been lived in for nearly eight years, when the woman who lived there passed away suddenly. She was a hoarder, and gradually became somewhat unbalanced. The technical owner of the house was her estranged husband, who finally was prevailed on to sell it to an investor entity whom my daughter had done work for as a real estate agent. The investors originally wanted to take possession early this month, but the owner’s handyman nephew was still clearing out stuff … and more stuff … and even more stuff, most of it in a ruinous condition, since the place had been invaded by rodents and racoons. The roof had also leaked massively, and part of the ceiling drywall had fallen in places …the hot water heater, bathroom fixtures, and HVAC system were all original contractor-grade installations from when the house was built in 1985. As my daughter observed cheerfully, there wasn’t anything in the place that couldn’t be fixed by a gallon of gas and a book of matches.

But it’s a small, compact cottage in an attractive, affordable, nicely-located, and established neighborhood (but not top-drawer expensive) convenient to two military bases, nice stores and other attractions on the outskirts of San Antonio … so it was well worth it to the investing consortium to purchase the wreck of a house. Still, we were considerably astounded when three pickup trucks and a massive dumpster materialized the very first thing on Friday morning – the day after the sale closed! – and work of renovation commenced even before the sun was well up. Everything down to the studs and the concrete slab foundation will have to go, being ruined through weather, age, and animal incursion. This includes interior drywall, all fixtures, floor covering, exterior siding, roof … everything. My daughter tells me that the investors hope to have their work crew have it all done in time to put it on the market for the summer moving season. In a single day, all the cabinets, bathroom fixtures, remaining carpets and cabinets were removed, and piled in the dumpster, which was amazing, considering – and a darned good start for getting all reno work done in time. As for myself, I’m wondering on the sequence of renovation – will they do the inside first? Or fix the roof and exterior siding, in order to preserve the new interior? In any case, my personal bet is that they will fill up the dumpster at least three times.

Another excerpt from the new WIP – title of which is undecided, as of yet. (Suggestions are welcome.). The Kettering family is about to head west to Independence, Missouri, on the first leg of their journey to California. Sally Kettering tells us a bit about the family wagon –

I should say something about our wagon, since it was to be a home for six months at least, as well as our means of traveling. Pa talked with such of his friends who knew of such matters. He exchanged our old light two-horse farm wagon and some other considerations for one which was slightly larger, with a back and front which sloped slightly outwards like the prow of a boat in both directions. It sat high on the ground, on four heavy iron-bound wheels which were as tall as my chin when I had shoes on.

When Pa first brought that new wagon, telling us that it was the wagon that would take us all the way to California, he took Jon and I out to look at it, standing in the farmyard.  He pointed out the wheels, the axles and running gear underneath the great square box of the body.

“Children – I thought this wagon was perfect for the journey – see the wheels, particularly? I thought them superior to every other wagon which I considered. The hubs are fine, well-seasoned elmwood and the spokes of good solid oak. The trail is long and very rough, in places – and the last thing we want is for our wagon to break down.”

Eight beechwood hoops held up the wagon cover, which was sewn of heavy canvas made waterproof with linseed oil – the hoops on back and front flared out slightly. There was a seat on metal springs that sat on the front of the wagon, somewhat more comfortable to rest up on as the wheels bumped and jounced over ruts and stones in the road. The front and back of the wagon cover could be drawn tight, or loose, with an extra flap to cover up the round opening, keep out the dust or the rain.

The wagon itself had tall sides. Together with the hoops holding up the cover made it like a small room with an arched ceiling, nearly tall enough for Pa to stand in. But once the wagon was loaded with all that was said to be needful, there was no room to stand –The one space which was not packed almost to the height of the cover was at the front, just behind the seat. A pair of big flat-topped trunks sat there, topped with some straw pallets and a featherbed – this was where Jon and I would sleep, once we set out.  For themselves, Ma and Pa had a stout canvas wall tent to sleep in at night. We had a small patent tin stove, and a box full of tin plates and silverware, another box of Ma’s kettles, a big frypan on legs and a covered iron Dutch oven. We had a fine maple rocking chair which Ma treasured since it had come with her family from Pennsylvania, and the parts to a cherrywood bedstead, stowed in the wagon. Pa’s precious patent steel-share plow was strapped to the back of the wagon, as he intended to take up farming again, when we reached California.

Most space in the wagon was taken up with supplies. There were but two or three places beyond Independence where one could buy more, but Pa had told us it would be better to bring everything we would need for ourselves to carry us through the journey, enough for six months or longer; so many barrels of flour and cornmeal, sugar, and a firkin of molasses, a box of coffee beans and a tin-lined box of China tea, another of hard tack, some fine smoked hams and sausages of our own smokehouse and another barrel of salt pork. A covered crock of fresh eggs packed in isinglass, a bushel bag of beans and another of rice. Pa said that he would rather we purchase good quality from merchants which we knew and trusted, rather than strangers in Missouri. Of course, Ma had some crocks of pickles, jams, and dried fruit of her own preserving, all packed away in boxes or in crates padded with straw.

We had been all that late winter, packing and procuring those supplies we would need on the journey. We packed our few precious things as well – Pa’s carpenter tools and his fiddle, Ma’s sewing basket and the box of china dishes which had come from England; my brother Jon had his wooden Noah’s ark with the pairs of animals that Pa had whittled and painted in lifelike colors for him, all winter long when Jon was four years old, and I had my doll, Priscilla – with her rag body and china head, hands and feet – although at eleven and nearly twelve, I wondered if I were almost too old to play with dolls, but I couldn’t bear to think of leaving Priscilla behind, any more than Ma could countenance abandoning the maple rocking chair, or her fine English china dishes.

… in the swing of things, generally. The current crud, seasonal flu, heavy pollen allergies, new COVID variant or whatever – or a combination of all of these – laid my household low for the last week. First my daughter, who was exposed to the mold, dust and assorted animal-dropping crud inside a derelict house that her investor clients were interested in purchasing and gutting. She was recovering from the massive affront to her immune system, when Wee Jamie began running a temperature high enough to be of concern. Pronounced by the pediatrician to be not in any danger, he recovered in a day and a half … and then I fell in turn. Fortunately, a lot of daytime sleeping and rounds of Theraflu knocked back the worst of whatever – but I had a seriously reduced interest in doing very much at all over the last week, beyond walking the dogs around the block, checking various blogs, answering email, and crawling back into bed.

The YA pioneer trail adventure is chugging along, though – I’m doing some refresher reading for it. Another commenter on regular weekend book post that I participate in recommended the Lockley collection, and I sent away for two volumes of the Lockley Papers. Fred Lockley was a turn of the last century writer and local news reporter in Oregon; he had a practice of interviewing as many of the old pioneers as he could corner and setting down their unvarnished reminiscences about the trail and the early days. The Lockley archive ran to thousands of interviews of first-hand recollections of all kinds of people, many of them children or teenagers at the time of the events related. It’s basically the same sort of goldmine for researchers as was J. Marvin Hunter’s collection of interviews of Texas trail-drivers; both men were from the same generation and had the same background in newspaper reporting. I’m also reading some of the Lockley volumes to get a sense of the archaic voice and vocabulary of the time.

It wasn’t all skittles and beer, either – several of the accounts were from surviving sisters of the Sager family – seven brothers and sisters, the smallest a newborn infant, whose parents both died on the trail. The Sagers were adopted by Oregon missionaries Narcissa and Marcus Whitman – and orphaned again several years later when the Whitmans were murdered by Indians angered by Dr. Whitman’s inability to save their people from an epidemic of measles which were ravaging the local tribe. Another woman related the murder of her father and three small younger brothers in another Indian uprising. Later, her mother was murdered by two white men who were convinced that her mother had some money hidden away and tried to force her to reveal the hiding place. Yep – trauma galore, but only some of this will be part of my narrative; it will be happening to other people, on the fringes of my heroine’s story.

Anyway, this was the first day that I felt up to working on a project; it wasn’t a book project, I regret to say, although it was at least as much fun – another miniature scene, this one of a garage, full of tools and car parts, and advertising for various automotive products. A fun build, and very much outside the usual project of this kind, which more usually runs to twee little bookstores, coffee shops and homey kitchens. And so – now that it is done, after a day and a half of fitting, gluing, sanding and painting – back to the book projects.

Although Pa and Ma had high hopes for a better situation in California, it grieved me something sore when it came time to leave the farm. I had lived there for all of my life, and Grandpa Reverend was one of the first settlers around Mount Gilead. The truth is that the prospect of taking to the trail did not seem quite real to Brother Jon and I, until the very day that we finished packing the wagon with all of our traps and treasures, to stay at Grandpa Reverend’s house for a week or so until we departed for Missouri and the beginning of the trail west. The new owner, a man named Roberts, wanted to move his own family into the place before he began spring ploughing. It was not quite time for us to head west, as snow was still on the ground and the weather still very cold. Pa said we would linger a week, maybe two, if it stormed bad. The journey from Ohio would take us at least six weeks to get to the jumping-off place, if the weather stayed fair and we didn’t encounter any delays. We meant to go to Independence, on the great Missouri-Mississippi River, and join with other travelers to form a company to venture across what was then called the American desert.

“The grass has to have grown tall enough to feed the animals,” Pa explained. To me, it made perfect sense. Our team oxen had to graze, all eight of them, and Daisy the milk cow which was to come with us on the journey. The snow wasn’t anywhere near off the fields yet in Ohio, so it likely wasn’t any better in Missouri – or across the river, where the trail led west.

Still, it was a wrench to leave the farm, and see our house emptied out, the rooms echoing and comfortless. All the furniture – and there wasn’t much, as we were not rich folk – was sold or given away. Pa said cheerfully that he could always make more, as he was a fair hand at carpentering, as long as there was good wood to be had. On the last afternoon, Pa found me in the barn, where our favorite barn cat, Cally (for Calico) had birthed another parcel of kittens the week before. She had them in a nest of old horse blankets in the stall where we had kept harness and tack for the oxen.

They were beautiful kittens, and their eyes had just begun to open, all blue and wondering at that strange world around them. Cally was accustomed to Jon and I, so she let me hold the new kittens without raising a cat-ruckus. The largest was another calico, like their mother, but I liked best the orange kitten with four wee white paws and a white tip to it’s brief tail. I thought that was the sweetest of the litter. I was holding it in my lap, and letting it play with the end of a wheat-straw, when Pa found me. Boomer the hunting hound pattered after him, but he knew well enough not to pester Cally when she was nursing kittens. Boomer lay down on the old straw and rested his nose on his paws, while Pa asked Cally if she had caught any more mice that day, since mice were a plague in the wintertime, and came inside from the fields looking for warmth. Pa liked animals, and animals liked him, you see. There wasn’t a better hand with oxen or horses in the whole of Marion County then.

“I should have asked for another dollar for the place, seeing that a new passel of barn cats are included in the sale,” Pa said, finally.

“Pa, this one is so pretty,” I held up the orange and white kitten. I was crying, all of a sudden, like a ball of sadness suddenly unraveled inside me, like a skein of yarn. “Can’t I keep just this one, and take it with us to California?”

Pa heaved a sigh, shook his head and sat down on the straw next to me, while Boomer pricked his ears up and looked back and forth between us, as if he were wondering about what we were saying. “We can’t do that, Sugar-plum,” he replied. Sugar-plum was his pet name for me, and he used it only in the family. “It’s too little to be taken away from it’s mama. Besides, cat’s ain’t really at all like dogs. See – cats; they’re set on a place that they like. Oh, they’ll tend to like the people in it, well enough – well, mostly. But it’s the home-place they favor over anything. Not people so much. It’s pert-near impossible to move a cat from a place that it’s accustomed to. Now dogs,” and Pa fondled Boomer’s ears, “Dogs are different. Dogs favor the person they love over anything. Leave a house for someplace else, that dog will follow you over all creation. A cat will just yawn at you and wonder when that new person in the home place will give them some fresh milk. So, no, Sugar-plum. Leave the kitten with it’s Ma. Besides, I hear tell there’s wolves out west, big hungry prairie wolves. A little kitten like this wouldn’t last a minute, and you couldn’t keep a cat in a cage all that way to California. Tell you what, though,” and Pa ruffled Boomer’s ears again. “I can promise you this – when we get to California, and get ourselves a nice farm there, and have a good house – then I’ll get you a pretty orange kitten to keep for your very own. A pretty orange kitten with white feet, just like this one.”

“Promise, Pa?” I had no notion of the likelihood of finding an orange kitten in California, or even if they had cats there at all. I knew practically nothing about the place, even from hearing Pa and Ma and our friends talking about it.

“Of course, Sugar-plum. Now, wipe your eyes and blow your nose. Don’t I always keep my promises?” Pa fetched out a calico handkerchief from the front of his heavy roundabout jacket and handed it to me.

“You do, Pa,” I gulped, still feeling tearful. Pa kissed my forehead and said,

“Now, say goodbye to Cally and her babies, and go find your Ma – she’s packing up the last of those things that we’re taking with us, and needs your help.”

 

I walked through the house – from the kitchen, through the parlor, listening to the hollow sounds of my footsteps. I found Ma in the empty room where she and Pa had slept, folding the last of her good quilts into the small trunk. She stuffed a pair of good goose feather pillows into the top of the trunk. They didn’t really fit, until she punched them down as if they were riding bread dough and looked up at the sound of my footsteps.

“Sally, will you sit on the lid, so that I can close the latch?”

“Yes, Ma,” I answered. I did so, and Ma snapped the latches closed.

“You look sad, like you’ve been crying,” she said, and I nodded, still sitting on the trunk.

“It was … I wanted to take one of Cally’s kittens, and Pa told me why we couldn’t and then I was so sad to think of leaving… I don’t know why I felt like that, all of a sudden. It’s such a long way, Ma. So far from Grandpa Reverend and Aunt Rachael … even Granny Eliza in heaven, but her grave is here and…” I began to feel the tears coming on again, and Ma patted my cheek.

“It’s all right, Sally-child,” she said. “It is a very long way; so very much farther than it was from Pennsylvania to here, when I was a little girl and my ma and pa decided to come to the Ohio country. I cried then too, for leaving my friends and all the kinfolk around Downingtown. And oh, it was a wild frontier then, even more than California might be. The wars with the Indians were just barely over, back then. But there was something new to see, every day. So many curious and marvelous sights, and so many strange people! My ma – your Granny Sarah that you are named for – she told me that I should always look ahead.  I should think of it all as a wonderful adventure, like in the old storybooks. A new story, a new page, every single day.”

“But what about Indians? And wild beasts – wolves and lions and such?” I asked. From what Jon and I had overheard the grownups talking, there were such dangerous things out along the long trail to California. Ma laughed.

“Oh, the stories that men do tell! I wouldn’t pay them too much mind, Sally-child. Men will say such things to each other, boasting how brave they are for facing such perils! Besides,” Ma added, “Your Pa will have his long hunting rifle, and I am certain that other men in our company will have such rifles and blunderbusses as they have thought to bring with them. I am certain that they will be the equal of any wild beasts or Indians that we might encounter! Now, help me carry this out to the wagon … I do believe that Father Kettering will be expecting us in time for supper tonight, and it has already gone past four…”

Ma and I carried the small trunk between us, until Pa came around from the barn with Jon, to help load it into the wagon, all hitched to three yoke of oxen, waiting in the farm yard, with Daisy the milk cow and the two extra oxen hitched to the wagon tail by long halters. The sky was grey overhead, with a scent of snow in it; spring seemed as if a faraway dream.

Pa lifted Jon up to the wagon seat, but I scrambled up by myself, up and over a wagon wheel nearly as tall as myself. Ma came up with a boost from Pa, and we all squeezed together on the wagon seat, huddled against the cold. Pa strode with his big stock whip in hand and gave a quiet command to the lead pair. The wagon lurched once, and then rolled steady, lurching as the wheels turned. Out of the farmyard, past the blank windows of our house, the house that wasn’t ours any longer but belonged to Mr. Roberts, and onto the winter-rutted road that led to town.

I didn’t look back. Ma had said, always to look ahead.

Just a few months ago, I began going back to a hobby that I pursued from high school on to a point when I had a real, full-size house to play with – that is, miniature interiors and structures, I had subscriptions to all the good hobbyist magazines, frequented conventions as often as I could, really spent more than I probably could afford on the good stuff, and my family knew what to get for me, for birthdays and Christmas. Great-Aunt Nan was especially good at this, after I provided her with some print catalogues with the items that I really, really, really desired all circled. (With exclamation points!) Anyway – it was really quite mentally satisfying, constructing tiny environments out of this and that, but the interest faded when I had a for-real, for-permanent house and garden to play with.

Until I found some interesting kits on Amazon last year, and was offered some of the nicer, more detailed ones through the Vine program, and suddenly, I was interested again. The latest, which just arrived today, is a half-inch-to-a-foot scale Japanese sushi restaurant – a basic little building, with all the banners, flags, display cabinets and all … and about eighty tiny individual dishes of various sushi and noodle bowls to contrive and display – just like in such real Japanese restaurants, where the sample dishes were artfully made from plastic and on display in the windows, with the price next to each. It used to be very easy to meal-shop in ordinary Japanese restaurants; if the menu was impenetrable, you just went to the window with the waitress and pointed to whichever dish looked good. And with the realistic degree that such items were made – it was very easy to figure out what you would like to eat, since it would come out from the kitchen looking exactly like it did in the display. (more information here, about this interesting and useful Japanese restaurant custom.)

The instruction booklet – the actual building is 6.5 inches wide, by 5 deep.

The first page of instructions for making the tiny sushi – the two platters are about the size of a dime.