“Quick! Down in the ditch!”
I did as I was told—dropped the shingle I was toting, slid down the bank, curled up, and buried my head deep in the grass as fast as I could. I was three years old, so hiding was easy for me. Not so easy for nine-year-old David, who, in addition to covering himself, had to disguise the heavy plank he was carrying. I peeked. A car was coming around the corner on Highway 9A. It was the color of overripe raspberries—the kind you don’t see until you step on them.
This is my first memory—an eye-scorching memory buried deep in the tunnels of my brain—a memory that, for the rest of my childhood, surfaced with a spasm of fear at the sight of any dark-reddish car, like the one that had sent us into the ditch.
At the time, I thought David was terrified like me. But David was not afraid. I learned later he was embarrassed to be seen by anyone—stranger or friend. Seen—moving our house, battered board by battered board, smashed-straight nail by smashed-straight nail, down the highway and around the corner.
One month earlier, before my memory kicked in, Daddy had decided that we would move our house to the farm, and we would have to do it without a vehicle, without a mule, and without new materials. Our father knew exactly where it would fit on the land, and how the boards and shingles we took from the Grange House could be put to optimum use in a structure that could—one day—be turned into a barn. The drawings were in his head, as clear as an architect’s blueprint. Who could argue?
He had given further rationale, “When the move is complete, we will live close to our garden, our orchard, and our cow; and we will have our own creek full of running water.”
Mother had agreed—albeit with concessions. She needed to be certain that this would be a temporary dwelling, not a permanent home. Daddy gave his assurance. Then he took his first step in the house-moving transition. He cleared out a place in the cellar under the Grange House and moved in a bed for himself. He led us children to believe his motivation was the hot weather, but in all likelihood it was one of his concessions to Mother—that she would not be having a baby as per her most recent schedule of deliveries.
Back and forth down the highway bit by bit, item by item, everyone big enough to carry got in on that—Marilyn, Elizabeth, David, and even John. All except for Virginia, who pulled and straightened nails, since she had injured her foot and couldn’t walk.
It was in the middle of these goings-on that I picked up three shingles to match my three years, and asked, “Mother, can I carry too? Please? I’m big.”
“No, it’s too dangerous.”
“But the rains will come and wet my bed. Please let me. Please?” I begged.
Mother relented, but took away two shingles, saying, “One is enough to start with.”
So I stood, shingle in hand, peering up at the open sky through the gaping roof, and waiting for David to quit dawdling. I wanted to go as badly as he didn’t. I wanted to help move our house too.
Within a few trips, the ditch-diving by David and us younger ones had flattened the tall grass along the road, so hiding places became harder to come by. Our sisters, however, were too big to hide, and just had to ignore the indignity of the job that had to be done.