February 27, 2020

Hello, Old Crooked House!


This picture looks all shadowy because I took it on my cell phone, but the history of the house is shadowy too so I'll say my bad photography skills (maybe bad art skills too) are symbolic here.

In 1856, my great-great-great grandma sailed on a steamer from England, rode on a train to the Midwest, pulled a handcart to the Rocky Mountains, and is rumored to have moved into this house, which was just a log cabin at the time. My grandpa was raised in the same tiny house along with six siblings. One of his sisters, Helen, had to live in a chicken coop in the backyard to quarantine her from the family when she got tuberculosis.

A few years ago, the little family homestead came up for sale and a real estate agent friend offered to show the six remaining siblings around. I followed them from room to empty room and wondered why the air felt so thick, almost like the place were still packed with boisterous teenagers and a million grandkids opening Grandma's handmade knitted Christmas gifts.

I also wondered why I felt like I couldn't have guests over until I bought another couch. My couch wouldn't even fit through the door of this house, but a family of nine slept here and brought friends home for dinner!

As the siblings stood around on the porch remembering how the high school used to be across the street and a giant pine tree used to shade the yard, a neighbor wanted to know what was happening at the vacant old crooked house. Why so many visitors? She mentioned she'd seen a young smiling girl from time to time in the backyard of the empty house, but the girl never spoke. Wait till Helen comes? We didn't, but we wondered.

To me, places are like poems, distilling entire life stories down to something as small as a few understated lines, windows, or walls.

Picture books are the same. Poetry! Picture books are for grown-ups, I say.

I love how Sophie Blackall's Hello, Lighthouse! would be meaningless without the family story happening inside. Check this one out.



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