I can't help wondering where Mrs. Niederburger is going to stay after Mom and Dad burn down her house.
That sentence deserves explanation.
First of all, my parents aren't arsonists. Secondly, the burning of the house is sanctioned by their local fire department which is going to use it for practice.
The old farmhouse located in northern Ste. Genevieve County was my home until I was about 12. At that time we moved to our new house a couple hundred yards away that Mom and Dad built in an old cow pasture. It was bigger with better insulation, an HVAC system, and a floor plan that looked like an architect had actually drawn it.
My Dad's mom then moved into the farmhouse and stayed there for more than a decade until she put herself into a retirement home. The farmhouse sat vacant after that, acting as a storage facility for excess stuff belonging to my parents, my siblings and myself.
The farmhouse's age and extensive shortcomings dictated what will be its eventual demise.
While it had stayed weatherproof over the years snug under its galvanized cap, the cedar log joists in the basement had developed significant signs of rot, not an easy or inexpensive fix. The old cistern that once provided water to the house had long been filled in, while Edison was rumored to have installed the electrical system.
We never could find the septic tank the property reputedly had, but the grass in the meadow below the house was lush year-round whenever the home was occupied. The two upstairs bedrooms were considered an attic thanks to a very low-slung ceiling and you had to walk through one to get to the other. There was also no air conditioning and the "central heat" was a monstrous floor furnace that you cautiously walked around in the winter.
In short, trying to make the old farmhouse something livable in 2012 would cost far more than you could ever get for the property.
That's why my parents decided to let the local volunteer fire department use it for practice this coming weekend.
Dad has spent the better part of this year stripping the house of scrap metal. Out came the electric and the galvanized water pipes. Off came the aluminum siding that he put on the house in the early 1970s. I helped him haul the old water heater out of the basement a few months ago during a visit. The hulking furnace is gone, the hole in the floor covered over with plywood. The bathroom fixtures have disappeared.
I walked through the house one last time this past weekend, snapping photos and thinking of my childhood.
Playing on the staircase with my GI Joe that had "kung fu grip" when I was 4 or 5. Or how Mom painted that same staircase with oil-based paint and somehow no one died from the fumes that lasted for days.
How I managed to shatter the storm door leading outside not once but twice in my haste to get outside to play.
Or the time when a bloodied motorcyclist knocked on our door at one or two in the morning after wiping out on the county road in front of the farmhouse with a female companion. She was found wandering the blacktop, disoriented from the crash. I was told alcohol was involved.
And then there was the penny that I was playing with sometime in the early 1970s in the living room, trying to see how far I could roll it on edge. During one attempt it rolled to the corner of the room and dropped though a hole in the baseboard, never to be seen again.
The hole has been covered up for the better part of 40 years with paneling and molding, but Dad gave me the OK to look for this long lost treasure during my visit. With the help of a crowbar, I unearthed the hole and determined that the coin should be lying on the foundation sill below. After a trip to the basement and a minute of blind feeling around, I recovered the coin. It was minted in 1967, the same year I was born.
I'm not going to be able to make it up to my parents to watch the house actually being torched. I guess in a way that may be for the better. It was a little disorienting walking through the house in its pre-burn gutted condition.
Now, about Mrs. Niederburger:
Margaret and her husband George owned the farm prior to my parents purchasing it in 1968. I didn't know Margaret's name was Margaret until I recently found them in the 1940 U.S. Census Records. We always knew her as Maisie. I guess that was the name she preferred.
Maisie and George were poultry farmers, raising eggs for the St. Louis market.
George died sometime in the 1960s. The story I recall is that Maisie died in her sleep in the bedroom on the main floor of the farmhouse a few years later.
But even though the room was just steps away from the massive floor furnace which could bake the house in the winter, that room was always cold. We attributed the atmospheric anomaly to the ghost of Mrs. Niederburger.
May she rest in peace.
The old farmhouse September 22, 2012.
The hole in the baseboard that was hidden by trim and paneling.
I recovered the penny on the sill above this doorway opening in the basement.
This is the crawlspace under the kitchen that was sealed up when I was a kid. I never knew it was dry-stacked limestone blocks. The exterior of the foundation is plastered smooth with cement.