On a frigid night in January 1971, my father, a volunteer fireman with the East Wallingford Fire Department, was called to a house fire on Whirlwind Hill. I was living in Alaska then, and it was days before my shocked and grieving mother could bring herself to call and tell me that my grandparents’ farmhouse was gone. The house had stood empty since my grandmother’s death that August. The men fought the fire all night long, but lost. The photo in the paper the next morning showed the ruins of the house covered with snow and icicles.
This was the end of the house with the five stairways, the six bedrooms, the two attics, the one bathroom, and the large living room with nine doors. But it was the beginning of our memories and our longing.
My brother and I dream about this house that we loved, and in our dreams our grandparents and aunts and uncles are still vividly alive. They greet us on the porch, and we walk together in a hazy silence through the half-remembered rooms of our childhood.
One of the reasons I started this Whirlwind Hill project was to bring the farmhouse back to life in words and pictures. It probably looms larger in my imagination than it ever did in its physical presence, but it was a wonderful and memorable place. For more than two hundred years its walls sheltered my ancestors and watched them move through their daily routines. During the next weeks and months I’ll revisit its rooms, peek through its doors, look out its windows, climb its stairs, and maybe discover some secrets in the dusty corners.
On Wednesday: Foundations