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Sentinel Butte, North Dakota

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Goodbye to the past

Enough snowcover finally enabled us to burn our old house down. After spending the winter of 1914 in the hay mow of the barn they had built, the original owners of our ranch built their house the next year. After three generations, they sold the ranch to my husband's grandfather, father and uncle in 1945. The house became my in-laws after their marriage and it was there they raised their four kids. The house was built on the "wrong side" of the creek because there was a spring to provide a constant water source in the house. A foot bridge was built to provide access to the house when the creek had water in it.  Sometimes you could just jump the creek or walk across it other times the creek would be flooded and the bridge had to used.
The woman who lived in the house before my husband's family bought the ranch had a fairly tough life while she lived here. She had several children, one of whom is buried up on a hill here on the ranch. I did have the opportunity to meet her near the end of her life and I could just tell she was a good person. The man she was married to during her time on this ranch was abusive to her, so I am sure her memories of the place were not all good ones.
My mother-in-law did not every really like living in the house. It was down in a "hole" surrounded by trees which limited vision in all directions. She always felt it was too dark. I think she did have some good memories of the house, as did her husband and kids. My husband's main memory of the old house was it was cold, drafty and cramped. His siblings have their thoughts and memories of the house too, but all have seemed to have moved on.
When my husband and I decided to get married, the house became ours. He had bought the ranch from his folks several years previously and they lived in the house with him. When I arrived on the ranch his folks moved a mile or so away into a trailer they bought. It sits where they have a view all around them, good water and a warm, bright home.
We lived in the house from Sept. 04 to Oct. 05. During that time we put in some new flooring in the kitchen, bathroom and hallway. I also painted the living room, bathroom, and two bedrooms. The best part of the house was the wooden floored covered porch. I set my old swing on the porch and spend time even in the winter swaying and taking in my new home. We were happy there, and filled it with company several times. One of my favorite memories is the nights we sat snuggled on the rocking love seat watching tv during the winter. One of the best is when my family and friends came for our wedding and we fed them all breakfast the day of our reception. The house was full and it was so fun!
Later that spring, I started having health problems which kept me confined to the house and my bedroom for about two months. During this time, I was scared, depressed, and so uncertain of the future. The thing that kept me going was my  husband and his love as we found out what was wrong with me and how we were going to get past it.
As the summer progressed, we talked about working on the house putting in new wiring, another bathroom, a new roof, siding and windows. The wiring was really old and the bathroom did not even have an electrical outlet! What we basically had was an old house that was a money pit and would always be a money pit. We decided to buy a doublewide mobile home before winter came.
We did buy one and set it up on a bench where we can look down at the old house surrounded by its trees. It is windy up there at times, but we can see up and down the creek and in all directions. After we moved up here, I had no desire to go back down to the old house. I left very little behind down there and intended to sort thru the rest at some point. Going down there where I had struggled so hard that summer and was so afraid for my life, was horrifying for me. I probably was only down there seven or eight times after moving out to our new house.
Yesterday, I had to go down and get some things out of the old house before we burned it down. It was exhausting emotinally. The scarey summer haunted me as did reminders of my life before coming to the ranch. Those reminders needed to be gone for good. As hard as it was to deal with those feelings of  anger and fear, it had to be done.
We finally got what we wanted out of the house. My husband and son poured diesel on the floors of the old house, got the fire going and we left to unload the trucks and then watch the progress of the fire. My husband said he didn't feel much about watching it go. I didn't either. Although to see that much fire and what it could do were scarey. As the black and gray smoke billowed upward and the flames took over, the good times and the bad times of three different women in that house were blown away with the ashes.
This morning, the chimmeny stood alone over the piles of charred wood. Soon, it will be gone too and the old house will only live in photos.

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