When Absence is Present

Facebook status update, April 18:

“The old house on the farm, deep in the valley… shortly before it was razed. We miss you, old house!”

Zelený Les enshrouded

Zelený Les / Photo: Adele Tutter

Recently Adele Tutter came across this old photo of Zelený Les, a long view of the valley deeply enveloped in a blanket of mist, and posted it on Facebook. The vaporous shroud reveals the barest indication of the old farmhouse at a time when it was still standing, a fuzzy white square. Peeking through is another smaller white square, a one-room playhouse built when we were children. In 2009 these dilapidated structures were permanently erased from the landscape.

What remains at the site is the palpable presence of absence.

My sister’s Facebook post elicited a thread of comments from other siblings, cousins and friends, memories of shared experiences at Zelený Les, more commonly understood by all of us as simply, The Farm. In particular, recollections of living in the farmhouse are vivid and clear, as if lifted from a veil. Time collapses and we dwell there once more, responding to form and color, hearing the sounds, imbibing the scents, and seeing what caught our attention. Here’s a collection of what issued from our collective memory:

Farmhouse face

Farmhouse, 2005 / Photo: Anton Tutter

“It was the coziest place and the setting was magical. Sitting in that kitchen with the funny yellow-and-brown linoleum flooring and the big old wood-burning stove… the circular fluorescent light…peeling ourselves off the mismatched vinyl chairs after dinner…Just the best in the world.”

“I remember the steps leading to the upstairs bedroom. I remember sleeping in the bed that was at the top of the stairs and lighting the stove early in the morning when it was cold outside.” 

“I remember sleeping in the tiny bedroom at the top of the stairs. When you woke in the morning, the air was so fresh outside and everything was so green.”

“The upstairs was always mysterious and a little exotic because we never went up there much, only guests. I liked the latch on the door to the stairs (I had similar feelings about the pantry and the really weird “room” where the laundry was). I loved how you could hear the brook better from upstairs.”

I remember the latch on the door going upstairs too…for a few years I slept in the bigger bedroom by the very small window. If you looked out that window, you could see the barn. There was something special about the upstairs in that house. Can’t say exactly what, but I was intrigued by the upstairs area.”

Bathroom, 2009

Bathroom, 2009 / Photo: Dennis Friedler

“I know this is an odd memory, but does anyone remember the bathroom with the toothbrush holder that swiveled around?”

“Who could forget that bathroom? It was huge. And the revolving toothbrush holder mesmerized me. That, and the toilet paper holder that popped out of the wall when you pushed the button. Also, the colors, that vivid emerald green and black tile! How about the two little taps at the sink? You had to switch really fast between hot and cold to get warm. Remember when we were 12 people in that house, with one bathroom? Ah, those were the days.”

“The window in the bathroom had a beautiful view. When the “Czech rabbit” visited the lawn near the spring every afternoon at about 4:00 pm, we would all crowd into the room and sing Czech folk songs to it. My father called it “Czech” because he was convinced it liked those songs.”

Memory Yarn, 2013

Memory Yarn, 2013 Zelený Les Artist Residency / Performance: Catherine Tutter/ Video Still: Sarah B. Peck

Czech rabbit from Memory Yarn, 2013

Czech rabbit detail from Memory Yarn, 2013

“I remember the house fondly! Walking down the driveway (almost daily some summers) I can picture it nestled in the valley with the brook babbling in front. What I remember most about the house is that it was always teeming with guests! Since I played outside and was not an overnight guest (unless sleeping on the second floor of the barn or in the play house), I don’t remember the upstairs. However, the first floor I remember very well. I loved the shelves between the kitchen and living room. Strange what one remembers! One of my fondest memories of your Mom, is sitting with her on the couch, with her pet bird on her shoulder!”

“Remember the apple-green pantry? It always had that horribly musty smell that I actually kind of liked. It was a mix of dampness and household chemicals. And it had that door to the basement with no steps on the other side. I always wanted to open it.

“The pantry was where we all went to make our private phone calls. Remember hearing other people speaking to each other on the party line? What a thrill!”

Pantry/phone booth

Pantry, 2009 / Photo: Dennis Friedler

“To paraphrase Ron Swanson — It was a good house.”

and yes…we will forever miss you!