Peter Hughes
Peter E. Hughes is a Clinical Laboratory Biochemist, Ph.D. , North Carolina State University.   He is a NASA Scholar and Senior Scientist.  He researches and writes for the Mad Scientists as a representative of the United States and is an editor of Biochemistry and Medicine for the Encyclopedia of Earth.   Major interests are photography, writing about life experiences, electronics and Radio Astronomy of Close Space Events.

He writes short stories, poetry and humor.


The House At 34 Sycamore Road

            "Autumn in New Hampshire is breathtaking." I think, looking up at the stars disappearing in the morning light. The chill of the nights, briskness of the days, painted in rich reds and brilliant yellows all make Autumn my favorite time of year.

            The cat is a warm weight blanketed over my feet.  Back throw the covers,  sit up, feet touch the floor.  The floor is cold.  Rub the sand from my eyes.  Look out over the pasture and the grove.  The Sycamore trees are turning color, so are the Maples.  I think those are deer over there by the fence, but my eyes aren't awake yet.   Deer are eating my apples.  I shiver, "Brrr! Cold!"  Dashing through the door down the hallway, stopping briefly at the hall closet, scooping up a fresh towel and wash cloth.

            Closing the bathroom door, turning on the water, placing the towels in the rack and turning on the heat lamp, I accomplish brainlessly through many years of experience. The water is warm and feels good against my skin. 

            The floor is chilly when I step out, just to discover that the towel is on the floor.  Neatly folded, just on the floor. I know who took it off the rack and floored it. I pick up the towel, it unfurls and I raise my arm, start to dry it and sing,  "I think I know who's up!"  I hadn't noticed the door opening and closing.

            I'm dry, but cannot see my face in the fogged up mirror.  Opening the door to let the steam out and I can just make out the faint finger marks in the mirror.  Right there,  just when the mirror is in that transient state of fog and clear, in just those seconds, I can easily make out: "Sarah."  The familiar S and a's that look like o's with a downward tail.  The h is above the a because she ran out of room, the edge of the mirror had approached the writing faster than her little hand could print.  The name carefully and deliberately printed with a delicate finger.  Determination in each letter  I see in my mind, her round face with her tongue peeking out between pursed lips and the intent on her blue eyes.  Visioning the smile in her eyes and on her face when the signature was finally completed.

            The mirror clears promptly, with razor in hand, my daily face ritual begins.  Rinsing the hairs down the sink is an everyday battle for me, but necessary because Sleepyhead in the next room requires her sink to be clean of my "gross, ugly chin hairs".

            The bathroom door prods against my fanny.  Cheerily, "Good morning Sarah!"  The door prodded me again.  I bump it back and step out of the old farmhouse bathroom, the hallway and into the bedroom. I shivered, "It's still cold in here."

            A voice, muffled by covers, filters from out of the bed ,"Why don't you turn up the heat?"  I'm searching for socks and tie, "Time to get up! You'll be late."

            Something is moving under the covers, resembles an undulating ocean. "I know.  It seems like I just laid down."

            My head is nearly inside the drawer as I paw around looking for just the right color.  "Besides, Sarah's already up."

"Honey, Sarah is always up."

            A giggle tickles my ears, flittering from out of the bathroom.

"She thinks we can't find her."

"She knows we know where she is.  We've known for years now."

"Now don't be such a pooh!  Get up, get in there and wake up in the shower, you'll feel better. I'll get you some chocolate moo." 

            Clothes on, shoes on and a quick look in the bathroom mirror:  Comb hair and brush teeth.  I did not find my brush in the glass by the sink.  It hid from me under the sink, in the cabinet along with Sleepyhead's and the toothpaste.  Calling out,  "Sarah! I found the toothpaste anyway!"  Brushing over the sink finds my rear end being prodded by the door handle again.  I butt back gently.  "How are you this morning?"  I finish up, but will not look behind the door.  She is there and I can play this game too. "I know where you are!"

            Back to the bedroom where the sleepy giant extricates herself from the tentacles of the bed and pads toward the bathroom. Sleepily she queries, "Sarah, where are you?  Don't tease me this morning. I'm tired."

I hear a giggle and take notice, but my hearing denies an exact location.

"I know you're back there!" I sing, hurrying to finish. 

            Downstairs.  I let the cat out, it immediately charged toward the barn. I hear the water turn on upstairs, door close, and "Would you bring me a towel?  I'm wet and Sarah took 'em all off the rack. Again!

            I poured Sleepyhead her milk, tea is for me. Tea tastes nice, cold like the brook out back, bubbling, cascading down my throat.  I hear echoing through the house, "Honey! Would you turn up the heat! Sarah opened the bathroom door.  Wide open! Now I'm freezing in here!"

            The patter of little feet, no doubt up to mischief, moves from the back of the house upstairs toward the front.  Up the stairs, while balancing the milk and tea, I thought I just might catch her, "Hello? I know you're there."  I missed her, but her sound made me think just exactly where she was hiding.

The bathroom door is wide open.  "Here's your moo." Racking the towels makes me fumble around.  She asks, "What's with that girl recently?  She is into everything! She is just like you!"

          "She is our daughter!"

          "Well our daughter is driving me bananas."

          "It's autumn! You know it's her favorite time of year.  My favorite time of year, I feel frisky!  The cat's frisky, let it out and it hasn't stopped running around since.  Your horse, the dogs and even the chickens are raising hell!  It's fresh, brisk and beautiful outside.  Sarah's just being Sarah.  I like kids that are rambunctious and playful." 

            I open the window, too foggy and hot in here.  "Besides, what would we do if she were somber and serious all the time?  She wouldn't be any fun at all."

          "Yeah, you're right!  We should count our blessings.  Did she open the door again?  It's cold in here."

          "I don't know.  I got to get going. Gimme a kiss."

            The curtain pulled back, "You opened the window! Close the window! It's cold in here!  You're as bad as she is!"

          "It's too hot in here for me." I closed the window.  "Gotta go!"

          "I'll be out in a minute.  Help me find her before you leave."

          "OK." The kiss is wet and soapy water runs down my cheek. "I'll look downstairs on my way out.  You check up here."

            I find my briefcase under one of the pilfered bathroom towels, under the dining room table.  "Ok Sarah, time to be serious!  Daddy has to get to work! Come out so we can get you ready!"

            I hear echoed through the heating ducts, "I've found her! She's up here with me!  Drive safely to work!  Keep your lights on!"



            I slam the backdoor,  it has been sticking since the weather began to turn.  The dogs attack! Jumping and leaping, "Take me Daddy! Take me!" 

"No! No! Get down! I'm going to work."

            The truck groans and then purrs.  The defroster whirs and a tiny clearing in the fog from my breath forms on the glass.  I am sitting on my hands, hoping they'll warm.  The steering wheel is cold in my palms but the air is getting warmer inside.  Shifting into gear, I motor forward on the driveway between the two fields. Sycamores lining the driveway are starting to  turn color. Dust kicks up into the calm morning air.  The dogs are racing the truck. I know they will stop at the mail box.  They always do, dancing about and barking at me as I pass it.  "Need to put an new sign on the box. That one is getting old."  Old maybe,  but I could still read it:  "34 Sycamore Road".

          Besides,  the whole farmstead is old.  That is why I bought it. 

* * *

            Built in 1860, 34 Sycamore Road was a fairly large farmhouse centered on the property.  The driveway was lined with Sycamore trees planted by the first owner in remembrance of his daughter.  There is no record for the "34", an oddity, especially since the original owner named the street!  House, barn, two small sheds and a 20 ft by 100 ft rectangular piece of concrete was built by Ronald P. and Rachel S. Dowty.  He used the cleared timber to build the house first.  Then came the barn, later the sheds.   The rectangular concrete was built by him (the concrete dates to that time) but there are no records available indicating why he built it.  I used it as a foundation for my hen house.  The barn was attached to the house and so was the outhouse.  The "cold cellar" over the years became a basement.

            Ronald and Rachel had a little Rachel, a Sarah (just like us!),  and a boy,  Pat.  Their hands and names are imprinted into the concrete that Dowty poured for the foundation of the house and barn, also printed into the steps to the house.   Little Rachel's records are totally lost, no grave marker or court records, except for her birth and the mysterious handprints in the concrete.  Sarah died in winter of 1862, probably from a childhood disease.  Ronald and Rachel died in 1885 and 1891, respectively.  Pat grew up and took over the farm, giving it to his son Edward in 1910.  In 1955, the childless Edward would sell the property outside of the Dowty family to cover his health expenses.  Since 1955, there were a number of owners, fortunately they did not parcel off the land, but retained it with the buildings.

            The house had an interesting history.  Records show that Dowty had cattle,  sold wheat, corn and vegetables.  He raised bees, sold honey and made liquor in one of the sheds.  He was a part owner of one of the textile mills on the Merrimack River up by Manchester. Dowty also was part of the underground railroad.  He hired fugitives from the South, gave them work on his farm.  Paid them well.  The Sycamore trees out front have the entire history of Dowty boyfriends and girlfriends over the years carved into them, old now, but some still readable.

            The thick beams are still in the house and barn.  A previous owner had the beams in the house sanded and painted.  That owner updated the kitchen, put in modern electricity, fortified the basement walls and installed modern bathroom furnishings.

            A young couple, we were at first resistant to seeing it because of its age and the amount of upkeep I thought the property might require.  The agent insisted, we gave in to her wishes.

When we drove down that long driveway,  with the beautiful Sycamores lining the way,  a long shady arbor, I was impressed.  The house was freshly painted white, the barn was red, both appeared to be in remarkably good shape.  Post and beam construction was very tight, stairs and banister were solid, doors worked.  The land was pretty: a small enough yard, large garden, lots of  trees, an orchard, and a brook with fish in it! 

            We left, both of us wanting it!  However, the bathroom was very small, so was the kitchen and inadequate for us.  There was also a lot of land to upkeep.  However, as controller for a construction company, I could get base rates for remodeling work.  And for the upkeep, we'd just buy a tractor with a mowing accessory!

            We worked out the deal: Land, house, barn, the brook with fish in it, everything.  Closure went without a hitch.

            We moved in February 12, 1979. The bedroom at the top of the staircase we converted into a large full bath.  The space under the stairs became a half bath.  Paint was removed from  the inside of the house and the timber was restored to it's natural wood finish.  The kitchen was expanded at the loss of the parlor.  Electrical and heating standards were brought up to 1980 certification.

            Two years later, we had front and back porches, a horse, a dog, a cat and ten chickens.

            Then one happy day, in the early hours of April 27, 1982, Sarah made her appearance!  We were ecstatic!  We were a family!  Sarah continued, year after year to surprise, educate and give us a sense of life.

* *

            I hear the dogs barking and running up the driveway as I approach the mailbox.  "Good to be home after a day like today."  As I turn in, they are stamping and howling, wanting to play!  I get out to pick up the mail, "No! Down! Down!"  They slink away, I feel sorry for them.  It was my rough day, and not their fault, "OK!  Come 'ere girls and boys!"  I bend down.  Pets and kisses, my whole face is slobbered.  I look at myself, "Good thing I don't pet them in the morning!"

          "Ahh! The Sycamores are starting to turn."

            I drive to the house, the cat is wanting to get in.  I hold up its' face to be sure there aren't any mice in its' mouth.  I look at my watch, 6:15.  She won't be home until late, she'd called me from her car phone.  Surely though, Sarah is home.

            The lock mechanism turns, I peek in and see nothing but kitchen.  I enter, the smell of cedar wood in the cabinetry envelops me.  I place my briefcase in the chair, I investigate the living room.

There she is! 

            She sees me.  Her  eyes widen and brighten, her mouth forms an almost perfect O.   She turns, the blanket waving like a flag.  Her hard leather shoes click against the hardwood floors as she runs through the living room, the dining room to the flourier. 

            I hear her wait, hear her breathing as she waits at the newel post for my chase.  I tiptoe to the wood framed doorway to the flourier, I can peek at her.  She is watching the doorway closely,  the hand with the blanket is on the post, the other hand is on her mouth, trying to block the sound of her breathing.

            I wait a few seconds, just to tease her, then suddenly  thrust my head into the doorway, toward her: "Gotcha!"  She screeches and up the stairs she runs, blond trestles wisping in her flight. Into the bathroom, she cowers, hides behind her blanket and the door.  Her giggles deny her any hiding. She looks down at me, her eyes shining and full of laughter, blanket in hand and hand on her chin, two fingers in her smiling mouth.  Lips frame the two teeth and two fingers in that smile of adventure.

            I watch as she waves "Bye" to me.  "Bye", her smile fades, becoming lost in the woodwork.  She slowly, wispily, disappears into the darkness of the bathroom. 

          I whisper, "Bye Sarah.  We'll play again, soon."

         A tear falls to the floor, splashes, making little bubbles of water on the waxed floor.
          She grabs my heart every time.  She is simply gorgeous. 
          Just like she was 132 years ago. 


Copyright 2010 Peter Hughes