My five sisters and I grew up on an acreage south of town. Our property was home to the sawmill my Dad owned and operated, the old schoolhouse he’d attended as a child, the house we lived in, a functional, compact, barn Dad built from scratch and a small, wooden, nondescript edifice we called the brooder house.
I didn’t even know that was how it was spelled until just now when a quick Google search provided me with the official definition: a device or structure for the rearing of young chickens or other birds. An alternate meaning of the word would be a person who broods but that is another matter entirely.
For us girls, however, there was another way to describe it and that was playhouse. Although designed for raising chicks, it was never really used by Dad for any other purpose than storage, most notably sacks of grain for the handful of farm animals we occasionally kept in the barn just a few feet away. When the barn was empty, so was the brooder house and written large upon our imaginations were ideas of how to transform it, if not into something of beauty, then into a private hideaway or retreat of sorts.
I recall fashioning a type of bed and a desk out of scraps of lumber – plentiful when your dad works with wood for a living – and I think I even laid out cups and saucers to serve tea to unexpected guests. However, no matter how much I swept and tried to clean or hung up pictures on the walls, it was still, after all, just a brooder house. Even at a young age, I was fond of decorating and designing and creating special places to suit my enthusiastic, yet grandly misguided, ideas. Sigh. How does that go – something about making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear?
Because the brooder house had rotting floors and unsecured doors and windows, it was pretty much open to the elements and therefore a handy refuge for both winged and four-legged creatures. Swallows built nests in its eaves, hornets constructed hives, and on occasion we heard and sometimes saw mice. Still we were undeterred.
Until Dad decided to move the brooder house to another location on the property and used the end-loader to lift it off its moorings. I think we were all stunned when we saw the large number of rats that scattered when the building was raised into the air and I was struck by how large – and fast! – these loathsome creatures appeared to us that day.
Even now, after all these years, I remember – with great clarity – that moment and the sick feeling in my stomach when I realized what it was that had caused those scratching, scuttling, scurrying sounds we heard below us whenever we spent time in that ‘special’ place of ours. It was, then, time to move on.