It’s a rare thing for me to be home alone. It always has been. I grew up in a large family. I was a middle child, and my mom’s work was always at home. So someone was always at home. The same is true in my own home now, we have a large family of our own, my Beautiful Wife did all of her work at home until last spring, and so there is always someone at home when I am there. Until last night that is…
I almost already feel like an empty nester with only six of our children still living at home. But then yesterday, my Beautiful Wife took our five youngest children with her for an over night stay in Provo. That would leave only me and my teenaged son left at home. Well, teenaged son couldn’t see the sense in sitting at home with only the old man to entertain him, so he wanted to go spend the night with one of his friends (I could see a late into the night Halo computer game coming on). So that left just me in this big house for the night.
It was a very hard day of work, I was late leaving work, and I just wasn’t up to doing much when I got home to the quiet house. I found some leftovers for my dinner and turned on the TV so there would be noise in the house. The noise helped make it feel like home to me. I was too weary to be productive at anything, so I didn’t fight the drowses.
The next thing I knew, it was 12:30am, everything was dark and quiet (except the wind outside was howling). I got up to go get ready for bed. Dumb, huh? I probably should have just slept in my clothes and left my bed made. Because when I actually went to bed, I just lay there awake. Not surprising, since I had just finished a four hour nap.
So then as I lay there staring out in the darkness, and listening to the wind and rain pound the outside of our house, my mind wondered to my 2 greats grandfather, Jock Smith, to my great grandfather Christian Haroldsen, and to my grandfather, George Haroldsen. I thought of all the years they lived alone.
Jock’s life with Catherine ended when she died while they still had small children living at home. We don’t have any details, or even the exact year she died, but it was somewhere around 1862. That would have been when Jock was only about 44 years old. He lived another 30 years. Undoubtedly, many of these years were spent home alone. The nights must have been long, as he thought of his beloved Catherine… of his children who were now out on there own, raising their own families. I’m sure as the winds and rains of a night time storm beat against his small farm house in Hooper, Utah, his mind replayed the storms of his life… the real storms. Twelve children born but only four lived to grow up… the hard life of a Scottish coal miner… and then later the hard life of a Mormon pioneer… losing his own beloved wife, years before her time… then the many injustices from his fellow neighbors… fellow Mormons… his farm was stolen by a neighbor, a claim jumper who could read the notices of the homestead act. Jock couldn’t read it. In the end all he could do was to take his animals and tools and find a new place to start a farm again. That’s why he lived in Hooper now instead of Riverdale. During these long stormy nights, in his old age, he must have lay there and replayed the bitter memories of his life. I hope with the rising sun, the sweet memories of life warmed his thoughts.
Christian lived alone for many years. Drinking ruined his family life. He lived alone from about 1909 on. About 34 years of living alone. Much of this was spent many miles away from any family. He worked on large ranches up in Montana and in Canada. A glimpse of his loneliness is recorded in a letter to one of his sons. “I probably won’t have a place to call home until they dig a hole 6 feet in the ground.” In his later years, when he couldn’t work anymore, one of his sons built a small shed in back of his own home, where Christian could still have his independence, yet the close care of family. I have looked at this shed, now turned into a tool shed for the present generation. And I have wondered, what were Christian’s thoughts in his old age? Did he think of this as a place of his own? Or did he still think of that 6 foot hole in the ground as the only place he could call home?
I remember many small details of my Grandpa Haroldsen’s home. George lost his dear Catherine very suddenly. They had grown old together and then suddenly she was gone.
Though they were never used, all the grown children’s bedrooms were still made up and ready to live in. As grandchildren, we loved to play up stairs in those bedrooms. I remember that those beds were bouncier than my own bed. An old fashioned sewing machine was fun to operate by turning the foot peddle. It was very hot in the upstairs in the summertime, and cold in the winter.
After Grandma had died, I remember going with my dad to visit Grandpa. The large house was always dark, except for a reading lamp or some other light where Grandpa had been spending his time. Heat radiated out of his coal stove but no where else in the house. He dressed warm, flannel shirts and such, and then he just seemed to be comfortable in the cold house. I’d do that too if I lived alone.
It took me over an hour to drift back to sleep. That was good thinking time for me. I thought a lot about these three grandfathers of mine. I loved the glimpse into a part of their lives that no one (including themselves) ever really wrote about. Most of my thoughts were on my grandpa (George), because I knew him personally. I thought of those last six years of his life, after his wife died. I wondered of the thoughts in his head… of his memories. He would have remembered when wiring a house for electricity was cutting edge technology. Back then a small dim light in the main room of the house was all that was offered. He knew the time before cars… before airplanes… and radios. I remember that he listened to his new transistor radio when I was a small boy visiting. His tube radio was still there, but this tiny (about the size of today’s desktop computer) radio sounded much better. Grandpa scoffed at those who were putting the new tv antennas up on their roof tops. His black and white tv had rabbit ears with tinfoil wrapped around them… I suppose to try to get the snowy picture to come through. Jackie Gleason… and that news man who said, “And that’s the way it is.” Those are faint memories of visits to Grandpa’s house.
Grandpa must have spent a lot of that thinking time, marveling at how much the world had changed from his boyhood memories of the 1890’s to putting the man on the moon and watching it happen on his “snowy” tv. I wonder if I’ll spend the ending years of my life living alone. Probably not, my Beautiful Wife is already hard to keep up with. But if I do, what will I think about in those lonely hours of home alone? Will I like my thoughts? Will I marvel at how much the world has changed in my lifetime? Will I like the changes? I wondered about these things last night while I was home alone.