Red Lodge Part Two: Upstairs

If you missed the first part in the adventures of my grandparent’s old place, you can read it here: Red Lodge Part One: Downstairs.

My buddy Tommy arrived the next day (yesterday) after a long drive from Alabama, through lightning storms, wildlife and Kansas. I gave him a quick tour of the house, we got everything unpacked and he gave me a gift.

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Now I need to buy a record player. Or date a girl with a record player. Or do an elaborate Ocean’s 11-style heist.

Anyway, we went out for burgers (he got buffalo, I got elk; we both opted in for the homemade potato salad), and then after a short jaunt around town, got to work on the upstairs.

Here are the (definitely haunted) stairs leading up. There’s a little string winding along the rail to pull that turns the light at the top on and off.

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The mirror at the top is so you can see the phantom following close behind. Here’s the hallway at the top.

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To the immediate right is the bedroom I stayed in as a kid. There’s a tiny twin bed and a dresser. Absent now is a glass case that used to be against the wall at the foot of the bed. At the time, it was filled with the creepiest goddamn dolls I had ever seen in my life. It’s a miracle I didn’t develop a complex of some kind. A couple of the dolls made it into the closet, but the room is mostly bare now, save for some boxes filled with old books.

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To the left is another bedroom. It’s the one Tommy is staying in, hence the definitely not-antique bags piled on top of the bed. There was some old sewing equipment in the dresser. In the closet, though, was where the good stuff was. I was only able to go through a bag full of magazines…

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…and one of three or four boxes, but the box I went through had literal hundreds of photos I had never seen before. It was jarring, honestly, and it affected me more than I led on with my friend there sorting through it. I was adopted into this family, right, and my parents have been absent for most of my life, so I spent the bulk of my life living with a couple that had already raised three kids. It’s both stunning and heartbreaking to see the full lives they led before I came into it. It made me feel… I don’t know. Separate. I know I shouldn’t, but seeing how my uncle, aunt and dad grew up (and I mean literally, from baby photos to graduation pictures, to Thanksgiving dinners with first wives and my great-grandmother), seeing my grandparents as a young couple, it made me feel like there wasn’t a part of me in their life.

That’s ridiculous, of course, they were a huge part of my life and I of theirs, but with most of my family dead now, distant or gone, there’s a loneliness in me that was compounded by seeing this childhood and sibling camaraderie that I never fully got to have or understand. My grandparents were loving people and essentially parents who guided me through a large chunk of my life, but they were still an entire generation removed. We played, but never tossed balls. We didn’t go fishing or camping or much of anything, really.

And another part of me sees my dad as a young kid, my uncle teaching him how to play the guitar. Graduating high school, going to the zoo, goofing off, sporting the worst mustache ever. I’m seeing this youthful, cheerful version of him smiling, and it hurts my heart to think of the broken shell of a man waiting to get out of prison – again – next month with dreams of running away to Mexico where no one can hurt him anymore. I thought of him there, in a cell, hurting from a broken back he endured when I was a kid, and I thumb through the  Western Union telegram that my grandfather sent his mother the day he was born: “JEAN HAD SEVEN POUND MINE OUNCE BOY THIS AFTERNOON BOTH DOING FINE BABY LOOKS LIKE JEAN AND CAN OUT YELL DAVID. DEBBIE WANTED GIRL BUT SETTLED FOR BUSTER AND A MILK SHAKE DAVID AND I HAPPIEST FELLOWS IN ALASKA WISH YOU WERE HERE LETTER FOLLOWS LOVE”.

It was sent at 8:30AM, just over an hour after he was born (I found his birth certificate as well). He was so ecstatic and excited for his third child that he rushed as fast he could to let his mom know about it.

These photos were a peek into a history I never got to hear about. Peeks into the past, childhoods of the people who took me in and have tried to ask about me at least over the years. I flipped through countless pictures, setting aside some that I want to take home and hopefully someday share with kids of my own, but I kept going through this massive box of pictures because I knew if I stopped in the middle of it, I might be overwhelmed.

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Further down the hall on the right is the master bedroom, I guess. I suspect it’s the same size of smaller than the room Tommy is in, but it’s where my grandparents stayed and it’s where I’m staying for the duration of my visit. It’s a bed, a nightstand and an (empty) wardrobe. The bed is cozy. Of course it is.

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At the head of the hall is the bathroom, complete with old school red bathing basin with fucking legs hell yeah. Oh, and a too-small toilet that I’m only bitter at because I’m used to more accommodating porcelain thrones these days.

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And to the far left of the hall, across from my bedroom, is a storage room where most of the extra furniture has been moved. There look to be a few things go through there, too. I’ll try to get to that today.

After the photo business, Tommy and I got a bottle of Big Horn bourbon whiskey, which I purchased on the recommendation of the clerk after asking for the best locally brewed dark whiskey. Tommy and I started working through that while catching up on each other’s lives and telling old stories. We hadn’t seen each other in 8 years, but it felt like no time had passed at all.

Eventually we headed to the bar to listen to some live music and try the local beers (which were great). The bartender’s name was Tanner, but I thought it was Nick at some point, so we just called him Nick Tanner the rest of the night and he gave us water so the sheriff wouldn’t think we were being overserved. I gave my number to the other bartender, a fun, flirty, beautiful woman named Megan. I invited her to come over and sort through old shit with me. Why? Big Horn bourbon whiskey, that’s why.

Anyway. I still have some rooms to go through, as well as a basement and a shed. There will be a few more of these, I think. One for the whatever else I find, one for the city, and I think we’re going to try and head to Yellowstone at some point. Hope you’re continuing to enjoy this peek at history and my childhood.

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