The farmhouse was small and old. Its ancient yellow paint was peeling from the clapboard walls. Its black roof was worn and was missing some shingles and sagged in the middle, as if an elephant had once slept there.
“I know it’s not perfect but it just needs a few homey touches,” my mom said, getting out of the car behind me.
“A lot of homey touches,” I said huffily, dropping my bags on the ground.
“This is all we can afford to live in right now and I know it’s hard on you and I’m sorry.”
We unpacked in silence and when we were finished I sat drinking a cup of juice sulkily at the kitchen table.
“Why don’t you go find something to do?” mom said, putting a box of cereal in a cupboard.
“Like what?” I said gloomily.
“Fine,” I said angrily, getting up and heading for the door.
“Don’t forget a sweater.”
“Whatever!” I said, grabbing a sweater off a chair and shoving it over my head. Then I strutted out of the house, slamming the screen door behind me.
I heaved at the barn doors and they slid open. The first thing I noticed was the smell. The stench of rotting hay and dust filled the air and I sneezed. The barn was also dark.
I fished my flashlight out of my pocket and turned it on. That is when I realized how big the barn was. It seemed to stretch a mile back. On one side four stalls clung to the wall and on the far side a ladder led up to a hayloft.
I headed to the ladder and examined it closely for loose or missing rungs. Surprisingly, it was almost perfectly intact. I climbed up into the loft. Nothing was there, only a few moldy hay bales.
I climbed down the ladder and started to investigate the stalls. They were all the same: same bins, same moldy hay covering the ground. Just as I was leaving the last stall, something shiny caught my eye.
It was a doorknob. I tried it and it opened. I cast the beam of my flashlight into the opening and saw stairs leading down into the earth.
“Mom, Mom!” I yelled, running back to the house, forgetting about my anger about the move for the moment. Mom came running out and looked relieved to see I was OK.
“Come on, I’ve got something to show you!” I called.
It was a long walk down the stairs and it was freezing by the time we reached the bottom and I was glad I had brought my sweater.
A small room was at the bottom of the stairs and Mom said, “Wow, this is really old. People a long time ago might have lived down here during storms. That is probably what it’s for.”
I had remembered my anger and was being quiet again. “
This can be our own secret place,” she said, putting her arm around my shoulder and squeezing me close to her. In that moment, I felt my anger evaporate completely and it was replaced by guilt. I realized I had been very selfish and had only been thinking about myself. The move had been as hard for her as it had been for me. Then I did something I hadn’t done in a long time. I looked up and smiled at her.