Renting a place in the country would have never occurred to me. We were heading into our Senior year, and all of my classes were in downtown Potsdam on the old campus. I had just figured we’d find a place in walking distance of classes, and the bars. But my roommates Dan & Chris had other plans. They always had other plans. Looking back on it from the distance of 20 years, I am amazed how I ever fell in with them in the first place. We had little in common, aside from working class roots in small Upstate towns you’ve never heard of. But then again, so did half the student population. Why them? Fate I guess. Some intern in the campus housing office proceeded to pull names from a hat in 1986 and we ended up on the same end of the same floor of a dorm. This one actually…
That’s my room. Second floor, on the end. Scott’s was 3 windows down, on the other side of the bathroom. Scott and I were different from Dan & Chris. Still are. I guess Scott was what brought me into the apartment with them in the first place. If it hadn’t been for Scott I wouldn’t have put in the effort required to tolerate two guys so intent on making life difficult for everyone around them. Which may be part of why they rented us an apartment 5 miles outside of town in the snow blasted countryside. They never did anything the easy way.
I was the first to arrive in August, 2 days before classes began. The key was under the mat, and I let myself in. It was evening, and night was falling fast. The house was empty. Being a weekend evening, the “Sunfeather Soap Shop” which occupied the downstairs of the old farmhouse, was closed. It occurred to me as I unpacked my things, and choose a bedroom, that the one thing I hadn’t thought about was a bed to sleep in. For the previous 3 years, that hadn’t been an issue. But here, alone in a drafty old farmhouse, it was on my mind now.
The landlord had told us we could help ourselves to what we found in the barn out back. She’d been renting the apartment to college kids for several years, since she’d turned the house into her soap factory & gift shop, and moved with her Hippie husband further up into the hills above Parishville, to homestead in a place without electricity, or running water on the edge of the fabled “Blue Line” of Adirondack Park. They were odd characters, but fine landlords. She told us she only rented to guys, because girls were too much headache, and always left the place a mess. Guys were more self sufficient, and didn’t complain as much when things broke.
So I decided to rise to the high standard of manly self sufficiency, and set off for the barn to see if I could find a bed. The barn and house sat on five acres of land. The remains of what had once been a farm. It was a weedy lot, with the fruit trees gone to wild, and birches sprouting where outbuildings once stood. The pole barn was relatively new, but you had to watch your step if you were out in the weeds so you didn’t fall into any old wells. The ruined foundations of the old barn, were home to milkweed and burdock.
Inside I found a few old straight backed chairs, stolen from one of the local colleges, and several old mattresses in various stages of decay. I picked the one that seemed the newest, least mildewy, and that wasn’t visibly home to any critters, and lugged it back up the steps to the apartment. I set about assembling the box-store, computer desk I had bought with my wages from the summer job at Graham’s, and unpacking my clothes into an old wooden dresser that was the only piece of furniture in the room.
When night came, I was surprised to find myself still alone. I had expected at least one of the three roommates to have shown up by then. Instead I sat on the deck, in the twilight of an August evening, watching the cars go by out on Route 11B, and trying to accustom myself to the thought of life in the country. It was so quiet. When I bored of sitting outside in the dark, I came inside, laid down on the mattress on the floor, and read for awhile. Growing up at 20 Prospect I had never realized how much noise there was in our little city. Trucks passing on Oak Street, voices from up and down the block. Birds in the lilac bushes out back. But here in the country it was still. Too still. I couldn’t relax that first night alone in the house, and it was a long time before sleep took me.
I was awoken at 6 am, as the first of the logging trucks heading down from the hills came Jake-breaking past on Hwy 11B. Below my window, I could hear the snorting of the horses, Rosie and King. Two old workhorses that our landlords summered on the property, had wandered in from the field, and were standing in the shade beneath my window, swatting flies with their tails. I rolled over and went back to sleep, and in a few hours got up to brew coffee, and sit outside on the deck. It felt like a new beginning, and in many ways it was. Senior year would be a Dickensonian “Best & Worst” of times, the end of an era, and the start of another. It was just dawning, and I had no idea of the trials that would come, or where I would be when they were over. But that morning sitting on the deck, sipping coffee, I knew the country would do me good.