Goodbye, Farmhouse

My son, Fitz, riding his bike in the farmhouse lane, July 2015 ©Brian R. Hannan
Our earliest photo of the farmhouse, circa 1940: Archibald and his horse Barney

Our family farmhouse will soon move on to new owners.

While I’ve known for several years that my father intended to sell the property, I was surprised to learn that he’d found a buyer. I’ve also been surprised in the weeks since by my own ambivalence about the sale. The farmhouse has been a part of my life for nearly four decades, and the parade of memories has been, at times, overwhelming.

Yet I’m also realistic: My father turns 76 in July, and he can no longer care for it or give it the attention he once did. My sisters and I all have young children, and the farmhouse is more than 500 miles away, in Creemore, Ontario. We no longer visit as we once did.

Self-portrait, July 2015 ©Brian R. Hannan

I made what is now my final visit in July 2015, when my son, Fitz, and I stayed for a few days. He loved riding his bike on the lane and down the small slopes in the yard, occasionally crashing in the corn field. I loved sharing the farmhouse with him and reflecting on my memories. I knew a sale was in the future, and I wanted to be prepared in case that visit proved to be my last.

And so it did.

I don’t mean to appear cavalier. I asked to return, but the trip I had in mind wasn’t possible. My father instead allowed that I could join him and my stepmother for an overnight stay as they packed up the place.

I choose not to go. If the parting experience I want — a weekend getaway with friends — isn’t an option, then I’ll be content with the one I had. Being at the farmhouse one last time comes at too high a cost if the visit is defined by the rush of getting there (only to close shop) and not the pleasure of being there (for some measure of time) — the conversations, laughs and meals, the idle trips into town and the moments to relax, unwind and take in the scenery.

Human beings observe many rituals for the people we love — baby showers and birthdays, graduations, weddings and funerals — and for the places we call home. Consider the almost ritualized transfer of the keys from the title company when the paperwork is signed. And what is a housewarming party, if not a baptism of sorts for this place of new beginnings, the space where the most intimate moments of our lives unfold?

Losing the farmhouse is tough, both in its own right and in light of this hard truth: The sale will not be paired with the purchase of another property. To borrow my father’s habit of equating phases in our lives with chapters in a book, we’ve reached the end of the story. There is, there will be, no more.

From my home near Chicago, I find myself left with a simple sacrament, this humble benediction:

Goodbye, farmhouse.

May you find new families who will love you as much as we did — a tall order, I know — and take care of you; families who will find comfort, joy and shelter within your walls; families who will enjoy your wide open spaces and live out their days beneath the bright expanse of heaven.

My last look: After I locked the chain for the lane, Fitz and I headed home, July 2015. ©Brian R. Hannan

(Don’t) Wait for It: A Hamiltonian Reminder

Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom, Jr.) ©Theo Wargo/Getty Images

By the time my friend, Lisa, and I saw “Hamilton: An American Musical” in mid-February, I’d already listened to the soundtrack a few times. I was quite excited to see the show and to hear the songs, especially these songs, performed live:

– “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” about the American victory in the Siege of Yorktown

– “Cabinet Battle No. 1,” a rap battle between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson about how to pay our new nation’s debts

The ‘Cabinet Battle’ songs reframe arguments between Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Diggs), left, and Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda)  in the context of a modern-day rap battle.

A song that initially did not catch my attention — but has since become my favorite — is this soliloquy, sung, near the midpoint of Act I, by Aaron Burr: “Wait for It.” I’ve replayed it countless times, captivated by the solemn melody and evocative lyrics that powerfully raise the question: Do we assert ourselves and create the opportunities we want, or do we more passively wait for the right one to fall within reach?

Burr answers:

Life doesn’t discriminate
Between the sinners
And the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes
And we keep living anyway
We rise and we fall
And we break
And we make our mistakes
And if there’s a reason I’m still alive
When so many have died
Then I’m willing to wait for it

At the same time, Burr can’t help but wonder about Hamilton, even as he ultimately doubles-down on his own timidity:

What is it like in his shoes?

Hamilton doesn’t hesitate
He exhibits no restraint
He takes and he takes and he takes
And he keeps winning anyway
He changes the game
He plays and he raises the stakes
And if there’s a reason
He seems to thrive when so few survive, then Goddamnit —
I’m willing to wait for it

Thinking back on my life, I see a mixed record: times when I took appropriate risks and times when I was appropriately and, of course, overly cautious. Who’s to say whether I struck the right balance or what might have happened had I been less circumspect or more assertive?

…(I)f there’s a reason I’m still alive
When so many have died

Then I’ll take it.

Even so — having turned 50 this past December — I’m cognizant of time passing and mindful of all I want to accomplish in the time remaining.

I can’t help but appreciate the reminder: (Don’t) wait for it.

The Twilight Zone: The Article Never Submitted for Your Approval

Burgess Meredith, “Time Enough at Last,” Season 1, Episode 8. ©CBS Television Studios

Back in 2006, I started work on an article about the then-upcoming 50th anniversary of “The Twilight Zone” that I hoped to sell as a freelance piece. Research centered on watching all 156 episodes that aired throughout the TV series’ five-season run (Oct. 2, 1959 to June 19, 1964).

Despite significant effort, I never finished the story. I couldn’t get the writing where I wanted it to be, and I questioned whether I could land the caliber of publication I desired, given my lack of authority on the show.

Rod Serling. ©CBS Television Studios

I also realized that I wasn’t as much of a fan as I’d thought. Aside from the handful of really good episodes that have aired countless times in syndication, I found most of the rest to be lacking. Would anyone want to read, let alone publish, an article whose basic premise amounted to: Remember that show you loved? Turns out it wasn’t all that great.

Only in the Twilight Zone, perhaps.

Even so, the project often haunts me. I occasionally stumble across my notes and revised drafts. I wish I hadn’t abandoned it.

My favorite part was the headline I’d crafted: Twist Again: After Five Decades, ‘The Twilight Zone’ Packs an Ironic Punch.

Some excerpts:

– In his opening monologue, Serling describes the Twilight Zone in dichotomies — fact and fiction, fear and knowledge — but casts it as a playground of ideas bound only by imagination itself. Whose? We don’t know, though the show, through the conveyance of syndication positions us as ….

– Whether it had an ethos, a pathos or simply a narrative elasticity is never fully stated or consistently mined. The program proved to be as innovative as it was derivative — a primetime show tackling issues of life, death, identity (personal and collective) and what it meant to be a human being in the modern age. Yet the program was an anthology when the format was quickly fading from popular favor.

– For my two cents, “The Twilight Zone” most resonates with storylines that could happen rather than the ones that could happen. With respect to science, Serling and his staff fell flat on just about every measure — the operation of an actual spacecraft, the presence of intelligent life on other planets and elsewhere in the universe and the …. Yet they also stumbled across some very genuine moments, points where human beings became caught between the “summit of man’s knowledge and the pit of man’s fear.”

Ed Wynn, “One For the Angels,” Season 1, Episode 2. ©CBS Television Studios

– Much of the dialogue is too clever by half, and the scripts often let the ideology override the story.

I intended this next, short paragraph to conclude the article, assuming I could make the setup/transition work in a way that felt natural and satisfying. In a surviving draft, I quoted the final line from an overtly sentimental episode entitled “One for the Angels,” starring Ed Wynn.

– Serling’s voiceover: “Couldn’t happen, you say? Probably not in most places. But it did happen, in the Twilight Zone.”

Road Trip: Seth Peterson Cottage

Seth Peterson Cottage, western facade • Reedsburg, Wisc. • Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright, 1958 • ©Brian R. Hannan
Southern facade • ©Brian R. Hannan

When an opening at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Seth Peterson Cottage unexpectedly became available this week, I had only one thought: Road trip!

I recruited my friend Joe, and we made plans to leave the next morning for a brief, overnight visit. I’d been wanting to stay at the cottage since I learned of it last fall while preparing for our outing to Taliesin, Wright’s home and studio in Spring Green, Wisc. The cottage, however, was booked solid for all of 2017 and, for that matter, much of 2018.

Still, I made a daily habit of checking the reservation website, hoping for a cancelation. I was soon rewarded.

The living area. The banquette seating by the terrace window features a pull-out, full-size bed. ©Brian R. Hannan

The Usonian-influenced Seth Peterson Cottage sits on a wooded promontory in what today is Mirror Lake State Park, in Reedsburg, Wisc. The one-bedroom, one-bath home features an open floor plan with flagstone floors, limestone and plywood walls and a large fireplace as a focal point in the living area. The furniture is based on the final construction drawings Wright delivered shortly before his death in April 1959.

Looking west • ©Brian R. Hannan

A stone terrace along the cottage’s northern facade overlooks Mirror Lake, while near-floor-to-ceiling-height windows on the western side provide abundant natural light. The small-but-functional kitchen sits a few feet to the right of the front door.

A private bedroom and en suite bath are found at the rear of the house, in the southeast corner.

Looking north to Mirror Lake. The flagstone used throughout the cottage begins at the entry and continues to the stone terrace, blurring the distinction between exterior and interior spaces. ©Brian R. Hannan

When we arrived, I was so excited to see the cottage that I saw past the overcast, gray skies and soggy, brown yard. I took a quick tour of the house — all 880 square feet of it — and then hurried to make some pictures before the daylight faded.

Me, at the Seth Peterson Cottage. Photo by Joe Socki. ©Brian R. Hannan
©Brian R. Hannan

My friend and I then headed to the store to stock up for dinner that night (T-bone steaks, caramelized onion/mushroom and Caesar salad) and breakfast the next morning (poached eggs, toast, bacon and coffee). I built a blazing fire in the fireplace; after dinner, we sat around the hearth and talked over gin and tonic.

I especially enjoyed hearing this song play on my iPad during a lull in the conversation. (“The Light” by The Album Leaf)

Snow began falling as we chatted and continued overnight. We awoke to a winter wonderland.

©Brian R. Hannan
©Brian R. Hannan
Seth Peterson

Lying in bed that evening before I fell asleep, I thought of Peterson and the dream that brought him to this idyllic spot. His long-fought campaign to convince a reluctant Wright to design a house for him finally paid off, and he looked forward to sharing it with his fiancée.

And then Wright, a childhood hero with whom Peterson shared a birthday, died. One year and one day later, Peterson — troubled by that loss, the end of his engagement and mounting construction costs — took his own life. He never lived in the cottage that today bears his name and would not exist without him. I found myself feeling sad for, and grateful to, that young man for this gift, a legacy so many people will be able to enjoy on his behalf.