Plywood Shadow Named Chuck Whispered, “Destiny”

On the road where my grandparents live, there was a house that I took a certain fascination with when I was younger. I distinctly remember flying along the hilly road to and from my grandma and grandpa’s house, craning my head as far ahead as it would go and looking at it for as long as I could–all of three seconds–wishing that one day we would stop in the driveway and explore.

There was really nothing extraordinary about the place outside of three distinct things that captured my imagination.

First, the house–rather a sardine can they often call a single-wide trailer– was white and teal with a pavilion to match. I loved teal. It was the color of my dream car at the time, a little Chevy S-10 that sat rotting behind another trailer on the way to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. There was something about teal and the fact that someone painted a house that color that held a magnetism for me.

Secondly, the farmer that lived there had sheep and goats in a tiny red barn. I liked the fact that the barn was red. My uncle’s barn had been white and I secretly thought it was a sin. All barns should be red. I’d always strain to see inside of the dark barn door when it was open to let the sheep graze out in the pasture, wondering how much it had inside. I loved the pasture too, which dipped steeply into a valley and came up the other side. A stream would flow through the middle only when it had rained hard enough. It was perfect terrain to play the French and Indian War with my cousins.

The third thing that fascinated me was their yard decor. Specifically the plywood silhouette of a man, leaning up against the sardine can house, smoking a pipe. I never saw the other side of him and wondered if the other side that I could never see from the road had a face. His name was probably Chuck. Since he smoked a pipe, I thought that he must have been old and since he wore a flat cap, he probably came from Ireland. I really didn’t care about the people that actually lived in the house, I just wanted to meet Chuck. There had to be a depth to that two-dimensional, wooden shadow.

I spent years passing by this place, watching the rhododendron bush overtake one side of the house, the paint start to peel and fade on the pavilion, and the sheep and goats disappear when the farmer died. Still, I never got to visit or explore.

Then, around the time when I was thirteen, there was a rumor that the farmer’s widow was considering selling the place and moving to an assisted living facility. Coincidentally, my family was also looking and failing to find a place to move to, one that we could afford while also escaping a parsonage surrounded on all sides by people two or three economic tiers above us. Enter Grandpa. The negotiator and man of action who managed to convince her to sell to my parents.

Reader, I moved there.

But all of the magic I had made of that place over the years wasn’t exactly true. We lived for the summer in the trailer, which we called the “Teal Submarine,” while we set the foundation for a nicer double-wide to put on the property. It had no air conditioning and my grandpa said that it wasn’t smart how they positioned it, because it couldn’t catch the cross breeze. Despite all of our scrubbing, it reeked of cigarette smoke and at some point the roof had started leaking when it rained. To top it all off, we were a family of 6 living where really only two or three people could comfortably live. The hallway was only narrow enough for one person at a time, which was hell when it came to getting dressed on Sunday morning with one bathroom and all of our clothes in the same room in different boxes.

The barn, while still maintaining its structural integrity, wasn’t exactly as great as I expected either. Sometime in May, I spent two or three days mucking out the stalls and sweeping the musty hay that no one had cleaned out in over 5 years. Layer after layer of petrified manure came up looking like rotted sheets of compressed wood as I stabbed at it with a pitchfork. The mound of it that I made in the barnyard ended up being quite impressive. But there was no treasure to be found, no animals outside of the groundhogs and rats, and nothing really of interest outside of old Pepsi cans with antiquated logos.

Then there was Chuck. As I had hoped, they had left behind the plywood silhouette, the shadow that had haunted every trip to and from my grandparents’ house. But despite my expectations, he had no face or secrets as far as I could tell. And he was so rotten and scummy and turning green that my brothers took it out of the ground it had been staked in for 20 years and used it for target practice. After being riddled with holes, I’m pretty sure at some point he was given a viking burial.

After calling living here for five years, it looks different. We’ve torn down buildings, planted gardens, taken down trees, and replaced the teal and white trailer with an olive green one that catches the cross breeze. I know it too well to see it as magic. It takes me remembering Chuck and how long I wanted to be here to realize that there’s magic in seeing your destiny to find certain people, adventures, and home.

A sleep deprived college student who occasionally considers herself a writer. Here's a website:

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