Bang! Bang! When we first moved to our farm, the wind sometimes caught the tin roof of an old building, bouncing it up and down and making a terrible racket. The building was about 12 feet square, built of logs, and stood next to the old privy between our house and the barn.
Over the years, the top four courses of logs and the roof had shifted sideways toward the south until they curved out about two feet beyond the base. I was busy building our addition, and didn’t get around to nailing down that tin right away.
We were told the dirt-floored building used to belong to the grandmother of Chester McKeen, the man who homesteaded this place, and was moved here from another location. It looked like it was over 100 years old, could have been 200.
It was around our first Halloween here when I noticed that the tin only banged at night, and it sometimes banged on quiet nights when I couldn’t feel that much wind. Puzzled, I told our neighbour, Ray, about the frosty quiet nights and the tin roof when I was down at his place helping him cut wood. He squinted at me, then looked off toward my place, rolled a cigarette, and told me this story:
“The way I heard it, that log house was built around 1835,” Ray began, “Angus and Virginia McIntyre homesteaded that land way before Chester McKeen. For the first few years they lived in a tar paper shack next to the tamarack tree that still stands right by your driveway, then they put up those logs.
“Your inside bathroom door used to be the back door of their shack. Look at the wide boards and handmade nails.
“In those first years they were childless, but they went ahead and put up the logs anyway, hoping they could use it for their family. They built a room downstairs and a sleeping loft upstairs. After a few more years, they were still there alone, and I’m told that’s when the trouble began.
“It would have been a struggle for a childless couple trying to farm that land. There’s more granite than soil and its best used only for pasture. They must have started to struggle with each other, too, because Virginia disappeared five or so years after they moved into that homestead. That’s where the rest of the story differs, depending on who’s tellin’ it.
“Some say Virginia left to go back to her people in Nova Scotia, while Angus stayed on the farm and tried to make a go of it alone. He didn’t last long, though, because the year after Virginia left, Angus was found hanging from your tamarack tree, dead by his own hand, with the loft of the homestead leaning over just about like you see it now. It was a sad ending to their hopes of making a life out here. One gone and one dead.
“Other people claim, and there’s no real evidence for this, that there’s a different story. I was told this by family and, if you weren’t like family to me, I wouldn’t be passing it on. They say that Virginia grew tired of the hard life and listening to Angus blame her because they never had any children. She started to make any excuse she could to get away from him for a while, walking to the neighbour’s or just taking the buggy down the trail for a day or so.
“Angus thought she was stepping out on him, seeing other men, and he blamed her all the more for that. One day he couldn’t take it no more, and he locked Virginia up in the loft so she couldn’t wander. He kept her there, giving her just enough food and water to keep her alive, hoping to kill the wandering spirit in her. But he never could.
“She tried desperately to get out, she ran and smashed into the walls, trying to break them down. She pushed on the roof and tried to tear back the tin from the inside but, every time she got it loose a little, Angus would nail it back down. They say she smashed against that south wall so much, she made the top of the homestead lean right over.
“No one is really sure what happened. After Virginia disappeared, Angus wouldn’t let anyone on his place. He’d meet visitors out by the road, and there weren’t many, about one every couple of months. He’d go to other farms and help out, but never asked or allowed anyone to help him. He never said a word about Virginia, never spoke her name. People thought he was embarrassed because she left him.
“After they found Angus and cut him down, they went into the old homestead but didn’t find nothing. So nobody really knows what happened. I do know that the homestead hasn’t changed much since Angus died, and nobody’s ever lived in it since. You know, once a building starts to go, it usually goes all the way, especially after it has a lot of years on it. But that one has looked frozen like that, leanin’ just that much and no more, for as long as anyone around here knows.
“Some of the people who’ve lived on your place have complained about how hard it was to keep that tin roof nailed down, and some never had a bit of trouble. I guess you’ll be finding it hard.”
He shrugged, stubbed his cigarette against the sole of his boot, and went back to work, and that was more than I’ve heard Ray say at one time before or since.
I’ve often sat and pondered our bathroom door with the wide boards and homemade nails until someone pounds on it asking me to hurry up and get out, and the tamarak tree by our driveway still reminds me of Angus.
We’ve used McIntyre’s homestead to house the tiller and other odds and ends. We thought about making it into a sheep shed, but the sheep didn’t seem to want to go in it, maybe because it looked unstable to them. We’ve kept it pretty much like it was since we came here, and more than one person has stopped and asked us if they could photograph it. I’ve twice been on the roof and nailed down the tin.
The true story will never be known, I guess. I do know that when I hear that tin roof banging on calm nights, especially around Halloween, I can imagine Virginia inside, still trying to get out.