Sometimes while driving through the Midwestern countryside one or another of many old, abandoned houses takes my glance. Most are characterized by faded paint, broken windows, and a partially collapsed roof. What’s left of a tricycle rusts among the ragged, unruly vegetation in what was once a front yard; or a one-eyed, torn doll sits forlornly on the front porch, her former owner probably pushing up daisies by now. I fleetingly wonder what happened to the people. Why did the house “die”? More often than not these ghost residences have one or two collapsing out-buildings nearby. One can almost make out a sign that covered one side of a small barn; looks like “Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco”. A windmill missing most of its blades sticks up crookedly out of the weeds. |
Surrounding the abandoned homesteads are patches of the landscape that probably look pretty much like they did seventy years ago: ragged fields, choked with thistles and clover abuzz with insects, and intersected every mile or so by narrow two-lane county roads. Cicadas noisily call back-and-forth. Turkey buzzards sit on fence posts and furtively watch as you pass while taloned raptors lift silently in the sky always scanning the vista for a potential meal. You can almost see Dillinger and his gang tearing down the road in a Ford V-8 being pursued by G-men (several on the running board) in a Terraplane or Hudson. It’s to no avail of course. Neither of those vehicles could out-buzz a Ford.
The foregoing visions came to mind today when I heard a tune played by jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis. His rendition of “A House Is Not a Home” conjured up a reminiscence of my brothers and me returning “home” for the last time. It was an early January after our father died three days after Christmas. Mom had passed six years previously.
The place we walked into was no longer home or anything resembling it. It was like a musty tomb filled with familiar objects that seemed strangely foreign, unknown, and out-of-place. I listened attentively for some kind of sound that would remind me of what the peculiar wooden structure used to be: something, anything… The opening or closing of a refrigerator or oven door, the whirring of the microwave, flushing of the toilet, a flick of a Zippo lighter, a rattling of golf clubs accompanied by a slamming of an automobile trunk from the attached one-car garage, the creak of an easy chair, the rustle of a newspaper, the humming of washer and dryer in the basement, clinking of dishes being put away, a pipe being thumped on an ashtray, television voices, a crackling fireplace, stereo music, the jingling of ice cubes in a freshly made martini, the sound of a desk drawer being opened or closed, footfalls… The icy silence made me feel unwelcome; an intruder in an alien environment. I imagined echoes of laughter and conversations past from voices now forever mute. Never thought I’d miss the smell of Dad’s pipe, but (oddly) I do. I also miss sitting on the back patio and all that went with it: drinking a beer after mowing the lawn, playing croquet, eating Ballreich’s potato chips, and playing whiffle ball with my brothers.
These days I seldom return to the location of that house. When I do, I occasionally drive by and gaze with detachment, but can’t resist sneaking-a-peek. Someone else resides there now filling it with other things and new noises and smells. And Life!
Only one octogenarian friend-of-the-family remains in the town along with a few former high school classmates. The former was a longtime golf partner of my parents—her husband died shortly after Dad—and she is always eager for a visit. But the latter? Not so much. No matter how often I reach out, they prefer to remain more like polite strangers. I guess that’s the natural order of things; what happens when everyone grows up but me.
The day is soon coming when (one way or another) I’ll never return again. Like the old adage says: You can never go home.
Copyright 2012 by Gene Myers.
Author of AFTER HOURS (2009) and SONGS FROM LATTYS GROVE (2010), both available from Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook.
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