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Watching Her Go

Thursday, July 16, 2009

There is an old house on a back road I take occasionally. I love it unreservedly. There's something about the way it sits against the sky, up higher than the road, that moves me.

As I think about it, things set against the sky--horses, hayrolls, houses, sheep---are peculiarly satisfying to me as an artist. I guess it's because most of us live in such clutter that we don't often get to see clouds float behind a house, a horse or a hayroll. Seeing the sky behind things is part of why I love North Dakota and other places out west so very much.

She's lost her windows, which means she won't stand for long, but it's all about the roof in the end. As the roof goes, the house goes.

Two maples, planted as tiny whips, planted too close, planted not that long ago--twenty years? hint at a time when she was lived in and loved. Now, they let the squirrels into her empty windows, bring the carpenter ants to finish the job.

Even without windows, she looks cared for, as if whoever is mowing the lawn will be sorry to see her fall.

The clothesline, still strung with pins, the old pump, the thin wires running to her...they all make me ache for the time when children ran through.

Pulling back, the rest of the story: an old trailer, rolled in when the upkeep got to be too much, maybe when the furnace broke down for the last time, or the roof got one too many holes in it. They're living in a narrow box now, leaving the gracious old lady to stand alone. It takes money to keep an old house standing, and people who live on the dirt roads don't have much of that.

I'd love to swoop in and save her, love to keep her standing against that summer sky, with a new coat of white paint and windows to keep the coons out. But the windows in our own house need replacing, and we have to feed our kids first.

I can only drive by slowly, watching her go.


What a beautiful post. I felt it as much as I read it. Thank you!

Lovely post. The old house reminds me of Joyce Kilmer's poem, "The House With Nobody In It," which concludes:

So whenever I go to Suffern along the Erie track
I never go by the empty house without stopping and looking back,
Yet it hurts me to look at the crumbling roof and the shutters fallen apart,
For I can't help thinking the poor old house is a house with a broken heart.

Beautiful. Hurts my heart. I hurt when I see such grand old places 'going'...Thanks, Julie!

A lovely post. It brought to mind one of my favorite songs, Kate Wolf's "Carolina Pines".

Not to mention Kate's "The Lilac Bush and the Apple Tree."

As a historian, I'm the one out trying to convince people to save buildings like that. So far, I haven't flung myself in the front of the bulldozer though we haven't always been successful at saving them. I haven't decided it's worth losing my life over. I still have kids college tuition to pay!

We had an old house like that near us. Big spacious, very old wooden house from days when farmers could make a living on small farms and raised their families on the farm. When we moved out here, it was already pretty far gone - roof swayed, the walls no longer "true," and the windows gone. The movie people found it and did just enough exterior renovations to make it look lived in including adding a swing to the big glorious tree. The old house came to life one last time - If you've seen the movie "What's eating Gilbert Grape" . . . the movie people burned the house as part of the story line. . . it's been 15 years . . . I still remember the house as I drive down Hodde Lane . . . But it did get to come to "life" once more - however briefly. It may be silly to grieve a house . . . but old houses have a certain character to them - the Hodde house certainly did.

I'm sure she has a lot of stories to tell if she could only speak more distinctly.

These house "relics" are as much a part of the americana landscape as any other item, human or natural,found in our most outlying areas.

For me they are aesthetically pleasing, for others an eyesore. When I come upon one of these I like to imagine those that once lived there. People with real lives, loves, and labors.

These houses have a real story to tell. My imagination runs wild with ideas when looking at these photos of yours.

Very, very nice.


I'll trade you a sweet song, for a sweet post...

I pass a house in eastern NC that I feel the same way about! Never mind that it is very near a major NY-FL interstate or that a prison is a short distance up the road. I love that house and the surrounding land and outbuildings. I can't even decide whether anyone lives there are not. There are still curtains at the windows, but never a car.

Oh, for the nerve just to walk up and knock. . . !

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