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In a Vacant House: Wilding with Jen

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Ever see two dogs running loose, getting into trouble? It really takes two. Tongues lolling, tails high, they go looking for adventure. A dog on its own just isn't as inquisitive or fearless. When it comes to going through old houses, I'm definitely a dog. I'm not a fearful person; not given to the heebie-jeebies. I just want to have someone with me. Maybe it's to share the fun and amazement. Maybe it's for that little boost through the open window. Maybe it is a little spooky to go through a vacant house alone. It's a little spooky to go through this one with someone else!

I had a feeling my dear friend Jen would be up for some adventure. I wanted to show her one of my favorite houses. I hadn't been inside it since James came to see me, several years ago. I remember what fun it had been to finally see the inside of a house I'd wondered about for years! I knew there'd be neat stuff in there. She was admiring the house and had noted the open window. "I don't suppose you'd want to climb in there with me, would you?" I asked. "Hell yeah!" Jen answered, and we were off and wilding. 

Carpet was Jen's innovation, after I ripped my good lined trousers on a nail. That is a very small window to fit through. That's another reason to have a friend along--to help you pull your leg up and through!  
 First thing we saw was a mouse nest, which had once been sandwiched in between wallpaper and wall. Oops.  There was some funky wallpaper going down in this house.

Like I said, it was a little spooky from the inside. I've photographed this ancient Hydrangea arborescens from the outside so many times. Now here it is, in winter plumage, from the dark musty inside.

As it was in summer 2016, when Chet was with me. Sweet memories of giving him a cold drink from the well each time we came there. I loved running there with him. I've really only just gotten used to going there without him.

2014. Hydrangea and window behind. He's already so gray. 

Onward. We're in an old house, not hunkered down in the sweet July grass outside it.

I'm diggin' the little framed placard, and the fact that someone long ago rubbed the dirty glass to see what it said. I finished the job with a licked finger.

May the sun smile through your window
From out the skies of blue
Upon the world's sweetest creation
"Mothers just like you."

I think card verse has gotten better with time. I liked thinking, though, that in this house had lived a mother someone thought so well of.

Shaving stuff--a straight razor, Palmolive Lather Soap. Tums, $.30. And Spirits of Turpentine. People put stuff like that on their skin. Not me, not ever!

I looked at the massive old fridge with its supercool funky logo and said, "I bet if you could plug this thing in it would still run. Probably drive you out of the room with noise, but it'd work." Which is more than I can say of the three refrigerators that have died on me in the last 24 years. When I was a kid, you had the same fridge/freezer your entire life. No more. Planned obsolescence and crappy materials are the name of the game now. This thing is built like a dang battleship. You could go over Niagara in this refrigerator. I mean, if you wanted to. 

In the corner of the kitchen is a secret.

It's a cabinet that stays almost closed. The bottom shelf is a tumble of cutlery (I can't really call it silverware). There's a jar of washers. Oh, so many washers. My dad saved washers. Sadly, I am of the cohort that barely knows what washers are for, and rarely ever deploys them.

 On the second shelf are some little dishes and cups.

On the third shelf are some more washers and cotter pins. So many cotter pins. Again...not something most people these days collect for later use. 


The green milk glass coffee mug? Straight out of my grandmother Ruigh's cabinets. That was her dishware. I'm sad that by the time I came along, the last of five, my grandmother Elnora Zickefoose had only a few more years left in her little brick bungalow in Sheffield, Iowa. I never got to go through her cabinets; ate only a few meals at her table. But oh, what a cook she was. As was my maternal grandmother Frieda Ruigh. I never expect to eat so well again. Looking back, I realize what a gift those meals were, and I'm grateful that my parents took us every summer to see our family in Iowa.

I looked hard at the cotter pin can.  Recent enough to have a barcode and be called LeCafe! Somebody tell me what year barcodes happened...On June 26, 1974, at 8:01 a.m., Sharon Buchanan used a barcode to ring up a 10-pack of Juicy Fruit at the Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio. Thank you, Google! So this house was occupied at least through the late 1970's, I'd say, and nosing through the Christmas letters, into the 80's. Situational awareness, my friends. More than 30 years gone from here, the inhabitants, and all this beautiful wreckage, telling of their time here.

On the top shelf is the best thing of all. An electric juicer (Jen thought it might be a coffee press at first and I laughed; this is definitely 8 O'Clock Coffee, ground in a can, country).  But that's not the best thing.

 A Carolina wren nest! It's been occupied for several years that I know of, hidden in that magic cabinet, which I mostly closed back up when I was done snooping. The parents enter the house, I'd think, through a variety of holes, and as far as I can tell they lead the babies out via the window we climbed in. That's on the other side of the house, but a trip like that is no big deal for Carolina wrens. They're brainy--spatial perception kings.  They teach their children well.

Cabinet, ready for occupancy, spring 2018.

Now for the tableaux I love so well.
That massive refrigerator, and some boots and a barrel and bucket and stool...oh my gosh. Andrew Wyeth, bar the door.

I'm always trying to get people to click on the photos in my blog to see them large and in focus. Not going to tell you what this letter says. Trust me, it's worth reading. The things you pick out of a pile of Christmas cards from the mid 1980's! And while you're at it, run through and appreciate the other photos at full size, please and thank you.

Tools on the far kitchen wall. I have always wondered if the tools hung here when the original inhabitants lived here, or whether those went up after the house became a sort of storage unit. So I gave it some thought. I'm leaning toward the latter explanation. I mean, I love the way they look but I doubt Grandma would have allowed this in her kitchen. This looks like an after-they-left arrangement to me.

We'll just hang these here where we can git 'em. Nobody hangs a saw on the very edge of a corner they're going to walk around (the basement door). Ergo: Put up after everyone moved out.

Eek. This is what I mean by spooky.

Another look through that kitchen door before we go up the creaky freaky stairs.

The light-gathering capability of my iPhone6, my partner in all crime and adventure, is such that the darkness of this stairwell is not adequately conveyed. I went first, you know, in case BATS. Note the wall to the right.

Those are ancient logs, barely covered with plaster and wallpaper. James muses,
"That log frame is something I think about often.

What were the forests where those seedlings began?
Did they know native Americans?"

 LOOK at those logs!! In this humble house, forest giants, felled. When??

Pretty posies, peeling, uncovering the venerable bones of a house that's not going to fall down anytime soon.

An ironing board. Wonder and trepidation in discovery. Gratitude to be able just to look at it all.

An electric clock, strongly reminiscent of the one in my Gram Ruigh's kitchen. Again, I had the strong feeling this one would work if plugged in. "I bet it buzzes like a ...." I said to Jen. I was haunted by the thought that it was 11:10 AM when it was taken off the wall and thrown into a box, to be found over 30 years later by a harmless trespasser. Telechron brand. Sounds so Buck Rogers, doesn't it?

Creepy toys and school papers. Who will ever know?

Hangers, breeding in dark corners. 

Big tropical leaves were in vogue in the 1940's. I wondered why there was no color to these. Understated.

In a corner window sash, a hand-tatted tie for curtains, long gone. Everywhere, hand-made things that are no longer hand-done. I thought at first it was a snakeskin. Jen figured out it was a curtain tie.

Hunters come here. This one, I think, died on its own; the skull mostly gone as it would be had something chewed it in nature.

It was time to get back out into the sunshine. There's been so little of it this spring!

May the sun smile through your window
From out the skies of blue.

We climbed back out the pronky small window, our wilding done for the day.

The golden forsythia, the blue sky, and my favorite tableau of all were calling.

I saw the ghost of Chet Baker stomping across this couch, sniffing for decades-old crackers in the cushions.

The couch is losing color. Chet no longer stomps. A squirrel has taken a large divot of stuffing for its nest. The couch melts away. 

Time can only keep spooling out.

The log cabin stands yet.


What a riveting adventure you took us on! Wow... I could not wait to scroll to the next photo to see what you all saw. There were surely ghosts smiling.

I read this post on my phone in the car, while waiting for our daughter to get out of work...and then I came right home and visited on the computer so I could read that letter. And it was worth it!

Thanks for sharing your adventure! Really, really loved it!

Thanks for taking me along,JULIE, I felt and loved every step!

No doubt, you have previously explained why this house is vacant...but, I can't recall. Please explain. Why would someone abandon a house with so much stuff in it....??

What an adventure! Poring over others' things like this triggers many thoughts about those who were there before living a full life. And it was an opportunity to see, like you and Jen did, how times have changed in what we manufacture, use and like. Andrew W. image -- yes!!! And the cotter pins triggered a good memory. In the 1970s I was a teen making cool necklaces with leather laces, some wooden beads, washers and cotter pins - very industrial. Still have one of those necklaces tucked away. Might need to wear it once in a while, though I'm sure I would notice the weight of it more now. Thanks for the tour. Kim in PA

Oh thank you! Thank you for climbing in and taking me along. Fascinating stuff there! A Wyeth all the way - such pull from 'everyday things' seen in a different light.

A house down the road from me has seen better days. It sits off in the distanced in some trees. I photographed then painted it a few years ago, and today I can see the roof has caved in on one side. More windows are broken out. I keep wanting to go look in it but haven't had the nerve. You have motivated me! I'll have to find a daring friend to accompany me. Wish you were here!

@Sharon: He was arrested for "nonsupport." Better than being arrested for murder. Sounds like that young mother had a hard life, ended too soon.
@KGMom, I don't know why it was left with so much stuff in it. They probably took what they needed, wherever they were headed, and left the rest. Nobody wanted to empty it out or live in it, so there it sits three decades plus later. Such a beautiful place too.

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