In the little town where I live there are many, many buildings that stand empty. Some were left behind when the jobs and the money disappeared. Some are in a limbo of legal wranglings. Some have simply become too old to be maintained.
On our town’s main street there stands a crooked, creaky, wooden building that once housed a little general store. For so many years, the town’s children came here for candy. The mothers came for fresh milk brought in from the farm up the street. Generations of families came in for the newspaper, a loaf of bread, candles or kerosene or batteries. The store’s wavering, rippled windows have looked out on the central street of this little town since the 1920’s.
Now the store is empty, the window displays show only dust. The milk from our local farm has long since been sold to a big interstate conglomerate. The candy is gone, the papers are now read on-line. The wooden beams that hold up this hulking old building have warped and bent; the roof is leaking and the wiring is brittle and frail.
I am guessing that the beautiful old red and white clapboards will be taken down soon, left in a pile of dusty memories.
In my small town there are so many houses that have been left alone, empty, abandoned. Each is marked with a vivid red X, a sign to local firefighters, saying “If I am burning, you should let me go. No one hides inside. No one lives here now. I am an empty shell. Let me burn.”
No matter that the house was once the pride of a young family. No matter that at one time the graceful slope of the roof was a sign of genteel prosperity. No matter that in a time gone by the delicate posts of the porch sheltered a happy family out taking the evening air. No matter that these gnarled old trees used to hold swings where girls in gingham dresses giggled at the sight of boys in suspenders and straw hats.
Now the house is empty. The prosperity is gone. Now the trees are old and bare, the street is cracked and worn.
No family laughs around the fireplace here any more. No mother croons a lullaby to her baby in these rooms. No lazy dog is left to doze by the front door. No letters are delivered here now, no packages wait on the step for the birthday boy to arrive.
In my small town, there are so many proud old houses that stand marked by an X. Dark, echoing, alone. Waiting for the fire or the storm or the wrecker that will come to finally bring them down.
In my poor little town, the rhododendron and the hemlock have proven to be stronger than the people who once called these places “home”. Every day on my way to work, and every night on my way home, I drive past a house that has been abandoned and alone for so long that the bushes have grown right up and over the door.Every day, and every night, I picture the children who must have eaten their breakfasts and headed out this door to school. Every day I think of the mothers who must have carried groceries in through it, and the grandparents who must surely have arrived here on Christmas Eves of the past, loaded down with gifts and cookies and love.
And every day, and every night, I wonder how long it has taken for the bushes to cover the path and hide the door. And I wonder if those wise and strong old plants are trying to shield the house, and keep its secrets safe.