When houses were homes
Through the window, an abandoned, old house across the way reminds me of a song my good friend, Buck Deane, sings about an apple tree and a lilac bush framing the walkway to an old decrepit house, and even though I cherish the song, I can’t remember any more of it, mostly because I haven’t heard it in more than twenty years. You’ve probably observed a similar scene – a footpath sandwiched between two trees, or bushes, leading to what was once a vibrant and lively house, now silenced, or demolished.Perhaps the first thing you notice is the worn threshold as you approach the door, worn through six or seven coats of paint and through half the lumber, as well. See the skinny old man there, stooped and low, the hunch in his back grown from years of tending crops and kids, slowly crossing the landing, wondering which trip through the door will be his last. The grandkids, there for a visit, laugh and play in the orchard outside, watching the old man, unaware that they are laying down lifetime memories that will affect many future decisions.Most old houses have the personal stamp of those who built them, whether it be a basement with a certain earthy smell, or plumbing that sometimes backs up in the winter, or floors that claim to be level, but make chasing dropped coins an adventure. There are the hand-chiseled wainscots, laboriously laid out by someone who cared deeply, and the grotesque wallpaper, someone’s vision of household beautification.There may have been a day, long ago, when a young rancher, filled with love and desire for his new bride, galloped his horse home at lunchtime, caught his waiting partner up in his strong arms, flinging her dress above her waist in his ardor, and with the both of them laughing, carried her over the brand-new threshold and enjoyed her charms on the kitchen table. Maybe one of you was conceived in such a fashion?Years later, the kids may refuse to reside there, saying the house is too old and rickety, living in town instead. Someone in town will see the old house, next to the old barn and think it’s very cute and rustic, and may build a brand-new, out-of-place modern house next to the “antique” buildings and leave it up to God to keep the old stuff in safe repair.If you live around here, you’re a damned fool if you don’t tear down the old house you grew up in and build a monstrous spec home in its place. Or at least sell it to a speculative house builder and let him do the deed, which is kind of like letting a stranger put your horse of twenty years down because you can’t be bothered. I do, however, have a lifetime friend who is still living in the house he was born in. You could build a 20,000 square foot vacation house in its place and it would have everything but heart, or soul.A few years ago, an unhappy person from a big city somewhere was chewing out the work crew on a log house he was building, up Castle Creek, giving them hell for perceived shoddy workmanship. Not being monetarily tied to this imbroglio, I asked the man why he didn’t pitch in and help, rather than just criticize, believing in my mind somewhere that a man’s castle should have the man’s hands on its construction. The guy looked at me as though I didn’t exist, which I took in stride, as I had just shut him out of my world.It’s late at night and I look out the window one more time to see that someone’s left the upstairs light on, purely by accident, I’m sure, but rather than illuminating, the glow only exacerbates the loneliness of the empty rooms. The sad part, by my reckoning, is that the ability to create more memories around the old house has been forever extinguished.Tony Vagneur thinks change may be inevitable, but development doesn’t have to be. Read him here on Saturdays and send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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