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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

That Old House

Friday, February 3, 2012

There are many abandoned farm houses in our state. I am always tempted to stop and explore when we pass one but the fear of someone seeing me trespassing overrides the temptation. I think just going inside would give me a feel for the people who once lived there. Maybe I would find a few jars of centuries old beans sitting on a basement shelf. Or there may be a broken toy to give some indication that a child once lived or played there. Could there be abandoned cupboards or furniture - a quaint rocking chair or a trunk filled with old clothes, photographs or letters?

The oddest part of this compulsion is that the first farm we rented adjoined an acreage with a set of abandoned farm buildings including an old house but I never went up and explored it. I suppose in those days I was too busy with our houseful of children to allow my imagination to wander very far. I never climbed over the rickety fence that separated it from our back yard. The only thought I gave to the place was expressed in a warning to the children that it wasn't safe to go into any of the buildings.

One summer day several years after we moved there we learned the history behind that farm site. An elderly couple drove into our yard. They were talking and pointing at buildings as several youngsters leaned out of the windows in the rear seat of their car. It looked as though they were planning to just make a pass through the yard and leave. We went out to greet them and were happy we did.

The house we were living in had been built for them as newlyweds. They came inside and pointed out the features that were special to them. We were as fascinated as their grandchildren when they told bits and pieces of their lives there. The lady's parents lived in the house on that abandoned acreage next door. She said her dad built steps on either side of the fence making a shortcut between the homes so that she and her mother could visit one another. The great depression ended their dream of being a two-family farm. The bank took over the property and they were forced to move.

Maybe my knowing the real story of the property squelched any curiosity that may have otherwise been aroused in me. Our kids didn't spend any time wondering what it was like years ago. They preferred to use their imaginations to become the current tenants tilling the soil. They loved to go up to play on a rusty old tractor with a broken axel. It appeared to have broken down a few yards into the field nearest the house and was left right where it stopped. It sat in a tangle of weeds in the midst of the current year's crop all 17 years we lived there. Sitting on the iron seat surrounded by rows of corn made it easy for them to imagine they were working the field.

A hedge of honeysuckle bushes on our side of the fence cut off our summertime view of the unsightly, sagging fence and the buildings behind it. Winters usually meant drifts of snow between the two building sites helped hide it. One winter became special in our children's memories because for a couple of months a higher than normal drift completely covered the hedge. It crusted over and became solid enough to allow walking on it and sliding down its sides. They could scale the fence as easily as the mother and daughter did on their wooden steps those many years before.

Eventually the dilapidated house next door burned to the ground when a grass fire got out of control. The acreage was cleaned up and another house was built there. The only thing that stayed the same was the broken down tractor. The new owners did not own the land surrounding it. They spent the next decade looking out on a broken down tractor surrounded by corn or soybeans. Our boys were happy to see their plaything stay where it had always been.

By Mary S. Roder
Musing With Mary