By Gretchen Keefer
A sound startled the old house awake from its long slumber. A familiar sound, but he couldn’t quite place it. It was not like the steady stream of cars on the highway that consistently lulled him to sleep. Thinking about the sound, he realized there was indeed a vehicle involved, but it was not one he knew well. And there were voices. Men’s voices. The old house smiled to himself, and the aged front door creaked on its rusty hinges. He stretched a shutter and settled himself more comfortably on his foundations, twisting a window frame out of square and dropping a shingle or two. Men’s voices. That was good news. He had fond memories of men’s voices.
Soon the old house was drifting back through dreamy memories, pleasant familiar images filling his mind. Among the first sounds he remembered were hammering, sawing and voices of men as the other buildings were built. He had been proud of those buildings. They belonged to him. One was for animals, another for tools, another for… Well, he wasn’t sure about the littlest house, but people had used it often, one at a time. He had been built for the people. The families had lived in him and had filled him with warmth and light. Sometimes during canning season there was too much warmth. He had learned not to mind all the cooking because the results had given him such a full, safe feeling. The families had cared for him, keeping his cheerful paint fresh and clean and planting flowers around him.
There had been families in the old house for many years. He sighed dreamily, loosening the downspout on the north east corner. He especially remembered the children – their laughter and games. Nellie had jumped for joy at seeing the large pink roses on the wallpaper in her room (the floorboards in that room had creaked ever since). Thomas had teased his sisters all the time, often leaving toads in their beds! Rambunctious Timmy could never be still. He had run and climbed all over. The old house had suffered several bruises from Timmy, but the memories of the fun and laughter quickly salved any pain from damage the child did.
There had been wonderful stories, too. On long winter evenings the parents or grandparents had thrilled the children with tales from their own pasts as the family had gathered around the comforting fire in the parlor. One father was quite adept at teaching important life principles through his stories, although the house felt sure many of the tales were not quite true. Reading had also been a favorite pastime. Even after the children had learned to read for themselves, they enjoyed having mother or father, or even an older sister or brother, read stories to them. The old house almost laughed remembering some of the favorite stories he had heard so many times.
The ancient graying house sighed again. He hadn’t had a family for a long time. He didn’t know why. Now his paint was almost gone, leaving his boards gray and unprotected from the weather. All the families had seemed so glad to be here and so sad to leave. The last family, however, had been different. The weather beaten old house grimaced at the memory. The young father and mother had talked eagerly of “living off the land” and of finding all they needed here in the old house. Soon the lovingly planted flower gardens had been turned into vegetable plots in which the mother constantly worked, fretting that there wasn’t enough land for what they needed. Now the only blooming plant the old house had left was a tired and aged lilac bush, scraggily from lack of care. Even those vegetable gardens were gone now, buried under the wide super highway that had taken his front yard.
A sob escaped the old house and two torn and rusty screens blew off the east side. He didn’t want to remember that last family any more. First the laughter, then the warmth had left the house. The young couple argued regularly. The father found work in a nearby town and was seldom home. The house shuddered at one last memory, loosing a shingle, three windowpanes and two loose clapboards. The man had looked at the loose downspout on the north east side and the flaking paint on the south side and had said it “wasn’t worth the trouble to fix up this old house.” The old house had never felt uncared for before and those words had hurt him deeply. He had gone to sleep soon after that, cold, dark and empty.
The sound startled the tired house again. What was that vehicle? He was sure he had heard it sometime before. Oh, yes. Now he remembered. It sounded something like the vehicles used when the big highway was built. The old house was not really listening to the men’s voices. He was thinking about something else. Technically he wasn’t “empty” any more. There were squirrels in the attic and mice in the basement. Although they chattered pleasantly, the animals’ occupancy lacked the warmth of the people. They lacked love.
The forgotten old house sighed and creaked. The railing fell off the front porch and a few more shingles dropped off the roof. A huge chunk of plaster crumbled onto the kitchen floor. The house was content. He had experienced the warmth and light generated by family love. He would rest with those memories. They were good memories. The old house slept.
The last vehicle turned off the frontage road into the old house’s short gravel driveway. “Is this the job site?” the driver called to a man standing near the scraggily lilac bush.
“Yes, it is.”
“Gee, look at that house,” the driver said. “Good lines. I’ll bet it’d look really fine all fixed up.”
“Probably would,” the other man answered. “Well, the farmer next door has bought the land and I guess he has plans. Let’s get started.” He waved his cap and the bulldozer bit into the back porch.