They stand near the side of the road or highway a grim testament of
what was, a bleak reminder of the past, some might even say an eyesore.
Like everything, it is in the eye of the beholder. But those hulks of
once proud houses knew the joy of families, the pride of ownership and
the satisfaction of a builder.
I like to think of all of these
things when I pass by. Who built that home for the family, was it the
first sided home after living in a log cabin? Did the owner build it
himself, or have a friend, neighbors or others help? Today the siding
may be falling off, the roof may have holes where weather has worn away
the shingles, or rust has whittled away the nails, allowing the still
good slate roofing to slide to the ground. Foundations may be crumbling,
floor joists, beams and gables failing. Windows may be rotting,
allowing glass to slide out and break, trim boards hanging haphazardly,
the whole house listing to the right or left depending where its key
rafters or floor joists are rotting and letting go.
were built to last and many have been there for well over 150 years.
But, once the families moved away the degradation began. Once the love
and care given to a home left, the house started falling in disrepair.
How many families have lived there, voices raised in joy, screams of
delight, raucous laughter, perhaps even tears of sadness, grief and
despair, the whole gamut of human emotion? They saw brides being carried
over the threshold, heard the cry of newborns, they witnessed the last
breath of the dying. They watched children go off to school on their
first day, watched them leave when grown up to start lives of their own.
I like to think of those things when I see these houses.
Many are proud testaments to unbelievable carpentry, hardwoods taken
from nearby forests, such as walnut, white oak, curly maple, and
knowledge and methods of building little known today. Broad stairways of
solid oak lead upstairs to bedrooms that housed large families.
Wallpaper still shows on the walls, huge flowers, shapes and colors of
another time. Closets were not the norm as most rooms held large
armoires or cabinets to hold clothing. Sometimes, as in my family
homestead, there were two stairways leading to the upstairs. The
upstairs was completely divided into two sections, one side for the
boys, one side for the girls. Since there were eight children, five
girls and three boys, it worked well.
I think that the song
written by Stuart Hamblen, “This Ole House,” says it all. Houses that
rang with laughter, houses that knew children, houses that were home and
comfort when the storms of life tossed and tumbled them about. It was
said Hamblen wrote that song when he came upon a old prospector’s cabin
in a remote part of the Sierra Nevada in California. The miner was dead
but, his faithful dog was still guarding the premises. Hamblen wrote the
song as a tribute to the old prospector. Over the years I’ve watched
many such homes being torn down and ravaged to make way for farmland or
urban growth. Some of them were almost too good to tear down and had
many unique architectural features irreplaceable today. Once in awhile
you will see one that has been empty, refurbished and renewed with a
real family living again within its walls. It makes me glad to see that
happen. Nowadays few people can say that they were born and will die in
the same home, although there are a few that do; few people live in the
same home for their whole lives. But, that was once the norm.
you are like me, often in dreams, you revisit those houses of your youth
where you grew up and played. They will always stay in your memory,
caught in time, just as they were the day you left them. If you have one
of these old homes, chances are you know the value of the past and
admire those hardwoods and carpentry skills used in its structure. You
value the substance and sustainability found in those homes. You admire
the intricate woodwork, the stair railings, the hardwood floors that
withstand the tests of time and many footprints. You value the work of
your ancestors in keeping the old homestead cared for and loved. And,
it’s hard work.
All houses need upkeep, but older homes seem to
have a few more problems. But, I think that few of the homes built today
will withstand the test of time as many of these old houses have. So as
I pass by on the roadway, I don’t just see the ruins of a house, I see
what was, I see the glory of its past days. I remember the families that
called it home and can almost hear the voices calling out in the mists
of dusk, children catching fireflies on the lawn, families gathered
around the hearth or table with heads bowed and hands clasped as they
thanked the Lord for his bounty. Perhaps its glory days are over, but
someone, somewhere, remembers.
Jeannine Roediger has
lived on a family farm all her life, first as a farmer’s daughter and
now as a farmer’s wife. She writes weekly for the Times Bulletin and
enjoys gardening, quilting, cooking, bird watching and writing.