I walk the dogs one of a few different routes each night in my neighborhood. I’ve walked them both together, one at a time, with music, while on the phone, with a friend, but the one constant is the neighborhood. We occasionally go for hikes, but getting in the car and traveling to a destination for a walk is never as appealing to our short-attention-span minds, especially when we are facing some kind of urgency to “get a walk in” before whatever is coming next. “We” as in “I” of course, and more often than not, I’m running from one thing to the next; plain and simple, I feel guilty about making Grace and Levi wait all day for a quality jaunt.
Lately I’ve walked the dogs mostly in the quiet rather than blasting myself with some “remove me from this place” music selection or nerdy podcast to try to better myself with every waking available moment. I don’t need to be constantly learning about world religions, grammar oddities, or the newest track from a Dutch trance DJ. I’ve existed in time periods where I could not and would not deal with silence. I’m grateful that now isn’t one of them.
I love houses. Maybe in the same way you love houses–if you do–maybe differently. Each day, I pass by the same houses, but I never get tired of looking at them. Sometimes I think about historic architectural details, wondering if I were to be quizzed on column types or masonry stones, how high would I score? Sometimes I think about botched home improvement jobs that mar the facades: shitty vinyl siding slapped indecently on a late 19th century Victorian, mismatched windows that cry “lazy landlord,” cement blocks in places no one ever imagined a cement block…would be useful. That is until time and money ran short, and a porch teetered on the brink of collapse. But mostly I think about people. And fingerprints on windowsills, and marks on walls. I think about the writing on the attic wall of my house that I had the privilege to see before I paid to have it it covered with insulation. I wonder what writing is on the inner walls of these houses. I look at foundations to see if I can ascertain an age, wondering who the builders were, and what a house built in 1890 smelled like, new.
I could go on, and I probably will in the future. Lots of these dog-walking thoughts I have are sad ones though. Some wistful, but more sad. Because we humans like to dispose of things that aren’t shiny and new. And unfortunately, we aren’t even very good at the actual “disposal” part, so we do the next best thing: abandonment. I like to see something get a good “use” out of it. An old car, still running and cared for. My friend who still has that flip phone. The vacuum cleaner my mother had for 26 years. So I don’t automatically chagrin when I see an old home, rezoned and reconfigured to hold a 2- or 3-family unit for rent. It’s not often to see it done particularly well, at least in this area, and I’ve never seen a home used for that purpose whose current owners took the resources to renovate or restore a home to its original characteristics of its original time period. I know, that’s crazytalk. And being as involved in old homes, the business of rental properties, and, well, reality as I am, I know that it’s natural for these houses’ purposes to change over time, as our needs and meanings do.
But I was the kid who personified everything. Sort of tragically. I felt bad for things I became somewhat attached to, that had to be given away or disposed of. Luckily, I was cared for and raised by Normal People who wouldn’t let me hold on to too many old pairs of shoes, cuttings of carpet or other pieces of utter garbage, and I managed to grow up into a somewhat well-adjusted person. So it should come as no surprise that I can’t look at an old abandoned house without feeling a pang of sadness, and an ever-buoyant hope. And the dreaming/scheming part of my brain goes into “lottery mode,” the results of which would give the before-and-after photo industry a run for its money.
The photo below is a peek at one of my “if me and a bunch of money could get our hands on you…” houses. I pass by it almost each night. It’s really a homely thing, and difficult to imagine what the original story was, or its original footprint. It’s oddly shaped and there are jutting porches, badly built additions, and it’s all wrong-sized and off. It’s hard to picture the thing ever looking functional, housing functioning people. Instead, I view the suffering and decomposing house, cowering behind its overgrown foliage. It’s not really the house I feel bad for. It’s the abandoned intentions of its owners. And the fickleness and hurried ways of us humans. Purposeless, we are like abandoned houses. A little bit lost and a lot waiting.