Friday, August 22, 2008

A Real Haunted House

You can see the old farm house from the highway. Every window has been smashed and panels on the front door have been kicked in. It looks brutalized by time and people and years of neglect.

Seeing this house, I get the same feeling that overtakes me when I look at cars in a wrecking yard. Once they were brand new. Once someone drove each one of them off the lot...maybe on a hot summer afternoon with great tunes playing on the radio. Now they're here, ready to be crushed and melted and re-made into something else.

This house isn't ever going to be re-made. But people used to live here. They laughed and worked and died inside its tiny little rooms and one day they left it behind for the squatters and the hobos and the mice. And one by one the people left. Now only the mice remain.

My wife, Sheree, and three of my grandchildren have stopped here to have a look. We're at the tail end of a small camping adventure in Em Te Town -- a western theme resort/campground. Em Te Town was built by someone who had a great passion for the 1800's. It was a "someone" who had a great vision -- but the town still felt "put together." Interesting to look at, but contrived.

This house, this deserted and forgotten gem, is the real deal.

The kids pour out of the car and start walking around the house, asking us excited questions and pointing out amazing things to each other.

My wife is smiling. She sees me looking at her and says "We played in houses like this all the time when I was a kid. Magical..."

She smiles as she remembers. And we both smile as we watch our grandchildren explore the exterior.

I am feeling oddly emotional and I can't explain why. It's just an old house. But there is something so very sad about the fact that it is rotting and forgotten and broken. A house without people looks lonely and very old.

"Go in," says my wife to the kids. "I know you're dying to go exploring. Be careful. Watch out for nails and don't touch anything. I give you permission to go."

There's a smile in her voice and a note of excitement. The formal statement she's just made is intended to release invite them to have a guiltless adventure. She knows well what the kids are feeling. She wants to pass onto them her traveler's heart. She wants them to feel the breathless touch of pure adventure that makes their hearts beat faster and their breath quicken. And this touches me too.

In my life I have driven by thousands of these houses without a single thought. Again, I reflect, I am looking at one tiny part of the world only because my wife has stopped to look at it.

As I work my bulk though a kicked in panel of the front door, I really feel like I am going back in time.

Before me is a wood stove with a farming manual open on top of it. The floor is littered with bird droppings and the musty mysterious scents that fill a place after many lonely years.

Coats and hats hang on hooks. (Sheree took an utterly amazing picture of this. You can see it in her post Have a look at it and tell me National Geographic shouldn't publish it!) Shoes lie forgotten on the floor. There's a mattress in each room and the whole place is littered with droppings and stuffing and time-scarred clothing.

Inside one tiny room is a Bible tract with a quote from the Sermon on the Mount. My imagination goes into overdrive here. Did some hobo pass a few weeks here, reading this stuff? Who was he? Who lived here in the first place? Where did they go?

I take a lot of pictures. And as I do so, I am feeling strangely grateful. I am grateful to the house, as absurd as that sounds. I am grateful to the people who built it as well as the current owners (whoever they are) who have not torn it down. I am grateful that I can use photography and Photoshop to give visual representation to whatever it is that causes that lump to form in my throat. I am also grateful to my wife, who once again has made me stop my mad headlong rush through life to show me an amazing but very quiet treasure.

The house is still there. Mice scrabble in the walls. The clothing and discarded magazines tell eloquent and compelling stories. There's magic oozing out of its bare wood and distant whispers of people long gone still crackle in the air. This is a house haunted by many voices...many lives and I am blessed to spend a few minutes here and make some pictures of what I see.

Try it for yourself. Stop at a house near you. Have a look. Don't touch anything. Look out for nails and have fun.

1 comment:

Sheree said...

This is my husband's work. I really think he should be travel blogging for some great adventure site. His writing is beyond good; it is masterful. And I'm not just saying that. ;-))