The old door was slightly askew and the window panes had long since fallen victim to young boys with mischief on their minds, but right in the middle of the lower panel was nailed a piece of plywood, cut in the shape of a heart and painted blue. Now that heart was the only thing left that had any paint visible. The rest of the house, what was still standing, had long since lost its color.
That heart nailed to that old rickety door captured my imagination. I wanted to know more about the folks who nailed it there. So I turned around and pulled into the old overgrown drive.
There were no “No Trespassing” or “Beware of the Dog” signs, so I got out of the truck, grabbed my camera from the passenger’s seat and made my way through the tall sweet grass to the door.
I wanted to see what pictures could be had, but more than that I wanted to try and reconstruct the family who had lived there. Have you ever done that sort of thing, or is it just me?
Now in my plundering, I did see a calendar tacked on the wall dated 1973, so it had been a long time since anyone, save squatters, had been in this old house. That would make it thirty-five some odd years since the old house has been occupied on a regular basis. It is amazing what was still left.
I decided to take a few photographs. I had been working on my still life and black and white shooting, and this place was perfect. So I gingerly stepped up on the old front porch and peered through the window to the right of the door. I didn’t go inside. That would be rude, and besides, just stepping on the front porch was the biggest step of faith I had taken all week. So I just looked through the broken windows still feeling a little ashamed of myself for prying.
I first noticed something that interested me or at least the incongruity of it interested me.
I noticed, as I looked through the camera lens, that on the inside of the bedroom door there were posters of Billy Graham and Bob Jones and all sorts of other evangelists tacked up. They were yellowing and the edges were curled, but you could still see that Billy was young and Bob had his hair swept back just like a good evangelist of old ought. There was a crusade heading for Atlanta.
In the middle of all the preachers, there was a pencil drawing of Jesus with his head bowed in prayer. It was an impressive piece of artwork to tell the truth. That door was something to behold. It was a simple yet elegant and rickety shrine to the Lord and Savior of the occupants.
Then I panned over from the door to an old dresser with one leg sticking through the floor that made it lean just a little to the front and a bit to the left. On top of that dresser was the finest collect of empty whiskey bottles I have ever seen. I don’t know, maybe a squatter did the drinking, but the pictures of Christ and all of those whiskey bottles in same room kind of encompassed the human condition to my way of thinking. There was temptation, there was sin and there was Christ kneeling in prayer for the sinner. Poignant picture, if you ask me.
Then I got a further bit of insight into the man of the house.
Over on the floor next to the Jesus door was an old Zebco 33 fishing reel; the old metal type that I used when I was a kid. It didn’t have a rod, it was just the old rusted out reel and it put me in mind of my Grandpa Tharpe. I don’t know why, but I liked the man of the house after seeing that, even if he was a drunkard.
Next I went to what was left of the kitchen. I had a pretty good picture of the man of the house. He was just a bit conflicted, I figure, but I wanted to get to know his wife. Call me a sexist if you want, but I figured the best way to get to know the lady of the house was to go to the kitchen.
All the window panes were long since gone in the kitchen as well, so it was easy to see the old faded green ceramic duck sitting on the weather-worn sill. My Granny used to have that same duck on a shelf in the kitchen, actually she had a flock. I have one of them over in my office. I liked the lady of the house instinctively.
The present duck was broken up a bit. You could tell though that at one time it had an open back so you could plant a flower in it, so I figured the woman liked to keep her realm pretty and fresh.
She also cooked like my Granny, if the five empty cans of Crisco scattered on the floor were any indication. She liked the finer things too in spite of her station in life, because somehow a silver spoon, a real silver spoon, had survived the years and rested on the window sill just out of sight, behind the duck.
There is a lot more to be said about her, but I will leave that for another day. Suffice it to say I would have liked her had we met in this life.
By the way, the 1973 calendar hanging on the kitchen wall was opened to November. One of her kids had a birthday on the seventh, and the whole crowd was coming over for Thanksgiving, if the star and smiley face were any indication. I hope they all made it.
Finally I went to the living room. There was an old couch, or what was left of it. The windows were all consistent in their brokenness and the various angles of the window and door frames gave the room a Picasso flavor. The old plaster was peeling off the walls and dripping from the ceiling. There was an ancient fireplace with a beat up mantle in front of the couch and sitting on the couch, much to my surprise, was a rather large elderly teddy bear.
For the life of me it appeared as if the teddy bear was looking over at the mantle remembering what pictures used to rest there and thinking of days gone by.
As I returned to my truck, I got to thinking that the remnants of a family remain long after they have gone and they tell a lot.
Then I realized that one of these days someone is going to be walking down what appears to be an old overgrown path just off of Beechwoods Drive a bit outside of Lexington, and at the end of the path they are going to come across an old derelict log house with the windows all busted out, sitting slightly askew on its foundation, with beams wavering. The vines will have overtaken it by then, because nature always reclaims her own. Then that someone will say to themselves, “I wonder who lived here and what they were like?”
I would be very interested in finding out what they discover. Will they find remnants worthy of a Child of God, or the left overs of a life spent on selfish pursuits? I pray the former, but I fear the latter. How about you?