JOYCE WHITIS

I’ve been watching this house fall down for several years and its collapse seems about complete. It has been slow in coming and watching it and knowing what the end would be has been painful. I knew that house when people lived there and flowers grew in the front yard just past the long porch. It has been standing empty for a long time now. Through the years, trailing vines; lush green growth on thick twisting limbs has hugged the house, clutching brick and board tightly, perhaps preventing further decay due to rusty nails working loose. The vines are friends that have appeared from nowhere ready to help without being asked. There was a narrow flowerbed once, dug out of the hard clay and planted by a pretty young wife. Her brown hair hung to her shoulders as she scattered honey-suckle seed from the shallow bowl she made with her apron. The honey suckle is long gone now, replaced by briars and sometimes yellow flowers in the spring but the flowers too wither and die.

They had a lot of hope, the young couple that spoke their “I dos” and built the house way out there in the country. The threat of Indians was long past in Erath County but other dangers like drought and hail and bole weevils were always on the minds of farmers. They were strong and hung on through the tough times and buried their children, when they died of diphtheria and whooping cough and measles in the little cemetery around the corner. And they said, “The Lord will provide and he will see us through.” And then they died too and were buried beside those babies that hardly had a chance to know life.

Soon another young couple moved onto the place. He was tall and dark and she was little and fair and they were very happy. They fixed up the house, built a shed-room across the back. They ran cattle on the place and their children were born in the front bedroom and they had parties and invited the neighbors and sometimes there was dancing on the front porch.

Then the second family was gone but the house had been full of laughter and singing for a long time. Now it sat empty for awhile and ever so slowly it seemed to sink into the hard clay ground because nobody cared for it.

Now came a new wave of agriculture and an eight stanchion dairy barn was built from red tile and a young blonde haired foreign born giant of a man and his new bride moved into the old house and they began to milk the black and white cows they brought from a farm in Wisconsin. Soon there were children and lots of laughter but also lots of work so that at the end of the day, the couple was ready to go to bed and there weren’t many nights when they felt like dancing but more like sleeping.

One day the couple and their children and all the cows moved to a another farm with a bigger dairy barn and many workers to help with the milking and the haying and the mixing of feed and raising baby calves to replace the cows when the time came and so it goes on even today.

The house was empty once more. Everybody was too busy to take care of it and so it began a slow death. At first the roof lost shingles; then bricks worked loose and a few fell off the chimney that had once been straight and tall. The vines hugged it close and crawled through the loose shingles, causing even more to slide off the edge and the once beautiful pine floor collapsed in places as the foundation gave way.

Since nobody was there to scare them away, buzzards visited, looked over the chimney, and decided to move in. They raised a family that spring but they too left when their children were able to fly away.

This week I drove once more down the road that passed by the old house. When I rounded the curve and saw it again, I thought that a strong gust of wind would bring it tumbling to the ground but if it happens tomorrow, oh what a great life it has had! It has been part of all the best things that life has to offer; waking up to a magnificent sunrise; watching in peace as a glorious sunset fades into blue darkness. It has been a part of helping children grow up, and felt the pleasure in successful labor. The old house has known the laughter of good times and shook with the tears of heartbreak. It has enjoyed the satisfaction of being useful, and the greatest joy of all, love.