Monday, May 9, 2011


We pass a lot of grand old houses---sometimes big square prosperous old places, others smaller, daintier ladylike dwellings with their porch-lace tattered and the shingles askew.    The once-desirable neighborhoods show neglect and the whiff of decay in the scrutiny of the bright sun.    Disrepair and peeling paint cannot disguise the fact that somebody loved them---still does, in the way that an older person fallen into harder times would still love a relative whose needs can no longer be supplied.   The lawn may be cut, the steps swept, but the paint is a project beyond both purse and energy.

The crackly flakes of paint fall onto the porch, are determinedly swept away like scattered leaves, and the scars deepen and widen in the skin of that beautiful old house, from weather and time and the general air of genteel despair beneath the roof.

I was doodling down a few thoughts about these the other day, and dabbled through Janie’s archives, looking for just this leaf-swept house I'd seen to illustrate a post.    And today, there it was on her site,  with a bit if history and hope.

That one still-faithful mailbox, holding rain-damped forgotten mail, is slowly being hedged in by creeping green, and the relentlessly beautiful wisteria seems about to wall in the place from all intruders.

On these old places, I always hope they’re still being occupied by one family which loves them, so I look for one mailbox.    More than one signals the cutting-into-parts of the house---perhaps that first small frugal necessity of an apartment for rent, made of two former bedrooms and the hall bath, with a small sitting/kitchen area installed along a wall of the larger room, and a phone line put in. 

  Further days may occasion the appearance of a third mailbox on the porch, for the renter of the largest upstairs room, divided away and a sparse kitchenette consisting of the workshop cabinet ripped out of the garage and a large vanity sink, bought for fifteen dollars at Goodwill and installed beside the little two-burner stove from the Railroad Salvage.

A scent of everybody’s cooking permeates the rooms, strongest at suppertime, abating a bit during the night hours, then punctuated by toasty bacon scents and someone’s first cigarette of the day swirling up between the curtain-gaps like marble,  as the sun breaks through.  

Houses usually have more than one life, sometimes all at once, and the stories beneath the roof hold their own mysteries, hidden and secret.   I wish someone could write them all, before it's too late.


Southern Lady said...

Beautiful, Rachel ... you always make me wish I'D said that!

That old house must have been magnificent in its glory days. I wish I had ventured up the steps and amongst the vines and overgrowth to get a closer look, but, perhaps I can do that on my next trip to Natchez ... before it's too late.

Kat aka Beachkat said...

I love "old" houses too and, like you, I wonder sometimes about their "life". If only walls could talk....


Beverly said...

Rachel, you made me close my eyes and think of my grandma. She owned several old houses just like this, and she divided them into apartments. I used to listen to her tell stories of the people who rented them. To me, as a child, they each seemed quite intriguing.