A House Speaks

Has a house ever spoken to you? The sad and broken house near our Northwoods cabin speaks to me. It stands alone. Its snow-covered roof has collapsed. Remnants of curtains blow out of its shattered windows. Coyotes have invaded its rooms, taking up residence in bed-rooms that once sheltered children.

I’ve watched this old farmhouse on a plot of land near Eagle River crumble for the past thirty years. When our children were young, I called it the haunted house, and we turned exploring it into an adventure. We cautiously stepped inside, discovering a pile of rags on the floor covered with fox fur. Broken furniture, scattered toys, and a lone child’s shoe made imaginations tumble. What stories could this house tell?

The homestead includes a collapsed silo, remnants of a barn where paint cans lay scattered, and several ramshackle sheds. When I was plotting one of my books for middle school-ers, Thirty Pieces of Silver, the house inspired a scary scene. My main character, Kayla, sees a piece of tar paper stapled onto a dilapidated shed’s door and thinks of the grim reaper, fore-shadowing the climax when she’s attacked and locked in the abandoned shed.

After my kids were old enough to explore the property on their own, they once hurried home saying they’d found a skeleton near the apple tree. Sure enough, when my husband and I returned with them, we identified the skull and body of a dog. Questions flashed through my head. What was the dog’s life like? Did it fear the coyotes? Was it the children’s special pet? Did they play together under the apple tree?

I stand near the apple tree now. I look and listen. When it was just a sapling, hardworking farmers with dreams for the future planted the fruit tree. They faithfully watered and fertilized it. By the time it was producing fruit, children had arrived. I imagine them climbing the apple tree and eating homemade warm apple pie for dessert.

The house acknowledges hard times, too. Its sagging frame speaks of teenagers shouting and slamming doors, disagreements with neighbors, worry about money, and an uncertain future. The wind gusts sounding like a long sigh, and the shed door bangs closed. I return to the present.

Neighbors report that the current owners have delayed razing the house because of the complicated and costly disposal of lead paint and other hazardous wastes. The house is tired of waiting. It hates that we see it in such a vulnerable state. It’s ready to go.

Find a solution, it says. Clear the way for a future home, one that will have life stories of its own to share.

This house I’ve known for three decades calls out to me. Let me have a proper burial and a dignified ending to my life. I hope it gets its wish.

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