March 14, 2017
WALKING WITH GHOSTS: PART TWO
There are ghosts along the backroads of America – the two-lane blacktops that used to be major highways until they were replaced by today’s broad and busy Interstate speedways. Some of the towns struggle on – gas stations and mini-marts, a Dairy Queen and a coffee shop, gravel parking lots littered with cigarette butts and gum wrappers. But many of the homes along the highway stand empty, year-by-year falling apart in slow motion, the porches sagging and the windows broken out.
You see them and you wonder what the story is. Were they once happy places, full of laughter and love, rural outposts of a kinder and gentler time? That’s what I like to think. But just as likely they were houses of dysfunction, occupied by angry and bitter people, stuck in the backwoods of society, too afraid of the unknown to join the migration of their friends and families to the city. And when they died or finally had to move on, the house they left behind slowly rotted away in place.
There is a mystery and a story behind every such place.
I find myself fascinated by these rural ruins, drawn to them both for their isolation from the main stream and by the lonely and sad mystery of their rise and their fall. Nobody builds a house anticipating that it will one day fall into ruin and be a rotting and weed-infested husk. And I like the vast emptiness surrounding many such structures, often miles of desert or open fields, hills in the distance, mountains behind the hills, the sky above and the gravel and dirt below.
It is not a fascination shared by my spouse.
“You know,” I say to her, one day driving through the desert, “we probably could get one of these old houses dirt cheap, fix it up, prop up the roof, new planking for the front porch, and live out here under the open sky.”
There are times that I know better, that I can feel the tension in the way she sits and see it in her face. She is not amused by the idea, mostly because she knows that even though it’s just talk, part of me wouldn’t mind doing just that.
I continue undaunted.
“You wake up in the morning, you walk out to the front porch, and you can see for miles. No neighbors crowding in on every side, no horns honking or freeway noise, just birds singing and the wind blowing across the plain.”
Her jaws clamped tight. Eyes locked on the road ahead. Silence.
“So what do you think, honey?” I ask, knowing exactly what she thinks, but for some odd reason still wanting to stir things up, to get a reaction. By this time, the silence is killing me. She could say, well I disagree. She could say, the desert is lovely this time of year, but I don’t think I would like to live here in the summer. She could even just tell me to go straight to H-E-double hockey sticks.
But the silence is a killer, and she knows it.
“Honey,” I finally say. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Go ahead,” she snaps back. “You want to live out here in the middle of nowhere, go ahead. But you’re going to be greeting the morning sky and the birds and the flies and the rattlesnakes by yourself, because the dog and I are going to be living someplace else.”
“I didn’t say we should move out here, I just was thinking what if we did?”
“Good, I think you should,” she says. “You only have to drive 35 or 40 miles to get a loaf of bread and a quart of milk, and then you’re going to pay about three times the price that you would at the supermarket in the city. But hey, you love the wide open spaces, so that’s not a problem.
“Just don’t expect the dog and me to live out here with you…”
“Maybe the dog would like it out here,” I joke, trying to relieve some of the tension.
“The dog stays with me.”
“OK honey,” I finally relent. “I think we should cross this off our list.”
Silence for several more miles.
“You’re not funny,” she finally says. “You think you’re being funny, but you’re not.”
“No Ma’am,” I say. “Not funny.”
And now I know – another mystery solved. Why there are houses abandoned out in the middle of nowhere. Because wives don’t like living out in the middle of nowhere.
And men don’t like cooking for themselves.
– George Lee Cunningham
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