The Abandoned House

The old abandoned house hung to the harsh hillside like an old man, frail and withered, clinging to life in a hushed hospital room. Man and house exhausted by age and time. Two souls slipping away. Yes, I believe an old house has a soul. It’s been lived in, witnessed life, breathed life. You see, like the old man, it’s had a life of its own.

abandoned-houseAbandoned houses are found all over Maine. I’d discovered this one off the beaten track, obscure in Washington County, a short walk from the ocean. I’d been wandering about. Wandering is better than drifting. With wandering, I feel I have control over my direction. With drifting, I’m just moving sideways, unsure of where I’m headed. Abandoned houses drift.

I stood on the weed-infested, rutted dirt driveway. An uneasy stillness enveloped the grounds reminding me of a country cemetery, far from life’s noise. It looked like the typical ageless Maine house, square bottom with an inverted V top, front porch held up by cement blocks. A turret added a sense of curiosity and mystery.

Shutters with broken slats hung at odd angles, windows lacked glass, and sashes rotted. The decayed roof revealed damp plywood. Shingles littered the ground. A wooden ladder with missing rungs leaned precariously against the house.

A fortress of unwieldy bushes partially protected and hid the first floor. Tall grass surrounded the house acting like a fence. Dense woods loomed behind, the pines casting dancing black shadows on the side and back yard which contained a small rickety shed and requisite outhouse.

No realtor sign beckoned me forward proclaiming “fixer upper, handy man special, loaded with potential.” No, the house was wrinkled, naked, and deserted, weathered beyond neglect, the weight of years heavy on its foundation.

More appropriate, it needed a grave marker.

I wondered who lived here, what they did, and why they left, leaving their house alone. Abandoned.

I wondered if this was a good place to fall asleep? I thought of the TV show the Walton’s and all their loving “good nights” to each other, comforting warmth like the quilts that they drew around their shoulders. Yet, I suspected that this house was a difficult place to live in, that its occupants, common folk, struggled to make ends meet, somber in the realities of surviving, each day.

I approached the house taking deliberate soft steps as one does when stepping into a church. Deep silence. Was I trespassing or welcomed?

Opening the front door, I peered into the kitchen and beyond to a combination parlor and living room. Only a slight wind whispering outside disturbed the silence. Cobwebs, like sheets covering bodies in the morgue, permeated the rooms. I smelled the dust. Floorboards sagged and creaked.

I viewed worn objects long past the eager scavenging of an excited antique dealer: a doorless refrigerator, filthy print curtains, cracked grey and red linoleum, tattered green window shades, stained flowered wallpaper, a turned over splintered rocker, cracked off-white baking bowls, a rusted spittoon, push-button light switches, hanging electrical fixtures with black turn knobs, a box full of smashed canning jars, and a ripped baseball glove. Life’s debris.

The staircase to the second floor looked too scary to climb, but I visualized finding old wire coil bedspring mattress supports strewn about.
My intuition told me that there were no secrets here. The last family probably endured in poverty, overwhelmed by drudgery, fatigued without hope. No doubt, lonely lives. This was a house of hard moments.

I wondered if the husband wished for more, a better life away from the toil of strenuous suffering. I wondered if his wife wished she’d married better. Dispirited, I wondered if they spoke much. I imagined their despair, their resignation.

Samuel Butler said “Life is one long process of getting tired.”

I thought about the heart-wrenching feeling the old man’s wife had returning to the hospital room after he died, gathering up his belongings, placing her hand on the empty bed, looking around, one last time.

I thought of the old house. Who would grieve for it? I looked over at the light pole, its wires waiting to surge life back into the solemn house like the life support paddles used to bring a person back to life.

I thought of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s lyrics, “I remember I cried when my father died never wishing to hide the tears … alone again, naturally.”

I hesitated, bit my lower lip, glanced around, and waved to the tired house. “I’ll remember. Now go to sleep old soul.”

Author’s Note: Unlike the last occupants of the Abandoned House, as the holiday season beckons, I hope you have something to be grateful for. Find a peaceful nook, enjoy the solitude, and take time to think, read, and even dream. Walk down a path and around the bend. Bring out your inner smiles. And, keep moving, forward. Thank you, fellow Mainers, for reading my column and enjoying our magazine. Happy Thanksgiving! 

Hunter Howe lives in Cape Elizabeth with his wife, Colette, and their two beloved dogs, Spirit and Schooner. He writes for the Senior News, a publication of the Southern Maine Agency on Aging. Currently, he’s working on a suspense novel and an observational humor book appropriately set in a fictional town in mid-coast Maine.