If Only the Walls Could Talk
If Only The Walls Could Talk
Anyone visiting my website or viewing my Facebook page, knows I love photographing old houses and barns. Even before ever owning a camera I've been fascinated by long abandoned houses, wishing I knew something about the woman that chose the yellow flowered wallpaper for the kitchen, and the children who played in the yard where the fence now lay among the weeds, the man who cut the hay and cared for the animals in the barn out back, the pride they must all have felt when they moved into this house freshly built.
And why they left. Did the parents continue on here into old age after the children grew up and left to make lives of their own? Did the man, weakened by age, sell the animals and lose interest in caring for the house after his wife passed away? Did the woman, now alone, do her best to keep the home after the kids and grandkids moved away and with their busy lives rarely came to visit? When I see these houses, some still partially furnished, some with dishes in the cabinets and old calendars on the walls, I wish with all my heart that the house could talk to me. I want to hear these stories.
My Mom and I have often talked about this, about the old places I photograph, and lament together "if only the walls could talk". Mom's dear and talented friend from their school days in Massachusetts, Alice Selfridge, wonders too. The following poem was written by Alice in 1989. She recently sent it to us, and I was so moved I asked her permission to print it here.
THE OLD HOUSE
I was so preoccupied with my everyday tasks, that I was no longer aware
Of the past all around me, the beauty of old, and fantasies awaiting me there.
I had gone on with blinders for such a long while, I was no longer able to seize
The fanciful things…I’d become so mundane…I was caught up in priorities.
So what opened my eyes and what made me see on that day as I headed to town?
All else looked the same, but I never had seen the old house with its roof sagging down.
I just had to stop, snap a picture or two, for this house that stood back from the bend
Stirred something in me, and I felt quite afraid that I might never see it again.
I wondered, “Who owns this wonderful house that sits here in such disrepair?”
The porch had been boarded, the shingles were gone, but the lawn was still tended with care.
The chimney had lost a few dozen bricks, the paint had discolored and peeled
But the weather-worn steps to the boarded up door had been braced up with stones from the field.
And next to the window that faced to the south stood a bush filled with roses galore.
It had lately been pruned and it sheltered one glove that somebody’s pruning hand wore.
An ancient oak tree that stood on the lawn held a rope swing, put up for a child.
And under the tree, just beginning to sprout, were young oaks that were left to grow wild.
I couldn’t resist a walk ‘round to the back (I’d dismissed now my trip into town)
I saw an old clothesline still tied to the house, but the tree at the end had come down.
An abandoned square form lay in back on the lawn, right next to an old washing stand,
And there in the grass that had grown in that square, a small bucket with shovel and sand.
Should I peek in the window? I couldn’t resist. Curiosity must be fulfilled.
I gave little thought and even less mind, to the cat curiosity killed.
I stood on my toes and breathed on the glass, for the windows were dirty and streaked.
I wiped off a spot with the sleeve of my shirt, and in through the clean spot I peeked.
An old soapstone sink I could see on one side, the rest of the kitchen was bare
Except in one corner, right next to a stove, was a wonderful old rocking chair.
Around to the side, I peeked in again. This room had a bed and a stand.
And there on the mattress, I couldn’t believe, was a spread that was quilted by hand.
An old robe was hung on the post of the bed; a lone slipper lay next to the door.
I saw no signs that someone lived there, just signs someone loved it before.
I couldn’t see in for the boards on the front were tight, and obscuring the view,
As I backed away from that wonderful house, I knew then what I had to do.
I knew I would buy it and then I’d come back and restore its original state.
I’d clean it and paint it and screen in the porch. To get started, I just couldn’t wait.
I was standing there planning at the edge of the lawn, when an old beat up truck happened by,
And out of the truck stepped a longhaired young man, with a toe-headed boy about five.
The man’s jeans were faded with holes here and there; his boots were ripped out at the seam,
But the tot he had with him was quite nicely dressed, and both seemed to be scrubbed very clean.
“This was my grandma’s house and it’s not up for sale”, to my question he quickly replied.
“I can just pay the taxes and keep up the lawn. See, she left it to me when she died.”
“And I know people think that I ain’t got no brains, and some think that I’m tetched in the head.
But my grandma tells me what I need to do on the nights I sleep here in her bed.”
“She says me and Tommy should make it our place when I find me a job that’ll pay.
And when Tom’s mother left us, Gram told me ‘hang on, cause you two will make it okay’.”
“Grandma says we’ll put heat in the rest of the house, ‘stead of just in the kitchen like now.
She says Tommy’ll need good food and fresh milk, so we’ll plant and we’ll get us a cow.”
“This house used to be green (I’d have painted it white) so we’ll paint it just like grandma had”
“When Tommy and me get some money for paint,” he said as he picked up the lad.
“Things’re gonna get better”, she tells Tom and me when we lay in her big poster bed
My grandma raised me up never to lie and I believe every word that she said.
She raised me up good, to be honest and strong and never to quit when it’s bad
And my grandma and Tom, and now this old house, are the only good things that I’ve had.
“So I ain’t giving up and when things are real hard, we come out here and visit a while,
And Tom plays on the swing where I used to play. It ain’t much but it brings us a smile.”
As I got in my car and pulled ‘round that old truck, in my mirror, the last I could see
Was a very proud man laughing with a young boy, as he soared on the swing on the tree,
As I drove off, I thought “they’ll fix up that house, perhaps not the way I’d have done.
But it will be filled, one day I am sure, with ghost grandma, a father and son”.
So grandma will wait in that wonderful house for the return of Tom and his dad.
Yes it will be restored, once again painted green, just the way that his old grandma had.
And they will get a cow and plant on the lot
And the house will never be sold.
They’ll keep hope alive and make it their home
‘Cause they treasure the things that are old.
Thank you for sharing this Debi. I love old houses and barns too.
Gosh, how touching this poem is, and what a perfect accompaniment to my dear Friend Debi's wonderful pictures of those beautiful old structurers.
Thanks to Alice for sharing her beautiful words with us all. I will read it again, many times over.
It's beautiful. I feel the same way. Very well said. Thank you for sharing it. Xo
Beautiful BLOG and Photograph. Special thanks to Alice for allowing Debi to include her poem. I read the entire thing again, and AGAIN "I was there", I was "actually there".........Thank you both so much. Love you Dee/Mom
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