Archive for April, 2012

Keeper of Souls

April 29, 2012

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It just sits there on the side of a sparsely traveled county road, a farm-to-market road, as they used to call them.  An unpainted, unkempt, dog-trot house, lonely and solitaire, resting in its desertedness, on an overgrown former yard waiting for its master to return, walk down the now bare broad and open-ended center hall,  put the key in the door and with that peculiar clicking sound, push it open and walk in – at home again, or perhaps, at last.  I know the house would sigh should that actually happen, and, should I happen to be there on that occasion, I believe I could actually hear it. 

People had driven by it for the last few decades as it fell into disuse and then the eventual decay.  It was a familiar landmark, half way between two small towns that had been high school football rivals for as long as anyone could remember.  It used to be more carefully maintained than it is now, though it is not yet neglected.  That day will surely come, as it does with most old things.  The young grow old and then their turn comes to die.  Future generations are born, mature, and remember not the things of a former time.  It wasn’t “their” house.  They didn’t grow up there, visit their grandparents there; what’s the point?

Why would you keep up an old house anyway?  It’s probably not worth a lot in today’s market.  It would be a lot of trouble, not to mention expense.  So, why mess with it? 

I think I know.  It isn’t about the house, it’s about the people.  When you look at the house, it’s not just an old house you see.  It’s “the” house, and you “see” the people who lived there and did things there. 

William Faulkner painted a scene like that in one of his stories.  A gentleman walked into a certain room in an old house.  The furniture was covered with bedsheets and there was dust everywhere.  But, he didn’t see that.  Faulkner used the phrase, “…and the curtain rose upon the stage.”  The gentleman saw a group of his friends, who had died in the Civil War, dancing with their girlfriends just before going off to perish in that lost and misguided cause.  They were in their twenties, a few even younger.  They were full of life, vigor, plans, and hope.  He was there in the middle of them.  That’s what he saw.  He saw the physical scene with his eyes.  But with his thoughts and emotions, he saw something different. 

I think we are all like that character in the Faulkner story.  What we see with our eyes is not always the same scene that presents to our hearts. 

When we look at the old house, we don’t see a vacant broken down porch.  We see the long -gone porch swing with our grandmother sitting in it.  We’re sitting there with her at age 5 and she’s reading “The Pokey Little Puppy” to us.  We know what’s on every page, but we wait for her to turn them because we are living the experience.  When we look at the porch, we live that experience again.  It’s always alive for us that way, as long as the old house is alive.  Maybe we remember the smell of our mother’s buttermilk biscuits, right when they came from the oven, as it mingled with the odor of bacon freshly fried in her black iron skillet.  We see the store-bought butter and the Golden Eagle syrup waiting on the kitchen table for the hot biscuits.  And then our sense of taste kicks in to go with our sense of smell.  None of that would be possible, in just that way, if the old house were not still there. 

So, our purpose is not to maintain an old house.  It’s to keep people alive.  That way we can visit them whenever we want.  We can resurrect them.  We can bring them up from the grave with flesh, and skin, and breath.  Then we can set them down wherever we want, just like it was real.  We can do that with our heads, and our hearts, and the old house.  It is our keeper of souls.   That’s why we want it to always be there. 

Note to the kind and gentle reader:  I made this story up, but that is the kind of thoughts I have whenever I see an old abandoned house.  Somebody lived a life there.  They had hopes and dreams just like me.  Did their hopes materialize?  Did their dreams come to pass?  I have no idea.  But, it makes me think…and wonder.  I got the picture of the old house from Google Images.  I haven’t a clue where it’s located.  I hope you enjoyed the story.