I first noticed the gray house on a sultry hot summer evening 5 years ago. I was driving home from dropping my children off at my in-laws and tired of driving the same roads, I turned on a less traveled gravel road that would eventually take me the road I needed. A quick flash of The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost danced through my head. I can recite that poem from memory as I can most of Frost's more famous writings. The house sat on the corner of the the main road and the road less traveled that I had turned on.
It had been there for years and I'm sure I had seen it before. Having lived in this area nearly all my life, I surely have driven past the house thousands of times. This day, for whatever reason, I noticed it. Maybe it was because after making the turn, I realized the road was gravel and I had stopped to roll my windows up to keep the gravel dust out of the car. I abhor air conditioning. I find freezing when the seasons are warm so unnatural. Driving with the windows down and letting the wind whip my crazy hair into even more of a mess than it usually is can quite possibly be a little slice of Heaven. For me, anyway.
The house was old, gray, broken down, and certainly abandoned. My best guess, judging by the way the house looked...large floor to ceiling windows, lightening rods on the roof, carved spindled pillars holding up the front porch...it must have been built in the late 1800's or early 1900's. Windows were broken, some boarded up. Steps were splintered and I wondered how long it had been empty. It was surrounded on two sides by "knee high by the 4th of July" green corn. The drive had long since gave way to vegetation and the only recognizable driveway trait was the gravel sprinkled between the tufts of crab grass and Queen Anne's Lace. Shingles had been blown off by the strong spring storms that year and they were tossed about the yard. On the backside, there was an abandoned boat...bass, I think. It appeared newer yet it seems that it had been beached for some time as the grass and weeds had grown quite tall around it. I noticed the thin dark stalks of left over daffodils and tulips around the porch. Flowers that obviously didn't realize that no one lived there to enjoy their beauty and continued to sprout every year regardless.
My first instinct was to get out and take a look inside this old house. I wondered what the cabinets looked like. Were the stairs carpet covered or hard wood? Did the old owners leave any clue as to who they were in the home? I love old houses. Some of my best childhood memories took place in houses that were close to 100 years old. There is a certain regal quality about old houses. You can feel it when you walk into one..as if the home seems to have a life of its own. It would have been easy to get in to the gray house. The front door, although closed, had the glass broken out of it. It beckoned me. Come in, it said. I glanced around looking for a "No Trespassing" sign then pulled the car into the over grown drive to dig through my purse to find my phone. I wanted to see the inside and I had the chance, yet I didn't it even get out of the car. I sat there and stared at the way the setting sun was casting its rays through several of the east/west windows..making for an eerie orange glow. Fear got the best of me and since I was alone, I backed out and drove on...glancing in the rear view mirror as the house got smaller and smaller.
Over the years, I had come to drive down that road when I needed a change in scenery. Always taking a moment to consider the gray house. Often there were new things in the yard as people seemed to use it at a dumping ground. Some one's worn out couch tossed by the road. A broken kitchen table carelessly thrown on the porch. And the trash. Bags and bags of trash. Obviously, there was a caretaker responsible for the house as the unwanted dumped items would disappear just as discreetly as they had appeared and the grass always mowed. Even though I make that 5 mile trip between my in-laws and my house several times a week, I had never seen anybody there. Nobody mowing the grass, nobody picking up trash, no other gawkers like myself. Perhaps I am the only person fascinated with this house? I don't know.
The kids and I would often talk about the house as we drove by. Who lived in it, why did they leave, was it haunted? We had many great conversations dreaming up the unknown history of the house. We had finally decided that we thought the house must have belonged to a grandma and grandpa who had long since past away... We speculated that it used to be gleaming white with shiny black shutters and on the porch must have sat two wooden rockers like the kind we see at Cracker Barrel. This was were they sat watching their kids play in the yard. They surely had a dog and a couple of cats. Butterflies and humming birds fed off the flowers that grew around the porch. And when the couple grew old, they passed away leaving it to an unmarried son. And the reason the house looked so sad now is because nobody lived in it. No children. Because the house really loved children and was most happy when the pitter patter of little feet echoed through its halls or romped in its yard.
We talked about how, one day, we'd take the time to stop and get out. We'd explore the outside of the house, peer in the windows and take some pictures to add to our story. We never did. And now? The kids have grown older and have taken less of an interest in the gray house or our made up stories about it. We've stopped driving down the gravel road so much. Life happened and other things have peaked our interest. In time, we have forgotten about the old gray house and all the untold memories it possessed.
I hadn't thought about the gray house for quite a while. Two weeks ago, while driving home from my in-laws, I passed the turn off to the gravel road and I noticed it...I noticed that the gray house was gone. Not just torn down. GONE. Every last shred of evidence of the abandoned seemingly unloved gray house was gone. Not a thing was left. No foundation, no over grown gravel drive, no stray board or shingle, no tracks from the heavy machinery that must have been used. The ground had been tilled and it now matched the surrounding field. People that didn't know the gray house was there, never would.
I know it seems silly to be sentimental over a house that I had never been in. But it did get me thinking. I never took the time to appreciate the gray house. I wanted to. I intended to but life just kept me moving. Now, I won't get the chance. Every time I drive past the now empty space where the gray house sat, I regret that I didn't get out that first day. That I let my fear keep me from doing what I wanted, what I felt compelled to do. Fear is like that. Whether it be real, confounded fear or fear that we may miss something if we take the time to do something less ordinary...it always seems to stop us. Interrupt our lives.
So, for 2010, I am not going to make the usual resolutions. No "lose weight, exercise more". No "be happier" or "find myself" resolutions. I'm going to try to be fearless. Fearless in my faith. Fearless with my family. Fearless in my life. I know its going to be difficult but one thing I know for certain; I do not want any more gray houses in my life. I do not want things to pass me by because I was too afraid.
Here's to the gray house, its lessons and its irrational beauty. It will be missed.
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