Frances Edstrom

Watching the death of a house


(12/17/2003)

by Frances Edstrom

I've lived in my house for twenty-four years, during which time I have driven through the intersection at Main and Sarnia about 35,000 times.

A drive to work, to shop, to school, usually takes us on a route so familiar that we barely notice it. We have no historical record of the changes on our route, but more an impression of changes. We don't actually see a flower bloom or die, like in a time-lapse movie, nor do we see the subtle changes around us, like the fading of paint, or a fresh coat of the same color. When something appears or disappears in our landscape, our memories have a hard time holding on to past views.

But I've been watching the disappearance of the nice white house on the corner of Sarnia and Main with some melancholy. I only know it as the home to the family who recently moved out of it in anticipation of its demolition. I've never been inside.

It always seemed a house full of happiness and well-being, a proud house. Its walks were neatly kept, its grass mowed nicely, paint in repair. It grew flowers and children and had a good-looking Boxer.

In the morning, the dog might be going for a short walk, the people leaving for work or school. In the evenings and during the summer months parents and kids and dog played in the yard, threw balls through the hoop mounted on the garage, or worked on the lawn and garden.

Other houses on the intersection don't present as much activity to watch, so this house defined the neighborhood for me. When some of its neighbors on Main St. disappeared, to be replaced with neatly graveled parking lots "” a couple of rental houses, I think, and some with single families "” it was as though a six-year-old had lost a tooth or two. It was still a neighborhood. When this house goes, it will be the end of the Main St. part of the block except for an office building and lone house on the far corner.

During the fall garage sales were held. Signs appeared on the awnings and garage: For Sale. Last week there were trucks pulled up to the house, and hardwood flooring and other salvageable things were being carted out. Before the snow came, rocks that had formed a sort of grotto in the yard were being dug out one by one and carted away.

I suppose that there will be excitement for the family moving to a new house. Change can be welcome and good, even when forced. And soon the memory of the "old" house will fade away.

But no longer will someone point out the house to me and say, "That's where Annie grew up." Nobody will say, "Turn at the white house."

It is a strange thing that the things we build outlast us. It's odd when people die to see their things still there, acting as though nothing has happened. The ancient Egyptians took their things with them, built pyramids and buried all their belongings with them (and sometimes their servants, too!).

When a house has outlasted several generations, and is then demolished, does something of those people who lived there disappear too?

 

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