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March 2011

The House on the Edge of Life

I always look. It's gray, clapboard, two-storey and probably built sometime in the early 1900's. By the 40's for sure. It sits close to the road on the very edge of a little Vermont town I visit regularly, like a tired sentinel waiting for a reprieve. Perhaps one day, one will come. But not today. It's still there, unable to gaze out over the farmland to the west for the scrub growing up around it, its mouth permanently closed by a collapsed porch roof. The front door is gone; leaving one to peer in where there is a window on the other side of the darkness, one that I imagine is in a tiny kitchen, where someone long ago gazed towards the mountains as they scrubbed utensils dirtied from an evening meal.

I don't know who this crumbling, dilapidated house belongs to. I usually assume the folks who live in the somewhat run-down trailer that sits a ways behind it, on what is likely the same lot. They don't tear it down because, by the look of it, they can barely afford to keep their own tired little abode in working order. And why spend money to do what time, gravity and nature will gladly take care of for free? It's not taking long. I first saw the old house ten years ago. At that time it still had a smile, its porch roof just beginning to sag on the northern corner. An old fridge with the door still on it, one of those deathtraps for children playing hide-n-seek they warned you about in the 70's, sat on it, rust chewing at the corners. Spindly trees had not yet hidden its windows, waiting to play camouflage games when the leaves sprout. I wanted to go inside and smell the old. I wondered if someone would buy it and try to fix it up.

No one did. So it sits, falling into itself little by little, disappearing into the foliage ever more every summer. I wonder who built it. Who lived there and what did they do? When did they leave? Are they still around? Do their great-great-grandchildren live in that trailer out back? Do they care that a structure that once must have been full of life, love, hopes and dreams is groaning under its own weight of neglect, slowly sinking into an unrecognizable pile of rubble? I still want to go inside and look around, find a newspaper, or hairpin, or forgotten mousetrap in the cupboard. I want to know its story. I wish the porch hadn't collapsed so it could talk.

I'll bet most people who live in this little town, and those who pass through, think it an eyesore that should be razed. They probably wince and wonder why the town leaders haven't "done something about that ugly old house". And they probably will one day. But in the meantime, I slow down and look, noting the latest point of deterioration, wondering when the roof will cave, wondering if anyone besides me cares, and wishing I had the courage just once to stop and peek in the window.

Maybe next time, I will.