In the driveway, now grown up with brush, I see a man sitting in a buggy with red wheels. The buggy is hitched to a driving mare and is waiting to take the family to church. And over there, by the front porch, there is a young woman holding a baby. The father of the baby is taking their photo. In the side yard there is a mother and father saying farewells to a son in khaki, as he heads off to war.
Down by the barn a man and his son are unloading a wagon of loose hay. The big haymow door is open and the giant hay hook is coming down. In that field to the left a threshing ring has gathered––a dozen or so men and boys around a steam engine and a threshing machine, with horse-drawn wagons here and there.
In that window to the left of the front door, now almost obscured by vegetation, Christmas tree lights once shone out. There, in the upstairs bedroom, is where the young women of the house dressed for parties and dreamed about what the future held for them.
If the house is old enough I visualize at least one home funeral taking place there. There’s the hearse waiting in the driveway and the crowd of mourners in black entering through the front door.
I don’t actually see all these things, of course. But they are there in my mind’s eye. It’s a lot to take in at 50 to 70 miles an hour, but I do my best.
Every farm along every road was someone’s dream. That fence over there, now falling down. Someone dug each posthole by hand, hauled each board from the lumber yard, and nailed each one in place. Someone planted that hedge row, painted the trim on the barn, and kept the grass mowed. Someone took pride in all of it. That went on for years that turned into decades. Then something happened. The farmer got sick and couldn’t keep the place up anymore. Or he or she ran out of money because of bad crop years.
But mostly, after decades of living their dream, the occupants probably just got old. They moved off to live in town or with a son or daughter. No one moved onto the farmstead again because farms were getting bigger and the new owner had his own set of buildings.
Now empty, the old place began to settle into the landscape. It would come back to the farmer from time to time in his dreams, but then when he and his wife passed on there was no one left who remembered what had happened there. All that was left was the falling-down fence, the barn that had shifted on its foundation and lost a few boards, and the bed of day lilies that bloomed every summer whether anyone was there to see it or not.
Anymore, I don’t even need old buildings to set my mind in motion. A couple of old cedar trees on a hilltop and the remnants of a fence and a windmill will do it. It’s like a puzzle. The barn would have been over there, the house uphill from it, the garden just below the windmill. Here’s where the lane came in from the road.
Every old place along the side of a road has a history of happiness and heartbreak. You just have to know how to look.